Interesting France Trip Report

Jul 6th, 2003, 04:16 PM
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Interesting France Trip Report

If you take the time to read this please tell me if you have any thing you want to say, or your feelings on what i wrote. Please also keep in mind that i tried to direct this trip report on the cultural differences and I didn't write all about the great places i got to visit.

I just got back from a three week trip to France this Wednesday. For three weeks in June I spent living with a French family in the small town of Limoges. And let me tell you, it was extremely different than I had ever expected. First and foremost, I didn?t meet one mean French person. The French have gained that reputation as being stuck up. And maybe I was just lucky but every single French person I met was extremily nice and kind. Yes they shave and while they don?t shower every single day they didn?t stink. And again maybe I was just lucky, but overall they were clean.

Ok, let me just start off by saying that the trip was great, and that I got to see a lot of the French country side (and Paris as well of course). But their were several things that bothered me while I was there. When I first arrived at the family?s house they asked me if I wanted a drink and so the mother gets out a bottle of coke, and I simply said may I please have some water instead (of course at the time I was speaking in French). And she, as well as the rest of the family thought it was crazy that me, the American, didn?t want coke. Nobody could get over it, and everyone at all meals, offered me coke. And I don?t really like coke THAT much.

Next, their was NO air-conditioning anywhere. I ran across air-conditioning in Paris a little more, but that was it. I was stuck in Limoges (which is sorta in the south ) w/ out air-conditioning. And they only drink during meals. They all thought it was incredible how often the American drank water. I was like, it?s a million degrees out side and double that inside, I need a drink. It was a special occasion when they got ice in their drinks, and even then it?s only one ice cube. Yes, only one.

I had expected the food to be a little better than it was but no problem I thought. The only problem was the amount they eat. I have never gone so long w/ out eating in my life. We would eat lunch at exactly noon every day, and that would be some leftover breakfast sausages with bread. And then we wouldn?t eat again until about 8:30. It was crazy. One night when everyone was sleeping I found my self sneaking into the kitchen and eating the rest of our dinner (crêpes).

Another cultural difference is the refrigerators. The only person who has permission to go into the fridge was the Mom. The husband even had to ask her to go into it. So it wasn?t like here in America if your hungry you open the fridge, you had to wait till the next meal. And yes, I know, this is one of the many reasons we (Americans) get criticized, but I don?t know about you, I don?t like starving myself. And a little snack will never hurt.

Overall it was a great trip. My French improved a lot, and I was met with many surprises. But that?s the fun of traveling to another country, is you get to experience their culture and their lifestyle.
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Jul 6th, 2003, 04:24 PM
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yesmar82787, I enjoyed reading your report. I hope you'll post more about your experiences. For me, this sort of perspective is a lot more interesting than another rave about the Louvre.

May I ask if you are a student? Was your stay with the French family some sort of exchange program?
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Jul 6th, 2003, 04:25 PM
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Yesmar, good to hear back from you! I sympathize on the ice water! I lived with a family in Angers during a heat wave, and one day just asked the wife for a full glass of ice. She gave me 3 cubes. I had her fill it up; I poured water in and drank it right down. I think she thought I would drop over (something about cold beverages being bad for the stomach).

It sounds like a wonderful experience. Since you were in Limoges, did your family take you to Oradors-sur-Glane, the little town where the Nazis killed the entire population and they have left it as it was as a monument?
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Jul 6th, 2003, 04:27 PM
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yes, i am a student. Next year I will be a Junior in highschool. Yes, the program's name was Junior Diplomat. It is a French/Americain program which sends American kids to live with a kid their age in france for three weeks, and then the following year the french kids come to america to stay with their friends.
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Jul 6th, 2003, 04:28 PM
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haha, well it's nice to hear you had the same experience. And yes, i heard the same thing, ice is bad for you. But you know what, they arent living any longer than us.
No i'm afraid i didn't get to go see that town. That sounds really interesting though. I wish i had known about that before i left so i could have asked them to take me there
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Jul 6th, 2003, 04:32 PM
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yesmar, what a great opportunity to experience another culture, and to speak French.

LVSue, on our recent visit to France an American friend who has been living there for 30 years was horrified to see us drink cold drinks with ice. She has adopted the conventional wisdom that cold drinks are bad for your digestion and thought we were very strange for questioning that belief.
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Jul 6th, 2003, 06:30 PM
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yesmar-what did you take to the family and what was the reaction ?
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Jul 6th, 2003, 07:25 PM
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I gave the Father a bottle of California Wine. However, he didn?t open it. For the mother I took some earrings and a necklace. she really liked the necklace however, I wouldn?t recommend the earrings. I found that French women don?t pierce their ears, and those who do are considered, well like punks. I also took the whole family a book called America from the Air. They really liked that. My correspondent, who?s name was Tristan, had an older brother, 2 younger brothers, and a little sister. So I gave Tristan some American Cds, and I gave all the boys an American football. The football was a huge hit. They wanted me to teach them how to play, and how to throw the ball. For the next three weeks they went everywhere with the ball. I mean they took it on the camping trip, and they took it to their friends? house and everything. For his sister I gave her an ?American teddy bear?. It had an American patch on it and it was a big hit with her as well. Then I brought Home Alone in English for the young boy. He didn?t speak a word of English so that wasn?t that great.

