Here are some observations about France:
No one cleans up after their dogs. When walking in France, you need to watch your step, or you WILL step in dog poop. Pigeons meanwhile, are about the same level of nuisance as in the U.S.
Just like in Germany, a massive amount of people smoke cigarettes. Many will smoke after completing a workout. Thus, Aix smells like a strange mix of cigarettes, perfume, food, and dog feces (whereas for some reason, I recall that Germany smelled like manure).
The streets in the center of the city are clearly too small and crowded for cars. Yet, cars and motorcycles get through. They have to part the red sea so to speak every time they want to get anywhere, and drivers absolutely hate stopping, and will not stop unless they have to. So cars and motorcycles are often just a few inches (sorry, centimeters) away from hitting someone.
One of my art professors told us not to drink from any of the fountains, which is not good news since I’ve been doing that every day. I’ve decided to be more careful about which ones I take water from, although I haven’t gotten sick so I wonder if it matters.
I’ve been told over and over (before coming, by professors at orientation, etc.) to make sure not to stand out as an American. Fortunately, when speaking to French people, many of them either assume that I’m British or ask where I’m from. I even made 3 guys try to guess which country I came from, and they didn’t guess the USA until the 8th try. One of them looked like he had a lightbulb over his head when he guessed “Autriche” (Austria). So apparently my French, or what French I can speak at present, is not distinctly American sounding. Compare that to Germany, where someone can tell in an instant that I’m from the United States.
The French tend to be more conservative when it comes to their homes, always closing shutters and having gates in front. Women also tend to dress more conservatively when going out at night, since there are more men here who are “irresponsible”, according to a young woman who’s job was to tell us about restaurants and night life (the professor who introduced her (Mon professeur de Français) left the room so we could “ask any question” we wanted).
France is devoid of slow-walkers. If you are walking somewhere, you walk fast. This does not mean of course that French people get where they want to go on time, or that construction projects get done on schedule (hint: they just don’t), but they get from place to place quickly. Ironically, all the joggers I’ve seen go at tortoise pace…
Lots of shirts that say things in English, and often the people wearing them can’t even read them or understand their meanings. Lots of American things on clothes, even though in many cases I can be pretty sure that the wearer has not been to the place it shows, or doesn’t even like Americans.
The French love their bread. And their chocolate. I know most of you already knew that, but it’s true.
Politics is a national sport here. Everyone likes to talk about politics (among other topics like religion and gender issues that are often avoided in the US), and my 17 year old host brother likes to yell at the TV while watching a political talk-show, usually expressing his dislike of President Hollande.
And as Hollande’s slogan said during his campaign earlier this year, Le changement, c’est maintenant (The change is now). I don’t know what about France has changed since his election (other than that millionaires now need to give 75% of their wealth to the government), but for me, the change is here.