Hello all! My name is Ivy, and I spent this past summer semester living and studying in Lyon, France. Going into my travels, I had three years of previous French language experience. Whether or not you are familiar with the language there are a few things you should know if you decide to study abroad in France.
Do as the locals do
My first tip is to do as the locals do. Eat all the baguettes! Try out the two kiss greeting (it is totally normal and fun)! Meet up with friends at your favorite pubs! There is no such thing as too much wine and cheese! Dress up and look nice, just because! Chill out and take your afternoon breaks “comme les francais”, there are parks everywhere! choose one and enjoy the day!
Learn proper phrases
One of the best things you can do for yourself is learn some local lingo. No one likes being outed as a foreigner, or American so here are some fail-proof words and phrases for you!
When squeezing past someone, stepping on someone’s foot, or any situation where you would normally say sorry in America. The French will always say “pardon”.
When speaking with someone older than you, make sure that you respond with “oui” (yes) not “ouais” (yeah). Using the later would be disrespectful and you might receive a strange look.
Next, and most importantly is French greetings. In America when greeting someone, in passing, it is normal to give a smile, hello, or even ask how they are. This is not the case in France. While in France it is important and necessary that you greet almost everyone you pass or interact with, by saying “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir”. Translated this means “good day” and “good evening,” respectively. You might be wondering why something as simple as a verbal greeting is so important. Well, upon arrival and practice of this greeting I came to the realization that small talk does not really exist in France, a simple “bonjour” is sufficient.
After the initial excitement of being abroad had worn off, I became all too aware of the many times per day I was saying “Bonjour”. It was expected in every interaction, no matter how big or small. Walking through my apartment everyone I passed would say bonjour, and expect it back. In stores, I could not just smile and pay for my things, and go.
Once in Paris, my friend and I stopped at a Monoprix for some paprika pringles (life changing, you have to try them!). I was the first one to check out, I said Bonsoir to the man scanning my items, smiled and paid for my things. My friend goes next, she did not take the initiative so he said Bonsoir first, and she simply smiled said nothing as she handed him her cash. He was clearly displeased. Instead of giving her her change and receipt, he handed it to me! So, the moral of the story, make sure to say Hello!
Be prepared to walk a lot
Final tips. During a study abroad in France or anywhere in Europe be prepared to walk until you never want to walk again.
Whenever you are at a kiosk there is almost always a button you can tap (it will be marked with a British or American flag) that will switch everything to English. Use it!
If you are missing your American snacks swing by the closest Monoprix or Carrefour and pick up a tube of paprika pringles. As I said, a total game changer.
Finally, nothing beats a 1 euro croissant and espresso combo. While walking to school, almost every morning, I would stop at one of the patisseries or boulangeries along the way, to sit down and enjoy the morning.
There you have just a few tips that I picked up from my time studying abroad in Lyon, France. Be open-minded and adaptive and have the time of your life!
Ivy Reid is a Boise State University student and alumna of the Lyon, France program.