Monday, 11 April 2011

Cultural differences - a student's-eye view.

Four weeks ago, a colleague and I took a party of 18 A level students (aged 16-18) from Hartlepool, in the north east of England, to Paris for 4 days of sightseeing and French speaking.

The trip was a great success and every single one of them improved their French, trying it out on the unsuspecting locals who did their best to misunderstand and then sell them things they did want for prices they didn't want to pay.

Many of these students hadn't been to France before and now they were being immersed in Parisian culture for 4 whole days.

So, what cultural differences did they notice in the culture capital of the world? (My students' comments are in italics)

  • La bise - a perfectly normal greeting between French friends - the most alien thing in the world to kids from my school. (Look at them 2 women!)
  • Se serrer la main - they couldn't get over the fact that everyone did this on meeting people in the street or on the metro. (Why are they doing that?)
  • Fumer - apparently this is still a pretty cool thing to do if you're French. (Don't they know it's bad for them?)
  • Le café - everyone drinking coffee (Black coffee? Eeuurgh!) and hundreds of small pavement cafés all over the city.
  • People begging in the streets - something you don't see much in Hartlepool. You have to go to the bustling metropolis that is Middlesbrough for that.
  • Dogs - almost everyone appeared to have a dog and didn't seem to want to clean up after it. (Student: Sir, where's all this mess coming from? Me: Dogs, I hope!)
  • Food - Paris the world's capital of fine food (I hate this, I thought French food was supposed to be good. McDonald's doesn't even sell McFlurrys!)
  • French drivers - the French are famous for their bad driving skills and it seems that pedestrian crossings are just street art. Of course if you're English, in your late teens, and used to traffic driving on the left, crossing the road in many countries can be dangerous.
There you have it, all the differences between France and the UK as summed up by my students.

PS: In reality, the most French thing that happened was when I took them to the market at Saint Denis. We arranged to meet the students in the square at an agreed time. Some of them were late back, so as we were waiting, one of the stall holders came to chat to me. He asked what we were protesting against, how many more students were expected and where were we marching to.


Fiona Joyce said...

I naturally think that it's irrelevant that these students are from Hartlepool in particular. I suggest that young people from most medium-sized British towns would notice similar differences.

Dom said...

I completely agree, Fiona. The students at my last school were exactly the same and I would have probably said the same things had I been given the same opportunities as a student. I only mentioned Hartlepool because that is where I teach. This post was not meant to be a slur on the residents of Hartlepool, which is one of the nicest towns I ever have visited, but a light-hearted look at the way some of my students saw, and reacted to, the cultural differences between France and the UK.