Then for the whole family I brought some Pralines, some jelly bellies, and some other local Georgian foods. They loved the pralines and they loved the jelly bellies. I also brought them all baseball hats, but I figured they didn?t like them because when they tried them on they thought they looked like rappers. So they didn?t ever wear them.

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Jul 6th, 2003, 07:50 PM
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yesmar:

I think you need to realize that you can't generalize from your particular experience. For example, regarding pierced ears, it is simply not true that French women don't pierce their ears and think it is punk to do so. Maybe YOUR French family thought that, but you cannot extrapolate to the rest of French society from that one experience. Pierced ears are pretty much the norm among French women I've known and seen for the past 20+ years.

Your French family was, of course, guilty of the same generalizations and assumptions - assuming you'd want Coke instead of water, for example.

It's true there's hardly any air conditioning in the SW of France. Those stone houses really don't usually require it. It's unfortunate that you were there during a pretty much unprecedented heatwave.

Interesting about the refrigerator - I've never been in a French home where the mother was "in charge" of the refrigerator. Maybe it was because they had an exchange student with them and they wanted to keep track of what was being consumed. The French are for the most part pretty frugal compared to Americans, and I can imagine a French family without lots of money wanting to make sure a guest in the house didn't mean a big stretch in the family food budget (and of course the food budget in any French family is a considerable percentage of the whoel budget). At any rate, you should now be aware that the French, in general, don't snack - and that's a healthy aspect of their culture. And by the way, they DO live longer than we do , ESPECIALLY in the Southwest of France.

Your presents were well chosen, I'd say, though I can understand how maybe the baseball caps and the California wine didn't go over so well. Perhaps now that you're gone they've uncorked the wine and are wearing the caps, though. As a matter of pride, they probably waited until you'd left to try them out. As for the Home Alone video, I bet that, too, gets played by a curious youngster at some point.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 05:03 AM
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Hi yesmar,

Thanks for your report. I hope you tell us more of your experiences.

Regarding starving to death: M F K Fisher (great writer about France, the French and French food) tells a story of when she was 17 and was allowed to go on a walking tour by herself, staying with friends and relatives of her parents.

At one stop, with an elderly aunt and uncle, she had missed lunch. Breakfast was a croissant and a coffee. She was, of course, very hungry. Dinner was a chicken.

Since she was the guest, she was given 1/2 of one breast. Uncle ate a leg. Aunt ate the other 1/2 breast.

Needless to say, she couldn't sleep because her stomach growled all night.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 05:22 AM
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It's interesting to read other peoples' impressions of a foreign land, especially a young person like you, yesmar. What a great experience you had! You can see how we sometimes have preconceived notions of how people in other countries act or live. For example, we've always heard that the French were rude to Americans. I've experienced that almost exclusively in Paris, and mostly at CDG airport, but not in many other towns, thankfully!

That the French folks you stayed with thought all Americans drink only Coke shows how they also have their ideas of what we're like, not necessarily based on any facts.

I hope you have many more opportunities in your life to travel and experience other cultures.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 07:03 AM
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StCirq, thanks for your relpy. It's always nice to get other peoples opinions. However, the group i was with consisted of about 15 kids the same age as me. Each of us flew over to france together, and then back together 3 weeks later. Once in France, we were each sent to our families all of whom were in different cities of France. On the flight home we all talked about our experiences and we all said the exact same thing. So these are not just my opinions, but the opinion of 15 others as well. Each of us had the same experience. It was almost scary, haha. But perhaps it was just that each family treated their own American the same (with the fridge and all).

As for the French being rude, I found that as long as i was speaking French, they respected me for doing so. Even some people who originally come across as mean were shocked with my ability to speak French and after that were much much nicer. At some points in time they would even try to use a little of their english with me.

One example was at CDG. When i first arrived i was having some trouble exchanging my money useing my banking card. So at a help desk i was trying to explain my problem to a woman who knew, from my accent, that i was american. She asked me if i would prefer her speak english, or french. I said French, and she was suprised that i wanted to keep useing my French, and in turn was extremily helpfull. So i guess if u try to use as much French as you can you will get a much better reaction from everyone.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 08:21 AM
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Nice observations, yesmar82787. Things haven't changed much since I did a student exchange back in the late 70's. No eating between meals, and I never ever, in the entire three months I lived there, got food for myself from either a cupboard or the fridge. We ate what we were served and that was that.

My French family didn't push soft drinks on me (I don't drink them), but had laid in a supply of corn flakes. I told them I had tea and toast for breakfast (as they did) and it was smooth sailing from then on.

