De Carlisle à la Ville Rose

Category: La Une in English Page 1 of 17

Demonstrations and Strikes


France and the US have very different cultures, which are connected by the idea that citizens can protest to better their country. However, the citizens of these countries do not share the same opinion on the hows and whys of protesting. US culture does not largely involve protesting, while the French have a long, rich history of revolution and protests. In the US, the media tends to report protests more negatively, and people tend to think worse of protestors. This causes a willingness for the French to ask the government for things to improve their quality of life. Protests are essential for happy citizens, and to avoid a corrupt government.

Protests at the University

From the first minutes at UT2J, I felt a drastic difference between it and my experience at the university in the United States. I expected a presence of protests and strikes at the university. In the media, the stereotype of combative, quick-to-protest French people is quite common. My first
day at the university, I arrived at the Arche for my meeting with ASK, an office that works with incoming international students. While I was double checking my Google Maps, a student handed me a brochure for an upcoming conversation with an immigration lawyer about a recently passed law and information about manifestations that would be happening around
Toulouse in response to it. After my meeting with ASK, I walked around campus and headed to another building where I received my student ID. In this first walk around campus, I saw many posters with information about student activism. Even though this was shocking in the first couple of minutes at the French university, it became habitual to see. Almost every day, I see a group of students handing out flyers or brochures. Every time something happens in France, student activists have the instinct to react with a protest if they take issue with the situation. Also, it seems that the university administration does nothing to prevent or combat these protests. At WashU, the protest culture is quite different. This could be explained by the contrast between each institution. WashU is a private institution with only 7,000 students. On the other hand, UT2J is a huge public university with about 20,000 students. At WashU, it is rare to see students with flyers and brochures. Further, the administration limits the amount of large posters that are displayed. The administration must appease activism on campus to protect its financial interests with donors and the corporations that students are fighting against. Furthermore, students have more spaces, such as smaller classes, extracurriculars or casually amongst friends, to share their grievances. However, there are little to no student activist organizations. For this reason, frustration often arrives alongside protests on campus. This becomes more contentious as we consider the history of student activism in the 1960s with the fight for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The only recent event that has provoked larger protests in the United States is the ongoing conflict in Gaza. There have been well-attended manifestations across the United States, particularly on college campuses. Even though protest culture is entirely different in the United States, it reminds me of the University of Puerto Rico. The largest university in Puerto Rico is public, just as Jean Jaures. Since I was a young girl, I heard news about strikes and protests at the university. The students’ fight against social injustices occurs often. It is quite common for political commentators on the radio to predict protests or strikes in response to laws being passed. For many students, the protests and strike culture is positive and a significant part of their academic experiences. However, strikes in particular cause problems for registering for classes and graduating on time for others. Many Puerto Ricans scorn student protests because of the interruptions they cause. But, as in France, students will never stop.

Protests and the Media

As I stood amidst the bustling streets of the French farmers’ demonstration at Esplanade Compans Caffarelli, the sights and sounds around me painted a vivid picture of activism in a foreign land. The noise of machinery, the protest chants and even the pungent smell of manure in the fresh air: all were reminders of the stark contrasts between protest cultures in France and the United States. Growing up in the U.S., I had become accustomed to a certain narrative surrounding activism, often centered around the digital world. Social media platforms have become powerful tools for
amplifying voices, mobilizing support and sparking conversations about pressing issues. It’s not uncommon to see friends and acquaintances changing their profile pictures to support a cause, sharing publications to raise awareness, or even contributing to crowdfunding campaigns to bolster initiatives they believe in. The digital landscape serves as a virtual marketplace, where individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to rally behind common ideals and bring about change.
However, as I immersed myself in the French protest scene, I couldn’t help noticing a different dynamic at work. While social media undoubtedly played a role in organizing and disseminatinginformation, their importance seemed to pale in comparison to what I was used to in the United States. Here, the emphasis was more on physical presence and direct action, with the streets themselves serving as the main arena for expressing opinions and bringing about change.
The French approach to activism has its roots in a rich tradition of collective action and civic engagement, where taking to the streets is seen as a powerful expression of citizenship. From student-led protests in May 1968 to the more recent Gilets Jaunes movement, the French have a long history of mobilizing public demonstrations and blockades as a means of making their voices heard.
This emphasis on physical protest reflects a broader cultural ethos, which privileges direct engagement and tangible demonstrations of solidarity. In France, the notion of blocking roads and decorating iconic buildings with manure in protest is not just a symbolic gesture, but a strategic maneuver aimed at disrupting the status quo and forcing the authorities to confront the issues at hand.
By contrast, in the USA, where disruptive tactics such as blockades are often greeted with less tolerance due to the potential drawbacks they pose, reliance on the media as a platform for protest is becoming increasingly evident. Given the societal and economic complexities of a country deeply integrated into global trade and cooperation, disruptive actions could have widespread consequences, affecting not only national systems, but also international relations and economies.
The contrasting approaches highlight divergent cultural attitudes to protest and activism, shaping the strategies employed by citizens to bring about change in their respective societies. Whether through virtual solidarity or physical protest, people across borders are finding ways to make their voices heard and push for a better world. And as I navigate the complex web of activism in different corners of the globe, I’m reminded of the power of collective action to transcend borders and bring about meaningful change.

The Culture of the Strike

It was a Tuesday morning like any other, just a few weeks after my arrival in Toulouse, and the city was buzzing with announcements of a widespread teachers’ strike. I was surprised to hear about another organized protest, just days after farmers from the countryside had taken to the streets with their tractors, honking, demanding environmental and economic reforms to protect small-scale agriculture. France is known for its propensity for organized resistance as a form of democratic participation through disruptive demonstrations or prolonged strikes. However, it was still quite striking to witness, and especially to see how protests function in the context of people’s daily lives. I later learned that the teachers were striking to protest against emerging legislation that would divide students into three distinct groups based on their assessed level in French and mathematics. The proposed intention of this legislation is to try to address the poor academic performance of high school students. However, teachers argue that this will only disadvantage marginalized students and worsen social and educational inequalities. They are also demanding better working conditions, citing difficulties with overcrowded classes and inadequate teaching substitutes.
In my home state of North Carolina, we have a very active public teachers’ union due to our extremely conservative investment in public education and our teacher salaries ranking among the lowest in the states. I witnessed several teacher strikes during my K-12 education. However, compared to here in France, teacher strikes are rare, union participation is minimal, and initiatives are much less likely to lead to real political reform.
To try to uncover the roots of this cultural disparity, I decided to do some research on the phenomenon of the French strike. I found a mix of explanations concerning the revolutionary foundations of the Fifth Republic, a general culture of skepticism, and a legal and political structure that favors union participation. French democracy has been intricately constructed over centuries and through several revolutions. So naturally, French culture values protest and change, as they are deeply rooted in their revolutionary history. Furthermore, there are strong legal protections for the right to protest. With decades of precedent, protesters benefit from clear legal avenues for collective action.
The most interesting distinction I found was the difference between the protection of organized labor (unions) in France and the United States. In France, unions benefit from a legal infrastructure that protects them from retaliation. Additionally, strikes are considered a culturally legitimate negotiation tactic. In contrast, unions in the United States have much weaker legal protection and face a political climate and culture that demonizes unions as anticapitalist.
While France has more robust legal protections for protesters, especially for organized labor, I recently discovered another cultural gap between France and the United States. As I watched from afar as universities across the country protested in support of Palestine and condemned their universities and government for their role in funding genocide, I was shocked not to see similar protests at universities here in France (except for one or two exceptions).
However, I later learned that public support for Palestine is illegal, often categorized as hate speech. As an American, this shocked me. The right to freedom of speech in the United States is one of the most valued pillars of American democracy. Although it is still the subject of debate as to the extent of legal support for freedom of speech, it is difficult to imagine the American government banning a subject of protest.


The differences between France and the US on the topic of protests is something cultural.
There are many different ways to protest, shown by the protests of the farmers and students. In France, protests are viewed as a way for groups to make their grievances known. For example, the students create a lot more graffiti and hand out more brochures than their US counterparts. Many French people can sympathize with the protestors, something that may contribute to the protesting culture in France. The media reports on protests in a more sympathetic manner in France, while in the US people tend to think more negatively of protestors. The French students are more politically active, while in the US there is not much graffiti on university campuses.
Both countries have many reasons to protest, but protests seem to be more acceptable in France.

Perceptions of Disability in an Academic Context

If you spend enough time in Toulouse, you’ll inevitably come across a space equipped with accommodations for people who are disabled, or “en situation de handicap,” whether it’s a designated space for a wheelchair in the bus or guide dog being trained in the train station. Toulouse’s universities are no exception—while walking around the University of Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès you will see people using tactile guides, in wheelchairs, and with assistive walking devices. In observing these accommodations at our university, we were curious to know how the French perceive disability in a university context. And knowing that 80% of people who identify as disabled in France qualify their disability as invisible—meaning mental, cognitive, or sensory conditions—we were particularly curious to know if there is also a network of accommodations for invisible disabilities.

Before diving into the question of disability, let us look at the French university system. In contrast with the American system which is characterized by its high admission fees and selectivity, the French system values an education for all, in keeping with the French principle of equality. Thus, it’s education for the majority that counts and not that of the individual. Hence why the famous “cours magistral” or grand lecture where the professor speaks for four hours in an amphitheater of a hundred students is so common—it facilitates the diffusion of information. But when one student has a specific need, how does the university take care of these individuals?

Although today the evidence of accommodations on university campuses for students who are disabled is visible, this wasn’t always the case. In 2005, France enacted a law ensuring equal access to and participation in governmental services and programs for all disabled people. Since that year, the number of students who are disabled in universities has significantly grown. However, even though the numbers have increased, they are not distributed evenly across all academic disciplines. For example, while students with physical disabilities are distributed evenly across the disciplines, students with invisible disabilities are more represented in technological universities and departments of arts, languages, and literatures. Thus, it is clear that services for students with invisible disabilities are less developed than those for students with physical disabilities.

Since 2023, the University of Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès has offered its students three free 45-minute sessions with a psychologist. In comparison with our American universities, the university does not promote this service as loudly. In our universities, there are both institutional and student-run organizations that provide for students’ well-being, offer meditation sessions, or facilitate conversations about mental health. From our conversations with our hosts, we’ve learned that these subjects are avoided in France, even though the need to discuss them is recognized. We believe that talking about mental health is the first step in recognizing invisible disability.


One can observe a small microcosm in the treatment of people with disabilities in France universities. During our first months in France, we became familiar with the several accommodations that are visible in the infrastructure of the University of Toulouse Jean Jaures. There are tactile strips on the sidewalks to help the visually impaired, as well as elevators and ramps for those who use wheelchairs. Where I am from, tactile bands are fairly uncommon and it is rare to see them extend for the entirety of a path, but at UTDJ (University of Toulouse Jean Jaures) they traverse from one side of campus to the other.

