Travel Log 5: “Conversations,” By: Erin Foley, Paris, France

As my semester in Paris progresses, I cannot help but notice the many cultural differences that exist between France and the United States. For this particular discussion, I chose to deliberate with a fellow American, D.A., (who wishes to remain anonymous). She is originally a native Californian, although she has lived in Paris for over eleven years. Although not necessarily a part of the communitas of students that are currently transitioning from American to French life, she has experienced many of the same circumstances that we must encounter everyday. Daniel Hess offered a unique insight into why individuals immersed in different cultures act in a way that may differ from our own. “An individual lives by a conscience that is shaped by the imprint of genetic make up, the idiosyncrasies of personality, the reinforcement of personal experience, and the consequence of personal choice.” However, even my informant admitted to reading the prompts and realizing that she had changed quite a bit since moving to France. Is Hess’ perception applicable to a single culture, or can we adjust our conscience to accommodate many at a time? The image I have included depicts the American and French flags interlocked, symbolically meshing cultures. This is a balance I hope to find by semester’s end, just like my informant has.

Upon discussion, the three most shocking contrasts were:

  • Youth vs. Age
  • Equality vs. Hierarchy and Rank
  • Independence vs. Dependence

The French language is renowned for having two forms of “you:” tu and vous. The latter lends itself to a more formal situation in which you wish to show respect to someone, elderly or otherwise. Unfortunately, there does not exist such a linguistic device in English that denotes the respect a superior or elder deserves. Relating to the appropriate use of language for people of un certain âge, D.A. also described an urgency to appear young in the States, while the French accept that aging is a natural process. In an attempt to avoid the inevitable, Americans have idealized youth so much that we tend to disregard age as a negative aspect of life. Americans are much more disrespectful to elders and people of stature than are the French. We concluded, then, that France is more aligned with the contrast culture than with the U.S., in that age is to be respected.

Since the Middle Ages, France was organized under a hierarchy with class ranks. After the king, of course, there was the bourgeoisie class that can even be seen today. Neuilly and Versailles are examples of some of the more upscale suburbs that surround Paris where there is an outpouring of “old money.” Examples of modern rank may include the rapport between professor and student. If you receive a poor grade with which you do not agree, it is taboo to contest it. This action is seen as a slight to your highly educated professor and indicates that you believe your opinion matters just as equally. Being American, grade challenging is inherently a right that students possess. I cannot imagine receiving an unfair grade and not being able to at least express your disdain.

Lastly, the most prevalent contrast, for me, is independence vs. dependence. American college students are constantly pressured to graduate and move out of their parent’s house as fast as possible. They are also encouraged to pursue higher education as soon as the minimum amount of experience is reached in the workplace. French students, on the other hand, are urged to choose a concentration that suits them, even if that means changing it a couple of times or moving back home afterwards to save money. I will most likely need to move back home after undergraduate school, unfortunately with the stigma that I am either a failure or that I have not lived up to my potential.

As an involved member of Greek life in the Quinnipiac community, I am not familiar with many of the clubs and sports teams that we have on campus. After being a dancer for fifteen years, I considered auditioning for one of the dance teams. However, I have heard some comments about how they choose new members that have lent themselves to an overall negative opinion of this organization. Perhaps sitting down with a representative would allow me to understand their selection process and required experience levels. Maybe their intentions are misunderstood so that the university has a distorted perception. Interviewing the president would allow certain individuals to air their grievances and for the organization to explain their actions and perhaps why they may have been taken the wrong way in the first place.


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