Big America and Petite Europe

Since I have been back the obvious question that I get the most is “What’s the biggest difference between the US and Europe?” My go to answer is always simply how big everything is in the US. Much like we Americans say everything is bigger in Texas, compared to Europe, everything is bigger in America (Texas must be truly huge compared to Europe given that). It really isn’t just one object either, it’s the cars, trash can, apartments, buildings, beds, cups, and so on and so forth.

The most apparent example of this upon first entering a European country are the cars.sam_0109 European style cars tend to be more boxy and very often run on diesel fuel. Cars are kept very small as automobiles such as the smart car are a common site. The smart car is on the extreme end of small but even the larger cars are still infinitely more compact then the typical American vehicle. This comes in handy especially in cities where many forced to wedge themselves in between several cars parked along the street(another object reduced in size when compared to the US). Also, many of the parking garages don’t allow for much space to work with so anything larger would simply not fit. An often popular alternative (especially in Paris) is the motorcycle which allows you to weave through traffic and have a plethora of parking options. Others often bike, walk, or simply use the metro.

An odd area of size difference is the size of trash cans in each place. Theoretically, one would expect these to be constant across much of the world but here too we Americans have it bigger. The easiest way to explain it is in the trash can in my dad’s apartment’s bathroom. For a long time it seemed that there simply wasn’t one. I checked all around the floor for a little waste bin and saw nothing. Little did I know, the trash can was on the sink itself as it was no bigger than a gallon of milk. Again, this is the extreme example and the kitchen and such had larger trash cans, but even those cans in other area of the house still pales in comparison to those used in the US. Additionally, the cans used for collection from the garbage men were also significantly smaller in size.

Another weird object to see decrease in size were the cups. This object too I would have expected to be pretty standard throughout the world but It was not the case. The tall glasses typical in American household saw little use during my trip around Europe. This is indicative of a larger comparison with Europe and that is the often smaller portions of food and such served there. The change is cup size was made shockingly apparent upon my return the US when I ordered a small drink at a burger king. The 22oz seemed enormous after my travels. The funny part is that that was just a small, how monstrous in size would a medium or even a large have seemed?

The size of building and in turn the spaces inside them is the one the most significant changes as far as the affect on daily life. Large skyscrapers were not common, at least in Paris (they were present but kept in one small area of the city for the most part) and building were not the looming towers of New York and Philadelphia. With this came much much muuuuch smaller apartments. During my last week of Paris I rented an apartment on Airbnb and the total size of it may be smaller than simply the main room

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of the apartment I am sitting in currently to type this. Compact and dense is the name of the game in Europe and many people do well in cram many things in tiny places. Every nook and cranny is put to use for storage and the like to manage the spaces.

Decreases in car and apartment sizes are obvious when you consider the dense populations of Europe but things like cups and trashcans don’t seem so straight forward. Perhaps when things like cars and apartments are reduced in size the rest just follows suit. Houses in the countryside of France and other countries surely provide more space but cars and the like still retain the same small size when compared to the American version. Looking into the history of the gap in size between America and Europe would be an interesting endeavor for a future time.

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Beer, Smiles, and Bikes: The Netherlands

I really need to catch up on these posts as I’m writing this one a week behind and while in Portugal!

Anyways, after a trip to this canal ridden, cheese filled, and beer soaked country I must say it’s an awesome place. The people, the environment, the landscape, the architecture, its all just extremely pleasant. Down side is that the weather doesn’t get very warm though. I only stayed here for a weekend so it may be that I didn’t see some of less nice parts of the country but I really enjoyed my brief stay here.

