I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Europe (France in particular) on separate occasions. On a recent trip to Strasbourg I realised a couple of things that really made me think about the country I call home, South Africa. (These are all my own opinions, from my South African perspective)
South Africans are well-mannered
Yes, you read that correctly. In comparison to the French (most) South Africans are quite well-mannered. I was, at first, very taken aback by the French’s lack of manners. When I say lack of manners I mean fundamental things that were taught to me at a very young age which, now in my young-adult life, come naturally to me. Things like putting my hand in front of my mouth when I yawn, cough or sneeze.
It seems to be a very common thing to yawn loudly with a hippo-like style – mouth open to the max and arms stretched out above your head. This also applies to sneezing and coughing loudly without trying to suppress the actions.
From a South African perspective this is very rude (and frankly just unhygienic), but to the French, this may be something insignificant. Who knows. After proof-reading this post myself I realised how easily different cultures can offend one another due to a lack of knowledge. It is very important to know what you are getting yourself into if you are planning to travel to another country with different cultures to your own. Read up on what to do and not do.
France really is the fashion capital of the world
I don’t really think I need to elaborate, but I do want to mention two things:
Everyone you walk past in the streets look incredibly stylish and chic, and what’s worse is that it all looks so effortless. Both men and women from new-born to 80+ look impeccable, like they just stepped off the runway. No jokes.
For those of you who don’t know, I love everything to do with style and fashion. Because of this I spent a lot of time observing the style of all the passers by, as well as the shopping bags which they carried as they graciously walk the streets of Strasbourg, and I came to the following conclusion: FRANCE DOES NOT SELL UGLY THINGS! In South Africa you can walk into any clothing, shoe or accessories store and you are guaranteed to find at least one item which you find to be hideous. Not there, I promise you. *sigh*
Long story short, the idea of eating baguettes with cheeses, accompanied by red wine for days isn’t as romantic as it sounds. I got sick of it after the second day. I’ve never missed braai and biltong so much. Of course French restaurants offer meaty dishes like ribs and Boeuf Bourguignon (a personal favourite), but unfortunately the exchange rate bit us in the arse and they were just not in our price range.
Realising how much bread and cheese the French actually consume lead me to another conclusion – the French must manage to stay skinny by walking and cycling everywhere! Easy as that.
I also gained a renewed appreciation for South African wines when I got home. I find all French wine (all which I’ve tried) to be very bland and sour in comparison to the full-bodied, fragrant and flavoursome wines cultivated in SA. *pours a glass of local wine. bliss*
Now I know there are people out there who appreciate a ridiculously strong cup of black coffee or an espresso, but I’m not one of them. I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago (and now I can’t go a day without it), but I much prefer a mild cup with milk, or a good cappuccino. Unfortunately in France everything tends to taste like (read: is) espresso, so my mornings generally didn’t start out great.
You need to know basic French phrases to get around
It’s alarming to see how many of the French we came across can only speak French. In South Africa the majority of people speak at least 2 languages, be it English and Afrikaans, English and an African language, etc.
Also, items which you purchase in stores like beauty products and food items generally have French labels, so you need to know the basics, to know what you’re buying.
It’s dirty, but in a different way to SA
I think we as South Africans are so desensitised to littering (and pollution) that we don’t really notice it that much anymore. In most French cities which I’ve been to, Strasbourg included, there are recycling bins all over – both indoors and out. You can still find the odd serviette or candy wrapper lying on the ground, but that’s about it. The French make good use of recycling bins.
The three things that caught my attention were:
Cigarette buds – in some areas they almost cover the ground you walk on. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise as 8 out of 10 people you come across/walk past are smoking (from my personal observation), but still. There are numerous ashtrays on the sidewalks.
To interrupt my own chain of thought for a second – I found the amount of young girls who smoke really alarming. From my perspective I definitely saw more women than men smoking, and quite a few of them were really young. One girl in particular could not have been older than 13.
Dog poop – Europe is a very pet friendly continent. I suppose they have to be, because ma big part of it’s population live in apartments and don’t have yards for their dogs to play and do their business. Your pet can stay with you in hotels, enjoy a meal with you at a restaurant, and even do some shopping with you at the grocery store. (Obvs not 100% of the above-mentioned establishments, but a lot of them).
So keeping that in mind, you see a whole lot of dogs being walked in the streets and doing their business wherever they feel the need to. Luckily most dog-owners carry little plastic bags to pick up after their dogs, but unfortunately there are still some which don’t, so you have to pay attention to where you are walking.
Pee – it is rare to walk past an alleyway without being hit by a pungent smell of urine. Also, in some public areas (e.g. under the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg) skateboarders, bmx riders and even some hip-hop dancers take it upon themselves to use the bike racks as a urinal.
We can’t have nice things
The top three things that come to mind are:
Most buildings in Strasbourg have copper detailing on their roofs and even have copper gutterpipes. They look beautiful, but let’s be honest – they wont last a single day in our country before being stolen and resold.
Bicycles, cars and scooters are left in the streets overnight without being stolen (now I don’t know if this is because they are parked bumper-to-bumper so there is physically no way of getting them out, or if they are just safe). Here, once again, it’s not safe (I speak from experience here, as my first car was stolen on a Saturday morning in broad daylight).
The tram system in Strasbourg (and other Metro/train services in France) are impeccable and super convenient. In our country though, cables would be stolen on a weekly basis, as is the current situation, especially with the Gautrain.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country and it feels terrible saying these things, but facts are facts.
Flip phones are still a thing
Not much to say about this. I saw probably 4 or 5 flip phones on a daily basis, being operated by young and old.
So in conclusion
- Many French stereotypes are true.
- I would love to have an epic transport system like they do, that operates so smoothly. If the Gautrain were to expand it would be epic. And let’s hope they start in Pretoria-East.
- Every country has it’s problems. Even though our country seems like it’s going down the drain, I still can’t think of any other place I could call home.
I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic.