My study abroad program consists of only American students, making it difficult to make French friends. However, there are one or two students in each of my classes who are French students who go to a French university and are taking one class at CEA. Many of the students study language or English, which is why it is appropriate for them to be taking classes at my abroad institution. At orientation we were told that some of our classes would have French students in them and to make them fell welcome and talk to them. I chose to conduct my meeting with one of the French students in my Mass Media and the Fashion Industry class, who I have befriended along the way. We work on a group continuous group project together, which is a fashion blog. It is interesting to get both of our perspectives on fashion due to the fact that she is French and I am American. I chose to meet with Amelie, because I knew I could relate the most to her and felt comfortable talk to her about this. I also chose to interview a French student, because I wanted to hear what it was like from a similar age demographic as myself. . As said in the chapter 5 reading, “Exposure to a new culture causes many people to explore value systems for the first time; discoveries often lead to reexamining the foundation of their own ethical structures” (47). I saw myself doing this quite often even though I did not know it. Especially in the beginning I was always comparing French ways to American ways, but often in a negative light. As I progress more and more I see myself digging deeper into these value systems and comparing them for what they are.
The discussions we had were very interesting. At first I could tell that Amelie felt a bit awkward as I was asking more questions rather than allowing for free flowing discussion. I soon realized that I should stop asking questions and bring up certain points of discussion. It was important to take the time to discuss both personal and cultural viewpoints and mindsets with a French student because we must realize these differences. We cannot brush them under the table and forget about them, which is how stereotypes come about: from lack of understands and just from pure assumption of someone’s culture. Sitting down and speaking about cultural value sets enabled us both to understand each other’s culture much better. Some of the more interesting cultural value sets we discussed included boasting versus modesty, confrontation versus avoidance, and rational versus intuitive thinking. When we discussed boasting versus modesty it was clear that the French are much more modest than Americans, who boast their accomplishments and material things. I shared with Amelie a bit about how in America the pre-college process (SATs, applying and getting into college) is like a competition against your fellow peers. She was quite shocked with what I shared with her and could not believe that students and parents would boast in such a way. Amelie said that none of this peer competitiveness existed in France and that each student is regarded as their own individual and is not compared to others as the US does so. This led perfectly into our discussion of the set of rational versus intuitive thinking. Amelie expressed that the French value creative thinking a lot. In school she spoke about a creative photography project where she had to come up with three self-portraits of herself: one normal, one as the opposite sex, one dead. I expressed to her how in American culture especially in the education system we value following directions on an assignment and are often discouraged from expressing creativity in school assignments unless otherwise noted. When we spoke about confrontation versus avoidance Amelie expressed that one must deal with their own interpersonal relationships within themselves instead of discussing and having an open conversation as we would in America. I explained to her the fact that we value discussion and openness in America. She explained that the French keep to themselves much more and do not wish to move one’s problems onto another person and try to deal with things internally.
One of the highlights of the discussion was talking about drinking and smoking here and in the US and the differences of each. Although not one of the said cultural sets from the reading, we talked quite extensively about smoking and drinking. She held the stereotypical idea that American students heavily drink all the time and I of course for being in Paris for a month held the stereotype that all French people smoke cigarettes, especially high school and college aged students. Although it is not as popular as it is in France, smoking is an example of a home campus culture which I do not participate in and which I hold a more negative view point on, where as here college students smoking is the norm. At home I honestly tend to judge a person a bit if they are smoking, whereas here, I do not “judge” a person at all if they are smoking because it is considered again, the norm.