I have recently been haunted by a certain Facebook video poking fun at study abroad students. The blonde caricature student rambles again and again, “when I was abroad…” filling in the blanks by longing for every European cliché from a more relaxed lifestyle to a different drinking culture.
This is a stereotype I may just fall into, but with a tiny bit of pride. This past spring semester I studied abroad in Paris. And yes, for four months I got to bask in espresso, sidewalk café terraces, and croissants galore. Sometimes clichés are beautiful.
At the beginning of my study abroad program, we had a week-long orientation that included presentations on cultural and academic differences. During one of these sessions, our presenter lamented that while she loves the laid-back business style of the French, she often craves American efficiency.
“Americans are just so efficient. They respond to emails; they have quick meetings. When I work in France everyone wants to get coffee or have a two-hour long lunch before anything gets done.”
I have to admit that I had noticed a difference in my day-to-day activities in Paris. Things take a bit longer in France. They aren’t rushed quite like they are here—unless you’re walking through the metro.
Americans really do value efficiency and convenience. We have quick meetings. We snack all day to keep from getting hungry. We don’t use all of our vacation time.
I was surprised to learn there was no online portal for my university and that professors most likely would not respond to my emails within 24 hours. I was also shocked by how often my host family had off work/school for a national holiday.
And then there was the food. My host family made the most delicious dinners. In the early evening or sometimes even late afternoon, the smells would begin to waft through the house. Each night we sat down at the dinner table—no take-out or rushed fifteen-minute dinner. Sometimes it was just three or four of us, sometimes all six people. And we always had an appetizer or dessert along with our entrée.
While I’m at school, I barely make myself three real dinners a week—and that’s a good week. I love how people in France take the time to enjoy food, from taking hours to eat, to shopping for fresh food at specialty stores, to spending hours in a café just to have a coffee. In the majority of cafés, you don’t see laptops and people working. They just sit, talk, and enjoy their espresso or café crème.