Nevertheless, we should question the accessibility to accommodations for people who have invisible disabilities, especially in an educational setting. In the United States, the debate surrounding reasonable accommodations for invisible disabilities is fierce. The “Varsity Blues” scandal that broke in 2019 was a criminal conspiracy to cheat the college admission system. One major part of the crime was the falsification of invisible disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia that qualify students for accommodations during testing (Vox). It seems to me that the conversation in France is more about enlarging access to accommodations and is not yet about who should qualify.

Coincidentally, the three authors of this article are in the same class at UTDJ, and we had an experience pertinent to the question of accommodation and invisible disability in the classroom. In the first month of class, a student became overstimulated because of noises outside and inside the classroom. She asked if the professor could address the noise, especially the feedback from his microphone. In response, the professor intentionally made more noise, as a joke. The student was very much overwhelmed and left the classroom for several minutes to gather herself.  The professor was concerned that she had left, but before she had it seemed to me that he didn’t understand why she would have asked for this change. The student had issues with overstimulation, but the professor was not familiar with the concept or didn’t recognize the importance of what she was asking. It is easy to understand the necessary differences in how to teach the blind or the deaf. Still, differences in attention or mentality are more difficult to understand for those who are inexperienced with them.

            It is not the case that France doesn’t have accommodations within its education system, in comparison to the US it is different. The idea that mental or invisible disabilities are controversial and potentially unaccommodatable is uniquely American. The case in France seems to be more about a lack of total comprehension of the subject.


What constitutes a handicap? Or an infirmity? Or an incapacity? These words are in French with a cultural connotation that French people understand in a way that I never will because French is not my maternal language. Even if I spend the rest of my life studying French, there will always be things I don’t understand because of this language barrier. So, I have no interest in judging the French language or the French for how they use their language that I don’t fully understand. However, the words “handicap”, “Infirmity”, and “incapacity” make me uncomfortable as a person who doctors and psychiatrists would label as disabled.

It has been two months since I received a diagnosis saying I have dyslexia and generalized anxiety. I was eight years old when I learned to read, and the books that I read were for babies like the “Bob Books”. At the same time that I was reading baby books, my classmates were reading “Harry Potter” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. I failed all of my spelling tests and my teachers used to keep me in from recess to practice my spelling, but I was never tested for dyslexia. I have always struggled with spelling and testing, so I decided to only take classes at Grinnell (my University in the U.S.) where I could write my papers on my laptop with the wonderful gift of spell check. Unfortunately, that was not a possibility here in Toulouse, so I asked for testing accommodations, which I received easily and have in place now.

My whole life I have never had a disability. I have done classes and research in disability studies. My friends and sisters have disabilities, but I never thought that I had one. In the past few weeks, I have been applying to summer jobs and internships at publishing houses, and each application has a question that asks if you are disabled. I don’t have to respond and even if I did, the employer couldn’t use the information against me, but I couldn’t say yes because I didn’t believe that I was disabled. I have difficulty with spelling, math, and sometimes reading, all of which are connected to my dyslexia, but I have to do everything that other students do. I have two literature majors, one in French and one in English. I have done all the calculus that my college offers. And I read recreationally more than any of my friends or family. I don’t consider myself disabled, but that is a title I have now.

In English, we use the word “disabled” instead of “handicapped” because the word “handicapped” was used as an insult and it now has a negative connotation. The word “disabled” does not have the same history or negative connotation so many disabled people use the term “disabled” in place of “handicapped”. The words “handicap”, “infirmité”, et  “incapacité “ remind me of the words we no longer use in English and I was curious if they too had negative associations. I looked online and found the site “Handicap.Fr” which had information, programs, news, and resources for disabled people. It was really interesting to read because the author, E. Dal’Secco, shared a brief history of the terminology, the political implications, the debates around the best ways to discuss disabilities and disabled people, and the implications in France that come with the label of disability. He said that the word “Handicapé” was a replacement for other words like “invalides, aliénés, anormaux, déficients, paralytiques” (Dal’Secco). When he wrote the article in 2013 there were people who wanted to use the term “personne en situation de handicap”. We have the same discussion in the United States with the phrase “person with a disability” being used instead of “disabled” and there are a lot of disabled people in the U.S. who prefer the phrase “disabled person” or “disabled” and terms that highlight the humanity of people over their condition. Dal’Secco shared a similar sentiment in his piece when he asked why disability is the only title that society feels the need to use “personne en situation de…”. It seems weird to beat around the bush and use a phrase to describe what can be said with one word; it sends the message that disability is something bad or strange. Like the idea that someone can’t say disabled because being disabled is terrible, so it’s necessary for everyone to use a person with a disability in order to avoid the subject and put distance between the speaker and the capacity to be disabled. Disability isn’t an insult. Dal’Secco also shared how difficult it is to choose a word or label that everyone in a community will agree with and want. There is disagreement within the disability community in France over what word would be best.

I believe that I don’t have the right to judge the situation or debates in France around disability because I am not a part of that community. I am however happy to know that there are people who are discussing the subject and who want to find a respectful word. I think that with time I will become more comfortable with acknowledging my disability, but it won’t ever become the entirety of who I am. E. Dal Secco touched on this in his article when he wrote “It isn’t a detail; words have considerable importance. I have been blind for fifteen years but disabled isn’t my identity” (Dal’Secco–Translated from French to English). In French or English, we need to use respectful words when we discuss people––regardless of the topic. Everyone deserves respect, and the words we use are a good first step to achieving this.

La Bibliographie

Dal’Secco, E. “Infirme à Personne En Situation de Handicap : Combat De Mots.” Handicap.Fr, le 9 janviér, 2013,

Juneja, Aditi. “The Most Reprehensible Part of the Admissions Scandal: Faking Disability Accommodations.” Vox, Vox, 14 Mar. 2019,

Food in France

By Aaron Hirschhorn, Kelly Rojo Reyes, and Sophie Phillips

During our stay in Toulouse, one of the biggest cultural shocks for us was the difference between French food and cuisine and what we normally eat at home in the the United States, as well as the different relationships we have with what we eat. We will start of by will discussing the various foods that are very popular to eat here but are very difficult to find in the United States, and that we had never seen before arriving here. Then, we will discuss the relationship between food and the land in France. Finally, we will discuss the impact of couscous in France and the importance of the cuisine as an aspect of culture. All of this will serve to give a summary of our experiences with food in France, and will demonstrate a few aspects of the importance of food in French culture.

French Food

France is a country with a grand culinary history, with each region having its own unique meals. Since my arrival in Toulouse, my host has cooked aa number of traditional French meals for me. Normally, I am not a very adventurous eater, and I typically don’t try strange new foods. However, I told myself that since I am in France and my host bought and cooked these for me, I have to at least taste them. So, that’s how I ended up eating a number of types of food that I would never have thought of eating before, including some I had never even heard of before.

I’ll start with the meat. My first night here, my host cooked for me “confit de canard,” or duck confit. I actually like other types of meat similar to duck, such as chicken and turkey, but I had never eaten duck before. I was a little scared to try it, but I actually liked it. It reminded me a little of chicken. Now, a few days later, my host cooked duck again, but when I saw it, it looked very different, and I was confused. Instead of resembling chicken, it looked more like beef. When I asked about the difference, my host explained to me that the different parts of a duck are different. The duck confit is a white meat, like chicken, while other cuts of duck are red meat, like beef. And indeed when I tasted this cut of duck, it tasted more like beef. Because of my confusion throughout all of this, my host obviously realized that I had never eaten duck before she cooked it for me, and she wanted to know what other kinds of meat I had never tried. This is how I can now say that I have also eaten lamb and veal.

Along with meat, I have eaten a number of new fruits and vegetables since my arrival in Toulouse. The lychees surprised me the must. Again on my first night here, after having finished the duck, my host asked me if I wanted a dessert. I said yes, and she took out a bowl of fruit. I saw apples, bananas, oranges,and  a mango, but also other fruits that I had never seen before. I also noticed that there was a type of nut, which worried me because I am a little allergic to certain types of nuts, but my host picked one up and explained that it was in fact a fruit called a lychee. She showed me how to crack and open it, and I discovered inside a white and fleshy fruit. I watched as she put it in her mouth and then spat out the pit, and I copied her actions. The sweetness of it surprised me me. It was a very unique flavor, but I liked it.

The second new fruit that I ate was a fruit she called a “kaki” (which I later found out, when I looked it up after dinner, is what we call in English a persimmon). It was also a dessert fruit, but when she took it out I initially thought it was a tomato. However, she cut it in two and handed me one half along with a spoon. I scooped the fruit out of the skin and ate it, and it reminded me a little of a plum, and I love plums.

I believe that eating these new foods, along others that I tried (for example an endive, a bitter vegetable that I didn’t enjoy, and cassoulet, a traditional meal of the Occitanie region where Toulouse is), has improved my immersion in French culture because it opened my eyes to new experiences and tastes. That is to say, in eating these foods which I had never tried before but which the French enjoy often, I was able to further immerse myself in the life and culture of Toulousans. What’s more, by learning what they eat, I also learned about their habits, their customs, and even some laws. For example, in French, there are seasonal foods that are eaten only in winter or summer because that is simply when they are available and thus when they are popular, whereas in the United States we can find pretty much whatever we want whenever.

            In the end, in my opinion the goal of spending a semester abroad was not only to improve my level of French but also to discover other ways of life to which we can compare our own. That is how we are able to learn and find new experiences. And with cuisine being a very important aspect of French life, I find that these encounters that I have had have helped me to do exactly that, thanks largely to the cultural education my host gave me. Apart from these experiences with potentially more regional food, we also learned about the link between food and France as a country, as well as the broader world, which we describe below.

French Terroir

One aspect of French culture that I noticed is the strong link between food and land. French people seem to be more conscious of the origins of a product than Americans. Several times, when I’ve eaten with my hosts, they have taken the time to explain to me the regions the plates come from, and also the customs that surround them. Certainly, with cheeses and wines, their origins seem to be characteristics of major importance, almost equal to their taste. This cultural consciousness of the origins of products creates the impression that French people have more of a connection with the food they consume.

One of the most representative examples of this cultural attitude is the system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This system, introduces in France in 1937 for preventing fraud, makes and regulates the rules of production to guarantee the quality of specific products. Today there are 300 products under this title, most among them being wines and cheeses. These appellations are closely linked to French regions, thanks to the belief that the specific conditions of a region have impacts on the final taste of a product. This belief has a name – terroir. In the example of roquefort, the AOC law only permits the moldy cheese of sheep aged in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon to use the name. The rules of the AOC also control, with a high degree of precision, all of the steps to make it. Despite the fact that other cheeses similar to roquefort exist, the specific terroir of the region of Roquefort is considered to give a unique element to the cheese. When my host introduced me to this cheese, he immediately indicated its region of origin.

