In the first week of this year I set foot in France for the fifth time. However, something is very different this time: I am not a tourist anymore. I am a student living with a French host family (for the first month at least).
There are quite a few things about the way people live here that I notice now that I have access for more than just a couple of days behind the closed blinds of an inhabited house. There are things that shocked the other students from Knox’s Besançon program and that surprised me as well, although I’m coming from the same continent as the French.
Note that I’m talking about my classmates and my experiences with our host families and their friends; some of their habits might not apply to most of the inhabitants of this country.
From what we’ve noticed so far, the French don’t have internet at home—at least 75 percent of our host families don’t, which is surprising for me, since even my grandparents have wireless and I come from an almost-Third World country. They don’t have or don’t use their cell phones very much (because it’s very expensive), and instead use their home phones a lot. The French do socialize quite a bit (invite friends over for lunch, visit their kids very often, chat to their neighbors sitting at the window), are very active (go out for walks even in negative Celsius temperatures), eat cheese as part of dessert, never eat frozen dinners, almost always prepare their meals from scratch minutes before being served, love organic food (called “bio” here), have or form an opinion extremely quickly about absolutely everything, don’t like their immigrants and don’t like their president because of the solutions he found for the immigrants, among other things.
From what we’ve experienced until now, in France you must always: wear your slippers in the house, wear your bathrobe on top of your pajamas outside of your room (I’m sure glad I brought mine, although I didn’t mean to), use both your knife and fork no matter what you eat (and, in some unlucky cases, use a cloth napkin for lunch and dinner), open your blinds in the morning and close your blinds in the evening, open your windows, turn off the heat and close the door while your room is airing, do the same in the bathroom after you take a shower (and God forbid you forget to open the window, or to turn the heat back on when you close the windows) to turn it on at a reasonable (read: low) power, to keep the bathroom door closed at all times, to leave the toilet seat down all the time, to take military showers (even if I try my best and I’ve had some Eco House experience with this, my host mother asks me all the time before taking a shower: “Will you try to save some water this time?”), etc.
You’ve probably noticed that I am not a huge fan of all these rules. Yes, I miss Latin America and all of its chaos very much. You might ask why I accept the rules. Well, it would be a very impractical move from all points of view to leave the program now, and my host family’s house would be plain rude. However, I talk in the name of the whole group when I say that the thing we most want now is to move into the dorms at the beginning of February, where we can walk barefoot and leave the blinds open—even if the French people from outside will look towards our rooms disapprovingly. But when we do move, I’m sure I will miss my host mom’s delicious dinners as well as the drives and walks with her in little villages around the town.