Travel Log 5: “Conversations” by Kait Shortell. Paris, France

I decided to talk with my home stay Madame for this assignment, she’s in her sixties and has a very “left-wing” view, which she wanted to make sure I mentioned in my post right from the beginning. I chose to speak with her because I thought she would have very firm, and informed opinions, after living in France for so many years, and also I felt comfortable asking her these types of questions about the French. I believe it is important to take the time to discuss the aspects of our host-cultures because we are living here after all, and understanding their way of life while living here is part of the challenge of studying abroad. If not recognized, and if we don’t take the time to acknowledge the differences, we would be missing out on a very large part of this experience.

The most prevalent mindset that continued to resurface during our conversation, whether it be directly or indirectly, was the French’s value of individualism. It turns out that not only is this France’s greatest quality, but their also their most profound fault. This mindset actually goes back into the history of this country many, many years ago,  and has been a common underlying thread, holding together an extremely fragile web ever since. The conversation we had was very complex, but I will do my best to give examples of certain situations we talked about to show how their way of thinking and acting works.

A current event happening in France right now is the possible change in the way they teach in schools. Right now, it is a very basic system, where the teacher lectures and the students listen. Now, as France sees other countries, especially the U.S. evolving towards different more interactive ways of learning, specifically the utilization of group work, they are looking to incorporate this into their school systems as well. The French teachers are actually against this change. The reason being, the system as it is now works in their favor, and they don’t want it to change for fear of what effect it might have on them, without regard for their students. Another school in France, Ena, a very old and extremely prestigious political school here, has the same individualistic driven system. The students there are presented with, and taught, to compete from day one for their own personal gain. Working together wouldn’t be working toward their own benefit. Mind you, the students who graduate from this school are France’s political figures. So, this individualistic mind-set is prominent on a very “high” level of French society, you can see how this trickles down and becomes the same mind-set of its public.

Now, the individualistic mind-set that France has, created a very introverted society, which is very different from how American’s are, in the French’s opinion. Because the French spend so much time on their own, they spend a lot of time reflecting on themselves, their life, and much more on a very deep level. Most French view the Americans as lacking this quality, that they hold to a very high regard, which creates the cliche notion that the French are not fond of Americans.

But, interestingly enough, this mind-set has also created a silent tension between the French, themselves. The wealthiest French have decided today that they will not pay taxes, simply because they do not want too, and this has created an extreme burden on the middle class, causing them to slowly become poorer and poorer, as well as more resentful. There are also several other scenarios that explain similar relationships that cause friction between generations, but too much to explain in a short blog post.

In the reading Slimbach wrote, “Today we can all be grateful for the opportunity to travel more widely  than ever before. But our real frontier lies elsewhere, in traveling more wisely…” (150). I am not sure if I read this a month ago when I left home, that I would have given it more thought then merely reading over it. But, it now has a much greater meaning. All and all I learned the society I am taking part in for this very short period of time, differs from ours more than I originally knew. I am glad I took the time to talk with my Madame about it, it gave me a deeper appreciation for Paris, and the culture I get to take part in while I am here. It also made me start thinking about how I will ever possibly reincorporate this new lifestyle I am learning to just absolutely adore, into my old life back at home. A group on campus at home that I have never really given much thought to is Student Government. I don’t know at all why, but as a whole if i knew half of what they were responsible for I think i would have a greater appreciation for the time and effort they spend in that sub-community of Quinnipiac.

 

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