Happy Valentine’s Day from Lyon, France! I signed up for this day because I thought it would be fitting for the There Be Dragons Valentine’s Day post to be from the country known for love and romance. For my first blogpost, I have decided to create a sort of guide for prospective travelers to France. There are many things in France which someone from another country might see as being bizarre upon their first trip to France. I myself have encountered (and am still encountering daily) these fascinating cultural differences so far in my semester abroad in Lyon. I hope this list helps you understand French culture a bit and perhaps even produces some laughter. Allons-y!
1. Public Displays of Affection
Sticking with the Valentine’s Day theme, I thought this would be a good point to start out with. I don’t have any pictures to demonstrate this first cultural difference because I thought people might be a little unnerved by a stranger taking pictures of them kissing. Standing on the street, riding the bus, in a café, on the métro...wherever you may be, it normal to bare witness to displays of, oftentimes, intense affection. This can seem inappropriate to us outsiders, as it is quite more than just the simple public hand-holding and pecks that we are used to.
2. Pigeons (AKA: flying rats)
Growing up in rural North Carolina, I was never really exposed to the mass amounts of pigeons present in cities. You can imagine my shock when, walking into the métro station, I encountered several pigeons. Inside, they strut around like they belong there and people pay them no attention. Outside, they come swooping down at you out of nowhere and can give you quite a fright. I would liken them to the squirrels of North Carolina; they are everywhere and they have distinct personalities in each different city.
|Here is a pigeon presumably waiting for a bus.|
3. Hide your kids, hide your dogs
Maybe it is the excessive friendliness of the Southern United States that causes me to do this but, when I see a cute dog or child, I smile at it and wave. If you try to do this in France, people will most likely give you an odd look and hurriedly pull their child or dog away from you. There is a common stereotype that the French are very cold and rude and I think this is because their reserved and cautious behaviors are misinterpreted by us foreigners as being impolite. While I have learned to avert my gaze on the streets, I have found one place in Lyon where I am free to gawk over animals as much as I want: Le Chamourai. Below is a picture of one of the cats at this cat café. Coincidentally, the cat is making a similar face to the one French people will if you try to play with their animals or kids.
4. Bon appetit!
You’ve probably heard this before, but the French really value their food. Don’t go to a nicer restaurant or café with the expectation of being out of there in less than one hour. Many French restaurants offer you a three course menu with the éntrée (appetizer), le plat principal (main course), and le dessert (this one is pretty easy) which will take you 1-2 hours to finish. After finishing a meal, many foreigners assume that a check will be brought to them by their waiter/waitress. If you stick your ground at your table and wait for your check to be brought to you, add on another hour to your meal time. This is one of the aspects that I, as a foodie, particularly enjoy because it allows time to truly enjoy the food and socialize over it, but the American in me also just wants to hurry up and get out.
|This meal was divine, but took about 3 hours total!|
Well there you have it; a few of the main things that provided me with the culture shock guaranteed by the study abroad experience! I have come to love most of these differences and more and find each and every one of them truly fascinating. I hope all of you have the opportunity to one day travel to France or to just travel in general and truly step out of your comfort zones. I won’t say that it is easy because there are so many challenges and rough nights, but I genuinely believe that the experience is worth it. I hope all of you reading have had lovely Valentine’s Days full of hugs and friends and family and that this blogpost brings you some joy. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for my next blogpost!
Jean Moulin University Lyon 3