This year I have the exciting opportunity to study at Sciences Po Paris for two semesters. So far it's been a great time filled with making new friends, studying interesting topics, and getting acquainted with the beautiful city of Paris. As we come to the end of 2016 it seems an appropriate time to reflect on what I've learnt and some pieces of advice that I'd give to others embarking on similar trips in the future!
Quick disclaimer: in giving these examples I don’t mean to say that all French people identify with them, merely that they’re some things I have noticed in my time here so far.
1. The 1789 French Revolution is everywhere.
Being a country with a fascinating history, France is somewhat justified in being proud of its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. When studying politics in Paris it is basically a given that you will have reference to it in the majority of your classes.
2. Let’s talk Brexit.
“What do you think about Brexit? How did you vote?”
If you’re British and in Paris at the moment it is likely you will be asked these two questions, and understandably too. When asked you are more likely to get an approving response from your European neighbour if you voted ‘Remain’ (as I did). If you voted for ‘Brexit’ I wish you all the best in the rest of that conversation (unless the European Union citizen you are talking to is Eurosceptic in which case congratulations!).
3. Presidential Elections.
Another hot political topic is the upcoming 2017 presidential elections. A lot of Parisians are already predicting a second ballot dual between the far-right and centre-right candidates. As these elections are coming at a difficult time in the country’s current affairs, it looks set to be (and already is!) an interesting pre-election debate.
One of my professors has noted that French news is talking much more intensively about the country’s constitutional state-church separation than in the last few years. There are big divides between liberal secularism and combative secularism. As a Christian engaged in politics, this is something I find both interesting and often difficult.
It seems like there’s a re-awakening of discussion about religion generally too. Big associated topics in the mainstream being the ‘Burkini’, immigration, and national security.
It is seen as common courtesy to say ‘Bonjour’ to staff when entering shops/cafés. If you don’t do that you can be interpreted as indifferent or rude. Make a mental note to do so if you’re prone to forgetting.
6. Bises xx
Don’t be caught off guard! If you come from a culture of hugs and hand-shakes, it may take some time to loosen up to kisses on the cheek as regular greeting. But it will probably gradually become normal.
(Also Parisian-style is normally two kisses, one on each cheek, with the left cheek first – just to avoid any awkward possibilities!)
7. Tutoyer ou Vouvoyer ? THE dilemma
One of the quirks of the French language are the two ways of saying ‘you’ – ‘tu’ being the more informal and ‘vous’ being the less so. The dilemma is when to stop using ‘vous’ (vouvoyer) and switch to ‘tu’ (tutoyer).
Amongst students, ‘tu’ is the general way forward – ‘vous’ might be seen as a bit distant. But with professors or anyone in authority, use ‘vous’ unless they say otherwise.
If in doubt, vousvoyer.
8. Serious style
It may be a stereotype but from what I’ve seen so far, it seems largely true. Parisian people have STYLE. Not really outlandish style but a simplistic ‘chic’ style. I am definitely a fan.
Paris has noticeably less skyscrapers in its city-centre than London. Yet, it manages to fit an impressive number of apartments in and with them a lot of people. And in doing so, it doesn’t compromise on its aesthetic aspect. Very cool.
Generally much more expensive and also much smaller than the UK equivalent. However, it does taste very good. Definitely a treat to be indulged with every now and then.
So there’s my list! A mixture of light-hearted and more serious things. I’m sure it will continue to grow over my time here. Both excited and curious to find out more.