Well, no one really did, but I might as well have after the awkward moment those words produced.
You see, while on an excursion to visit the Roman sites of Nîmes, a bunch of us went to the bathroom before leaving the arena. Because there were only two clean stalls, it took forever. I happened to walk out near the end of the pack but before the last people, and our program social coordinator was just standing there waiting. To break the awkward silence, I made a joke and said that it was taking so long because we had to make sure no one fell in the toilet. He is fluent in English, but of course, certain things get lost in both linguistic and cultural translation. He gave me an odd look and walked away…
That’s only one of the many awkward moments I’ve had since I arrived in France. We had all been informed that women should not smile at random men here in Europe. Whereas back home it’s common and just a gesture of human connection, here it’s apparently taken with a more sexual tone. Besides that, I have to admit I didn’t really have the time to read about French cultural differences. I figured I’d just experience them as they came.
Well, they came fast. On my flight from the City of Lights to the south of France, I sat next to a guy who had a laptop with a “IBM property” sticker. I knew my host dad worked at IBM, so in an attempt to return the man’s small talk, I casually asked him if he worked there. I could feel the cold Arctic wind as he interrogated me as to why I wanted to know. I tried to explain to him that I was simply curious because my host dad worked there and I thought perhaps they knew each other. His answer: “There are many IBM computers in the world and just because I have one doesn’t mean I work for them.” …Key word PROPERTY, anyone? I suppose French is a much more closed culture and not everyone is open to others asking about their work. [I gently excused myself from the conversation and since then had an irrational fear that the man was actually my host dad (fortunately he’s not).
I could go on and on about the culture differences here such as why the eggs aren’t cooked at hotel breakfasts (I cracked a raw one) or why everything except kebab places are closed on Sundays (it’s like the whole Jewish people eating at Chinese restaurants on Christmas thing that my freshman year roommate told me about), but I won’t touch on them all. I am still very confused about when to do les bises though. That’s the French greeting kisses (3 times in this region). I had an awkward handshake moment with my host mom at the hotel when she first picked me up. I didn’t know I was supposed to greet someone I had never met with kisses! But then my host brothers, father, sister, and all of their friends all did as soon as I arrived at the house (and on all other first meetings as well). I’m still not 100% sure when to do them and with whom. Should I greet my host family with les bises every day when I come home? After I’m gone for a long weekend? What about their friends? Or French people I meet on my own?
Oof. I suppose it’s good to spread the love.
A tout à l’heure!