Shared Border, Different Cultures

Ian Treger is a student at Washington and Lee University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

Something that I have really enjoyed paying attention to while studying in Paris has been the differences between France and Germany, the other country where I have lived abroad. After living in Paris for a few weeks I have started to notice all the differences between Germany and France. Some of them are large, some of them are minuscule. Some of them I notice immediately, while others take time to reveal themselves.

For example, one of my first days in Germany I ordered fries and was given the option of having mayonnaise or ketchup with them. In France, like the rest of Europe, they eat pommes frites with mayo as well; at first, I found this bizarre, but acquiesced and now eat my fries with mayo every time.

In France, I’ve noticed that the mentality is different than in Germany. Germans eat large, hearty meals washed down with copious amounts of beer. In France, food is more of an art than a means to become full. Meals last a long time, with multiple courses, drinks, and plenty of silverware. The first time I ate dinner with my French family friends it was honestly quite intimidating. The French don’t satisfy their thirst with beer like the Germans; instead, they have an apéritif, followed by wine with dinner, followed by a digestif. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that people are sociable during the pauses between courses, but when food is in front of them they eat quickly and continue to be engaged after they finish. In German, as in America, we eat and talk at the same time. The French have refined taste, preferring quality over quantity. In Germany, the food is still delicious, but there is also an aspect of quantity, which is one of the reasons Germans tend to be bigger and taller than the French.

A typical fancy Parisian crepe. Note the multiple drinks.
Schnitzel, a staple of the German diet. Usually made of breaded pork, these come in hearty portions.

These styles of eating remind me of the style of the French language vs. the English or German language. In English and German, the speaker thinks about what they say while they’re saying it. As a result, people speak at a moderate speed, and unless talking about a complicated topic, don’t take many pauses. French is the opposite; the French speak rapidly, take a pause, say euh or eh (French conversation filler for “um”) and think about what they’re going to say. Once they’ve realigned their mental train on its tracks and know how their sentence is going to shape up,they’re back to speaking a million words a minute.

In the end, I love both Germany and France. Even though they border each other they are different worlds, each one having its own unique pros and cons.  I have been lucky enough to live in both these countries and thus have gotten the best of both worlds.

The world awaits…discover it.

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