My multi-cultural experiences have gotten off to a great start! I am living with 3 chinese girls in a very small apartment right in the middle of downtown Bordeaux. Everyone has been very kind and hospitable to me, taking time to show me how to get around the city, what I need to get settled in, and how to get my classes arranged at the university. I am studying at Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III. There are four major universities here, each one focusing on a different field (medicine, art/humanities, science) and Bordeaux 3 seems to be the most liberal. Classes for me started just yesterday and it’s been a whirlwind trying to find all the right classes that replace ones I would normally take at OU.
I’ve found that the best way to achieve confidence is forcing yourself to ask questions. When I first arrived, I was very intimidated. I’ve studied French for many years, but it’s completely different to come to a country where it is spoken. Everyone speaks much faster than you think they will. I’ve heard from a Parisien that speaking quickly is something specific to this city, and the southern region of France, but I think he might’ve been a little biased. My confidence in French went out the window as soon as I tried to communicate with people here. But there’s hope!! You have to be very stubborn because everyone wants to practice his English, especially when he sees you’re nervous, but if you stay calm and continue to practice, you will improve. Even after only a few weeks of being here, I find myself improving and my speech is becoming faster and more fluid. So take heart, all you who are learning a new language.
I think I was most surprised by the fact that there is not nearly as much culture shock as I was told to expect. Of course, there are always going to be subtle differences, but this city is very much like other cities I’ve visited in the States! The transportation system is excellent here. They have trams and buses and of course the TGV train that will all take you wherever your heart desires. And it’s fast! I have noticed, on a side note, that people have very little patience here, so the transportation HAS to be fast. 🙂
I find it a little humorous that by many accounts, Bordeaux is a very typical little French town. It has the narrow, cobblestone streets, the cafes, the beautiful architecture but it is also very westernized, with malls and Carrefour (the European Walmart) and similar styles of dress.
For me, it is easy to fit in. Everyone here, primarily the younger generation, is from another country: China, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Morocco, Algeria, England, Poland to name a few.
I will write again soon as my classes progress, but in the meantime, here are a few key differences I have noticed between the French and Americans:
1) Apparently, one NEVER drinks coffee in the evening. One may drink tea, but coffee is reserved solely for the mornings and early afternoons. As a Portlander, I could not accept this concept and continue to drink coffee all day long.
2) Smaller portions of extremely rich foods and pastries are the way to go in France. Unlike gigantic meals of french fries and hamburgers. Many people drink coke here but the bottles are approximately half the size of those in America.
3) It is extremely fashionable to wear a cardigan or sweater loosely tied around your shoulders, for men and women alike.
4) Never ask how someone is doing or how his day is if he is a professional (aka a cashier, bank teller, service assistant of any type). It is considered too personal.
5) Space is valued here like gold. Personal space does not exist on public transportation. Everyone mashes into the bus or tram feeling the way I picture sardines must feel. Also, everything is very small and well-used. No one wastes here. Every inch of an apartment or building is cleaned and items/furniture are neatly stacked and vertically inclined, rather than spread out horizontally (if you’ve been to Texas, you know exactly what I mean). Also, drivers know how to use space well even to park, squeezing into the smallest space possible on the narrow streets. I still don’t know how they do it.
6) Cars are not considered dangerous on the road. I say this because people walk out in front of a speedily approaching bus or vehicle without a moment’s thought. And the drivers also pull out in front of traffic, inches from colliding with another driver. I can’t imagine driving here, even though they drive on the same side of the road that we do.
Pictures coming soon!


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