The first thing that my roommates learn about me is that I like to go to bed early. I’m happy to wake up at 6AM, and I’m perfectly content to stay out the entire day. But when I come back to home base, I like to stay there and recover from my day filled with stimulation. And living in a foreign country comes with a lot of new stimulation. However, I’ve discovered it’s a very weird thing to be my age and NOT go out at night. At first, this change of pace was quite frustrating. Coming home every evening only to be asked if I was finally going to go out–and responding “No,” each time with an increasing feeling of shame–got a little tiring.
But! I did start going out. I started looking for events. I started accepting more invitations to spend a night out. On the whole, it’s been a fun change. Also a learning experience. I’m not the sort of person who jumps headfirst into new situations, but I’m sort of being forced to. And frequently, I’m enjoying it!
The second BIG cultural difference I’ve encountered is the attitude towards snacking. In the US, we’ll gladly eat an apple, a brownie or some crackers at 3:30 to tide us over until dinner. In France, however, snacking is viewed as a big misstep, health-wise. It’s quite common to see signs saying “Pour votre santé, ne pas grignoter entre les repas,” which means “For your health, don’t eat between meals.” I’ve seen this sentence on the signs of doors to crêperies, bakeries, and on advertisements for any food that could be eaten as a snack. It goes in the same place as public service announcements like, “Pour votre santé, avoid the overconsumption of alchohol,” “Pour votre santé, exercise twice daily,” or “Pour votre santé, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.”
However, just as in the US, posting PSAs does not guarantee that they will be followed. Not everybody exercises twice daily (though jogging is quite a popular sport in Rennes). I’ve encountered quite a few drunk French people. And at least in Brittany, vegetables are not the first thing to go on a plate. In my experience, that honor goes to bread, potatoes, and pasta. (MVP awarded to butter.)
Still, while you do see people going out for a coffee and pastry around 4PM, snacking is not a habit. To see it so discouraged continues to startle me! At first, this difference was actually one of the most difficult things to get used to, especially since the average dinner time is 8PM. I’ve eaten as late as 9. The good news is, lunches are extremely large! The idea is just to eat three larger meals a day and walk a lot in between.
Basically, once I completely stop snacking and start going out every night, that’s when I’ll know I’ve become a true French person!