So, a month into my exchange in Aix-en-Provence and I have learned a good few things about my host country and it’s ways. It seems that the excuse of being and ERASMUS student crops up more and more as the weeks go on…
Lesson 1: The French aren’t the most polite
When walking along streets, interacting with shop assistants and cashiers and don’t even mention clothes, the French can be very rude. I don’t mean to say that the people themselves are rude, but after growing up in Britain, where the basics like please, thank you, holding doors open for the next person etc. are the done thing and shop assistants are programmed into being polite, smiley and helpful, it’s strange getting used to a place where people will walk through you instead of around you, look you up and down with disgust if you’re not dressed to their liking and not like you if you don’t have the correct change. (I experienced this one today when trying to break a 10€ note for the washing machine – the cashier threw open the cash drawer, grabbed the appropriate change from a drawer which was almost overfilled with change, and slammed it down on the counter whilst ignoring my polite “merci beaucoup, bon journée” completely)
Lesson 2: DO NOT mix up “tu” and “vous”
So, though they’re not keen on common courtesy, they are very particular about how you address them, especially teachers. It seems that, unlike in Edinburgh where you generally call you tutors by their first names and the teacher-pupil relationship may not be as formal as you might have with say a senior lecturer, should address your tutor as “Monsieur/Madame” and not by their first name, even if they have only introduced themselves by their first names.
We were politely informed about this in our literature class as a few of us had made the mistake of emailing and using the teacher’s first name. Whoops. Luckily, she understood the fact that we were all ERASMUS students and didn’t know about this, so it was more or a warning and slap on the wrist instead of the full on rant we may have received from another teacher.
Lesson 3: The French are outspoken
They will speak their mind, whether you like it or not. They will talk in class, over the teacher and not give a monkeys or try to whisper. They will happily add their own opinion to a class, whether it was asked for or not.
Our other literature tutor is finding that having a class with a majority of ERASMUS students, and British ones at that, means that questions are met with deadly silence. Cue a long and winding rant on his part about how by not answering the questions, we are not practicing our French and we will fall behind the Francophone students in the class (who are just as silent as us…), ultimately meaning that we will fail. My problem was that, though I might be able to catch the start of a sentence of his, he rattles on at a blinding pace which then results in notes filled with question marks and with me not being able to answer his questions, even if I wanted to, without having gone home and listened to my recording of the class over and over.
Aside from the usual ground rules like people not responding to emails and University processes taking forever to get going (it took them 3 months to produce a university card and computer log in details, for example), these are the most important lesson I’ve learned in the past month! My apologies for the rather negative update, the next shall be filled with much nicer thoughts!
A la prochaine!