De Carlisle à la Ville Rose

Category: 2023 EN

🪜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.

Texting

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.

Soccer

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

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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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