Svetlana ‘ 25, reflects on the similarities and differences between American and French households.
After being here for almost three days, I realize that French and American households have a lot of things in common, as well as some pretty big differences. One aspect of my life that remains familiar no matter where I am is a quick and rushed morning. I woke up an hour before having to leave my host house, but that hour quickly slipped away. After I got ready, I entered the salle a manger (or dining room) and was greeted by open windows, sunshine, fresh fragrant air, and the quiet sounds of French radio. No one was there apart from a big, black cat that rested in the corner and a small tower of crepes with a jar of jam sitting beside them. Naturally I devoured many crepes with ease, when my host mother arrived and greeted me with Bonjour, I responded, Bonjour, then we began a long conversation, a feature that seems present at most French meals. After getting lost in conversation I realized that I only had ten minutes to get out the door. Luckily, there was no stress as the walk to our school is super peaceful, filled with silent movement, quiet observation, and beautiful scenery. All the roads look the same right now, filled with vines and flowers and small, pretty windows, but I look forward to the moment when I don’t need my phone to tell me directions to school.
When we arrived, we drilled grammar, and answered the question of why we are here in the first place. I first responded flippantly with pour quoi pas? Yet upon reflection it became clear of course: to learn the language and culture of this place. We could do that in a classroom at Deerfield but the real-life context has so much value. I’ve learned more French in three days than I have in the past month at school. Also, there is a special sense of community and culture here, family life is also really different. For lunch we went to an Italian restaurant called La Mama, like other restaurants we’ve tried, this place has a limited menu with just a few dishes but they are sourced and prepared at a really high level. My lasagna did not compare to any lasagna I’ve tried back home. Also, we spent an hour and a half eating, talking, and sitting around the table. At school we rush through the whole process in twenty minutes and we are always pressed for time.
Our afternoon consisted of a scavenger hunt in town, we divided into two groups and it tested my memory…we got lost a lot. Again, the sense of community was the most important part of this exercise. In fact, we stopped trying “to win” and instead decided to search for gifts, cakes, and cards to celebrate Mr. Hunt’s birthday! We discretely found, signed, and gave Mr. Hunt his card, along with a book on French philosophy and a Black Forest cake…because he loves cherries.
After the birthday celebration, I realized we would be celebrating again soon as my host sister promptly told me after arriving “home” that we would be going to her grandmother’s 90th birthday party. I was a bit taken aback, and felt some worry that I wouldn’t be able to talk or that I might be uncomfortable, but as soon as we arrived, everyone in the family made me feel right at home, which shouldn’t have surprised me at all. This is a family, they love and support one another and their tight-knit nature extends to me as well. There was a lot of teasing, which reminded me of home, and I was instantly put at ease despite the number of people. The food and conversation were amazing, and it all lasted over two and a half hours. After returning home and reflecting upon the differences between French family life and American family life, it feels like my family here really prioritizes spending time with one another and it just seems normal to them to eat together every night. Whereas a lot of American families tend to have really busy lives because our schedules are jam-packed, which means meals don’t happen together and we are often isolated during these moments. That would never happen here in Arles, I don’t think, because nobody spoke about their work or schedule even once during our time together. Work and achievement were not the focus of the conversation, instead it was all about connection and valuing each other.