I certainly have heard the common American view of the French being somewhat uninviting, but that was about as much as I knew to expect upon moving to France. Although I don’t find this judgement to be entirely accurate, at times it certainly holds some standing. I think the most challenging thing for me was being able to hit it off with the French, to really get in there and mingle. Whereas in the states, strangers are often very pleasant and kind, in France, strangers are less attentive to the needs of strangers. Which meant, in many ways I went unnoticed. At first this was extremely frustrating because I would feel helpless in many situations and it was infrequent that someone would jump in to help. As time has progressed though, I do feel that it has given me not only a need for independence, but a need to think before doing. If I feel totally ill equipped to ask someone for something, I will wait a few moments and think through what it should sound like and gain a bit of confidence before I act.
Another part of the culture that has been challenging, is the pace at which work is conducted. It is true, work and school have an extremely “laissez-faire” attitude in comparison to the United States. Something that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. This was a challenge I noticed quite early on, when the syllabi for my classes weren’t even released upon beginning my classes. I was so used to planning my semesters 4-5 months ahead of the actual semester that I was never nerved with stress. I cannot say that I have figured out exactly how to manage this, because I still feel stressed by not having everything planned out by the hour. But I am learning to just go with what comes and try to feel as comfortable as possible with uncertainty.
Navigation has definitely been one of the most interesting aspects of my stay in Marseille. To preface, I am horrible with directions. However, this is a skill that I can actually feel myself beginning to improve on as time goes on. Whether it be remembering a turn without looking at my apple maps or getting home based on familiarity of the neighborhood. It has even translated into my trips outside of France, especially with metros and trains which I always dreaded having to navigate. I feel very comfortable knowing where and when to get to certain stations that might be totally outside of France and with signs written in a totally different language. So in terms of navigation, there is very little to complain about. If anything I am very grateful for my new found skills, feeling readier than ever to take on NYC subways when I return to the States, something I never thought I’d say!
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