While living abroad in France, this past year, I became aware of many cultural differences between the things which I observed there versus what I was used to back home. To be honest, it was a bit of an eye opener as to how much our North American society is incredibly focused on money and material things. Realizing this, has helped me to understand that where and how people choose to spend their time, really emphasizes the things which they deem to be important.
By reflecting on these contrasts, I have discovered some of the important cultural ideas, which help to shape the rich French culture. Today I want to share with you some of these beautiful cultural concepts, that I feel we can all take and use to enrich our own lives today.
Close Connections - The French aren't often known as being very open people, at least not when first getting to know them. After a true connection has been made, however, their relationships with others tend to be very strong. It didn't take me long to realize how closely bonded the French people are with to their friends. There is a great importance on making time to spend together and sharing life with everyone being connected.
One Sunday evening in June, I went for a walk in a park and sat down to eat some dinner, which I had brought with me. After looking around, I actually started to feel very out of place. I noticed that everyone around me had someone else with them. Many of them were even with large groups of friends, sitting and chatting or playing games together. Bizarre as it felt to be alone, it really opened my eyes to see how much the people placed value on taking time to be with friends and connecting with those they care about.
Greeting Each Person Individually - In France, typically people will greet one another by either giving a "bisou" (greeting kiss) or a handshake. The logistics of who greets who and how can be complicated, but the important part is that each person is greeted individually. Entering a room, the expectation is that you will make contact with each person there, and if you don't know them, you introduce yourself as you greet them. It can be quite formal, and kind of confusing at times, especially for someone like me who isn't used to it, but the idea of making a personal connection with people is actually kind of touching. It also seems to build closer connections with people as well.
One of my favourite tongue-in-cheek comments that my friend made about the bisou was related to her coming into work. She is from Mexico, so giving a bisou is a bit foreign to her as well. She mentioned to me that the worst thing about giving a bisou to everyone in the office upon arrival, is when you have to really use the bathroom, but had to go around and kiss everyone before you could actually go there.
Making the Most of the Weather - In the north of France the skies are GREY with rarely any sun to be seen. When there is finally a nice day with no rain, people tend to take advantage of it and go outside. Parks are packed, BBQ parties are thrown and everyone else heads to the beach. Great weather in the north comes rarely, but when it does, almost everyone takes advantage of being outdoors. During the summertime, almost all of the French people go south to enjoy the beach and beautiful weather.
Taking it Easy - Walking down the street, people rarely seem to be in a rush. As they pass friends on the street, they stop, and give them a bisou, then often chat for awhile. People don't typically make a fuss about having to wait in line and often seem to be content with taking things as they come. It is such a shift from the busy culture of North America.
Long Meals - Along the lines of taking life more slowly, this is carried through into the French and European meal culture. Just as important as eating the meal itself, is the time spent sharing the meal with others. Breaking of bread is a way to connect on a special level and meals can last for very prolonged amounts of time, and are often accompanied by long conversations. I have been told by friends that Christmas meals take almost the entire day and that more or less, families will stay at the table between lunch and dinner, with only a little bit of shifting in between. There is great value placed on time spent together.
Importance of Family - This one goes without having to say much, but for the most part, there is a strong connection among families in
Happiness in Work - The is is actually one of the things which I was most shocked about discovering. In France, the workplace mindset is that the happier the staff are, the better they will work for you and your company. Because of this, a lot of businesses have great benefits for their staff, such as get-togethers and group bonding activities, paid for by the company.
While working in France, my boss often asked me if I was happy with my job and if there were things that could be improved to make it better. One of the most exciting things that I did there, was when our boss took all of his employees out together for an afternoon of escape rooms and paintball, followed by dinner and drinks. This mindset can help to foster better relationships and environments both inside and outside of work hours. If working takes up so much of our time in life, why not enjoy it?
So, what do you think? Have you discovered any super neat cultural differences that you loved in the places you have been? I'd love to hear from you below!