This system of appellations exists at the level of the European Union as well, under the title Appellations d’Origine Protégée (AOP). Contrary to the AOC, the AOP doesn’t indicate the quality of a product, just its region of origin and its production steps. At the level of the European Union and France there also exists organizations that control organic products. At the highest level it’s the logo Euro Feuille; at the level of France it’s the Certification Agriculture Biologique. These two organizations forbid the use of synthetic pesticides and guarantee production methods that protect the environment.

The organic movement is linked to efforts to be more conscious of the impacts of humans on the environment. In addition to stickers marking fruits and vegetables as “organic,” several stores have started to label their products with their countries of origin and the numbers of kilometers they have traveled before arriving at the store. One night, when I ate a mango with my hosts, I was surprised when one of my hosts announced that the mango had traveled up to 10,000 kilometers from Peru. These stickers serve the double function of reminding clients of the environmental tax of their purchases, and also of encouraging them to buy local products – French products. These efforts to protects the environment protect, in turn, the inextricable know-how of the land and also of French gastronomic culture.

Food as a symbol of resilience

Before I arrived in France, I had long heard that France was a nation of immigrants, like the United States, with North Africa as the largest immigrant population. Fascinated by different cuisines, I was excited at the idea of trying different Maghreb cuisines in France, especially given France’s geographical proximity to other countries. When I arrived in Paris, the first dish I tried was couscous. Greeted in Arabic by very friendly waiters, I chose the lamb couscous at the restaurant l’Homme Bleu. In an instant, I tasted all the spices used and the way the different vegetables and ingredients clashed together to give an exquisite taste. Chatting with the waiter at L’Homme Bleu, I learned that the owner and cooks were Moroccan and Tunisian, and that the waiter himself was Algerian. I was fascinated to see how different these countries are, yet how they share similar cuisines, such as couscous, which each considers its most popular dish.

Months later, in Toulouse, I learned that there was a national debate, between newspapers and journalistic polls, that couscous could be considered France’s national dish. This debate shocked me, because I said to myself, “Couscous isn’t French! How can a North African dish surpass steak frites or cassoulet, which are considered traditionally French? The metaphorical discourse on couscous reminded me of the times I went to a French café and the special of the day was couscous. I then reflected that couscous is more than a North African dish in France, it’s a representation of the immigrant communities that have created new cultures in France, such as the “Franco-Maghreb” identity.

Made from semolina, vegetables and meat, couscous is eaten on festive occasions, on Fridays as a symbol of rest, or on congregational prayer days. Couscous is a popular dish from the Maghreb region, whose origins date back to the 11th century. Couscous was created by the Berbers of North Africa, who were present in the region before the Arab diaspora. This North African dish, which has captured the hearts of the French, is an essential part of Parisian cuisine, demonstrating the importance of the diaspora of North African immigrants. Many North Africans have built up strong communities in cities like Paris, but also in the south of France, such as Toulouse.

As former French colonies, people migrated to France in the hope of finding economic opportunities, or even seeking asylum or educational opportunities. Yet the Maghreb population is still affected by the legacy of colonialism, as they are more likely to live in segregated areas and face discrimination in housing and employment compared to native French people. Consequently, the massive presence of couscous in France can be seen as a symbol of the resistance and resilience of Maghreb communities. In the face of xenophobia and discrimination, migrants have succeeded in establishing a strong presence in France to continue developing their language, culture and religion.

Despite the difficulties faced by North African migrants and their children (whether born in France or not), they have managed to create a strong presence in France, and their efforts are important in representing diversity in France. It’s important to recognize that while couscous is historically and culturally a North African dish, it should also be considered a French dish, just as people of North African origin can be “truly” French. Food is an important aspect of culture, and couscous as France’s national dish really is a big step in recognizing the impact of people of North African origin in France, and their role in France’s future.


Food is an important aspect of daily life, especially culture. Whether it was trying new foods with host families, or making deeper reflections of what food say about French society, we have learned so much by eating delicious plates. Learning about what seasonal foods to eat to and traditional dishes have enhanced our understanding of French culture. The strong link between food and land can lead to spreading the importance of buying locally, while also creating environmental friendly campaigns. Lastly, we learned how migrant communities have impacted French culture by their large spread of couscous across the country. We are excited to continue trying delicious food while learning more about Toulouse and France!

France and Racism: History, Erasure, and Assimilation

By April Springer, Emma Gerber, and Willow Palmer


When you roam the halls of SciencesPo Toulouse, there are always posters adorning the walls, making students aware of certain social injustices. These posters show statistics on sexual violence, the experiences of Gazans, and the rapid increase of climate change. However, you will also notice that there is a large subject that is missing from these posters – racial discrimination. During my time in Toulouse, I became curious about the lack of information on racism in France. Why does no one speak about the racial discrimination that exists here? Is it possible that racism does not exist in France at all? I posed these questions to the administrators of the Dickinson program, and they all responded in the same way – French people believe that it is less racist to not speak about racism and ignore the differences between races in general. In comparison with the United States, that idea is a little bit shocking. So, how does this practice manifest in France? And why does it exist?

First, there is not a word in French that is commonly used to describe someone’s skin color, such as race in English. Actually, the word race, as it is translated in French, is used to describe species of animals. For example, when you see a dog in the street, you can ask the dog’s owner what type of dog they have by using the word race. Even though you can use the word race to describe skin color, it is not frequently utilized. Without the words to properly express themselves, it is impossible for someone to describe the discrimination that they face. Furthermore, the census in France does not contain any data on racial demographics. In fact, including information on racial demographics in the census has been illegal in France since 1978. Therefore, there is no information available on some of the most important facts of French society. For instance, how do police treat people of color in France? What are the differences between the effects of COVID 19 on communities of color versus white people? And most importantly, how can anyone identify racism in France if no one has the data to understand how it affects people? Even though this idea is challenging to understand from an American point of view, not speaking about race is largely accepted in France. In fact, many anti-racist organizations are in support of laws against racial demographic information in the census. The French organization SOS Racisme argues that the addition of statistics on race could increase the amount of racism that actually occurs.

All in all, it is clear that the attitude of French people is for the most part “color blind.” In order to protect people from a racist society, French people evidently try to ignore race altogether. Even though this phenomenon has good intentions, it comes with large consequences: it is very difficult to demonstrate that there is any institutional racism in France, and even more challenging to act against racism in France if it is taboo to speak about. This form of racial erasure evokes one question in particular: is it really better to ignore race in order to eradicate racism?

The French outlook on different cultures and assimilation

Another facet of this erasure of “race” and racial identity in France is the way that cultural identities are treated here. While volunteering at Caousou, a private Jesuit school in Toulouse, I had the opportunity to watch one of the high school seniors practicing for his Bacalaureat exams by giving a speech about the problems that New York City faces in the coming years. Based on the documents that he was given, he decided to talk about the racial divisions present in New York City. Referencing New York’s famous Chinatown, he talked about the “Salad Bowl Theory”; the idea that even though New York likes to see itself as a melting pot of different cultures, it has failed to be a true melting pot because individual neighborhoods of the city still retain their own cultural identities. Like the ingredients of a salad, the ethnic groups in New York can still be identified even after being mixed together.

This metaphor really got me thinking about the way that cultural identities are treated in France and in the United States. I’ve heard it claimed that the US is a “cultural melting pot” more times than I can count, but using the metaphor of the melting pot and the salad bowl, it seems to me that France is more of a melting pot than the United States. I say this because of the way that cultural identities seem to “blend in” here. People talk a lot less about their heritage and certainly wear less outward markers of it. While you can find international cuisine all around the city, it was much harder for me to find an asian grocery store. Everyone seems to be participating in French culture by speaking in French, wearing French clothes, and eating French food. For me, this “blending in” of different cultural identities is summarized by the words of one of my hosts, who said that people prefer to practice their cultural identities “in the privacy of their own homes”.

This very much contrasts the way that cultural identities are seen in the US, where there has recently been a push for letting cultural identities be more proudly displayed. In the United States, it is more common to see a group of people wearing the traditional dress of their home country and it is more common to have neighborhoods that are mostly populated by members of one ethnic/cultural group. There are many reasons for this. For one, the United States and France have very different demographic makeups due to their extremely different histories. As April mentioned, it is illegal to collect data on race and ethnicity in France, but some estimates place around 85-90 percent of the population as being white, with most of them being ethnically French. This is different from the US, where 75 percent of the population is white and where being “ethnically American” isn’t really a concept outside of being Native American, which is also an ethnic minority in the United States today. Having less minorities in France makes those minorities less visible, but I also think that it is the “melting pot” outlook in France that causes different cultural groups to assimilate more. In attempting to treat everyone the same, French society enforces a stronger cultural uniformity than the United States. To me, this cultural uniformity seems to rest on the principle that to treat everyone the same, we need to see everyone as exactly the same. And after growing up in the United States, I am not sure that that is true. I think that there is room to see and acknowledge everyone’s diverse backgrounds while still regarding everyone’s fundamental humanity as equal. This is not to say that the United States’ way of treating cultural differences is perfect, because it is clearly not. But in between the United States’ and France’s two very different outlooks on race and cultural identity, the United State’s “salad bowl” of vibrant cultures is much more my speed.

The United States and France: Examples of Racism and Differing Perspectives

Both the United States and France have a long history of racism, but their approaches and conversations about race differ significantly. In the United States, race is a central aspect of identity, reflecting the nation’s diverse cultural landscape. Some groups in France prioritize a singular national identity over ethnic or cultural distinctions. This is not all-encompassing since there are communities and people in France who express their culture in various ways, both privately and publicly. However, both countries continue to grapple with the pervasive issue of racism, which persists in different forms and influences social dynamics.

The United States and France share a history marked by colonialism and reliance on slave labor. Both nations have faced issues of racial discrimination in their policing practices. Young Northern African males in France are being particularly targeted through discriminatory identification checks. The police shooting of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of Algerian descent, near Paris in 2023 ignited widespread protests across France. Similarly, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 served as a focal point for the Black Lives Matter (BLM)  movement in the United States. Despite efforts to address these issues, police brutality remains a significant challenge in both countries. Throughout both countries, there has been more media attention around the BLM movement, and you can find graffiti at Sciences Po and Jean Jaures that read “ACAB.”  However, they use the English translation rather than convert it to French.

Anti-Asian violence in France has been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it has been a persistent issue predating the health crisis. Myths and prejudices surrounding Asian communities have hindered their sense of belonging in France. As previously mentioned, cultural identity in France could be limited to the privacy of your home due to societal pressures. In public, you must appear French.  Microaggressions and marginalization are prevalent in France, particularly on public transport, where people have specifically mentioned it as a place where they have been racially discriminated against. In the United States, hate crimes against Asian Americans have seen an alarming increase. In 2021, 1 in 6 Asian American adults reported experiencing a hate crime, a significant rise from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Despite these concerning trends, anti-Asian violence in both countries has not received as much media attention as other social movements. This lack of visibility is deeply rooted in a historical pattern of neglecting the histories and experiences of Asian communities.

In conclusion, despite attitudes toward colorblindness and denial of racism in France, the reality remains that racism is a persistent and pervasive problem. Other groups have experienced similar encounters full of prejudices and microaggressions that shaped their life experiences. As students from the United States, where discussions about race are prevalent and part of our identity, our experience studying in France offers us a whole new perspective. Of course, our perspective is limited since we have only been here for a few months, and other individuals have lived here their entire lives. Our limited experiences in Toulouse shape our experiences and do not represent every reality. In our time here, we’ve noticed that conversations about race aren’t as common. This contrast sheds light on French culture and exposes us to different attitudes toward race that we hadn’t encountered before. Whether it is a “salad bowl” or a “melting pot” of culture, only through confronting the realities of racism can meaningful progress be made toward creating a more equitable and just society for all individuals.

?Accessiblity in France and in the United States

Mia Jones | Leah Keys | Sophy Nie | Lily Swain

Making a Country More Accessible

One text in particular has been relevant to my time here in France and I often find myself thinking about it: The book titled Beasts of Burden: animal and disability liberation by disabled activist Sunara Taylor, where she discusses the interaction between animal rights and disability. This book encouraged me to reflect on the way ableism is expressed in the US not only through infrastructure and social consciousness, but how exclusive public spaces, institutions, and cultural spaces are in the US.

So, before my stay in France, due to the spaces I was in, I’d only read about the way public spaces could be improved to be more inclusive but never actually witnessed the support in place. That was until I arrived in France. Within 3 days of being here, I’ve noticed that the public space is shared amongst people with different levels of ability; on the street, in cultural and educational institutions, and on public transportation services, the city of Toulouse is a lot more accessible than any place I have personally seen in the US.

How did France become accessible? Are they more socially accepting? These are questions that arise in my mind as I observe the way the city and people interact and respond to each other.

The disability act of 11 February 2005 is part of the reason why Toulouse is somewhat accessible today. This ensures the right to work is extended to those with disabilities. It also mandates that public housing and infrastructure should be and continue to be accessible for all individuals of varying levels of mobility or ability (citation). This law has been influenced by many historical events, dating back to the French Revolution, all of which have shaped the policy of disability in France.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990 and functions similarly to the disability act in France, Both aim to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination across various spheres of public life employment, education, transportation, and both public and private spaces accessible to the public. Despite the similar purposes, I don’t feel the act was carried out similarly or effectively in the US. Certainly, here’s the addition to reflect your opinion and acknowledge the potential factors influencing your perspective: my perception might be influenced by my tendency to visit mostly able-bodied spaces or a lack of awareness. The effectiveness of these acts may differ due to various factors. I recognize that it might not reflect the complete reality, or I might be right.

To understand the French point of view, I feel there are more questions and conversations that I need to have with different people during my stay here. Even though Toulouse may appear to be more integrative with different body types and other abilities, it made me conscious about the spaces I’m in and how able body privilege presents itself in the US.

Accessibility and Public Transportation

Image shows bus ramp to allow people in wheelchairs to easily board the bus.
Bus ramps allow people in wheelchairs to easily board

I’ve only lived in Toulouse for a few months, but already I’ve noticed multiple examples of accommodations for people who are disabled. The public transportation agency Tisséo stands out as being particularly aware of inclusivity and working towards building a better environment for all (Accessibilité. Tisséo Collectivités, s.d.). Take, for example, the bus. There are ramps that can descend to allow people in wheelchairs to easily board the bus and then within, there is space specifically marked for wheelchairs that have bars to hold onto and padding against which to rest your knees. In addition, there are signs to remind people to leave the seats for those who need them more than they do, and each stop is announced by voice and in writing to ensure that the greatest number of people can understand.  

There’s a lot of conversation around the inclusivity of the metro.

            Tisséo is currently undertaking an extensive project and is adding a new metro line through the city. With this construction, there’s a lot of conversation around the inclusivity of the metro. As I take it to class every day, I’ve had time to form my own thoughts on this matter. From what I’ve seen, there seems to be an escalator present at every metro station, however that doesn’t always mean an escalator in each direction. Sometimes, there are stairs to descend with the option of an escalator to go back up. So, those who have difficulty with or cannot take the stairs at all will have a hard time getting to the track. There is typically an elevator as well, but there is never more than one. At Jean Jaures (the busiest station where the two metro lines cross) there is often a line of parents with strollers waiting outside the elevator. Evidently, this adds complication for those who rely on the elevator.

Not all disabilities are visible, but the culture at least opens a space for discussion and for willingness to improve the infrastructure.

During my commute, I often see advertisements for “allô Tisséo”, a service in the case of urgent questions. It’s presented as an easy way to get immediate help, however the services for those who are deaf or hard of hearing only operate during reduced hours. These services are only offered from 9am to 5:30pm Monday through Friday, contrary to the advertised hours of 6am to 8pm during the week with reduced hours on Saturday (Aide & Contact | Tisséo, s. d.). Additionally, public transportation is built to allow the greatest number of people to travel at once, meaning that the number of seats is significantly less than the amount of standing room. However, respect is an important part of the culture and people are quick to offer their seats to those that they think may need it more than them. Not all disabilities are visible, but the culture at least opens a space for discussion and for willingness to improve the infrastructure.

In 2008, Tisséo created the Commission d’Accessibilité de Réseau Urbain to open communication with associations representing the disabled community. This past summer, they organized thirteen workshops to prioritize the experience of disabled travelers (Accessibilité, s. d.). and to try to build the C line in the most inclusive manner possible. Based on these workshops, Tisséo has announced that they will continue making announcements at both the audio and written level, as well as continuing to include a picture with every metro stop to make the recognition of each station easier. Furthermore, agents will continue to take sign language courses and drivers will be educated on the topic of disability. Through this, Tisséo agents will be better able to recognize differences and adapt to help each person in the way that best suits them. It is important to note that my observations come from the perspective of a non-disabled person; I can only speak to my own experience and what I have noticed. In my opinion, the public transportation in Toulouse seems fairly accessible. It is by no means perfect, but there is a willingness to communicate with the disabled community and implement changes that will facilitate the travel of all people.

Accessibility in Public Spaces

Public transport is a public space where accessibility is very important and visible. With that said, there is another type of public space that is less discussed in terms of accessibility: cultural spaces. France is a cultural heritage haven for art history enthusiasts like me. In mid-October, I took a day trip to the famous medieval town of Carcassone, where I spent 2 hours walking the rampart under the hot sun, climbing up and down spiral staircases and towers, admiring all the medieval fortifications. Later, a giant tactile book by the entrance of the giftshop caught my eye. It was part of a collection designed to allow visually impaired people to experience the great cultural sites of the country. The book sparked my interest in a question that is crucial but rarely discussed gradually rose in my head: how do people with disabilities in France access cultural sites, and share the same enjoyment that I share? 

How do people with disabilities in France access cultural sites, and share the same enjoyment that I share? 

The question seems multifaceted and has a lot to unpack. My thought immediately goes to different types of disabilities, including vision impairment, being deaf or hard of hearing, mental health conditions, intellectual disability, and physical disability, that cultural spaces try to accommodate. Museums in Toulouse, such as Le Musée des Augustins, have elevators that provide access for the public with mobile and visual disabilities. Le Musée des Augustins also has a newly developed multi-sensorial route, where the visitors discover certain art pieces and points of interest through touch and listening. The other museums I’ve been to have some of their interpretive texts translated into Braille. Carcassonne, a tourist site with the “Tourism & Handicap” label, also provides a personal listening system for the hearing impaired and a magnetic collar for MP3. Similar methods exist in American museums to varying degrees. Some museums, like the Cincinnati Museum Center, are ahead of others. Aside from the systems we discussed in France, the museum has quiet areas with earmuffs, weighted blankets, and other items that visitors can borrow when they need them. It also offers a sensory map which indicates the different sensory levels in the museum. As in the United States, cultural attractions in France are moving to be more accessible. But is it enough?

As in the United States, cultural attractions in France are moving to be more accessible.

While conversing with Emma, our French-American point of reference, she suggests that there are still questions unsolved on a larger scale. Research shows that only 18 % of French museums today have the “Tourism & Handicap” label proposed by the state as of 2018. Many of France’s old patrimonial sites are still not fully open to people with disabilities. Access becomes difficult in museums located in historic, cobble-stone neighborhoods. Many historical monuments have difficulty welcoming people with disabilities also due to the structure of the architecture themselves. Additionally, non-physical disabilities like intellectual disability are even more likely to be ignored, as my host Françoise, a teacher of students with disabilities, rightly suggested to me. More difficulty, however, comes from the overarching issue of cultural organizations. No budget line was created when the Equal Rights and Opportunity, Education and Citizenship for Individuals with Disabilities Act was enacted in France in 2005. In turn, non-profit cultural institutions had to use their own resources to tackle these questions and are limited from drastic reforms due to financial restrictions and lack of personnel. In the article, a mediator admits that he can only devote 10% of his time to the issue of disabled people.

Heritage plays a crucial role in French culture and identity. However, even though France has excelled in making cultural spaces more accessible to a wider group of people, such as the unemployed and the youth, their work to accommodate people with disabilities still requires effort and discussion. However, France is not alone in this problem. Many American museums also lack the funds and personnel that should be dedicated to this subject, reflecting a broader trend in the global museum world. Even though museums are public institutions designed to be accessible and inclusive, they still carry an air of prestige with them. Therefore, it is extremely important to demystify museums and invite people with disabilities into these spaces, so that museums can truly fulfill their functions.

Do Accomodations Really Accommodate Students with Disabilities?

At UT2J, the dark gray, raised lines on the sidewalks guide visually-impaired people with canes to the buildings.

For those who have been through their first year of college or university, it’s not hard to remember the feelings fear, uncertainty, and like you don’t fit in. These reactions apply to all students; however, they are even more pronounced amongst students with disabilities. In addition to the typical worries of new students, students with disabilities have to think about how to navigate the campus if they have a physical disability, or how to hear their lectures if they are deaf. Students with less visible disabilities, like mental illnesses, dyslexia, etc. are also included under the umbrella of students who have the right to feel at ease during their college transition and during their entire college experience.

Thus, it makes sense that colleges and universities should make accommodations for students with disabilities. In fact, it’s the law. In France, the law of February 11, 2005 protects “equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship,” according to the website of the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche. This law includes people with mental disabilities (difficulty with reflection and conceptualization), cognitive disabilities (problems with memory and attention), mental illnesses, and people with multiple disabilities, in addition to physical disabilities. So how do French universities proactively strive towards equality on their campuses?