The largest part of what make Holland pretty cool is the people. Coming from Paris, I became adjusted to people with a little less than a cheery disposition and a sense of industrious spirit. Holland was the complete reverse. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was extremely welcoming upon my arrival to the country. This is certainly aided by the fact that many spoke English (and others foreign languages on top of that generally) and thus conversation wasn’t as difficult. Still, it has been the most pleasant welcome I have had in my time in Europe. Adding to my admiration, was this sense of people who just get stuff done. This is a hard feeling to describe precisely so it’s best to compare and contrast the people of Paris. For example, the people is Paris walk painfully slow with no apparent rush to get anywhere whereas alongside a Dutchmen we flew in and out of stores and the like doing what we set out to do in the most efficient way possible. Another point of difference is that in Paris nothing really gets done till after lunch and early mornings nothing is open lest someone have to rise before 9am to do work. With the people I stayed with in The Netherlands we were up and about well before 9am despite having drank the days previous.

I have to imagine the welcoming attitude of the Dutch extends from the overall contentment and humility they seem to practice in life. From what I encountered of they population everyone seems satisfied with their lot in life and simply desire to relax with a beer like everybody else. This may be best expressed by paraphrasing our host in the

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The jolly fellow himself toting a beer (2nd from the right)

country. Upon asking him about his job he summarized his feeling as such: I know that if I went to college I could be doing more important work and be more involved with running the organization, but I’m happy with what I do, it’s good work, and I hope I can stay there till I retire. Even if recognition that he is doing unskilled labor my host was still satisfied with his place in the world and offered no complaint. Perhaps this is because of the humility of those who are in a higher position such as a friend of my host that I met. The man knew 5 different languages and was high level manager for an international oil company and yet he was as down to earth as anyone else present. He simply stated his job as if it were any other while enjoying his beer and food like all the others around.

The people certainly impressed me the most in The Netherlands but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more to see. An interesting part of this country is their intricate canal system that links most the country to the sea. This gives them a great advantage as shipping can be conducted from most section of the country for importation and exporting. Additionally, a city is simply more pleasant with a body of water close by though it does keep temperatures more cool for better or for worse. Another cool feature was the extensive bike lanes all throughout the country. 20170714_184722These aren’t reserved for large cities and can be found alongside roads all over the place. Just as prevalent as bike routes are wind generators scattered throughout the countryside. This may seem like an odd thing to remark but it truly is pleasant to see clean energy being harvested right before your eyes. The Netherlands is known for environmentally friendly behavior and policy (the people also reflected this mindset) so it was good to see concrete evidence of it right before my eyes.

I would have really like to spend some more time in The Netherlands to get even more of a sense of the people and the country but, for now, a weekend will have to do. It’s likely for the best as I’m not sure I could handle the endless amounts of beer consumption that is common there. It was a rare occasion not to have a beer in my hand during my stay. All in all The Netherlands is a great place to visit and I highly recommend taking a trip there.

 

Apprendre le Français

In case you haven’t heard before or experienced it yourself, learning a language is incredibly difficult. I had heard from numerous sources that, when put into another country, language acquisition takes about 6-months so I figured it couldn’t be too difficult if it didn’t take so long to do. I couldn’t have been more incorrect and, in a lot of ways, learning French has consumed much of my time while I’ve been abroad.

My primary methods for learning are duolingo, walking around Paris, watching and listening to french media, and just listening to family and company around me. Duolingo has provided me a decent base of vocab before entering the country, as I had been doing it for some time prior to my trip, but it’s nowhere near sufficient to fully jump into conversation. The best part of walking around the city is that everything you are faced with is French. It really helps get the French into your head as you must constantly use top01d2ns6.jpg figure out what you’re doing. When I’m not walking around, French music (though sometimes lacking in quality) is helpful to become accustomed to the sounds of the language and learn some new words. Movies and TV are probably even better, especially when it’s a familiar program, as you hear the language used in a typical environment with translations directly available. Above them all really is simply listening to people talk. It certainly takes concentration but the gratification of figuring out what is being said is awesome. It’s often I don’t fully understand a conversation but what little I get reinforces my knowledge and pronunciation.

