Being in France made me feel like I was in a country unlike my own for the first time. In Bayeux, the difficulty resulting from the language barrier shocked me. By the end, I got the hang of it, but the first few days were difficult. I had to guess and hope they weren’t saying anything important. As an American, I ignorantly believed most things would be in English in other countries. Most of the exhibits we visited displayed French commentary with some English descriptions. This left me feeling disconnected from the experience because I didn’t know what they were trying to present with each object. I think this expectation is unique to an American because English is such a universal language. Thus, I assumed that it would be more prevalent in other countries. The realization that a place could be so different from my home sparked a new way of interpreting different cultures.
One thing I have noticed that differs between France and the United States is how we treat spoken language. The French are much quieter than we are. Perhaps traveling in a large group makes a difference, but wherever we go we are the loudest in the room, reaffirming the loud American stereotype one city at a time. It startled me in Bayeux because it’s such a peaceful, country town. I think this can be attributed to a difference in our cultures.
While in France, the stereotype that the French don’t like Americans popped up in my head a couple times. When our group went through security at the Caen museum, the security guard told us that bags of any kind were not allowed – not even purses. This wasn’t a big deal – all of us with a bag returned to the bus and put them in our seats. Once we returned to the security line, a couple in front of us had their bags checked by the same security guard and gained entrance. I ventured that maybe the rule only applied to school groups, but upon entrance to the museum, we saw two French school groups with their purses and backpacks. What I felt to be discrimination shocked me because I have never been discriminated against before for being an American. I encountered discrimination against Americans on a personal level at our hotel in Bayeux. I was talking in the lobby with two other girls at a conversational level when we were shushed by one of the employees. Not only were we shushed, but there were other people in the lobby that were talking at the same level but not reprimanded.
These experiences of discrimination in France have caused me to have a different outlook on France and other countries. Although this effected my time in France, I’m grateful I had this experience because it isn’t something I would experience at home. This is part of experiencing a different country and understanding a new culture. In France, this consisted of understanding French social expectations and how they interact with each other. My experiences did not match up with my expectations but instead taught me the valuable lessons of understanding new cultures and adapting to a new language.