The Effects of French Culture on an American Mind

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

 

As we near the end our abroad experience, this quote seems dreadfully fitting. Although each of the participants in this program had their own ideas of what they wanted to get out the experience, it is apparent that we have all gained more than just experience.

 

We did, however, all come in with the common desire to dive into France and all it has to offer. We have travelled across the country, seeing as many monuments and notable places as possible. We have tried many different cuisines and activities popular in each area we visited. We have seen beautiful landscapes, beaches, structures, and people. But, for me, the most amazing thing that we have been given the privilege of experiencing, is the culture of France.

 

Before beginning this experience, I would describe my family as ‘close’. Although I no longer live with them, I speak to my parents at every opportunity. I text my older sister often throughout my days, even while abroad. But about five weeks ago, my definition of ‘close’ was drastically changed.

 

I made the decision, before entering this program, to stay with a host family. I thought this decision would allow me to better my abilities in speaking French and give me some stability while I was an ocean away from my family and friends.

 

My host family from the outside looks like an average American family: a mom, a dad, a fourteen-year-old boy, a ten-year-old boy, and a four-year-old girl. The cultural differences between this family and basically every American family I have spent time with, including my own, are almost overwhelming. Not only is almost every meal they have spent sitting with as many family members as possible at the dining table, but they also stress the importance of sustainable practices.

 

In just a few days of living with them I could see that ecological health was a large priority and it was obvious in all of their actions and habits.

For starters, they take very short showers. And by short, I mean less than ten minutes every time while also turning off the water throughout those ten minutes whenever they are not actively using it. For me, a girl that’s been compared to Rapunzel all my life for having very long hair, this was not easy for me to adapt to. Normally, it takes me at least fifteen minutes just to wash my hair. But since I came into this program wanting to get the full experience of the culture and what it is like to live in this country, I altered my routine.

The next thing that I had noticed were the 4 different trashcans in the garage: one for paper, one for plastic, one for glass, and one for nonrecyclable trash. This is average for every household in France. But there is also a cute little pot outside the window above their sink. This little pot is used for compost. They put the very little amount of food waste that they produce into this pot and whenever it gets full, the youngest boy takes the pot down the street to the compost. Recycling and composting seem to be very common priorities throughout France.

Conserving energy in all forms is seen as a necessity in France. When it comes to food waste, all their efforts go towards having none. In fact, less than eleven percent of their food is wasted. They also have many restrictions on grocery store food waste, stating that any food that is not sold must be donated.

Their house is surrounded by large windows so that when there is natural light, it is being used. But they also have remote control shudders that block out the heat on some of the hotter days, in an attempt to conserve electricity.

 

 

 

 

Angers, France Taken by Kamryn Stanley

The cars here are very different as well. Not only are they smaller, they are all hybrids so whenever the car isn’t in motion, the engine isn’t on. Yes, these kinds of cars exist in the states, however, you are more likely to find a large truck or diesel Volkswagen.

Last night I had a discussion with my host mom about how she does her grocery shopping. She told me that when she buys meat, which is very rarely, she always tries to bring her own box or cooler to hold it instead of taking all the plastic and paper that the store gives her to take it home in. This doesn’t always work, however, due to the possibility of the meat not staying fresh or something going wrong, the store would be held reliable and its common throughout companies to avoid taking risks.

She also has reusable bags for everything – the grocery store, the farmers market, the bakery – and they are all made from one hundred percent recycled materials.

All the containers in their pantry are made from glass.

They have drying racks for their clothing instead of using a dryer.

 

Angers, France
Taken by Kamryn Stanley

 

All these extra steps that this family takes are so simple and easy but have a great impact. Some argue that taking these steps, like not buying plastic or only buying reusable bags are more expensive, but this is a routine for every family in France, which compared to the U.S. and many other countries, have a much lower income rate per family.

 

Our stay in this little French town has been short and there is not much time left for us here, but the enlightenment that the cultural habits and priorities we have viewed and experienced since being here have changed the way we look at the things that we prioritized before our stay. I personally no longer see the point in driving everywhere I go. A two mile walk in the states may be very different than a two-mile-walk in Angers, but if I can do it every day here, and also reduce my carbon footprint, then I can do it every once in a while, in Austin.

 

Blog post by Kamryn Stanley

 

Redlingshöfer, B., Coudurier, B., & Georget, M. (2017). Quantifying food loss during primary production and processing in France. Journal of Cleaner Production, 164, 703-714. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.06.173

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