Even with so many learning methods abroad there are still great difficulties in learning the language. One of the biggest for me is adjusting to the speed of conversation in French. I can read fairly well but when someones speaks it often sounds like a giant slur where I can only pick out a few words. Thank god for the older population who often speak much slower and are easier to understand. If understanding conversation wasn’t hard enough, there’s the addition of gendered words in the french language. Nouns can be either feminine or masculine with adjectives and verbs adjusting depending on the gender. For example, the word city or Ville is feminine and so the city is la ville as opposed to le ville with the article changing to match the gender. This comes to another specific point for French which is the near constant use of definite and indefinite articles. Using the word city again, if you wanted to say I like cities it would not simply be J’aime villes. It is J’aime les villes. The direct translation of this sentence would be I like the cities, which seems weird, but that’s how it is. Much of the reason I assume is because the end of the word is rarely pronounced, making it impossible to tell if a word is singular or plural, so the article indicates if the word is plural or singular.

With all these difficulties learning French has become an immense source of frustration. Constantly I feel like I should know and understand more. Combining it with the fact that my whole family on my mom and my dad’s side know the language while I do not further increases my impatience to learn. Thus I have become engrossed in studying it as much as possible yet it’s hard to resist the opportunities for English when I have them. There’s a huge divide between the desire to learn more and faster and wanting to be able to speak to those around you.

lanuguage-barrier-overcome-international-ecommerce-infographicThus comes one of the toughest parts of not knowing the language, the loneliness of not being able to talk to all those around you. It’s amazing how much the ability to communicate is taken for granted until you end up unable to express all your thoughts. Imagine sitting around a table with fairly close family and not being able to understand the conversation or to contribute anything, it’s quite frustrating. It’s often I go through most of my day without uttering a word to anyone. Some of the most lonely times are in a group environment where I normally love to meet people and chat but I am paralyzed by my inability to quickly form thoughts and to understand the language (though if I get a few drinks I loosen my lips a bit). Many times I try to think of how to express want I want in French but the delay stops the flow of conversation. This barrier is a hindrance to truly experiencing the country, people, and culture and has thus become my largest focus while here.

This language barrier has really given me a broader impression of what it is to travel abroad, especially when done alone. Under the glitter and glamour there are many difficulties to adjusting a new environment with language being a huge part of the whole. No doubt I have improved greatly in my French here and I plan to continue doing so well after I return to the Unites States. Merci d’avoir lu mon blog!

‘Murica et La France

Ever see those random people walking around in shirts with Chinese characters and wonder if they know what it says? I have that experience a lot here with the French people wearing American shirts with English words on them. The greatest instance of this was when attending my grandfather’s church one Sunday and seeing a guy wearing something that more or less said “drunk and loaded.” Guy had no idea that he walked into a church with a shirts stated that he had a fire arm and was intoxicated. Go figure. This illustrates a larger point that American culture is hugely popular in France, and the rest of Europe from my understanding. It extends far beyond clothing into tv, movies, music, decor, etc. It many cases American cultures seem to be a hate or love kind of deal, but, for the most part, people love it.

I will paraphrase my dad when describing the American presence on tv: “All the most popular shows here are American. You can find French tv but it’s not very good.” This seems to be the truth as it’s consistently US tv shows I hear people talk about and watch. This goes from big budget shows such as the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to poorly produced soap operas. The goofy reality shows popular in states are over as well with shows like American Pickers, Aquamen, and the like being commonly played on TV. The audio of the original content is simply removed and replaced with a French audio track. Of all the shows that I saw my uncle watch during my time here one was produced in France.

Even with American TV being so all encompassing, I see the greatest amount of influence in Music. A simple example of this would be my little cousins’ dance recital. During this the kids danced to various popular songs from the radio and such. Out of about 15 songs I only remember one being French. Every other song was American.

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The top songs of France has only 2 French songs and is largely American Music

The French do have some good musicians but the picking are truly slim. I extensively searched for good music so I could expose myself to more French at home but only found one artist I really liked. After a few french songs, you just find yourself craving classic American tunes. The good news is that the radio is full of them.

