France – Impressions

We have made it to China now, and we have taken another down day.  It’s raining and we have laundry and school work to catch up on.  Good thing this trip lasts a while so we can actually see a few things, since we are bit slow and have do-nothing days so regularly.  We’re just making sure we are getting plenty of the “vacation” part of our long edu-vacation.

Looking back on France, here are a few things that stood out in our minds:

  • Smoking is serious in France.  Seemed like everyone smoked, everywhere.  We saw some high-schoolers rolling their own in the Place des Vosges.
  • Dogs are like family.  They are in the restaurant, in the park, never on leashes, and do whatever they are told.  Well, maybe they aren’t exactly like family.
  • The police presence in Paris is everywhere, and they are ready for anything.  Every 2 blocks in every neighborhood, and conspicuously posted and patrolling at every tourist site, we saw police with helmets, body armor, and fully automatic weapons,  They patrol in 3’s.
  • There is a homeless contingent in Paris.  Of course we have seen this in most major cities in the US and abroad, but there is a different feel to it here.  They are permitted to set up camp and stay for days or weeks in one spot, right on the sidewalk (unlike in the US).  They also seem to be largely made up of one ethnic group.  I need to look into this more.
  • Almost everyone we spoke to in Paris and in Normandy was very polite.  The famously rude French waiters were not so bad.  They definitely were busy, make enough money without your tips, and most spoke little English.  I think it is the culture to leave you alone once you have been served.  Of course in the US, we want to see our waiter every few minutes.
    • The exception to this cordiality were the Metro workers.  They all acted like they were really upset that they were placed behind that glass.  The were not helpful, pushy, curt, and in one case, dishonest.
  • We heard this quite a bit before we went to France: “Everyone knows how to speak English, they just won’t because they are rude.”  I really don’t think this is true.  Talking with many of them, they are only required to take 2 years of English in middle school, much like the US foreign-language requirement in High School.  So how many of you would be comfortable speaking Spanish to a native speaker?  Ya know, that Spanish you studied in 9th grade, 20+ years ago?
    • Here’s how I handled it.  Every time I spoke to anyone, the first thing I said in French was, “My French is horrible.  Do you speak English?”  If they said yes, we were golden.  If they said no, I muddled through and they were kind and helpful, knowing that I was making an effort.
    • Oh yeah, in case your are reading this and you are French, the many people we spoke to from other European countries are pretty disappointed that you only speak one language.  They think a bit less of you for it.  Of course, I am American, so definitely cannot say anything against your position.
  • The city and countryside is truly beautiful.  Aesthetics are clearly huge for the French.
  • Speaking of aesthetics, the French are very particular about their clothing – understated tones, nice jackets, scarves.  One of the people we spoke with said she stayed away from certain colors because they did not work with her skin tone and she was totally serious.  There were definitely no jeans, no ball caps, no loud colors (so our Ole Miss hats were shouting “WE’RE NOT FROM AROUND HERE!”), no tennis shoes (interestingly, if they were wearing them, they were usually Asics), and absolutely no plaid.
  • There were, of course, bakeries everywhere.  Unfortunately for our waists, we ate at all of them.  Pulling up to a traffic circle in one of the small towns in Normandy, we could see 3, one on each corner.
  • Oh yeah, traffic circles.  In town, in the country, even on the interstate – they are everywhere and they are terrifying.  I probably broke every roundabout rule there was.  I would say that explained the all honking, but they honk all of the time.

We did absolutely love our time in France.  We know that we were very fortunate to get to spend 6 weeks in this beautiful country.  I do think that if we were to return, we would spend more time in the countryside (that’s what they call it) outside of Paris than in the big city.  Of course, that may just be our speed preference showing up again.  At home and abroad, I’d classify our pace as “Southern Stroll”. – ALaff


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