As it was my first time traveling internationally alone, my first few days abroad were spent with a battle between absolutely adoring France and yearning to go home. There were moments when I doubted my capability of going through such a change by myself despite the numerous resources available at my fingertips. However, I quickly realized that I was in France! An astonishingly beautiful country with so much for me to see. So see it I must!
To truly immerse yourself in France, it is always best to start off with what a tourist would do — especially since you are, in fact, a tourist. The best advice I can give is: do not be afraid to simply spark a conversation with a local and ask them for recommendations in the city. Start off with a simple “Bonjour!” and from there you can continue in French or switch to English. Whichever makes you feel more comfortable. It is incredibly important to make the effort in recognizing the country’s language as it shows you acknowledge their culture and respect it. Open-mindedness and kindness is key.
In Paris, one is highly encouraged to visit the holy trinity of touristic sightings: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. If by some chance you don’t have the time to visit all three individually, you can always take le Bateaux-Mouches. It is a sightseeing cruise on the Seine River accompanied by audio-guides that tells you about the history behind each of piece of architecture you see.
In Strasbourg, the boat tour is through Batorama. It is similar to le Bateaux-Mouches where there are audio-guides to inform you of the things that make Strasbourg different from the other cities of France. Such as how Strasbourg has a culture called Alsacienne, that is a mix of French and German culture due to its proximity to Germany.
In Lille, you can enjoy a city tour by vintage cars! There is a private driver and they will be the one to tell you the ins and outs of Lille. While in the car, you can also enjoy refreshing beverages as well. So all you need to do is sit back with listening ears and enjoy the ride in a Volkswagen Beetle-like car.
Immersing is about appreciating the beauty around you and the new experiences available at your fingertips. These recommended guided tours were truly helpful since I think being educated on the sights you see is a great first step in getting to know the culture around you!
The best way to adapt to a new culture is by befriending the locals because along the way, you will pick up their mannerisms and secret rules. Similar to how you should not simply order water when you’re eating out or else you might get overcharged with a bottle. Instead, you should ask for une carafe d’eau (a pitcher of water).
In fact, it took me total of five days to start filling my conversation pauses with “euhhh” instead of “uhhh”. I also started to add the “bah” sound in front of oui or non to emphasize my agreement or disagreement with my friends. Since “Bah, oui!” is similar to “Yes, of course!”, and “Bah, non” is similar to “No, of course!” I found that it also depends on your tone and that “bah” is not only used to emphasize your yes or no’s, but could be used to show hesitation as well.
I adapted to France through my willingness to learn and staying curious. It was through those two traits that I began to memorize the routes of the metros and how to pick up others’ social cues. It is important to know that during this process, it is okay to feel anxiety. It is all part of the process and all you have to do is trust it.
I knew I properly settled into Lille when I became familiarized with public transportation and no longer felt the constant anxiety of having to plan every second of my day. Rather, I would face the day and appreciate wherever it took me. More than that, settling in made me able to differentiate between French and American culture making it a fascinating, eye-opening experience.
Though, despite me getting to know Lille like the back of my hands, I continue to regard it with doe eyes. Everything continues to amaze me and I always find things that makes me more entranced with not only Lille, but France as well.
In fact, I can proudly say, “J’ai un coup de cœur pour France”; I am falling in love with France.
Linh Nguyen is a student at Texas A&M University – College Station and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in Lille, France.