By Justin Smith
This semester I am studying abroad in Paris, France, which has come to be one of my favorite cities on the map. I started studying the French language during my freshman year of high school, and it has been my minor at CUA since starting college, so I already had a pretty good grasp of the language before getting off the plane. The first week of studying abroad is a complete whirlwind, and, despite all of the blog posts or travel guides you might read before heading to a foreign country, it is quite impossible to prepare yourself for. I have been caught off guard by even the slightest of cultural differences, such as the rather cold and distant greeting I received from my host brother after lugging my suitcases up four skinny flights of stairs in an ancient Parisian apartment building. I later came to find out, however, that he was not being rude, but that French people generally just take longer to warm up to people they have never met before.
I also have been learning which French/Parisian stereotypes are true, and which are total myths. For starters, Parisians do not wear exclusively black, stripes, or berets. However, I can completely confirm that everything—and I mean everything—is ridiculously smaller than in the States. Trying to fit my American sized luggage in a European elevator that was clearly designed for half of a person was nothing short of a comedic adventure. Although, the stereotype with which I came to Paris most fervently believing was that Parisians have no interest in/will not interact with strangers. And to my greatest surprise, this is 100% false. (Well, maybe a little true on the metro. Just don’t try and talk to people on the metro). I witnessed first-hand the surprisingly warm nature of a Parisian couple one night at a café with my friend. My friend being a Parisian herself, took me to a non-touristy café where we shared a bottle of wine and discussed (in French) our countries’ political and current events. Then, out of nowhere, the table sitting next to us politely interrupted our conversation and showed us a picture they took of us, since they could hear I was a foreigner and she was French. This then lead to the four of us conversing for the rest of the night. It was the first time that I saw French people step out of their own bubble and interact with someone they didn’t know.
That night has taught me to let go of a lot of my pre-conceived notions about French culture and I’m now experiencing the Parisian way of life for what it really is. I hope by the end of this semester I will not only understand the French language and lifestyle better but will also start to blend in as a real Parisian.
Justin Smith is a junior accounting major and French minor studying in Paris, France for the Fall 2017 semester.