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Aside from learning a new language, one of the reasons why I signed up to study French at Alliance Française d'Atlanta back in 2009, was to get to know more about France's culture and history, a country I really admire because of its remarkable contributions to the world, in almost every aspect of life. No need to mention specific cases, from politics and science to gastronomy and the arts, French influence in the world as we know it is simply undeniable.
Yet, there are things I was only able to learn about France's lifestyle when I had the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Montpellier, doing the French immersion I had always wanted to do. Following, a few of them.
1. Sundays in France are for family During my immersion I stayed with a French family (my host family or ma famille d'accueil) and soon enough I discovered that the entire family (parents, children and grandchildren) gets together for lunch every Sunday. This reminded me of life in Latin America, where that is the usual as well. Needless to say, just like among Latin American families, these gatherings include plenty of food and a lot of time is spent at the table. Obviously, everyone eats a lot more on Sundays than on any other day of the week.
2. What is the most French thing ever? No, neither is French vanilla nor is French toast. Of course, the answer to this question will depend on who you ask. Responses range from cheese and wine to croissants and crème brûlée to riots and strikes. I liked one of my teachers' top 3, though: la Tour Eiffel, la baguette and...Johnny Hallyday! I happened to be in France when the famous singer died, so I saw on tv the crowds that paid tribute to him after his passing and I also ran into a few impersonators on the streets of Montpellier. He was very much loved by the French indeed, they considered him a national monument. By the way, I warn you not to dare to question his nationality (although he was born in Belgium, he WAS French!) ever, that will not go well.
3. They eat cheese in France, lots of it! I was aware the French love cheese and they produce hundreds of types, but I didn't realize they eat it basically everyday, at the end of the main meal. Yes, it is normal to have an assortment of at least 3-4 different (really good) cheeses after you've had your main course, either in lieu of dessert or along with it. Since I consider myself a mouse at heart, I was in heaven. I ate so much cheese during those 6 weeks, that I think the only reason why I didn't gain weight was because I also ate a lot of vegetables and pretty much everything consumed at home was organic.
4. French have a love-hate relationship with English Yeah, there certainly are sticklers that want people to speak French only in France, but I found out that many French actually enjoy learning and speaking English (meetup groups to practice the language are very common). Some English words have also become part of the French vocabulary (I guess you can blame this one on globalism). Nowadays, it's not unusual to hear the expression "c'est cool!" among young and middle-aged people alike, which I found particularly cute because of the French accent. They have also adopted some English words and incorporated them into their language, with slight changes, to take a new meaning. For instance, they use the word "relooking" to refer to a style makeover. I must admit I do think this one is kind of odd, though.
5. French food is not only about taste That's right, French food is not only delicious but it's also good looking. Their dishes are presented in such a beautiful way that you'd think a food stylist is always hiding in the kitchen to leave them photo-shoot ready. And this applies not only to food served at restaurants, but also to food made at home. My host mother prepared dishes on a daily basis that looked like those featured in culinary magazines. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean they were quite elaborated. On the contrary, they were simple but displayed in a really appealing fashion...and when you tried them, oh la la, they were just superb. In conclusion, French cuisine = tasty + gorgeous. It definitely deserves its outstanding reputation.
I look forward to having the opportunity to spend more time in France in the future, to discover everything else this amazing country and its people have to offer. How about you? What are the things that you discovered while you were exploring France or perhaps another country? Would love to hear about your own experiences!