Imagine diving into deep water, having being taught the theory of how to swim, but never having actually swum in real life before. That’s exactly how I felt when I arrived in France and was instantly absorbed into the life of another family – a French family. I’ve been studying the French language and culture for a number of years now and I feel almost as confident about my grasp of French grammar as I do about my understanding of French stereotypes. But even with my extensive knowledge of cheese and a partiality to wine, I was not prepared for the reality of day-to-day life in a country that is only across the English Channel.
Upon first arriving at the home of my host, I was greeted – or should I say surrounded – by four interested and outgoing adults, whose extroversion was rather a shock to my British reserve. I must have looked slightly panicked by the commotion, as they then made several comments to the effect, “Doesn’t she look anxious?” Needless to say, my anxieties were not put to rest.
My reserve continued to be overpowered by the French boldness. It particular, it manifested itself as an inability to decline invitations – whether they be invitations to go walking in the Alps, or to sign up to local drama classes!
As my stay unfolded, I became increasingly aware of the differences between French and English families, and the cultures in general. In particular, the French seem a lot fussier. Sometimes the fuss is a blessing: my host insisted that I was well looked after and very well fed. On other occasions, however, I just could not comprehend the need for fuss. Minor setbacks were treated as major crises; there seemed to be no room for a laid-back TV dinner; and as for the French bureaucracy …
By being thrown into the middle of a French family, I had the opportunity to discover their typical daily life. Moreover, I was swept away by it! Without such an intense first-hand experience, I don’t think I would have engaged nearly as much in the French culture. It is certain that no classroom preparation could have informed me of the French peculiarities quite as well.
Have you ever stayed with a host family in another country? If not, would you like to?