Music and TV make sense for cultural diffusion but America has creeped into the very homes of French citizens! That’s right I’m talking posters, picture, and even floor plans. My dad provides another example here as he explained how the open kitchen design became popular in Europe. Traditionally, the kitchen had it’s own door and was closed in to separate it from the room adjacent to it (generally the living room), but now styles have followed the American inspired open kitchen plan. That is a kitchen combined into the room adjacent. When my father moved from America to Europe he instituted this early on in his apartment and was told that that was a crazy idea. 10 or so years later and now every apartment has an open kitchen. Us dirty Americans have our hand in every piece of French life.

All the American influence leaves a question: is this a good or bad thing? Hell if I know, but I can share my thoughts; I have mixed feelings about it. I would say bad at times because I feel as if it makes France less unique and more like what I’m used. The threat of Paris losing it’s identity seems to loom in the background. But, for the most part, I see no harm in it. There may be plenty of American influence but the French pick it up and interpret it in their own ways. McDonald’s menu French menu variation is an easy example where they have adopted some typical French meals. It also creates some familiarity for me personally. France isn’t quite so far from home despite what the miles (or kilometers, whatever floats your boat) might say.

A quick note to say that this doesn’t truly cover much of the American and French cultural diffusion. To do so would take pages and pages of writing and more scrutiny in observations. It extends into food, behaivors, products, fashion, etc etc etc. Perhaps that’s an issue that I will fully tackle on some point but today is not that day. Also, happy 4th of July, go ‘Murica!

J’adore Le Fromage

The frikin’ cheese here is awesome. You know what’s a great compliment to the cheese?depositphotos_3033049-stock-photo-baguette-and-french-cheese The bread! I could sit and eat the cheese and bread for every meal of the day without complaint. The best part is that both are super cheap to snag at local store, so you wont even break the bank doing it. Now obviously cheese and bread aren’t the only changes when it comes to food in France but it is one of the most obvious. During my stay I have been pretty cheap and mainly avoiding eating out by eating at one of family’s home for meals (and if any of them are reading this I am truly grateful for it!), and given that they all have a little American influence some things can be pretty familiar but there certainly is still a different style of food.  This ranges from the type of food, how it’s eaten, and when it’s eaten.

A key part of the difference in types of food is that food is generally more fresh here and has greater variation. Part of this can be accredited to the fact that in a city fresh and varying food is more widely available but my dad lives outside the city yet maintains the same lifestyle. Lunch is often bought the same day as it is eaten as you pick up supplies for the meal and go home and cook it. This is where the stereotypical French image of a person carrying their baguette comes from because it is true, buying baguette for the day is a common practice every morning as it is eaten with most every meal. It extends beyond bread though as I have frequently accompanied my family to the store where they bought the meat or fish they intended to eat and cooked it as soon as they returned home.

Then there’s how the food all this food is eaten. When I first came to France, I took meticulous mental notes of every detail of how those around me ate so as to fit in. If this sounds like a silly simple thing to focus on, you’re right but you’re also wrong. Acclimating to a country and not sticking out involves more small details than you could ever imagine and each one will identify you as an outsider in an instant.

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A premier example of this is how to use a fork and knife. Americans generally use their fork with the right hand and will alternate it the left when they cut meat or something similar. They will often cut much of their meat before setting down their knife and then use the fork to finish the job. Europe has a bit of a different style. For starters, the fork is in the left hand and the knife in the right. The knife is used to compliment the fork as a wall to scoop food up against. Also meat is cut as you go and then eaten afterwards without pre-cutting the meat. The knife is seldom not in use even when there is nothing to cut.

