Before diving into the abstract nature that is “Study Abroad,” I want to emphasize that I was not aware of the cultural obscurities that took place in Paris, France. I thought that my perceived mastery of the French language and my recollection of Romantic French movies was enough to prepare me for my experience. Of course, every dream encounters its reality, which for me happened all too quickly. Throughout my travels, I have many experiences that shape me as a person or just downright embarrassed me, but hopefully you can use my mistakes as a learning experience. Though despite all the cultural mishaps and hiccups, I will elaborate on the one I struggled with my entire experience- Hospitality.
Growing up in the south, there was always an overwhelming sense of hospitality and friendliness. In other words, smiling was a given and communicating with strangers was praised upon. I have always connected with this aura that immersed from southerners, mainly because it made me feel accepted and appreciated as a person. Although, little did I know the French had an opposing stance to this idea, which would soon take me by surprise.
I noticed immediately after my arrival in Paris that something was missing. Especially when the lady checking for passports shrugged off my “hello” and responded to my smile with a blank demeanor. I assumed from that experience that I was solely approached with bad service, until time went on and I realized it was a common occurrence. Shortly after that let down I persisted with my friendly façade, smiling at everyone I saw on the metro only to receive disapproving stares and no compliance to my evident joyousness. I was fearful that maybe I would not fit in Paris because I constantly needed approval from those whom I have never met, and reassurance from those who were just trying to work. After a couple of weeks of being immersed into the French culture and adhering to their norms, I had a new perspective on what I was misinterpreting as “unfriendly.”
After much observation of the French -Parisians to be more specific- it became clear that the French are not an open book, but rather a group of people who share their kindness with those of importance. They take each encounter with a grain a salt, carefully choosing whom should be trusted and whom should stay an outsider. Having this sort of approach allows their moments of content and joy to be completely genuine rather than forced. They feel as though such moments should be shared with someone worthy of an experience, thus making it even more important. When a French person lets you in, you will be able to tell without a doubt and have the gratifying feeling of being accepted. Having this introspect on French identity and personality makes the fitting in process smoother and less of a surprise when encountering this idea. The French in my eyes are no longer rude or standoffish, but instead careful of their surroundings and saving their hospitality for when the time is right.
Take from my misinterpretations, and challenge yourself to distinguish different cultural ways of social interaction to broaden your spectrum of the specific culture you are exploring. Hopefully you can use this theory when you travel to other places, in order to fit in and be welcomed sooner- rather than later in my experience- to a culture.