As I walked home from my 8am class this morning, sporting a black leather jacket and black mini-boots, baguette in hand, I had a moment of realization: I’m slowly but surely beginning to adapt to the French culture.
So far, all of my posts except the second one have been about my life outside of Lyon. Sure, days trips to Switzerland, waffles in Belgium and balls in Vienna are great, but I don’t actually live in any of those places. While frequent traveling is an obvious benefit of studying abroad in Europe, it’s easy to get caught up in experiencing every place that isn’t the place where you’re stationed.
Here’s an honest comment: I have mixed feelings about Lyon. I definitely don’t hate it, but I can’t say I’m totally in love with it either. The best part about it is that it is probably one of the least tourist-y cities you can study abroad in, and I definitely enjoy it more than I would have enjoyed Paris. Although I have not been to Paris yet, I know I would not have been pleased with all the hustle and bustle of the tourists in the city. That being said, I also love that being in a smaller city gives me more of a real feel of what French culture is like. I also don’t feel overwhelmed. And although it’s not the most picturesque European city, it still has enough charm and beauty to keep me satisfied.
The worst parts are probably that a.) everyone smokes and the air inside my university is essentially just a cloud of smoke, b.) in general, people/businesses/services etc are not super accommodating, and do not value customer service a whole lot (maybe a European thing? Or just a non-American thing? Who knows. and c.) There’s not a ton of nature. There are some distant mountains that I can see from my dorm room window, and a decently sized park a couple miles northeast of where I live, and the main city is nestled between two rivers, one of which I cross over every day to commute to class. However this is probably true for most cities… but I can’t help but compare it to Grenoble!
I enjoy being here also because I feel like I’m learning and challenging myself every day. Mostly because whenever I go anywhere, I am constantly reading signs/menus/etc in French, or eavesdropping every conversation possible, from the passengers on the tram to the other students making dinner in my kitchen, trying to discern what people around me are talking about. From the day I got here, it felt rewarding to be able to communicate with people in French, and to be able to understand French when I read it. I was no longer doing “Page 50, Exercise 3” in a text book; I was experiencing real French. For years I’d wondered if what we learned in class was accurately representative of what France is really like, and if people really used the phrases we’d memorized for quizzes. For the most part, I can say what I’ve learned is pretty accurate.
Some other things I’ve adapted to include:
- Wearing darker clothes, mostly black (not sure if it’s because I own a lot of it, or it’s extremely easy to match, or simply because that’s what everyone here wears…Thanks Coco Chanel)
- Wearing leather jackets, everyday.
- Carrying a baguette home from the grocery store after class at least 3 times a week
- Drinking wine (not too hard to adapt too though, especially when it costs less than 3 euros)
- “Cafe au lait”s aka espresso with milk
- When I need coffee or food to go, I go to Brioche Dorée instead of Starbucks for a baguette sandwich or a “pain au chocolat” (chocolate croissant)
- Not having a heart attack when I get a 14/20 on a test (that’s a B+, not a 70%!)
Not to mention, despite my still terrible accent, people are beginning to stop speaking English back to me when I try to speak French with them. The last few times I went to Starbucks (hey, can’t just give that up cold turkey!), Brioche Dorée, or my friend’s apartment, I’ve had full conversations with the workers in French. Yesterday, I went for a walk/run (I mostly walked…still sore) along the Saone river (the aforementioned one near my residence) and it was so refreshing. The weather was perfect: sunny with a slight breeze and crisp air, and right before sunset. The further I got down the river, the more groups of people I saw just hanging out by the river – on a Monday afternoon. This reminded me of the general stereotype that the French value the quality of life, and it is 100% true. I’m not even just saying this because of my walk along the river – there are so many little details I notice that support this. I see so many “après le travail” (after-work) parties/gatherings advertised, for every day of the week. Most businesses are closed for at least 2 hour lunch breaks, and/or afternoon breaks before dinner, and/or don’t open until after breakfast, and most just not at all on Sundays. This is because (at least, to my understanding/theories) they value time spent with family and enjoying meals with close ones more so than capitalizing on operating 24/7. People will also enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at any time of the day. Wine with breakfast or coffee after dinner is completely normal here; the complete opposite of what I’m used to.
And one last thing: during my adventure yesterday, I stumbled upon some interesting sights in the artsy district of the city….
All of these are completely hand-painted murals on the buildings. None of the windows are real. Lyon’s street art is pretty remarkable if you ask me!
In conclusion, I’m finally starting to get used to “la vie en France”. Who knows, maybe you’ll mistake me for a native French person next time you see me…. although it might be a dead giveaway when I don’t have a cigarette between my lips.