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Putting the Étrange in Étranger

February 9, 2016

I have now been living (not just vacationing) in France for almost a month! The end of this week which will mark my one month anniversary with Nice. It will also bring new experiences as I will be leaving for another city, country, even continent! Spring break at Université de Nice is earlier in the semester because their exams are in April! Crazy! Along with a few friends in my program, I will be flying to, yes indeed, Casablanca, Morocco on Friday. As this big trip approaches, I am recognizing the feeling of anticipation for a new culture, not knowing quite what to expect. It wasn’t too long ago that I felt that way about France!


However, I am starting to feel myself assimilating to the French/Niçois way of life. The more I am here, the more I notice the little things that are different, the things that I might have overlooked my first week due to an overwhelming amount of novelty all at once. So that’s what I want to reflect on here and now. At this point in my semester, I am getting used to one culture and preparing to experience a couple more, so what differences have I noted between Nice, France and my home in the Midwest thus far?


  1. We have to start with food. It just wouldn’t be right to talk about anything else first. French people love their utensils. Whatever you’re eating for dinner, it is being cut into smaller pieces using a fork and knife. I’ve been feeling very proper and well-mannered while eating as the French do. If I weren’t speaking French the whole time, I would probably slip into my best impression of Lady Mary of Downton Abbey.

  2. They love their utensils so much that I need a second item on this list just for that. Any dessert that is eaten is to be eaten with a cute, tiny spoon. You think it’s easier to eat tarte aux pommes with a fork? You would prefer to pick up a macaron with your fingers? No no no, a tiny spoon it is.

  3. The French are very conscious of electricity, heat, and water! The utilities are generally more expensive here, so they pay attention to various measures they can take to conserve that energy. I really love this part of the culture. I wish it were as common in the U.S. to be that energy-conscious. I also say this because for the first week of being here, I learned the custom of rolling down my metal blinds each night and rolling them back up in the morning. As soon as it gets dark, I make sure my window is overlooking the nice view of a sheet of metal. For the first week of doing this without questioning it, I thought that this was protection from intruders. The ignorant American soon realized that this is really just insulation. Good job.

  4. I also love the difference in the way people grocery shop here. Going into any Monoprix or Carrefour, which is where I have been buying most of my food, they don’t have any disposable bags available at the check-out. If you don’t want to carry your food in your arms all the way home, then I hope you brought your own reusable bag or are ready to buy one at the counter, because that’s the only option here. And it is fantastic.

  5. This one is pretty random. It’s one of those things that you would never think about or anticipate being a difference, but, as someone who brought half American school supplies and then bought the other half here, it’s something I’ve noticed. All of the paper here is longer than in the U.S. It’s so strange. I don’t know why no one has set up a worldwide standard for paper size, but that would be a great idea. Whoever does that gets a prize. Because all of the papers I’ve received in class are about an inch taller than my folders bought in the States.

Looking at this list, I probably could have made it entirely about food, but there is more to France than its food! Things keep popping into my mind, but the part of me that likes organization and even numbers doesn’t want to go past #5. Besides, who doesn’t love a little mystery? That way, maybe someone reading this will be intrigued enough to venture here themselves and make their own list of differences. (I’m sure the paper size will also be 100% relevant to them, because who isn’t concerned about that?)

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