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European culture a world away

This Winter Break, instead of being a bum at home, I decided to do something with my life. I took a January interim class in Paris studying French culture.

While I realize there are many differences between American culture versus European culture, it was a great learning experience to witness these firsthand. Here are a few differences I thought were the most interesting.


I probably spent more time in French restaurants than I did sleeping while in France and there are a few things you should know about before eating at a French restaurant.

1. European restaurants don’t split checks. This is always good to know before you and your friends are scrambling to find out who owes what and trying to decipher whether a coin is worth one euro or two.

2. Waiters won’t give you the bill unless you ask for it. I knew this before the trip. What I didn’t know was how hard it was to flag down your waiter after your meal is finished.

I had a few too many two-hour lunches in which the bulk of time was spent awkwardly trying to wave the waiter down unsuccessfully.

3. The take-away option hasn’t caught on in France. Want to take those extra restaurant portions home with you? Not happening, apparently the French don’t have leftovers, probably because the food portions are so small.


The French really know how to take a small space and pack as much as possible into it. Seriously, there were many times when I’d get up from a table to put my coat on only to knock several people in the head from the table behind me. I guess the tables were so small because the people are so tiny from eating small portions.

The cars were also tiny and compact. I don’t think I saw any SUVs or trucks on the road at all. There were quite a few Smart Cars and most of the cars were black or dark navy.

Places in our hotel room were small too. The elevator couldn’t fit more than two people, which always made it an awkward ride for my roommate and I, and you had to pretty much walk single file to get through the hallways.


This was kind of a big deal in Paris. I never saw anyone wearing hoodies, sweatpants or sneakers. People are dressed up no matter what, which was nice.

Big trends for women were dark colored pea coats and tights or leggings with leather boots. Men also wore pea coats with nice dress pants or slacks and leather shoes as well. They also seemed to like to wear sweaters over button downs.

I’d say about a week after arriving I noticed the girls on the trip go through a little makeover with the aid of shopping that made them look a little more French. If you didn’t don the French fashion you stuck out like a sore thumb.

I’d say the French love their fashion like Americans love their cars. In the U.S. a car can be your status symbol, it lets people know how much money you make and how well you’re doing in life. In France, the quality of the clothing you wear does that instead.

These are only a few things I experienced while staying in Paris, but travelling abroad and making your own observations is something everyone needs to do at least once in life.

Annabelle Vang is a junior journalism major from Pekin. She is the Scout news editor.

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