5 Things I Found Out In France Posted by Sten on Dec 29, 2015 in Culture, People, Vocabulary
I am Sten, a blogger from the Dutch and German blogs here at Transparent Language. During my university studies, I had the opportunity to go to another country in or outside the EU and study there for one semester within the ERASMUS program. I chose to study in France, both to learn more about the French culture – which, in my opinion, I did not know nearly enough about in my opinion, being German and Dutch – and also to improve my French skills. I have now studied for around 4 months in Nice, France, right at the Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera). And therefore, I thought it would be nice to write a little guest blog here on the French blog.
Below, I will set out the 5 things that struck me most, about France, but also more in general about getting into a new culture and language!
1. Talking & Listening Is Key
There are many ways to learn a new language. You can read, you can write, you can use the language in many ways. Though with French, I noticed much is in the speaking. I had a hard time understanding the French in the beginning, because they speak so quickly. And when they are already three sentences further, I am still figuring out what exactly their first sentence meant. But, like so many things, this is something you can get used to – practice makes perfect. And the best way to do this is by practicing, so having conversations with people. Talk to people, and listen to their answers. Try to understand. And if you don’t, well, just ask them to repeat. Below two sentences to help you out. Please correct me if the sentences contain mistakes – I am learning too, still.
Pardon, pouvez-vous le répéter ? Je ne l’ai pas compris, c’était trop vite! (Sorry, could you repeat that? I didn’t understand it, that was too fast!)
Pouvez-vous parler plus doucement, s’il vous plaît ? (Could you talk slower, please? – I used to say plus lentement (slower) in the beginning, but the French I spoke to all told me you’d say plus doucement (softer, gentler) instead.)
2. Crêpes For Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is Carnival, and more specifically, the day on which something more rich and fatty is eaten. I was told that in France, this is the time to eat a lot of crêpes!
One night, I made some Dutch pannenkoeken, and the concierge of the building walked into the communal cuisine. He found it a little strange I had pancakes for dinner now, in December! In the Netherlands, it is very normal to have pancakes for dinner, and there are even restaurants only for pancakes, so-called pannenkoekenrestaurants.
3. French Resembles English (Or The Other Way Around)
I first learnt French in Dutch, and during all the six years I followed language courses in high school, I had a very hard time getting the hang of it. Now, however, that I have mastered the English language and learn French in English, it is a lot easier! I think this is related a lot to the many similarities between the languages. Many words are basically the same. Some examples:
abuser – to abuse
exagérer – to exaggerate
le café – coffee
dégoûtant – disgusting
fatigué – tired (fatigued!)
la confession – confession
Also, the sentence structure is very similar, and much more similar than Dutch, for instance. Here an example:
je voudrais devenir professeur.
I’d like to become a professor.
Dutch: ik wil graag leraar worden.
The verbs are placed differently in Dutch, but they are placed exactly the same in French and English. This helps a ton, because translating a sentence from English to French is mostly just translating the words, the sentence structure is not that different!
4. The Southern French Are Not That Pünktlich
Being a German, I grew up with the sense of Pünktlichkeit (German for punctuality). 5 minutes late is bad, 10 minutes is the max. Anything above is unacceptable! Not so in France, or, for as far I can tell, southern France.
The first time I encountered this was with getting my room for the semester. The whole process of obtaining it took very long, because the administration went so slowly. Only a few weeks before my arrival, everything was finished. As I was not prepared for such a relaxed attitude, I was quite freaked out about this.
When I then arrived at the residence where I lived, pünktlich (à l’heure – on time) for the time that I signed up for online, I was told that they were still busy with the people before me. I waited for a good 2 hours until finally, it was my turn. Also there, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Again, something to get used to!
The tourist guide of Nice also warned me that it is not wise to rely on opening times of shops. They can close a bit earlier or later, it depends more on what they feel like. I have made this experience only once, however, at a supermarket.
The pinnacle of this lack of Pünktlichkeit came with a trip to Paris. We went by bus, and we were driving through the night. We gathered at 10:30 PM, which was announced because the organization thought people would only arrive at 11 PM. Me, being German, was there around 10:30 PM, knowing already that being a little en retard (late) is no problem. Then I found out the bus was supposed to come at midnight. And when the bus still was not there at 12:30 AM, everybody was getting a little worried. The bus finally arrived at 2 AM, long after the time it should have come!
5. En France, On Fume
Smoking is big in France. In breaks of lectures at the university, huge crowds would stand just outside the doors and smoke. Also elsewhere, I have seen a lot of people smoking. It seems to be a more frequent habit than in the Netherlands, and the numbers seem to suggest this too: in France, almost half of all people between 18 and 34 years smokes. By contrast, in the Netherlands, only 26% of adults (15 years and older) has smoked at least once.
What have been your experiences with learning French and the French culture? Let me know in the comments below!