Chaque semaine, Daisy Nguyen, étudiante en troisième année de sciences politiques et de droit à l’Université de Californie, en échange cette année à Sciences Po, nous racontera la vie vue par un bon tiers de la population estudiantine de notre institut – en anglais.
Every week, Daisy Nguyen, a third year exchange student from the University of California studying Political Science and Law, will relate life as third of the Sciences Po students see it – in english.
Second quarter has started and new foreign exchange students have already realized that half the FAQ pages on the Sciences Po website lead to corrupted url’s. Many new students will have already stumbled upon the most bitter of foreign feelings- when after making your best, calculated attempt at your most meticulous French sentence, it is faced with a Frenchmen’s look of incomprehensible bewilderness. And with that, I extend to you an over-enthusiastic Welcome! You will no doubt feel terribly torn from the society you once knew, but I take it upon myself to share with you (and maybe even help guide you through) the many stages of humiliation to learn French culture and language. A daunting task it may sound, however being an exchange student at Sciences Po for the past five months, I am ready at your disposal. After first quarter, I am a self proclaimed expert in self-humiliation. From banks to administrative processing, you name it, my broken French and I have overcome it.
I left my warm, sunny homeland on the beaches of California for the freezing cold that is Paris. As I write this, I have already contracted ‘la grippe’- the flu. In part, because the weather is a malicious son-of-a-gun, but mostly because appropriate winter clothing is extinct in California and only now am I adjusting to their popularity.
Stage 1: French Banks
For the most part, I attempt to avoid banks as much as possible. For one, they are rude and hostile. Americans will find that French banks are everything the American ones are not. Where American banks rely solely on customer service and appreciation, French banks could care less about what you think about them. Note to be noted, the bank doors here are ridiculous. For the weary exchange student, this is your first test in French humiliation, how to get through the god forsaken doors without having the lady behind the counter scream at you with ridiculous arm movements. But I digress. I have already had a scuffle with a bank manager, who was screaming at American tourists in the lobby of BNP Paribas. One of his great and memorable lines was, “You arh in France! You haz to speak Francais!”. The tourists were terrified; I’m not sure whether it was because he was screaming incomprehensibly or because they mistook his franglais for a demonic curse.
So my fellow foreign misfits, what to do in the wake of French intimidation? Take it in, laugh, and remember this is all apart of myriad of stories you bring back to your own country. You might not think it so hilarious at the time, but looking back you will have to tell the folks back home of the man in the bank who screamed his little beret off. Don’t let the downsides to French administration get you down. The problem is when frustrated foreigners allow the angry moments to mask the other breath taking parts of this experience. Take it from a fellow American: living in Paris is hard but worth every snotty remark and upturned nose. And besides, I love mustaches and macaroons so really there’s not much too complain about.
Lost, bewildered, and loving it
PS: Stay with me this semester as we embark on this sometimes disheartening, but most times hilarious adventure through the ups and downs of French culture!