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Cultural Differences in Aix-en-Provence

After having studied French language and literature for about seven years throughout high school and college I thought I knew a lot about French culture until I arrived to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France.  However, I have learned since being here that reading Baudelaire and Sartre and watching a handful of la nouvelle vague films does not prepare one to deal with the differences between cultural differences of Americans and the French.  I have found during my two months here in Aix-en-Provence that just because I speak French, wear black clothes and sit at a cafe, does not mean I will be able to blend into this environment.  There are smaller, subtler details and mannerisms that stand out.  Many are not obvious at first but after listening, speaking and eating in Aix-en-Provence, I have discovered that both differences and similarities exist between American and French students.

One of the most obvious differences I have found during my time here is the way of speaking and dressing.  I am not hard of hearing but sometimes here I find it difficult to understand because people here speak french with a much softer tone.  I am making generalities here in order to emphasize the differences I have noticed between French and Americans.  Out at restaurants and walking around with a group of my friends we stand out because we speak English and we speak slightly louder.

Another more obvious difference is the way we look and dress.  Although it is cliché and a generalization that French wear darker color tones; mostly dark blues, greys and black, it is easy to stand out wearing coral pants here.  Blonde hair and blue eyes are also obvious clues to people around that you are not native and are probably either a student or tourist.

Although Aixoise (local residents of Aix-en-Provence) are not too keen on tourists and international students, I’ve found that the best way to attempt to bridge the gap between cultural misunderstandings is though communication.  Though it is difficult I have found it to become easier as my American accent has subsided substantially and my French speaking ability has improved dramatically.  I am hopeful that the day will come when I speak French and the person I'm speaking with does not assume I am from somewhere else.
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