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Peaches & Coconuts

It always seems like the most important things to prepare for are the most difficult when it comes to studying abroad. I was made aware of the differences to expect well before making my way out to France, but I’ve found that those are really nothing more than stereotypes based on rumors. I was warned by many to beware of the French, who supposedly had negative opinions on Americans and were incredibly rude whenever they got the chance to be, but this assumption was entirely based on misunderstandings.

When I got here, it was explained to me in simple terms: Americans are like peaches; we’re soft on the outside, and easy to befriend, but we do keep our important stuff hidden in our core. The French, however, are like coconuts. They’re rough and protective on the outside, but they’re all sweet on the inside, you just have to get to know them. I’ve found two big obstacles in in figuring out that the French aren’t at all rude or snooty, so I’m hoping to break the stigma here and now.

The first, and probably most important misunderstanding is that the French are quieter than Americans in pretty much every way, and it is something that can make an American come off as rude and disrespectful. In crowded places, where Americans have the tendency to talk over others, a French person will make every attempt to avoid being the loudest person in the room and will end up trying to speak under others if they feel their voices stand out too much.

Americans also have the habit of walking “like elephants” and really making our presence known. Some ways you can avoid being too loud during the day is keeping your shoes off when inside your home, making an effort to speak softly and not over people, and to try to remind the group you’re with to keep it down. After 10 pm, all of France is under strict quiet hours, even on weekends, so make sure you’re mindful of these things during the night as well. Being respectful of your surroundings is one of the easiest ways to ensure peaceful living among the French.

 When you have tile floors like ours, shoes can be loud
and annoying to the neighbors below, so make sure
to take your shoes off when inside.

Another place where coconuts and peaches struggle to find common ground is in communication. All I knew coming to Aix was that the French were known to be rude to Americans, so I was afraid to speak to anybody if I had any issues or questions. It’s very common for students to go to France with the expectation of the French being very standoff-ish and sometimes rude to Americans, but that is not at all the case. Just because it’s uncommon to smile and say hello to strangers on the street doesn’t mean that a French person won’t be willing to help you if you have a question or need directions. A simple “Bonjour” goes a long way, even if you don’t speak any French beyond that. Simply put, don’t be afraid of the French, especially in Aix. They’re used to the American students and are more than willing to help you out should you need it, as long as you make the effort to be polite as well.
 Streets in Aix can be confusing, so it's easy to get lost at first. It's important to be comfortable enough with asking directions should you get lost.

If you respect your host country, it will respect you back. In France, looking past stereotypes is the first step to a happy semester abroad!

McKenzie Smith is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a Sophomore at Hofstra University.

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