One can look to the example of the Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès (UT2J) in Toulouse, France. According to an article published by UT2J in 2022, the number of students with disabilities enrolled at the university grows each year. During the 2021-2022 schoolyear, about 5% of all students had a recorded disability. To put that number in a little more context, the percentage of Dickinson College students who have a known disability is 20%; and 75% of this group receives academic accommodations.

Going back to UT2J, there are several accommodations that I’ve observed during my time there. First, there are raised lines that run all the way down the middle of the university sidewalks. People who are visually-impaired or blind can follow these lines with their canes from one building to another, or even from the campus to the metro station. But the lines don’t continue inside of the campus buildings, which could get in the way of easy access to classrooms. Additionally, for people who are visually-impaired, UT2J provides audio versions of its books and has audio versions of certain classes available online.

In the U.S., an exchange like that would never take place in public.

While in one of my classes, I noticed that there was an interpreter translating the professor’s lecture into sign language. What I found interesting was that the professor asked, in front of the entire class of 300 people, exactly who the deaf person was so the interpreter could know in what direction to sign. In the U.S., an exchange like that would never take place in public due to HIPPA, the law that protects personal medical information from being shared publicly. On this subject I also wanted to note that having a sign language interpreter is not a perfect solution; the 2 hour class had to have a pause in the middle because it was tiring for the interpreter to sign with her hands for so long. In addition, for students who are hard of hearing or deaf, other accommodations like sound translation apps or note-takers exist. UT2J also has in place accommodations for people with mental, cognitive, or mental illness-related disabilities. Pertaining to exams, the university’s website explains that “individual meetings, increased time, and explanations of instructions” are options to support equal chances for these students to succeed.

It appears that UT2J tries to accommodate its students with disabilities as well as it possibly can. However, could the university do more? It’s difficult to know the extent to which the university actually follows and implements its own guidelines, especially when I’m not personally a student with a disability. I don’t want to speak for these students or to give false impressions of their situation; I am presenting here only my own observations and inferences about how the university’s accommodations affect them.

Now, let’s cross the Atlantic Ocean to look at how accommodations for students with disabilities exist in the U.S.. Dickinson College, a place I know well, is a good candidate for comparison. Looking at accommodations for students with physical handicaps, Dickinson tries its best to provide buildings that are accessible with elevators and ramps. But there are certain dorms and residence buildings without elevators, which would make it difficult or impossible for people with limited mobility to live there. And there are no raised lines on the sidewalks to help visually impaired people at Dickinson like there are at Jean-Jaurès. However, I do remember that during my first year at Dickinson, a voice feature was added to the college’s crosswalks so that visually-impaired students could better navigate campus.

Considering Dickinson’s academic accommodations, there is an Office of Access and Disability Services where students can go for advice and to apply for certain types of help. For example, according to Dickinson’s website, extra time on tests, note-takers, and certain technologies for visually-impaired or deaf students are possible aids. But I also realize that there are obstacles for Dickinson students trying to receive accommodations, and consequently students often feel frustrated with the system. When applying for accommodations you have to provide proof of ADHD, anxiety, chronic illness, etc. to create a 504 plan with the college; these forms and processes (which often require seeing a doctor) take time. All in all, Dickinson’s “American-style” system of accommodations isn’t perfect either.

From my point of view, students with disabilities in both countries face challenges despite the existence of accommodations.

From my point of view, students with disabilities in both countries face challenges despite the existence of accommodations. Luckily though, the current social climate has favored an increasing visibility of people with disabilities and their needs, mostly thanks to disabled peoples’ defense of their own rights. This is especially evident in the creation and growth of the Disability Studies field in the U.S.. People with disabilities deserve equal chances; in today’s world, there is hope that such equality will come to fruition.

?’Street Linguistics’ in Toulouse

Jordan Codispoti | Ava Niendstadt | Emily Poland | Ari Lissack

Nonverbal elements of language

            The French language is often referred to as the language of love, but what gets forgotten are the intricate sound effects that enhance the emotive fabric of French. French linguistic tics and noises, “tics de langue” or “bruitages linguistiques,” are interesting components of the language. These idiosyncrasies, which are based on everyday, casual speech, add to the charm and the uniqueness of French. They are small, often subconscious sounds, interjections, and expressions that add depth and nuance to conversations. As foreign students learning how to be confident and conversational in a new language, taking the time to understand these unique habits adds a whole new level to our comprehension and expression. 

The French language is often referred to as the language of love, but what gets forgotten are the intricate sound effects that enhance the emotive fabric of French.

Since being in Toulouse, we have noticed a plethora of examples of these onomatopoeic noises and expressions used by our hosts, our teachers, our friends, and strangers we interact with on a day-to-day basis. At first, it was confusing because the sounds have different meanings in America, but over time we have been able to assign meaning to these small noises or words to further advance our capabilities. 

In our opinion, the most subtle noise, but noticeable to a foreign ear, is the raspberries. The noise is created by placing the tongue between the lips and expelling air. It means to have no idea or no clue. It is used as a familiar replacement for a sentiment beyond a simple “non” or “je ne sais pas,” adding a bit of drama. “Hmm” and “hein” are used to seek agreement, confirmation, or clarification, in an interactive manner. This specifically gauges the listener’s response instead of asking straightforwardly, “What do you think?/can you repeat that?” “Hop”, pronounced without the “h” like “up,” is a way to say “there we go.” Similarly, “hop là” is used when finishing an action. The phrases “bah” and “euh” are frequently used in French speech too. Similar to the English “well” or “um,” “bah” is an interjection that expresses hesitancy. When weighing options or responding to unexpected news, it frequently helps to create a natural flow in speech. “Euh” is a filler word that creates a pause while looking for the appropriate words, enhancing the rhythm and flow of speech, instead of “um.” 

These linguistic quirks and tics not only serve as subtle ways to express emotions, attitudes, and nuances in communication but also give the French language personality.

Another very often used expression is “tac.” It is sort of a nonsense thing, similar to people in America mindlessly humming or going “doot-doot-doo,” while completing a task or explaining steps. In addition, instead of saying “oh!” when receiving clarity or expressing confusion, the French always use “ah!” The French frequently use the word “bof” to denote indifference or a lack of passion. It is used in place of the English word “meh” when a person isn’t very enthusiastic or interested in something. “Bof” is a quick way to express a neutral or lukewarm attitude. Finally, where Americans believe that “ooh là là” is a phrase always to express amazement and awe at something fashionable or beautiful, it also is most often used as “oh là là” in other contexts to react with annoyance, frustration, or surprise, almost to say “oh dear.”

These linguistic quirks and tics not only serve as subtle ways to express emotions, attitudes, and nuances in communication but also give the French language personality. They add to the emotional and melodic nature of the language and act as an essential piece of the cultural fabric of the spoken language. These noises were confusing at first when being fully immersed in the language, adding another element to our adjustment in a new country. One’s ability to participate in more genuine and meaningful conversations in French can be improved by understanding and adding these noises and tics into their repertoire. They act as cultural markers to navigate the expressive quality of the French language.


The evolution of languages often corresponds with changes in overall lifestyle. With the introduction of technology we have seen a change in written informal language. There is much more opportunity with texting to use an informal written language than there would have been before. The French language has thus adapted, like English, to cater to the newfound need for written expression. Texting and online chats are the main source of informal written language and where much of the slang comes from. Learning French in highschool and college classrooms, texting and informal language are not mentioned in our textbooks, so being in France and having some of our first informal text conversations can be jarring. For most of us, texting consists of asking for a lot of clarification on small phrases or abbreviations that make the text incomprehensible for a non native speaker. 

For most of us, texting consists of asking for a lot of clarification on small phrases or abbreviations that make the text incomprehensible for a non native speaker. 

Similarly to our experiences speaking in French, our understanding of how to communicate is perhaps more formal than needed for everyday life. The French writing skills we have been taught so far have been helpful in learning to write dissertations, but when you receive a text that says “wesh, tfk” or “ tkt osef,” the formal writing for dissertations doesn’t offer much help in understanding or responding to the confusing new messages. Many of the differences between informal and formal spoken French translate into texting language as well, but the abbreviations can be confusing and nervewracking to see. But on top of the abbreviations for the French language, they also use English abbreviations and phrases such as “lol,” “omg,” and pop culture phrases like “it’s giving” in their day to day life. The use of the English slang makes understanding a little easier, but doesnt stop the frantic search online for a list of French slang and their meanings. Some other popular French abbreviations and slang I have seen are, trkl, nrmlt, mtn, bjr, bsr, stv, and askip, which translate to “tranquille”, “normalement,” “maintenant,” “bonjour,” “bonsoir,” “si tu veux,” and “ à ce qu’il paraît” which are all common terms in the French language. If any of us received a text with the full word we would immediately  understand the text, but with the incorporation of the abbreviations our understanding is hindered leaving us confused and questioning what our next step will be in order to understand the message. 

Aside from slang and abbreviations, the way words are used and translated changes based on context. For example, a text that says “oui je suis grave chaud” doesn’t directly translate [to “yes I am gravely hot”], but instead means “I would love to.” The connotations of the words change based on the context they are used in, and while this is common in French and English, that doesn’t change the confusion it causes for a non native speaker. For example the word “chaud” which in English translates to “hot” but in the context of that phrase, directly translating the word would not only confuse the non native speaker more. 

Our use and understanding of at the very least parts of the French slang are an important part of our integration into French culture and connection with other French students. 

I spent my junior year of highschool studying abroad in the south of France, and after learning French from a group of French highschoolers, I had become decently accustomed to the slang and abbreviations used in text and in spoken French. But after not using that part of the language for nearly four years coming back to France has been a never-ending cycle of “I forgot about that” when I see or hear French slang in everyday life. Although a lot has stayed the same, there is also a lot that is completely new to me, whether it’s because it was introduced in the last few years or because it was something I had completely missed my first time around. Our use and understanding of at the very least parts of the French slang are an important part of our integration into French culture and connection with other French students. 

Formality and Informality

Another challenge faced by our group was adapting the formal and somewhat professional French language style that we learned in our American classrooms to casual, everyday conversations. Although this change was expected, the extent to which it would impact our daily lives could never have been adequately predicted. There are so many turns of phrase and colloquial sayings that went unacknowledged in our French classes, and others we learned in school that have yet to prove useful. For example, “Comme-ci, comme-ca?” Nobody actually responds that way when asked how they are. “De rien” to say “you’re welcome” ? In fact, it’s much more common to say “avec plaisir.” While these changes may seem small, they actually disrupt the entire way we have learned about and perceived the French language, which makes me wonder what in the world the people who created American French textbooks were thinking and whether they knew they were misleading us in the first place. 

The language barrier makes it difficult to articulate a particularly poignant thought or funny idea, often leading ourinteresting stories and normally crowd-pleasing punchlines to be received with blank stares and empty smiles. These realizations made learning and modeling how real French people speak even more urgent. 

