France is one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about life in France. With all of the good food, fine art, and high fashion, life in France just seems more romantic and beautiful. Many aspiring study abroad students yearn to discover for themselves the treasures of living in France, and what the French refer to as joie de vivre, or the joy of living.
To really get to know and understand life in France, you need to acclimatize to French culture by bridging the many cultural differences you’ll encounter. Studying abroad in France is about more than just handing in your assignments on time; follow this guide to studying in France to find out how to embrace French culture and reap the rewards of living in one of the most exciting countries in the world.
Un: Be Respectful & Speak French
It’s no secret that French people don’t like speaking English to foreign visitors. It’s not because they can’t; they just reasonably assume that if you are in their country, you should be speaking their language.
Quite simply, the French appreciate manners and admire formality. If you don’t speak French already, this is your chance to study this glorious language. It is a good idea to learn some basic French phrases to make your interactions with locals go more smoothly before arrival too. A simple bonjour can go a long way while living in France. It’s even better if you make a stab at politeness.
When addressing an older French woman, say bonjour madame. A younger woman is referred to as mademoiselle and a man is called monsieur. By addressing people by their titles, it shows courtesy and respect. While talking to a stranger, a person should refer to the individual as the subject vous, because it is more formal and appropriate for the situation. The subject tu, which means “you” in English, is reserved for friends and acquaintances. While saying goodbye to someone, it is customary to say au revoir.
Other helpful phrases you should know before studying in France include the following:
- My name is - Je m’appelle...
- Please - S’il vous plait.
- Thank you - Merci.
- Do you speak English? - Parlez-vous anglais?
- I don’t understand - Je ne comprends pas.
- I am sorry - Je suis desole.
- Excuse me - Excusez-moi.
Deux: Be Aware of Cultural Etiquette
The French are very reserved in their demeanor. In general, French people do not like bringing attention to themselves. Therefore, some French people perceive Americans to be very loud and obnoxious at times. International students should make it their goal to blend into the environment as much as possible while studying in France.
Many travelers come to France without being aware of the cultural etiquette and customs that exist. Americans often arrive to the country and make an error, which the French refer to as faux pas. For example, Americans usually engage in conversation with strangers, maintain eye contact, and fail to converse in French, all faux pas in French culture. Always remember, these obstacles can be overcome with practice, so there is no need to get discouraged on your first day!
Eating is a serious business in France, so make sure you do it right. Students who decide to study culinary arts in France are probably already well-versed in French dining etiquette, but the uninitiated might find it a little confusing. The majority of French and Europeans tend to eat dinner at a much later time than Americans. Most restaurants don’t serve dinner until 8 p.m. local time, so you will need to adapt to late night eating.
The structure of the meal itself can also come as something of a surprise. French meals almost always have multiple courses, each more decadent than the last. In America, it is common to eat a salad before having the main meal. In France, they eat their main meal first, and then they eat salad, because it cleanses the palette. They typically enjoy bread and cheese with meals, and alcohol is also a main feature. An aperitif is often served before a meal, along with amuse-bouches or nibbles, wine along with the main course (or courses), and a digestif after the meal.
Dinner can last several hours, as the French enjoy the art of eating and dining. Meals are very sociable occasions, and if you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, don’t be surprised if it lasts for several hours. Sometimes a walk is squeezed in between courses, to give diners a chance to digest a little before moving on to the next lavish dish. Lastly, of course, don’t forget to always say bon appetit before eating!
Here’s some more insider advice on dining out:
- Waiters/waitresses don’t bring check to you, you must ask for it.
- Ask a waiter for check by pretending to write a check in the air while saying, L'addition, s’il vous plait.
- The French don’t leave tips because the gratuity is included in the bill.
Quatre: Adapt to the French Lifestyle
Immerse yourself in French culture right from the debut. That means picking up on French cultural habits, and getting into the swing of la vie francaise. Embrace everything that is typically French (yes, that means the la bise, kissing people on the cheeks to say hello and goodbye). Sundays are nearly sacred in France, so instead of complaining that all of the supermarkets are ferme, do as the French do and enjoy a day of relaxation and quality time with the people you care about.
Speaking of supermarkets, you should learn to love food lovingly made from quality ingredients. This is the secret to why French food is just better. Skip the commercialized supermarket fare and shop at your local market, where you will find stalls overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, local cheesemongers, homemade croissants, and all sorts of other delicacies. Markets are an integral part of life in France, and just picking up your week’s groceries is much more enjoyable when it is practically a cultural event.
Lastly, invest in a nice scarf and a giant pot of Nutella (then eat it with everything), and just accept that dog poo is a feature of Parisian streets. You will end up loving even the strangest quirks of the French lifestyle.
Cinq: Enjoy France!
Making the most of living in France is all about luxuriating in the finer things in life; think champagne, excellent cheese, fine dining, and exquisite macarons. Essentially, studying in France will be even more enjoyable if you have a little extra money to splurge on these little luxuries, a trip to see some of the most famous sights, and a few souvenirs to take home with you.
France uses the Euro, which is typically a strong currency, so you will need to go to France with a fairly healthy bank account. To help out your finances while studying in France, you can check out the GoAbroad Scholarship Directory to find dozens of financial aid options.