Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's so different?

By Ted 

Although France is a developed nation, there are many differences that exist between our life here in Albertville and our life in the US.

Many differences are usually apparent, but otherwise small and don't have a major impact on our day-to-day routines. For example, the electricity voltage is 230V instead of the 120V in the US, and the plugs are different. But these are relatively easily addressed with plug adapters and voltage converters (if necessary), and the power is consistent like in the US (unlike how it is in Burundi).

Here is a short list of other differences (big and small) that I've noticed over the past several months of life in Albertville. Note that these are observations from our life in Albertville, and may not reflect life in other parts of France.

1. Toilets - In the US, I was accustomed to a typical bathroom being comprised of a toilet and a sink (and frequently a bathtub or shower). In France, the actual toilets themselves are pretty much the same, but they are usually located in a smaller room that is separate from the rest of the bathroom, where you would find a sink and bathtub/shower. In some ways, this has its advantages, as in the case of the toilet and shower being able to be used by 2 separate people simultaneously. Additionally, in some public places, it is not uncommon to find a space where men and women have separate toilet stalls, and then share a common space to wash their hands.

2. Store hours - In the US, it is usually possible to find a grocery store or pharmacy that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can probably find one open on Christmas too. In France, most stores have business hours from 8 or 9 am to 7 or 8 pm (including grocery stores, pharmacies, and bakeries). Most, if not all, are closed on Sundays as well as on holidays like Christmas. Some stores are also closed for a couple hours in the middle of the day for lunch (like 12-2p)

This is one of the only grocery stores in town that is
open on Sundays, from 9h00 to 12h30! 

3. Restaurant hours - In the same way that some stores are closed for lunch, some restaurants in France are only open for lunch 12 - 2 pm and for dinner only after 7 pm. What if you are hungry at 11 am and want to eat an early lunch? You can probably find a restaurant that's open at that time, but it may require a little bit of research on your end. I certainly wouldn't chance it without first consulting with Google. As you can imagine, since our boys go to sleep around when French restaurants open for dinner, it makes it challenging to have a dinner outing outside the home.

 Fast-food restaurants are reliably
open all day long!

4. Bread and cheese - In France, we eat more bread and cheese regularly due to their abundance and lower prices. Walking into a “boulangerie” (bakery) is always a fun pastime, especially since there are so many kinds of breads and baguettes (our favorite is a baguette viennoise, which is like a softer brioche type baguette, and which technically derives its name from Vienna but I think is still French). Most bakeries also have regular sales and promotions, one which occurs regularly during the last 30 minutes of being open. During this time, baked goods are usually 50% off! Needless to say, we have had our faire share of delicious breads, tarts, and pastries, and we will certainly miss this part of French life and culture.

Did you know that there is more than one kind of baguette?

5. Driving (less) - Perhaps one of the reasons this is more noticeable is because we had been most recently accustomed to the commuter life in the Los Angeles area. Here, we drive a lot less and walk a lot more. Every day, we walk to drop off and pick up Toby to/from school (5 min one-way). Since we live in on-campus housing, our commute to our language school classrooms is a 1 min walk between buildings. On a slightly more unrelated note, most cars are manual transmission, including our current one, and the most common type driven are small hatchback type cars.

Eunice giving two-thumbs up after her first driving lesson. She
only stalled 3 times, so that's pretty good for a first timer! 

6. Public schools - In France, children start public school at the age of 3. It's to say that France places an emphasis on early childhood education and that French kids essentially start pre-school at an earlier age. Another related difference is that we have a 2-hour block of time for lunch every day, which essentially parallels the French public school system. This means that as soon as my language class finishes at 11:15 am, I walk over to pick up Toby from his school. Interestingly, if your child is not picked up during a narrow 10-minute window, you get fined.

Pick-up time during lunch one afternoon back
in September (as you can tell by the shorts)!