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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggie abroad

Paris’ bustling Metro is a mode of transportation for
students traveling to class. Photo by Victoria Rivas
Paris’ bustling Metro is a mode of transportation for students traveling to class. Photo by Victoria Rivas

In Texas, I know no strangers, but in France, I’ve come to learn that everyone is a stranger. On a typical hot, sunny morning on my way to class in College Station, I slip on a pair of shorts, tug a light t-shirt over my head, slip on some flip-flops and walk to class.
Students are usually dressed in brightly colored comfort or athletic wear and dash about to their respective buildings. I’ll overhear friends laughing and catching up from their previous night’s fun filled escapades.
My mornings in Paris begin differently than a typical morning in College Station.
My host mother’s cat — probably the only one greeting me on my way to school — typically wakes me up. Stepping into the Metro, I am immediately engulfed in a sea of Parisians dressed in black — their blank stares looking off in different directions. I, in my skinny blue jeans, white shirt and navy blue pea coat stick out like a sore thumb, but trudge along, adapting just the same. I often have that vacant gaze, but secretly take in everything I see.
Sometimes, if I get the lucky chance to be able to sit in the crowded Metro, I immediately allow any child, elderly person or pregnant woman to take my seat. I was surprised though to see how many people refuse to practice chivalry or courtesy in that regard. There is a lack of overall interactivity between strangers in public places and it’s a personal phenomena I have found to be very peculiar.
There is an expectation in France for the customer to be extremely polite and gracious to the service provider. We don’t quite have as parallel expectations in the U.S. I typically visit the local boulangerie, or bakery near my school and order in French a “pain au chocolat” (French for the best chocolate croissant ever). I quietly speak to the cashier and patiently wait for my change finishing the conversation with a polite “merci beaucoup, bonne journée!”
I’ve noticed that my attempt to speak French as well as engaging in common formalities like, please and thank you, have been well received by the majority of people I encounter in Paris restaurants, cafes, museums and school.
Other students have forgone the same positive experiences with their encounters of Parisian locals — and many times a lack of cultural knowledge is the culprit.
There have been several occasions where I’ve seen students from abroad waltz into a bakery or cafe, overwhelming the wait staff by immediately speaking English very loudly. Many times, these groups will receive glares from those who are dining and inconsistent and less attentive service at the café.
The fact of the matter is, the French do not travel in large groups, nor are they loud or obviously talkative. Americans are overtly expressive in all facets of communication, but the French people I have encountered speak at a volume level down to just above a strong whisper.
I turn the corner after the bakery and head my way to school. Parisian students dress hipster-chic, effortlessly cool — and are always in simple lines and neutral or dark colors. Leather bomber jackets, or destroyed denim finish almost every ensemble.
Though the temperature can get pretty balmy here in Paris, women rarely wear shorts. The shortest hems I’ve seen have been mid-thigh skirts paired with tights. Shorts here are almost seen as a cultural taboo and those who wear them attract a lot more obvious attention.
I marvel at the thought of what a Parisian’s first impression of College Station would be — probably double or triple the culture shock I experienced when I first arrived in Paris. Would they see our fashion choices as a comfortable take on sportswear or sloppy and ill-planned? Would they think we were loud and obnoxious, or friendly and open? It’s funny how the smallest nuances that seem routine or commonplace can differ across cultural boundaries.

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