After a succession of weekends for which traveling plans were made and then broken, and weeks in which I received a surprising amount of actual schoolwork, I feel as though I am developing something of a routine. I have been very busy and I haven’t left Paris in over a month, neither of which happens very often for study abroad students. It makes me feel like I am actually living in Paris, and I’ve learned a lot about it’s culture.
French culture consists of a lot of unspoken etiquette, which makes it easy for an American in Paris to constantly feel as though they are doing the wrong thing. It also seems as though English as a language is spoken louder than French, making every anglophone seem slightly obnoxious to the quiet Parisian. When I have dinner with my host family, I pick up some of the subtleties of French culture, but I’m always terrified that I’m doing the wrong thing. Meals in France tend to be more structured than American meals, and snacking is sometimes looked-down upon. The French respect their three meals a day, and make each one substantial enough to last until their next one.
A typical French dinner consists of three or four courses, and Parisians generally eat at 8pm at the very earliest. The first course is an appetizer or an “entrée,” which doesn’t, in fact, mean the main course as it does in America. It can be some kind of vegetable or a soup, and is generally small and very well presented. After that comes the “plat,” or the main course. This can be almost anything, and based on my experience, it’s always really good. Bread is on the table throughout the meal, and it’s usually acceptable to break the bread with your hands. The preferred beverage to accompany a meal is wine, and only sometimes water. I imagine most French people are usually dehydrated. After the main course, cheese is usually served, followed by a dessert and coffee or tea. It’s no stereotype that French people take food very seriously, and the meals that my host family makes, even for just themselves, seem like a big ordeal. It sometimes makes me wish America would adopt certain French customs, but then I remember that we have peanut butter, Groundhog Day, and stores open past 8pm; it’s a trade-off, really.
Despite my excess of schoolwork and apparent assimilation to the French culture, I still do the things that tourists do. I took a great day trip to Chateau Fontainebleau and remembered what woods are like. It’s a beautiful old palace surrounded located about fifty kilometers outside Paris. It was a really nice, forty-five minute train ride there, that’s free on weekends. We had a little picnic by the forest outside of the chateau, that apparently has been preserved to protect several endangered species of Europe that live there.
I also discovered Flunch, probably the least French thing I’ve done here that is unique to France. It’s a buffet-style, fast-food chain in France, and one of my new favorite things, even though it contrasts almost everything I’ve discovered about typical French meals. My meal was ice cream and unlimited french fries — I flunched pretty hard.