The French Cultural Context

Discover France

Invest in France Agency – AFII: www.invest-in-france.org

Bibliothèque Nationale de France (consultation of library catalogues): www.bnf.fr

France Guide, the official website for tourism in France: http://uk.france.fr/

Tourist Offices and Visitors Bureaux: www.tourisme.fr

Geographic portal of France (IGN): www.geoportail.fr

Official portal of France: uk.france.fr

Overseas Territories: www.outre-mer.gouv.fr

 

Alcohol: Being great wine-makers, the French typically enjoy a glass of wine with meals and during evenings spent with friends. Beer and hard alcohol are also consumed in moderation. The apéro is a common practice: before supper, the French enjoy a glass of pastis (an alcohol that tastes like liquorice, diluted with water) or a muscat (a sweet white wine). People who don’t drink alcohol can always find an alternative: bars all serve fruit juices and fizzy drinks.

 

Conversation: To start up a conversation, the subjects of predilection are studies, the weather and food. Your home country will undoubtedly be a subject of discussion when you first meet someone; you may even grow weary of talking about it.

 

Family: Many French students move out of the family home after secondary school. Although family is still important to most of them, it is much less important in everyday life in France than in North African countries. The warmth of the family is perhaps what Alyssa students tend to miss the most.

 

Food: France is known for its fine dining, and each region has its own specialities. Perhaps because they don’t have the budget to truly explore French gastronomy, some people find French food to be less spicy and less tasty than in their home countries. Regardless, you shouldn’t expect to find exactly the same tastes as back home!  If you are not sure whether or not to try certain food because you don’t know if it is Halal or Kosher, feel free to ask the shopkeeper or your server.

 

Friendships: The majority of French students have a full schedule. In addition to their studies, some work, some are in relationships and many of them have active social lives. For this reason among others, it can be hard to build friendships. But if you show that you are interested, most will happily talk to you about their country and their culture. Once you’ve been invited for a drink after class, know that you are on the right path to making a new friend!

 

Greetings: When you first meet someone, most people will hold out their hand and friendlier types will extend their cheek. With classmates and co-workers, it’s three kisses on the cheek! Good to know: to avoid bumping noses, the first kiss is usually on the right cheek! If you are not comfortable with this practice, that’s fine: holding out your hand will not be seen as impolite.

 

Hospitality: You will rarely meet someone who spontaneously invites you over to their house unless you have taken the time to get to know them. Yet it is not difficult to find someone ready to help with your studies or any problems you may encounter.

 

Language: Even if you speak perfect French, you will undoubtedly have to ask people to repeat themselves from time to time, especially in a group. This is because French accents and expressions can vary greatly! Conversely, the way you speak French may make some people smile: don’t take it personally; these differences are just surprising in the beginning.

 

Love life: The French start their love lives relatively early. It is socially acceptable to date a man or a woman without thinking about marriage and to live with your boyfriend or girlfriend without being married. And it is not bad form for a man to invite a single female friend to his house or a restaurant as a friend (and vice versa). Public displays of affection are considered normal and homosexuality is accepted by most people.

 

Pace of life and lifestyle: Despite being active and often in a hurry, people in Montpellier find the time to enjoy a sidewalk café on nice days and typically take a 90 minute break for lunch. Administrative offices tend to be closed for lunch from 12 to 2 pm. Alyssa students often experience changes in their pace of life when they arrive in France. It can be destabilizing not to know what to do after class or at the weekend or, on the contrary, to be overwhelmed by work and obligations. You should expect your activities to go up or down depending on your personality and, in any case, that they will be different from back home.

 

Pets: In trams and outside at sidewalk cafés, you will see dogs on (or off) leashes almost everywhere! Some masters do not give their canine companions much instruction and might let them sniff at your shoes or block your path. Don’t be afraid; 99% of dogs are not dangerous. But do be careful where you set your feet! Despite the city’s cleaners, you will still see messes on the street.

 

Politeness: In academic and professional settings, the French are typically less form than North Africans. In writing, the standard niceties are brief and emails are straight to the point. Use the formal vous (you) as a mark of politeness toward people older than you or in a position of authority. Between students however, it is standard to use the informal tu.

 

Prejudices: “Where do you come from? Were you born in France?” Origins and nationality are often important when first meeting someone from another country. If people ask you about it, it may be more because they want to establish initial contact with you than because they have any prejudices about you. The French are generally a tolerant people. There are of course exceptions to the rule, and any difference can take some time to understand. Some Alyssa students may feel more or less of a distance with French students, especially girls who wear a headscarf. But shared interests, time and an open mind will usually lead to a connection.

 

Punctuality: Generally speaking, the French arrive on time at work and for appointments. Repeated tardiness can be interpreted as a lack of respect. If work as part of a team, try hard to arrive on time. This can only help your relationships with your fellow team members!

 

Religion: France is mostly a secular country where religion is a private matter. Very few French people practise their religion, especially among young people. There is a lack of knowledge about Islam which can, in some instances, lead to prejudices. Not everyone sees wearing a headscarf in a favourable light, and it is prohibited in some places (public administration and certain sports). Talking religion with a French person can be very rewarding but often controversial!

 

Studies: How can you make your studies a success? Time management is crucial. In France, the pace of work is typically sustained. Rare are those who wait until the last minute to prepare for a test or write their papers and receive a good mark.

 

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