After having officially been in France for about a month and a half now, I would have to admit that I’ve accomplished a great deal. I can finally get around the city center without getting (too) lost. I’ve found which patisserie makes pain au chocolat with the most amount of chocolate hidden inside. I’ve discovered a beautiful garden called the Pavillon Vendôme that serves as a perfect, peaceful shortcut on my way to school. My French has improved drastically and my host mom finally laughs when I try to make jokes in French. However, there are some cultural differences that I still can’t seem to make sense of.
1. What is the deal with French people and their dogs? They take them everywhere – to cafés, into clothing stores when shopping, even into Monoprix (the French equivalent of Walmart or Target) – yet they never seem to pick up after them. I’ve almost stepped in dog poop more times than I’d like to admit.
2. When do you make the transition from bonjour (hello) to bonsoir (good evening)? During my first few weeks here, I consistently said bonjour to people at every time of day and was quickly humiliated when I realized that a bonsoir was more appropriate. At this point, I usually make the switch around 6 or 7 at night, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s correct.
3. Why is the coffee so expensive? Ordering a small café crème usually costs me at least 3 euros. Still, I keep going back to the same cafés for the same pricey drinks. On the plus side, it’s completely acceptable to sit at a café for hours after only buying one drink. Maybe it isn’t such a bad deal after all.
4. Why are there still so many smokers? I know it’s a stereotype that all French people smoke, but I’ll attest to the fact that cigarettes seem to be everywhere. At any given hour of the day, I’ll walk through town and find myself engulfed in a cloud of cigarette smoke. The words “Fumer tue” or “Smoking kills” are emblazed on each carton of cigarettes, yet that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone.
5. Why do the French eat dinner so late? My host mom typically works until 8 each night so we eat dinner around 9 or 9:30, but I’m not the only one. It’s normal for families here to eat around 8 or so. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; it’s just much different from my usual 6:30 dinner back home.
6. Why is there a separate room for the toilet? I know this exists in some places in the U.S. as well, but I’m always a bit surprised when I step into the bathroom in my apartment or a friend’s apartment and there isn’t a toilet in there. It’s actually pretty convenient, but I haven’t quite gotten used to it yet.
7. Why do breakfast and dessert seem to be synonymous? I’ve written about this before and I still can’t figure it out. I’m perfectly happy eating fruit and yogurt for dessert after dinner, but I feel like I need to draw the line when it comes to eating cherry pie for breakfast.
8. What is going on with the showers? Honestly, everything about the showers here confuses me. In my apartment, there is a hose that comes out of the bottom of the tub. Are you supposed to stand? Sit? Squat? I’m still not entirely sure, but fortunately I’m short enough to hold the hose above me while standing up. Even then, I risk spraying water all over the bathroom floor if I’m not careful. Still, with one hand holding the hose, I can’t simultaneously wash my hair and have the water going. This weird on-off-on-off process probably saves water, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Lastly, why do the French have an aversion to shower curtains? Not only would I rather not have to look at myself in the mirror that hangs on the wall directly across from the shower, but I always hope that my host family won’t decide to walk in while I’m showering if I forget to lock the door. Of course, the showers here get the job done – I just don’t understand them in the least.
Fortunately, I still have two months left in this picturesque little city in the south of France to search for some answers to my questions. Regardless, despite my cultural confusion, I finally feel at home here. I love the sounds, the smells, the people, everything – even the dogs, the overpriced coffee, and the showers.