Naturally, it’s a bit jarring to actualize the fact that most of our French-speaking experience (with the exception of Ava, who spent most of her junior year as an exchange student in a French high school) could be impractical. In other words, our acquisition of French as non-native French speakers has been primarily simulated in a context without much cultural input. We learned the formal French language in order to write essays and have class discussions with other learners of French. Collectively, we lacked the resources and experiences necessary to truly know and inhabit everyday French. So, in class, we spoke a sterilized version of French that would likely only be understood by others in this unique situation. If a native French speaker were to somehow correctly interpret this attempt at communication, it would sound unnatural and translated. And, perhaps most frustrating, our French lacks personality. The language barrier makes it difficult to articulate a particularly poignant thought or funny idea, often leading ourinteresting stories and normally crowd-pleasing punchlines to be received with blank stares and empty smiles. These realizations made learning and modeling how real French people speak even more urgent. 

One of the first things I did upon arriving here [to speak more authentic French] was drop the “ne” negation […] off of all my sentences.

One of the first things I did upon arriving here was drop the “ne” negation (ne…pas/plus/jamais/que/etc.) off of all my sentences. Even though I had never once said “je pense pas” (je ne pense pas) or “c’est pas” (ce n’est pas) before living here, these sayings have become regulars in my toolbox. To be fair, this is similar to saying “can’t” instead of “cannot” or “don’t” instead of “do not,” so the adjustment in this case felt somewhat natural. It’s just crazy how many practical things never came up when we were writing French academically. And, of course, we are adjusting to this alongside the added pressure of expressing ourselves quickly and correctly in conversations with others. For example, how you speak changes entirely based on who you are addressing. The presence of formal and informal versions of “you” in French (“vous” and “tu,” respectively) poses a challenge that doesn’t exist in English. Do I know this person well enough to address them with “tu?” Will this person feel insulted if I use “vous” with them? And how do I ask what pronoun they prefer without using one of them in the formation of the question (“Tu/vous préfès/préférez…?”)? Furthermore, formal and informal speaking patterns change based on the environment and age demographic…obviously. Our French class never taught us the slang words young people use when speaking to each other or the filler words and phrases (“du coup,” “genre,” “bref,” etc.) they naturally use when speaking. Knowing the French equivalents of things like “um,” “y’know,” and “like” is essential to understanding everyday French and sounding like a “real” French speaker.

            Ironically, another thing our group discussed about speaking casually in French is how we feel like common French vocabulary is just a really formalized version of English. Since around 40% of English words come from French (that’s like 80,000 words, thanks Ari for enlightening us), a lot of things that French people say can technically be translated similarly in English. However, we’ve also noticed that these cognates have a much more formal connotation in English than in French. For example, the verb “améliorer” means “to improve,” but “ameliorate” is also a word in English. We would never say we want to ameliorate our French skills, but this is how we articulate it in French. The same goes for a ton of other words: poser (to pose, to ask), répondre (to respond, to answer), d’habitude (usually, habitually), and voyager (to voyage, to travel), just to name a few. Thus, sometimes it is a little difficult to say these phrases with a straight face. I’m not sure why this is but it certainly makes me wonder what learning English as a second language is like for French speakers. 

Language Inclusivity

            One of the biggest differences between French and English is the way in which each language is viewed by its speakers. The Académie Française, the governing body of the French language, has for nearly 400 years worked to keep spelling, grammar, and vocabulary within “expected” and “acceptable” standards. English however has no such authority. There isn’t one standard dialect of English. Parisian French is often promoted as the standard dialect to the detriment of the many regional dialects and languages of France which have their own unique histories. Although non-native English speakers with accents do face discrimination, the variety between English accents and the global usage of the language certainly makes English a much more accepting language to speak for new learners. The issue of inclusivity of differences in speech is not a black and white debate, as there are plenty of merits to preserving a language’s “standard” form  and the culture which it carries, but it does not fail to merit debate.

The French language is often treated as the language of high culture in the anglophone world. Given the historical dominance of France in European diplomatic and cultural affairs, it is no surprise that French vocabulary makes up a large part of English in addition to the Norman brought over in the 11th century. On the other hand, now that we live in a world dominated by the English speaking superpower of the US, it should be no surprise that English loanwords appear in French. Unexpectedly from my American perspective, using English words or phrases when speaking French can add emphasis, authority, or even importance to what is being said. The Académie Française, as well as the French government have tried to crack down on invasive anglicisms. The French government has enacted laws which require French to be used in commercial contracts, advertising, and in media broadcasts. If you look closely at some advertisements from companies that might use an English word to make the advertisement more “cool,” there is always an asterisk with a direct French translation available. 

The Académie Française, the governing body of the French language, has for nearly 400 years worked to keep spelling, grammar, and vocabulary within “expected” and “acceptable” standards. English however has no such authority. […] The idea of a language governed by an older authority disconnected from the situation on the ground is completely foreign to an American English speaker. […] Who has a right to control a language more than its speakers?

However, this defensive attitude towards French is not universal. Many people, particularly young people, continue to increasingly incorporate English into their speech. While walking to class at the University of Toulouse 2, which is littered with posters and banners from various anti-authority groups, I noticed a sentence written onto a bulletin board: “Faire des fautes d’orthographe, c’est ok. Arrêtez de sacraliser le français” or “Making spelling mistakes is ok. Stop sanctifying French.” The conservative idea of protecting the French language as it naturally evolves is opposed by the younger generations, who are almost always at the forefront of linguistic innovation. In English we hear about new words that are invented and put in dictionaries every year. Spellings change, or even can be accepted in multiple ways. The idea of a language governed by an older authority disconnected from the situation on the ground is completely foreign to an American English speaker. 

To understand each of these very intertwined languages, understanding their cultures and how they live and breathe is crucial. Languages are said to be living creatures which evolve, grow, and adapt to the situation around them. While there is no harm in wanting to control the chaotic development of a language, the right of a single authority to govern a language spoken by hundreds of millions is certainly questionable. Who has a right to control a language more than its speakers?

?Sports in France and in the United States

Gabriella Boyes | Shayna Herzfeld | Hayden Freedland | Campbell Lucas-Miller

Walking in Toulouse

In Toulouse, pedestrians are everywhere. Everyone walks to go to work, school, or even to go out in the evening. When I arrived in Toulouse, the step-tracking app on my iPhone informed me that the number of steps I was taking each day had gone up a lot! Before Toulouse, I was walking about 5,600 steps per day on average. Nowadays, it’s more like 13,000. In the U.S. if you want to exercise, you go for a walk. Oftentimes, my mom will go walking for exercise, as a type of “sport.” She walks around our neighborhood and then comes back home. In general, she doesn’t walk far to get places. Cars are the preferred mode of transport. As a result, to walk, you have to set aside time.

People walking down Rue Alsace-Lorraine in Toulouse
People walking down Rue Alsace-Lorraine in Toulouse

In the U.S., sports and exercise are separate from transport. However, in France, it’s common for them to be one and the same.

Here, in general, walking is not a sport, but walking is athletic. When I leave for the metro, a lot of people are walking quickly to get to their destinations on time. On the left side of the escalators, people climb the steps rapidly. If people want to stand, they always stand to the right and let escalator-walkers go through on the left. If the escalators are full, there are a lot of stairs you can take instead. When I first arrived, after I climbed the stairs at the metro I was a little tired, but not so much anymore. During the organized tours with Dickinson, our French tour guide would often ask us “Am I walking too fast?” because most of the American students were lagging behind.

In the U.S., sports and exercise are separate from transport. However, in France, it’s common for them to be one and the same. My hostess, Blandine, walks to work and her husband, Nicolas walks to mass every morning. The roads in Toulouse are designed for pedestrians, with big cobblestone roads and barriers to keep out cars. As a general rule, the city is very walkable.

It’s interesting to see that in one country an activity can be perceived as a sport, but in another country, it’s just a way of life.

When I asked a French friend if French people consider walking exercise, she said, “In the city, no, because everything is close but also kinda far.” This comment is indicative of the sentiments of Toulousains, which is that walking is an inextricable part of their life. As a general rule, people in Toulouse don’t pay attention to their step count. Fitness trackers like Fitbits are not as common here. In the U.S. I have a lot of friends who are competitive with their step count for the day because in America you have to be more  intentional about “getting in your steps.” It’s a way of showing you’re athletic. Here, it’s not a big deal. It’s interesting to see that in one country an activity can be perceived as a sport, but in another country, it’s just a way of life.

Pétanque and Cornhole

Walking the streets of Toulouse, you will see at least one person in the parks throwing a ball. The first time that I saw this game, I was a bit surprise to see people playing what I thought was cornhole in a public space so frequently with people that they did not know. But a friend explained to me that this game was not cornhole, it was a French game called pétanque! So, when it came time to pick a sport for the subject of this article, I knew that I had to pick pétanque.

Boules and their cochonnet

To begin, we need to understand the rules, starting with the terms used in each game. The balls that you throw in pétanque are called boules (each player has one or two boules depending on how many people are playing). But there is another ball which determines who wins, called the cochonnet. The goal of the game is to throw the ball as close as possible to the cochonnet. If a team has the boule closest to the cochonnet, they win one point. If they have the two closest, they win two points. The game is played until one team wins 13 points – then they’re the winners!

Cornhole boards and bean bags

Now, to discuss the rules of cornhole – the game uses two boards (each has a hole) and four sacks for each team. The players throw the sack and the goal is to get the sack in the hole. If the sack goes in, the team wins three points. If the sack lands on the board, the team gets three points. The team with the most points at the end of the round (when all the sacks have been thrown) wins the difference in points between the two teams. The first team to get 21 points wins the game. To be honest, before researching this I did not know that there were so many specific rules and terms in cornhole.

[I’ve noticed differences regarding] the place in which people typically play the game. [When] I hear people talking about playing pétanque, they usually seem to want to play in public spaces.

Now that we know the rules for each game, we can look at the similarities and differences between the two games. For one difference, we can look at the place in which people typically play the game. In France, when I have seen people play pétanque, it is generally in public spaces. It is true that I have not seen many private spaces in France, but when I hear people talking about playing pétanque, they usually seem to want to play in public spaces. For cornhole, it is the opposite – this is a game that is generally played, in my experience, in the backyard or garden of a house with friends or family. Another difference is the people with whom you usually play. As I mentioned before, cornhole is usually played in private with people that you already know. But for pétanque even if people do play with others that they already know, I have also seen people meet in the park and just start playing together! Moreover, I know that in France there are public meetings for people to come together and play.

One […] similarity, which might be the most important, is the atmosphere and intention of the game. In both countries, these two are games for relaxing and spending time with others.

