The Charm of the French

Are you interested in studying abroad in France?  Do you want to improve your French cultural and language skills before going to a French-speaking country?  Come visit me at CAPS!  I love sharing my cultural experiences in France, in hopes of motivating others to visit this beautiful country (and not just Paris).  In this post, I show why it is important to get to know the French in order to truly form a unique perspective of their culture.  Enjoy!

Il n’y a pas que Paris

When I first arrived home from my year abroad in France, people would ask me, “Hey Savannah, how was Paris?”  My simple response was, “Oh about four hours away on the high-speed train, seven if you drive.”  For me, Paris was thankfully a two-time ordeal.  Some people love telling about their awful experiences in Paris, and then go about saying how the French are rude and other obscenities I wish not to discuss.  It’s important to note that Paris does not encompass the entirety of France, just like how New York City does not paint a picture of all the United States.  In order to truly discover the charm of the French, one must visit all corners of the Hexagon, from tiny villages with only 120 inhabitants to culture-rich metropolises like Lyon and Marseille.

Vivre en Rhône-Alpes

I was very fortunate to be able to study for an entire academic year in Rhône-Alpes, one of the most beautiful regions in southeastern France.  I was located in the department of Savoie in a small city named Chambéry, which reminded me of a place straight out of a children’s fairy tale.  While I did get to see much more than just Chambéry during my time in Europe, my most cherished memories were in the heart of Rhône-Alpes.


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Un jour sur Chambéry

It only took me one day to understand the kindness and generosity of the Savoyards.  I twisted and destroyed the key to my apartment building within hours of arriving in Chambéry.  I had no phone or internet service and of course, no sense of direction with my jet-lagged brain.  After a mini panic attack, I remembered passing by the Office de Tourisme on my way to my new apartment, so I rushed down there to see if someone could help me.  I was able to call my landlord’s secretary and she came right away.  She took me to make a copy of my key and then to the supermarket to buy food to fill my empty refrigerator.  I really appreciated her kindness in one of my most stressful times.  This was the beginning of my experiences in France, which gave me the courage to venture out and do things I had never done before.  I later learned about a French concept le système D.  The “D” stands for démerder, which is a slang term that basically means “to figure it out.”  Luckily, in France, your système D is not always necessary because people can be very helpful when you’re in need.

Later that day, I was greeted by Ophélie, one of my pen pals from the University of Savoie Mont Blanc.  She and her boyfriend Vincent drove me around town and then took me to Vincent’s house where I met their friends Shadya and Humbert.  I didn’t expect anything from them, but now they were feeding me a sensational Savoyard croziflette and constantly pouring me a new glass of red wine.  They had even planned for me to spend the night in one of their extra bedrooms.  I was so amazed at how nice everyone was, which really erased some of the stereotypes I had had about the French.  I would keep these same friends until the end of my stay, and we would spend several nights together just enjoying life at O’Cardinal’s Pub.  I was very thankful to be in France surrounded by such kind people.


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These were only two of the many experiences I have had with the French.  It’s true that I can’t always view France with rose-colored lenses.  I know that there are good and bad people from all walks of life, and that negative stereotypes do exist.  However, because of the friends I had made, I was able to understand that the French truly valued family, friendship, and enjoying life.  I would encourage anyone to not only travel to a foreign country, but to experience it first-hand by meeting the locals.  You never know how your life can change by living it through the eyes of a different culture.


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