Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Cultural differences

by : 
BlakeS

Thinking about my time in France, I noticed quite a few differences between the French and the English. While I was working at a French school, I was often in the staff room preparing my work. Sometimes I would hear the school secretary talking. At first I assumed she was talking to me, as there was no-one else in the room but me, so I tried to respond to her. However, I soon realised that in fact, she was talking to herself. I noticed a lot of people do this in France. In the UK, people might think you’re a bit strange if you talk to yourself at work, but over there it seemed quite normal. It really did confuse me at times, because I was never sure if people were talking to me or just talking to themselves!

Another area of confusion involved the French language. In French, there are two ways to say ‘you’: ‘tu’ is the informal form, while ‘vous’ is the formal form. This is an aspect of French which, even now, I do not really understand. When I learnt French, I was taught to call everyone vous unless they were my family or a friend. So I was surprised that virtually everyone in France used the informal tu all the time. School children used tu with their teachers and all the staff called the head teacher tu. Even strangers I met in the street would call me tu, and sometimes tu was written on street signs. But I continued to use vous because I didn’t want to people to think I was being impolite. To be honest, I’m thankful that in English we don’t have to worry about these things!

As you might know, school children in the UK traditionally wear a school uniform but in France pupils do not wear a uniform. It was a culture shock for me to see children wearing Spiderman T-shirts and baggy blue jeans while in the classroom. The final difference which struck me was the relaxed attitude at school. Teachers were never in a rush, and the children and teachers are given long breaks and lots of time to eat their lunch. This is a contrast to the UK, where the school day might seem highly pressured. I found the differences puzzling at times, but I cannot deny what a great opportunity it was to live and work in another country. The UK and France are only separated by a small channel of the sea, but there are many differences between the two cultures!

Discussion

What do visitors to your country usually find unusual or different?