Ce qui m'étonne: That which surprises me

Jessica Castellanos
July 26, 2015

I want to dedicate a blog entry to the things that have been completely unexpected during my trip. I knew that certain things would be different here, but there are lots of things, good and bad, that I was completely unprepared for:

1)   Dogs without leashes. Somehow the French have jedi mind powers and can train their dogs to not run in the path of cars, to not chase other dogs that they see, etc. Most dogs that I've run across haven't had leashes. Today, my host family went to pay my friend Wendy's host family a visit. The dog came with us (without a leash) and when Wendy's host mom let us inside, the dog (Cymbao) was still on the porch. I asked my host mom if he was going to be okay, and she simply told him, "Cymbao, you stay here, alright? Stay on the porch. Stay," and closed the door. I was worried about him the whole time that we were drinking on the terrace, but sure enough, half an hour later when we opened the door, he was sound asleep on the porch where we had left him. 

There are also lots of dogs without leashes that like to play in the big fountain in the centre-ville;

2)   The French drive just like in the movies. The roads are tiny, and usually one way, but the French love to roll down the windows, rev the gas, and go 20-30 miles over what would be the norm in America on a similar-sized road. When my family drove to the beach this weekend, tailgating on the "autoroute" was just the norm. When that didn’t work, a car would just quickly go into the opposing lane, hoping there was no oncoming traffic, to pass the cars in front.

3)   Doors. The doors here are all very intricate, beautiful, and complicated. They are colorful and usually have combinations of multiple locks and levers. The first thing you're taught when entering a new building is how to work the doors, because you'll never be able to figure it out on your own. 

4)   Anyone reading this who knows me from home knows that I’m a complete soda addict...I used to bring a 2-liter with me to class in high school! I knew going in to this trip that there wouldn’t be Big Gulps in France, but what surprises me is that when the French do drink soda, it’s not in the same fashion as in the United States. When I buy a bottle of soda, I’m always given a glass with it, or at least a straw. It's more expensive (3 euros is the average, I would say) and the sizes are smaller (12 oz bottles are the norm) and free refills are non-existent (even at fast food restaurants) but I think that's because the French drink soda as a treat, and not as something to actually satisfy thirst. When you're thirsty, you reach for water- when you're feeling indulgent, you have soda, even if it's a 'Coca Light.' 

5)   While we’re on the topic of food: Pizza is never cut ahead of time. When you’re at a restaurant and order pizza, you’re expected to cut it with your own knife.

6) My favorite thing about French pizza is that no matter what kind you order, there are always olives sprinkled on. Always.

7)   French parents are, in a word, “hip.” My host family has an almost-7-year-old and a 10-month-old, but they still manage to live like most American couples that don’t have children. They usually stay up later than me. I'd say that my host parents go out to concerts, or to drink wine with friends, or to see a play, almost every other night, and can stay out as late as 2 or 3 in the morning. I can see why southern France is viewed as the place to be if you want to live life to the fullest.

8)   There are tons of little restaurants sprinkled across every French city that I've visited so far that sell a combination of sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, crepes, slurpees, and waffles at very reasonable prices. I don’t know how this kind of store hasn’t been brought to the US because it’s basically every 5 year old’s dream. One time I got a sandwich for just 5 euros that was simply brie and butter on a baguette, and another time I got salted caramel ice cream for under 2 euros. The ice cream flavors here are more varied than in the US – there are flavors like “lavender” and “blueberry muffin” just as often as there are “chocolate.”

(Another amazing thing about the food here: the French are OBSESSED with Nutella! Look at the gigantic jar on the left of the counter)

9)   Smoking – I knew that smoking was more popular in France than in the US, but what surprises me is the type of people that smoke. French smokers are by and large young, athletic, educated people. I think the difference is that in France, smoking is done more socially than as an everyday habit. You'll see people smoking and talking with friends in cafés more often than you'll see a shopkeeper stepping out for a smoke by themselves. What really surprises me is when I see what can probably best be described as most quintessentially French; someone in a striped shirt, smoking a cigarette, holding a baguette under their armpit, all while riding a bike. 

I'm probably leaving some things out, but this is my list for now! When I get back to the US (less than a week!) I'll definitely look at the way that we do things from a different point of view.

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Jessica Castellanos

<p>Jessica Castellanos is a freshman at Northwestern University majoring in Slavic Languages and Literatures and International Studies with a minor in Religious Studies. Even though her major revolves around the Russian language, Jessica loves the French language and French culture and she hopes to become fluent someday and use the language in her career. In her spare time, Jessica likes to run, volunteer with animals, and read.</p>

2015 Summer 1, 2015 Summer 2
Home University:
Northwestern University
International Studies
Slavic Studies
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