 Next, we can look at some of the similarities between the culture of the games. There is an obvious similarity between the two games, that people throw an object at a target to try and win points. But the two games also both have international competitions (which surprised me!) even though most people think of the games as an informal pastime. One last similarity, which might be the most important, is the atmosphere and intention of the game. In both countries, these two are games for relaxing and spending time with others. Whether you are looking to meet new people or play with those you already know, these are games for people of all ages and levels to enjoy.


The most watched sport in the world, football, as well as many of its athletes, are easily recognizable, so much so that top players like Messi, Ronaldo, and Mbappe can be identified by just their last name. Despite the sport’s popularity, football, or known to Americans as “soccer”, remains the fourth or fifth most popular sport in the United States. The reason behind this is not due to the men’s national team being bad, in fact the men’s national team ranks as the eleventh best team in the world according to FIFA. While there are only a few teams separating the United States and France, the biggest difference regarding sports in the two countries is the culture that surrounds it. Even in Toulouse, a city that prefers rugby, I have seen football played in the streets, I have witnessed the metro filled with Toulouse Football Club supporters, people wearing jerseys from all over Europe, and advertisements with footballers. It is evident that the culture and passion for football in France is strong and is representative of the rest of the world.

[The] biggest difference regarding [soccer] in the two countries is the culture that surrounds it.

When I asked my host why exactly she thought that soccer culture in France was different compared to the United States, she was honest and said that she didn’t understand why. She said given the popularity of the women’s team and the recent success of the men’s team, one would think that the sport would have a strong culture and support that matched its success. I followed this question up by asking her why, even in a region that prefers rugby, would football be the obvious second favorite sport. She said both sports bring people together; rugby brings together people within the region and football brings people together all over the country. This interested me because I had never considered the importance of the national team in this context and I think it is the reason why there is such a disparity between the two football cultures.

Both sports bring people together; rugby brings together people within the region and football brings people together all over the country.

            As my host explained, even in the south of France where rugby is more popular, people get together for both the local rugby teams and the national football team. Compared to the United States where several sports bring people together, there is a greater sense of local pride created because in most major cities there are four professional teams. Even sports with international competition that are more popular in the United States like baseball and hockey, there is still a greater interest in local and national competition than in international competition. This relative lack of interest in international competitions in general may explain why a sport that relies on international competitions, soccer, does not have the same culture and passion in America. From a French perspective, I would be surprised if a nation that notoriously has a sense of national pride didn’t have a strong support for their national football team. After making this comparison, it has left me a little disappointed as a soccer fan since there is the potential for a strong soccer culture to exist in the United States, but as of right now, it simply does not come close to the culture in France.

Rugby in Toulouse

During my first few weeks in the city of Toulouse, I noticed an unfamiliar logo on local buildings, homes, cars, and on clothing around the city. I knew that it was a sports team due to the numerous jerseys I saw people of all ages wearing, but I assumed it must be a soccer (football) uniform.  Previously, I was aware that sports like American football, basketball, and baseball weren’t very popular in Europe. According to what I had been told, soccer was the undisputed dominant sport of the continent. I was astonished after speaking to some classmates to find that the black “T” and red “S” stands for Stade Toulousian, nothing less than the local rugby team. To learn more about the culture of Toulouse and this game of rugby, I spent the next couple of days pestering the people around me for rules, watching the group stages of the very conveniently-timed Rugby World Cup, and even joining my university’s rugby club.

In France, rugby is easily one of the most popular games. In the south particularly, the sport dominates and reaches even higher levels of fanaticism than soccer.

Flags in Toulouse during the 2023 Rugby World Cup

As I learned more and more about the sport, I began to research the teams both in France and the United States. In France, rugby is easily one of the most popular games. In the south particularly, the sport dominates and reaches even higher levels of fanaticism than soccer. The French national team regularly ranks near the best in international play, being ranked fourth in the world coming into the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Arguably the best player in the world, Antoine Dupont, leads the French side. While a World Cup championship win has evaded the Les Bleus team, they have played in the finals three times. Domestically, rugby remains highly competitive. The most developed and historied league in the world, Top 14, calls France its home. The league began in 1892, making it the oldest rugby league.  Many of the top players from France, as well as other historical Rugby countries (such as England, South Africa, and Australia) play on domestic French teams. Evening matches can regularly pull 800,000 views. However, French rugby remains highly regional, with 12 of the 14 teams being based in southern cities. Small southern cities such as Castres (with a population of about 40,000) are better represented than large northern cities such as Lille (with a population of about 230,000). Many of the players I have met while playing in Toulouse came from Toulouse or small towns or cities in the south of the country, such as Perpignan, Bordeaux, or Marseille.

In the late 1800s, rugby was played at American colleges until being eclipsed by American football near the turn of the century. American football occupies a similar cultural niche in the Unites States as rugby has in France and Europe.

Conversely, rugby in the United States remains relatively unpopular as the American public prefers other sports such as American football, basketball, and even soccer. In the late 1800s, rugby was played at American colleges until being eclipsed by American football near the turn of the century. American football occupies a similar cultural niche in the Unites States as rugby has in France and Europe. Despite that, rugby has recently become one of the highest growing sports in the Unites States. Rugby has resurged at the college level and has not yet achieved mass interest. Due to the renewed interest, a new domestic league, the Major Rugby League was established in 2016. Internationally, the Unites States Eagles achieved early success in the sport, winning a few gold medals at the early Olympic Games. Since then, the Eagles have had less success. The United States has qualified for every rugby world cup except two. Despite this consistency, the Eagles have only managed to win one game, never making it out of the group stage. Due to renewed interest in the sport by the American public, a new domestic league, the Major Rugby League was established in 2016.

? “Faire les courses”: Grocery Shopping in France & in the United States


Having spent a semester studying abroad in Toulouse, we noticed a multitude of cultural differences between shopping in the United States and shopping in France. Most of these differences involve the way food is processed, distributed, and shared among people in France. Specifically, we will talk about the types of products sold, the different types of businesses, and customer service in France. We have noticed that the French prefer local products, available in small markets and bakeries in the city. Fruits and vegetables are cheaper and fresher in France, especially because Occitania is an agricultural region. As for the different types of businesses in France, there are many different types of grocery stores that vary in size and location, from pastry shops to late-night grocery stores, etc. Finally, we will discuss how customer service is more personalized in the United States than in France. We hope you find our observations interesting!

Products Sold

Many of the cultural differences in the products available for purchase in American and French
supermarkets result, intentionally or not, from the fact that French markets offer healthier choices. One intentional method of increasing health awareness about food is the “Nutri-Score”. Nutri-Score is a system that is used by large supermarkets like Carrefour and even fast food restaurants like Mcdonald’s. These stores and restaurants aim to use the system to increase transparency around nutrition and highlight their “healthier” options. The scale ranges from A to E and describes the nutritional value of a food product. Since the score is typically printed on the front of a package, it is a good way to help consumers make informed choices about the products they consume.

Overall, there are fewer convenience foods and snacks in markets, and some specialty stores don’t carry them at all. The foods and prepared products you can find have fewer preservatives for the most part. This means that food spoils much more quickly, but
on the other hand, it contributes to a more natural diet. Natural, in this context, simply refers to foods that are composed of ingredients without many treatments or additives.

For other products such as vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and meats, there is a big difference in the level of quality and freshness between the United States and France. This difference comes from the markets (which are more specialized), which we will discuss later, but also from the locality. It is common to find vegetables and fruits that were produced very
locally and therefore those that are in season. It is much easier to eat local products, and many French people make a conscious choice to eat mostly local foods in their diet. There is even a name for this philosophy: locavorism. The proximity of agricultural regions facilitates local food in the Occitan region of France (known as Région Occitanie), but the philosophy of local food is a more sustainable choice that is expanding worldwide.

The Different Types of Businesses

When you first come to France, it can be overwhelming to see the different types of stores and businesses that sell food. The reason for this is that people are looking for the best food: fresh, local, and cheap food. Finding the best food often means shopping at many different stores. Knowing the vocabulary and differences between these stores is very important and will help anyone find the food they are looking for.

First, there are grocery stores, markets, supermarkets, and hypermarkets. Grocery stores are small stores, markets are often outside and sell fresh local fruits and vegetables, then supermarkets are large stores and hypermarkets are very large “grocery stores” where you can find many things. Second, many food groups have their own stores that are also similar to the United States. Places like butcher shops, bakeries, cheese shops, and bakeries all have their equivalents in the United States. Throughout history, however, these specific stores have been consolidated into convenience stores like Target, Walmart, etc. In the past, the United States has used a wider variety of markets, bakeries, pastry shops, etc.; very similar to the French, but slowly they have been combined to make it easier to access all of them at once. The main difference is that the French shop at each of the many different stores while the majority of Americans primarily go to one store for their shopping.

In my opinion, the French take great pride in their cooking and health and feel it is necessary to get the best food they can find, which is not always the case in the US. On the other hand, this statement can be argued because many French people still smoke cigarettes and do other damage to their health. It is not the same for all French people, but I have noticed that many of them prefer the freshest and most available ingredients and foods. The different cultural perceptions between the US and France are reflected in the level of access to businesses that each country favors. The French rely on all of these unique stores, so there are many across the country. Variety is harder to find in the U.S. but highlights the differences in food culture.

Human Relations and Purchasing-Related Exchanges (salesperson/customer, customer/client)

Human relations and customer service in France are very different from human exchanges related to shopping in the United States. In France, shopping in large grocery stores is more of an independent experience. When you walk into a store like Monoprix or Carrefour, you will only find security guards at the entrance. It seems that theft is a major problem in French stores, so you also have to scan your receipt to open the door before leaving the store. In other words, you are usually not greeted by someone when you enter a French grocery store. In the U.S., there are more grocery stores and customer service is very important in stores like Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Wegmans, etc. American cashiers will ask you questions about how you’re doing, what you’ve found, and about your day in general. It’s a much more personalized experience.

There are also “baggers” in American grocery stores, a job usually reserved for young children or high school students. In the U.S., a bagger is someone who places all your items in bags for
you at checkout. They usually chat and ask how your day is going! In France, there are no baggers and you are expected to bring your own shopping bags or cart to the store. Having to bring your own bags is much more sustainable and something we admire in France, especially because plastic bags are abundant in the US. France is arguably more sustainable in this respect, as single-use plastic is very harmful to the environment.

A final note concerns the hours of operation of French grocery stores. Most French grocery stores are not open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as they are in the United States. French stores are also almost always closed on Sundays, which is a big cultural difference from the US. However, some large grocery stores like Carrefour are open on Sundays with limited hours because they provide people with basic necessities. Americans tend to be in a hurry and want to have everything at their fingertips, while the French take advantage of days like Sunday to relax and be with family.


