Anxiety and Croissants

By: Linda Hanes
Major: Global and International Studies
Lyon Summer Program, France

As a person who deals with anxiety on a fairly regular basis, coming to another country and trying to fit in with native Francophones has been more than just a simple challenge. Actually living with a native speaker has been hands down the most difficult but rewarding things I have ever done. I can’t tell you how many times I had to rehearse the phrase, “Yes, I slept well, thank you,” in French, just so I could be certain I wouldn’t mince words. It was especially hard at first because French is a language so steeped in social rules that often a direct translation from English can actually mean something offensive. I know this because I made several faux pas during my first few days. After which I was promptly corrected.

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My first few days were the most difficult. I remember meeting my host “mom” at the train station and realizing that she was probably under the impression that I was already fluent in French. I quickly muttered in French, “I’m really tired, I’m sorry. I don’t understand anything right now.” After that we sat in awkward silence for a long time while I contemplated grabbing my suitcase, running away, and becoming a drifter through France. I quickly realized that the French culture is particular in a few ways that are the exact opposite of what I was used to in America. For one, meals are a BIG DEAL. So is time. Every day we have breakfast at exactly 7 a.m., 9 a.m. on weekends. I get lunch on my own after my morning class. Then dinner is served around 8:30 p.m. Breakfast and dinner also must be at the table. The first few days when I was getting settled and still unable to express myself coherently in French, we would just sit at the table somewhat silently while I periodically pointed out foods I knew the vocabulary for (I felt the need to mention croissants a lot). Another thing that took some adjusting for me is that college students aren’t seen as exactly as full-fledged adults here. We’re trapped in some odd limbo that is hard to navigate if you don’t already know the rules. For instance, my host had trouble understanding that I couldn’t do some things because my parents don’t still give me an allowance like many French students get. I also can’t come and go as I please like I do when I’m back in the U.S. A bonus to this though is that I have been able to get some child rates for transportation or museums.

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It’s impossible for me to be comfortable because things are always so different than what I’m used to. But this has been a good experience in adjustment for me. Living with another person whom has a different set of cultural values than myself has taught me flexibility and patience, skills that will no doubt assist me as I continue my French language acquisition. I have to keep reminding that I didn’t come here to be comfortable, I came here to be a better person. Once I let go of thinking everything needed to be done my way, I was able to live in the moment and actually enjoy the experience for what it is.

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