How to survive in France (without knowing a lick of French)

Before starting my semester in Denmark, I got the chance to travel the beautiful and ultra-iconic country of France. I visited three areas overall: Nice, in Southern France, Lyon, and of course, Paris. While all three of these places were unquestionably “French” in every way, they all offered undeniably different experiences.

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The beautiful Mediterranean coastline of France

 

France is, without question, a one-of-a-kind country. The landscape, the architecture, the climate (in late August, the weather was perfect), and of course, the food! – it was all everything I could have hoped for.

It was also, interestingly, the first place in my travels where I encountered people who didn’t speak English. Having to rely on my memory of high school French (which I hadn’t taken since grade 10, and, admittedly, never really had a great grasp on) wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.

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Duck – a delicious introduction to French cuisine

My first stop was Nice, a small coastal city in Southern France. I went with a friend I had met in Amsterdam, who had a pretty good grasp of the language… So with him taking the wheel on communicating with anyone we encountered, Southern France was a breeze. And “breeze” is the perfect way to begin a description of this area: a small and beautiful town bordering the gorgeous Mediterranean coast, the area was quaint but very chic, with stunning architecture and absolutely breathtaking views. Relaxing by the beach, working on my tan, and checking out the small shops and cafés was a wonderful way to pass my time there.

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Nighttime in Nice, France

Next stop was the city of Lyon, where I met up with a few friends I knew from Toronto. It was great to see some familiar, friendly faces (not to mention sleep in a non-hostel bed!).

I also got the chance to check out a few French house parties while I was there. It was cool to see how young people in another culture get together and unwind. The parties were so much fun, and surprisingly very similar to house parties in Canada. Good times with good people, and absolutely crazy – albeit craziness in a different language. The most shocking aspect of these get-togethers (to me at least) was that everyone really did greet each other by doing the generic kiss-kiss to each cheek that I’ve seen so many times on TV and always associated with France.

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Lyon, France – the country’s third largest city

Lastly, I spent a few days in the one-and-only City of Lights: Par-ee. Paris was everything I expected, and more – a busy and fast-paced city, but in a way totally different from North American cities that I can’t quite put my finger on. Glamorous and chic to some people, murky and vulgar to others, I had learned long ago from close friends’ and relatives’ attitudes that people either love the city or hate it.

I would say I fall into the former category: to me, the city was absolutely gorgeous. So cultured, so much history, and absolutely beautiful architecture (much of which I had been introduced to years ago via TV and film)… But so different to experience with my own eyes!

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The one-and-only “Tour Eiffel”!

It was honestly a great city to explore on my own. Although not being able to really communicate effectively with anyone I met, I did somehow manage to survive and find my way around – with a lot of hand gestures, pointing, and choppy, disconnected phrases (which didn’t exactly gain me that much respect from anyone I encountered!).

But with or without a grasp on the French language, France was a beautiful country. It was exciting to see so many things I had grown up seeing in books, on TV, and in the movies with my own eyes. An experience I’ll never forget, I can’t wait to go back – I guess this gives me an excuse to brush up on these lacking French skills!

 

Take care, and safe travels!

Patrick

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