People watching has always been one of my favorite things to do. I am naturally a wallflower, quietly observing the ways of others. As I grew older, I realized the importance of being present and speaking up for yourself, but my observant nature never really went away. Personally, I feel as though my keen ability to be observant and take notice of my surroundings has allowed me to gain a deep understanding of how people operate.
People watching is fun, but it’s even more fun when you are in a completely new environment. It’s by watching others in France that I have come to notice several things about the French culture that I find to be very interesting. While there are many similarities between France and the United States, there are also many differences.
Immediately upon arriving in France, the very first thing I noticed was how relaxed the people are. Lyon is France’s second most populated city and also has been named the French capital of gastronomy. As Lyon is such a huge, populated city, I was so surprised to see how calm and relaxing the city actually is.
At all times you will find people casually strolling about, enjoying a tart at a cafe, having lunch at a restaurant, or just walking around munching on a baguette. There is not the same feeling of rush and chaos like in the city of New York or even Philadelphia. No one truly seems to be in a rush to be anywhere but where they are in the moment. It is this sort of mindfulness that might be the reason that the life expectancy in France is about 5 years greater than the United States’ life expectancy.
When I moved in with my host family, I was surprised to find that not only did my host dad bike to work every day, which is actually a very common mode of transportation in Lyon, but also that he came home most days to enjoy almost a full hour of lunch at home. This explained why it seemed like there was always people eating in cafes during lunch time. For the French, lunch time is sacred, a period of the day to be enjoyed. I later found a French survey that found almost 50% of workers in France reported spending over 45 minutes eating lunch every day.
Then, of course, there is the observation that the French dress well. I wouldn’t even say that they have better style than Americans because I don’t find that to be the case — there is very much a standard way of dressing in France that I personally have found to be a bit lackluster. But, it is true that people are more put together. You will not find a lot of people walking around dressed in shabby clothing.
I have also noticed that the quality of life for the elderly and the disabled seems to be substantially better in France than in America. I have always found that American culture disregards the elderly and the disabled. In Lyon, you see the elderly enjoying their lives, you always see people giving up their seats on public transportation for them, and other forms of respect. One of my international friends at school even told me about a time when an elderly woman asked for her and the group of people she was with to help with grocery bags on the bus. They were so engaged in friendly conversation with the woman that they ended up just walking to lady to her home, which was just a short way from the store. The elderly and the disabled seem to be treated with a high level of respect in France.
While I am still very new to the ways of the French, I am aware that stereotypes of the French can be a bit pessimistic. After interacting with French people, I have found the French not necessarily to be pessimistic, but realist. They can be very blunt and forthcoming, but speak what they know to be their truth or honesty. So, while I am not sure I can say that French people are overwhelmingly happy people, I will say that their lifestyle is much more laissez-faire, meaning that people do as they please.