After all this business with knives and forks are done, then there comes the good ol’ bread again. When the plate is finished bread is used to clean up whatever is left. Things like oil and juices from whatever had been eaten are scooped up on bread. The plate is often left almost as if a dog had come up and licked whatever scraps he could find, it’s pretty darn clean. Following the main meal comes my personal favorite part, bread and cheese. Once the plate is clean, bread is cut up and eaten with some cheese to top off the meal. It’s not hug a huge serving or anything but it is common. For lunch the typical last step of the meal is a little cup of coffee to fight off the urge to pass out after a big meal.

That leads to the last point here, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This is a pretty common difference Americans seem to have with the rest of the world in my experience with those from different cultures but I can only personally attest to France. The insignificance of breakfast can be seen in the French word for it: Petit-Déjeuner- directly translated little lunch. Breakfast can range from the ever famous croissant (usually with butter or chocolate) or just some bread with jelly on it. The more important part to breakfast is drinking coffee rather than eating a lot. Dinner is often extremely late in the day, maybe around 8 or 9, and often consists of leftovers from lunch or whatever else is around at the time. Lunch is king though and it is the longest and most important meal of the day. Eating time for it can range from 12 to 2ish and then from there all that’s left is little snacks before a light dinner.

There’s certainly more little nuances to French food consumption but in the end it’s not something so different or important for integration into the culture. I would certainly say that I enjoy my diet here far more than I do at index.pnghome but that doesn’t mean that Europeans have such higher standards than us barbaric and gluttonous Americans. The popularity of McDonald and KFC among the French can testify to this fact. I would go far as to theorize that much of the difference in European foods and eating lie in the age of European cultures and traditions as opposed to America’s relatively recent establishment. I will say one thing, I’m going to cry when I look at the prices of baguette and cheese when I return to the US 😦

Bienvenue en France

The French like big baguettes and they cannot lie(though they don’t know the big butts song which is sad). I’ve been in this country for just over a month now and there is many things to notes on the differences between France and the US. Among them, but not limited to, are the food, transportation, infrastructure, sanitation, and attitudes. I would like the break down each one in posts to give a summary of my time here. I should note that all of this is strictly pertaining to Paris specifically as I have note traveled around much outside of it as of now. To start off I will just explain what my conditions have been like for this past month and what I’ve been doing.

For those who don’t know, the majority of my family lives in the city of Paris so on any given day I have three options of place to sleep and spend my time: my dad’s house, my aunt and uncle’s house, and my grandparent’s house (these are all apartments I should note). My dad’s house is more or less home base and is located on the outskirts of Paris though the city is easily reached by a combination of bus and train in the morning and afternoon. The rest of my family lives within close proximity of each other in the area of Batignolles- a rather nice area of Paris. My grandparents live above a church (as my grandfather is/was a preacher) as they have for countless years. My aunt and Uncle has an apartment across from the local Martin Luther King Jr park where they live with my 3 cousins. Batignolles is located much more in the heart of Paris with landmark such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame relatively (depending how far you’re willing to walk) within walking distance or a short metro ride away. For this reason I often stay there when touring the city and at my fathers for a more relaxed setting.

And tour the city I have. Paris is plagued with landmarks from one street to another. Among the places I’ve been are the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Cœur, Le Jardin (garden) Du Luxembourg, Panthéon, The Louvre, Petit and Grand Palais, Champ de Mars, Arc de Triomphe, and I could go on and on.

 

This illustrates the reason that Paris is the biggest tourist destination in the world: there are beautiful sites everywhere. Some days I literally stumbled into these places while just wandering about the city. You can’t go far without ending up in a famous destination.

There is much more to Paris then simply the sites obviously and I will try my best in this blog to portray a picture of what life is like in the city more than gush about how fantastic and pretty Europe is. When I first came I was of a mind, and still am, that the sites of the city aren’t as important to me as observing the people and the culture are. More than anything I must say I’ve been consumed with learning the language and it’s probably a big reason I delayed a blog till now. I am by no means a perfect observer but I hope my thoughts on this city give some insight into what Paris, and by extension France in some ways, is like.