For many American students, the opportunity to study abroad in France seems absolutely ideal. The food, history, culture and nightlife are world-renowned – who wouldn’t want to enjoy a café au lait while looking at a glorious view of the Seine?
While France is certainly a gorgeous country, it’s important not to allow your preconceptions of the culture to overly influence your experience of the region. Sure, life in Paris can be blissful, but it is very different from what we have come to expect from popular movies. Here are a few things about the country and its regions you should know before you don your beret and give France a hearty “bonjour!”
1. Paris isn’t the only city in France
Like Manhattan and London, Paris is a highly diverse, fast-paced, metropolitan city that is nothing like its more rural, sparsely-populated neighbors. There are abundant opportunities to become immersed in French history and culture in one of the more provincial towns. If you want to study abroad in France, consider the Université Savoie Mont Blanc in Chambery. Chambery is an excellent destination for student travelers who want to immerse themselves in a part of French culture not recognized in the U.S. Steeped in art and history, this small, chateau city has numerous museums and restored 13th castles that offer an authentic glimpse into its rich past. Moreover, it is a bustling economic hub, where business students can take advantage of the excellent academic resources at the Université Savoie business school.
2. The French aren’t rude – just misunderstood
It’s a common misconception – Americans think the French are rude and haughty, and the French think Americans are buffoonish and overly familiar. This may seem a bit confusing to American students abroad; don’t the French kiss virtual strangers, after all? Well, rudeness is very often relative, and French social customs are very particular and deeply engrained. For example, the double air kiss isn’t nearly as intimate or as pervasive as Americans tend to believe. Men don’t typically air-kiss other men but will air-kiss women; women will air-kiss other women; both men and women will air-kiss children. Body contact is reserved for friends and not casual acquaintances (don’t hug anyone you don’t know well). Strangers don’t smile at each other on the street. However, everyone – from people behind a shop counter to your dearest friends – is expected to get a “bonjour” as a greeting.
3. Drink wine the French way
Although wine and alcohol are enjoyed daily by people of all ages in France, obvious drunkenness is extremely gauche. Moreover, wine is typically drunk only with meals, and glasses are never filled to the brim.
4. The French are particular about dress, but not necessarily fashion obsessed
Contrary to popular belief, French people aren’t preoccupied with the latest fashion trends, and not every French person looks like they’ve stepped off a magazine cover. However, their ideas about appropriate attire are very different from Americans’, and if you want to blend in with the locals, you’ll want to abandon quite a few American sartorial habits. For example, sneakers and workout gear are only acceptable when you’re actually working out. Very short skirts and skin-baring attire are considered ridiculous, and downright offensive in a church. Overly baggy clothes are also non-starters. While the French are perfectly amenable to unusual or expressive clothing, anything considered sloppy is generally frowned upon. Crisp white button-down shirts, well-tailored blazers, pressed jeans, and leather shoes are acceptable in most circumstances.
5. The French aren’t all foodies
While it seems as if every gastronomic innovation and trend began in France, the French are actually quite relaxed about food. Not every meal has to be a ceremony with abundant courses and three different wines – sometimes meals are casual. Although the French have a different relationship with food than Americans’ do, there is a wide variety of culinary traditions throughout France, and yes – different standards. Shockingly, not every restaurant is sublime! If you want to make sure you eat well in France, ask the locals where you should go.
Since 1979, we have helped students from all socio-economic backgrounds discover opportunities to study abroad in France, Italy, England and all over Europe and beyond. If you want to learn more about ISEP Direct study abroad and student exchange programs, please visit our program finder page.
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