Cultural differences can take many forms. I have noticed many discrepancies in the French culture compared to English culture, from the way people dress, to their attitude towards food, to what they do for fun. One thing that has struck me in particular in France is people’s personal interactions with each other, and the way they differ from those in the UK.
Firstly, it’s the kissing - everyone kisses each other on the cheek. It’s a greeting, instead of saying ‘hi,’ or ‘hello,’ like we would in England, they give each other a kiss on each cheek. Often, the kiss is a substitute for words, and the whole exchange is a silent affair. Everyone participates in the kissing ritual; the young, the old, male, female, strangers and friends. I kiss my friends, I’ve been kissed on the cheek by people I’ve just met, I kiss the teachers at the school, and even if I’m in a hurry, I am still expected to make time to give an acquaintance a quick kiss on the cheek as I rush past them. I don’t mind it – in fact, I quite like it, I think that it quickly turns strangers into acquaintances, and acquaintances into friends.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that people here in France are much more open with people they don’t know. For example, in England, you would generally only talk to a stranger on public transport only if completely necessary, perhaps, for example, to ask where the bus stops next. However, on long train journeys people have often stuck up conversation with me for no reason other than to have a chat to pass the time, and I really enjoy being able to share, even for a brief period of time, a part of my life and my story with someone else. In fact, I find people to be less reserved when it comes to talking to strangers in general; a few days ago I got talking to a woman in the fruit section of a supermarket as she gave me her opinions the benefits and disadvantages of oranges grown in Spain!
Whatever stereotypes there may be about French people, I have found that they are, for the most part, open and at ease talking to strangers, which makes me too, more comfortable with them, and ultimately, more willing to practice my French!
How do you greet people in your country? What would a visitor to your country find unusual?