I did visit my French family recently (my correspondent is of course now a mother herself) and noted that breakfast cereal (including sweetened and chocolate) is now common, at least based on what her five children ate for breakfast.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 10:48 AM
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Thats funny you said that because when the group was flying back on the plane we all sorta decided that they were just STUCK in the 70s. But yes they do like their surgary cereal. They had their version of coco pebbles, and their version of Corn Pops. They also had a cereal that were chocolate squares that tasted stale, even when you opened a new box. But it's nice you have a lifelong friend. I hope i will do the same. For breakfast they always ate leftover bread from the day before. It had sat out all night and so they dipped it in their bowls of coffee. They only used bowls for their coffee. The only time they used a normal cup was when they drank espresso. Even then it was a small little mini mug.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 11:28 AM
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yesmar,

I love your review.
And I think you did a good job with the gifts...maybe not with the california wine.

Your comments are very funny since I use to think the other way around.
The first time I came to the US I was impressed how much coke and pop people drink here.
My sister (a big coke drinker) is always impressed by the size of the coke bottles here.
I still HATE when waiter give me a glass full of ice, I always have to remind them : no ice please...

Fridge: love my big american fridge. I don't have a family yet, but yes, i would prevent my kids to go in...My hb knows that he should check with me if he wants something from the fridge since I may plan to use the something for a recipe.

(just a funny (i think) story... I quicly got used to my BIG oven here. Once I came back to France and said that I was going to cook on my first night. There was a big party (15 people) and I was going to do quiche. I can easely cook 3 quiches at the same time....here. Not there ! it took me forever to cook for everybody. I totaly forgot about our small ovens!

Earings : not true. You are too quick to generalize. In my family girls got their ear pierced...

cleanliness : won't comment

Food: maybe she wasn't a good cook.


AC : it's coming ! don't worry. My dad got AC few years ago, but he doen't run it all the time, consume too much energy ! That the whole drawback behing AC : energy consumption

Meals: well yes... some family have a snack around 4pm. and even here I doon't have dinner before 8pm.

LVSue... do they give tours in English at oradour ?
I did the visit few years ago.I was with a group of tourism student...we were all crying and depressed on our way to the futuroscope




Celine


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Jul 7th, 2003, 06:29 PM
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Celine,

Thanks for your opinions and your stories. But heres the question, why is it that the French hate ice. I have heard that they think it's bad for your stomach, and all kinds of other stories.
Yes i knew after i did it that i maybe shouldnt have given them the California wine. But maybe they will find they like it.
love the story about the quiches. That really putts things into perspective. One night I had gone to a party, and the mother of the girl who was hosting the party had made about 20 or 25 quickes. All were homeade. I walked into her kitchen where she was making them and she had a small oven, and she was cooking one at a time. I couldnt believe it. However, they were the best quiches i ever had.
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Jul 7th, 2003, 07:41 PM
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yesmar :

I know that i don't like ice because (these are my reasons)

it tastes bad, because it made directly from the tape water and I don't like the tape water here.

It use to hurt my teeth. My dentist here is way more concensious than my dentist in France. for some reason I was told overthere that flossing is bad...go figure

yes if i drink to cold it will hurt my intestins.

but overall....why would I need ice ?



Celine

maybe I should have written ... tout ça en français ? ;-)
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Jul 7th, 2003, 08:51 PM
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Very few people have AC in Europe. Partly due to economics, partly due to building design--windows in most European buildings can't accommodate the typical window air conditioners. If you want AC, you have to either get central AC installed (very expensive and sometimes impossible to do) or buy these huge, not terribly efficient air conditioners that have a little hose that hangs out the slightly open window. Pretty goofy looking and not terribly energy efficient.
We were in Basel, Switzerland, a couple of week-ends ago and near the cathedral, my mother pointed to some circular holes in the windows of an older building and asked, what's that? They had installed airconditioning but for security reasons, could not have the windows open to let the little hose hang out. So they drilled round holes into the windows that the hoses fit into.
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Jul 8th, 2003, 12:27 AM
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Thanks, yesman, for the great report...brought back fond memories of my youth and staying with my Fr. family!

My favorite "cultural differences" story actually happend to a French mayor visiting a fellow Amer. mayor, Ben Stapleton, in Denver years ago. If you could hear "Madame" describing the fabulous spread the Stapletons had waiting for their late arrival from France. To be polite, Mme. et M. le maire, refuse, "non,non, on ne peut pas.." Stapletons: "Are you sure? Surely you must be hungry.." More French protestations...to which the good Stapletons being good Americans who take things at face value promptly showed them to their sleeping quarters! One more offer, and the couple was planning on accepting the offer and instead had to listen to their stomachs grumble all night long with images of the glorious feast fresh in their mind. We laughed so hard when they 'fessed up years later!
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Jul 8th, 2003, 04:24 AM
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Flossing bad??? I guess that explains European teeth...oops sorry another sterotype...or is it?

I read this and think about yesmars experiences and thought about how many different experiences one would have if they moved in with a family in the USA. Although there are some generalizations , in reality all of us live very differently. One family's normal behavior is nutty compared to anothers. Just get married, you will see.
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