In conclusion, we have discussed at length the cultural differences between food stores in France versus the United States. It is fascinating to consider the cultural aspect of these differences, as we have noted that the French largely prefer fresh food, the convenience of markets, and minimal customer service. In France, markets refer to what are called farmers’ markets in the United States. They are just called markets because they are much more common in France. We admire the more sustainable aspects of food in France such as eating in season, buying fresh food locally, and no plastic bags in grocery stores. This leads us to wonder if sustainable practices like this would be feasible in the United States, and if so, what it would take to implement them. We hope the U.S. adopts some of these practices!

? Religion in the Public Sphere – in France and in the United States


Although many French people practice catholicism, France is a secular state. Secularism is a fundamental principle of La République Française, and has been affirmed since the French Revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, established in 1789, declares that all French citizens have the right to freely practice their own religions. The Ferry law, established in 1882, made school mandatory for all children and all public schools secular. Though France has not officially collected data on religious affiliation since 1972, it continues to maintain a strict tradition of secularism today.

Religion at school

One of the first ways secularism manifests within French society is through the school system. No school under government contract can make religious classes mandatory, regardless of if they are public or private. Schools are only able to provide religious classes if they are outside of the government contract, but courses still need to be approved by The French Ministry of Education (L’Education Nationale). The French Ministry of Education is in charge of the preparation and implementation of government policy for youth within and outside of the school environment.

Schools can give religious courses to students who want them, but they cannot be made mandatory for all students, and all courses must be approved by the Ministry of Education before they are implemented. Students are also banned from wearing any religious symbols at school, such as crosses, the Star of David, head scarves, etc. Even though the purpose of this ban is to guarantee religious freedom at all schools across France, it has created a great controversy, because the ban has mainly affected Muslim students who wear head scarves. The rules at French schools greatly contrast with rules at American schools, as private schools in the US are allowed to offer mandatory religion classes and students are free to wear religious symbols to school.

Secularism and inequalities

Secularism is a subject that seeks to separate state and religion, but as for the religious part which is made as a private domain by freedom of expression, it seems that it favors one side of the argument rather than the other. This “favored” side of religion that is referred to is Christianity, and on the other side is Islam or any other religion that does not conform well with French history.

As we have just seen, secularism exists in public schools, but even there one can find religious inequalities when it comes to school meals. During the period of Lent for Christians, it is common not to have meat served in the canteens, especially on Fridays when mostly fish is served. However, there are never halal options at any time of the year for Muslims, who nevertheless have stricter dietary practices.

Apart from school canteens, in the professional world, the vast majority of businesses are closed on Sundays, a traditionally sacred day of rest for Christians, when they should not be working. While for Muslims, the day of prayer is Friday, and for Jews, this designated day is Saturday. A day when almost all businesses are closed is good for those who work since they have a day off, but for those workers who do not observe Sunday as a day of rest, it does not make sense and they are asked to work on the day when they should rest according to their religion. Although secularism is supposed to be neutral in its policies, it contains flaws that are or are not always obvious and it must be taken into consideration that this separation between state and religion is rather contradictory as a whole.

Religion as an enduring historical component of French society

The concept of secularism is seen by many as an essential part of what it means to be a French citizen. This means that there is no religious involvement in government affairs and public spaces. However, Catholicism was once the state religion of France and continues to be the primary religion of French society, where almost 48% of people consider themselves Christians. Many Catholics believe that the Church helps maintain traditional family values, authority, and a sense of moral order in society. Religion has been part of French culture for so long that it is difficult to erase it from society. France has 100,000 religious buildings. Of these, 45,000 are Catholic churches, and 3,000 are Protestant places of worship. France was built on religion and therefore traditions and family values come from religion. Culture and religion have co-existed for so long that they are integrated into society. It is understandable that many people of different religions disagree with this, however, they must understand the deeply rooted culture that the religion has been a part of.


Despite keeping religion separate from the public space, it is difficult to maintain complete secularism without any complications, and this is visible on a daily basis in French society. Private schools still use forms of religion and follow Jesuit and other curricula, and religion is rooted in French culture. Historical Christian religious affiliation can be at odds with the French notion of secularism, and the diversity of religions that exist in France today challenges the notion of secularism that the state tries to maintain.

⏰ Sense of Time – in France and in the United States

Introduction: description of differences 

In theory, the subject of time is defined in the same manner in France as in the United States. Larousse defines time as “Notion fondamentale conçue comme un milieu infini dans lequel se succèdent les événements.” Oxford defines time as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” However, during our stay in France, we have noticed some differences between France and the United States concerning time. The first difference concerns the relation with time in the professional domain; this is to say schools or workplaces. Time as it concerns meals – waiting time, the hour one eats, the duration of the meal – constitutes the second difference. For the final difference we will discuss the management of free time such as pastimes, the structure of weekends, or the structure of weeks. In this article we will describe in detail these differences and will analyze the cultural reasons for these differences. 

Part 1: Time in the professional domain

I am taking four courses at Sciences Po University this semester. I was very surprised to see that my courses don’t start exactly at the scheduled time and they don’t finish at the scheduled time. For example, one of my courses generally finishes between 20 and 30 minutes before the end of the course because the professor has to catch a train. Another of my courses often finishes 25 minutes after the scheduled time. What is more, most of the time my professors arrive 5 minutes after the start of the course. Sometimes, the professors change the hours of the course without warning the students; I find this bizarre. For one class we only had 3 meetings in person. I don’t know if I can confidently say that I learned much for a class that finished 20-30 minutes before the scheduled hour and which only met 3 times.

When I discuss the subject of the relation to time with other international students, they also find that the relation with time is strange and sometimes frustrating because it seems to us that the professors don’t completely respect our time. Yet, when I initiate the same conversation with the French students they don’t find the situation bizarre. On the contrary, it is very common that the French students arrive to class 5 minutes (and one time an hour) late. Or, at Jean-Jaures, the students leave before the end of the class and generally, the professors don’t say anything about it. At Dickinson, almost all of the students and professors arrive on time and often arrive early. I find this an indicator of the respect that exists between students and professors, we use the scheduled time and we give our attention to each person who speaks during class, student or professor.

I think a question arises of how can we learn in an environment where we don’t respect each other? In general, the relationship between students and professors is very different in France. The courses, their hours, their information, and their organization are controlled almost completely by the professor. It seems to me that regulations concerning the necessary hours in person, the distribution of grades, the schedule, etc. do not exist. Essentially, the professor decides what they want and the students follow. I don’t feel that there exists the same understanding of how the act of following the scheduled hours shows respect, engagement, enthusiasm, and a desire to be there.

Before arriving in France, I learned in my French classes that the French are not preoccupied by punctuality. I find this stereotype too general (as is the case for many stereotypes) because among the examples of people who arrive late, who leave early, and professors who don’t warn students of schedule changes, there exist counter-stereotypical people who arrive and leave at the scheduled hour and who keep students in the loop about schedule changes. I can understand the French sentiment that at the end of the day, 5 minutes doesn’t ruin one’s life. However, the fact is that many international students and us Americans have noticed the strangeness of time management in France. Thus, this cultural difference as it concerns time remains very real and very jarring and can sometimes make university life in France disagreeable. 

Part 2: Time in Regards to Meals

There is another difference concerning the conception of time in France and in the United States, which is related to meals. There are a number of little differences between the two cultures. The first example is the hour of the day when people typically eat. In the United States, many people eat earlier in the evening, usually between 6 and 7 PM. In fact, the average American dinner time is 6:30 PM. In France, the average dinner time is different as most French families eat dinner around 8 PM.

Another example of different conceptions of time is the length of meals. The French have a tendency to savor their meals for a long period of time. It is not uncommon to spend an hour and a half to two hours at the table for lunch or dinner. In the United States, meals are rarely that long. American dinners typically last close to 30 minutes.

There is another example regarding meals that constitutes the last example. In many cases, waiting time for food in restaurants in France and in the United States is the same, usually around 15 minutes. However, the reactions between the two countries are very different. In France, a waiting time of 15 minutes is considered very long. For example, I was once at a restaurant for lunch with my hosts. After 15 minutes of waiting for our food, my hosts said that the food was taking too long. On the other hand, many Americans would think that waiting time was short.

There are many explanations for these cultural differences detailed above. In regards to the hour of meals, the hours of daily life are different between American and French cultures. The French usually work later in the day and also arrive home later. This is why they tend to eat later on in the evening. An important part of French culture is food and meals. This notion explains why meals are much longer in France. For the French, meals are a moment to connect with others. It is very common to see people stay at the table long after the meal is over. It is also fairly normal for American families to not always eat dinner together. This may be because children have many activities to do after school, like sports, dance, or theater. 

Part 3: Free Time

Also, how people manage their free time differs between France and the USA, and these differences depend on numerous factors. Based on our experiences here, it seems to us that French people our age have much more free time in France than we have in the United States. There’s a big cultural difference regarding students, in particular, but this changes between high school and college. In terms of university, American students have class multiple times per week, and they have lots of homework with a rigid structure. On the other hand, each French course meets only once or twice per week, and each class period lasts several hours. Plus, each class is longer (two or even three hours) but happens regularly in France.

Furthermore, homework is rare, practically replaced by bibliographies of recommended reading. Thus, French students can choose to commit more or less to a course based on how much the course material interests them. With this in mind, as well as what we have heard from our French friends, students have more free time during the week to go out with their friends because being a good student simply requires them to study regularly. However, in the USA, high schoolers have class for six to seven hours a day, from 7:20 AM to 2:20 PM for instance, then they participate in after-school activities, and they have many options at their disposal. For example, I did theatre, band, volunteering, and even French club at my high school with other students my age. Conversely, having spoken to French high schoolers, we learned that they hardly have any clubs to participate in at their high school. Also, according to them, their school days last longer: about eight hours, from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Thus, French high schoolers have less free time outside of school than American high schoolers, and when they do have it, they have less structure that could teach them how to spend it. Thanks to clubs in American high schools, students can discover which activities interest them while in France, high schoolers must explore their interests independently. By lacking clubs, French high schools do not develop extracurricular interests in their students, reinforcing the notion that being a good student is merely a matter of studying. All in all, although university students have more free time in France than in the USA, that is not the case for all French people; what’s clear is that free time in France is less structured—in a way, “freer”—than free time in the US, with fewer activities and less specific homework to do.

Conclusion: the French perspective  

In conclusion, even if there exist examples that show the disagreement between our American ideas concerning time and the French reality, one cannot stereotype all French people simply because we found a few differences. What is more, temporal differences have roots based in culture thus we have to adapt ourselves to these differences to respect French culture. Adaptation can be difficult, particularly when that to which we adapt ourselves is a subject as vast, abstract, and vague as time. Our experiences regarding school, meals, and the management of free time show and describe cultural differences and we recognize that it is necessary to respect these differences, however we do not have the guidebook on navigating these differences. Each day becomes a work of learning, an opportunity to enlarge our worldviews, and among the confusion and the difference we find moments of connection which link our American customs with French heritage

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