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.
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.
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.