Friday, May 13, 2005
CCHS French class takes a trip to Le Lycée du Grandchamps
This April the French department at CCHS led a student trip to Le Lycée du Grandchamps, a private high school outside of Paris. The trip lasted two weeks and was preceded by a reciprocal hosting experience in February. For the most part, students were matched up with the same French students that they had hosted two months before. Sixteen students were involved in the exchange, including two Carlisleans: Leigh Davis and myself.
We lived with our French families both weeks. I was especially lucky because my host parents had lived in England and my French mother was an English teacher who was eager to help me improve my French.
During the first week we met every morning at the high school and proceeded as a group either to class or to Paris. As we clustered together in front of le lycée, we swapped stories and compared our French homes. We were constantly amazed by cultural differences, just as they must have been when they came to Concord. Some differences were little and unobtrusive, while others seemed larger and, we worried, possibly lethal. We ate so much with our French families that we thought we would explode, but they came to the table at such late hours that we thought we would starve. Panic swept the American ranks when we realized the label on the milk bottles read "half cream." (Thinking back now, they might have meant "half of the cream," or 2% milk...)
All the food packaging was different. We were struck by how small everything was. Whereas we go to the store and buy a gallon jug of milk and two half-gallon cartons of orange juice, they buy everything in one-liter plastic bottles. Even the ice cream came in a one-liter tub.
In general, their food is healthier than ours because it doesn't come from a factory. And the bread. The bread is to die for. It seemed like wherever we went, we saw people carrying long skinny baguettes. They don't come wrapped in bags, so you see them sticking out of backpacks, sitting naked on café tables, or stowed patiently on the dashboard of a car. How you can put your bread all over the place and then eat it, I don't know, but it doesn't bother people over there.
The way they treat their food is different. Fish in the grocery store look like they just swam onto a bed of ice and were lifted onto the meat counter, and the meat is just barely dead. Before going to France, I had never seen a dead chicken with its head and feet intact. Needless to say I avoided the beef and pork.
I am having a hard time tearing myself away from the subject of food. We noticed many cultural differences. Eating was of course more important, and exercising was practically unheard of. Smoking was hugely popular. Fashion at school and on the street was taken more seriously there, and young people wore a lot of stylish black. Shoes were less utilitarian, I'm afraid. And scarves were IN for just about everyone. Behaviorally, I heard it suggested that French teenagers are more likely to do what they're told. The French education system is very rigid, and would reinforce that idea. With millions of people squeezed into an area smaller than Alaska, everything in France is just smaller. Their open fields, wilderness, towns and houses are not enormous, nor are they distributed across vast expanses of empty space. They have so little space to live in.
But their layout isn't all bad. In Carlisle we are gifted with two acres of land apiece, and a sizeable backyard. I've explored and claimed and tamed the wilderness in my backyard, but on returning from France I find it strangely empty. Over there they count themselves lucky if they can push a lawn mower around the perimeter of their house, but what they do with the space they have is absolutely amazing. No two gardens are the same. Each tiny yard is unique, tasteful, and quirky.
French land isn't randomly cut up and divided into modern developments, because it has been settled for a thousand years. The food is good because it is bought daily from the man down the street, and not hoarded in the cellar from some long-distant Costco spree. In America we have perfected the economy of buying a lot for nothing. I hope France never follows our lead.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito