Living Like the French: Slowly

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the four weeks I’ve been here, it’s this: the French do not do things quickly.

I should have picked up on this right away, when my plane from Paris to Lyon was delayed by half an hour, then an hour. When I got to my new home, I was told that Georgetown’s Lyonnaise coordinator would come to see me “tonight or tomorrow sometime.” This pattern hasn’t changed since the start of the semester: registration isn’t due until four weeks after classes begin, several professors decided to extend their vacations rather than hold class the first week, and when our course catalogs were incorrect on the first day, we were told simply to “come back tomorrow.”

But perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is the two-hour lunch break. In France, it is not breakfast but lunch that is the most important meal of the day. There are no 30-minute lunch breaks, no “working lunches”; schools, banks, and offices close entirely between the hours of twelve and two so that people can eat. You eat sitting down—never while walking to your next engagement—and depending on where you eat, five euros can get you a good-sized sandwich, a tart, and a drink. Only after you have finished eating and digesting does life pick up again.

Look at that beautiful not-filled-with-dead-fish river. You probably feel calmer already.

Look at that beautiful not-filled-with-dead-fish river. You probably feel calmer already.

This is not always wonderful. On the first day of our program, all of the Georgetown students went to buy insurance and were promptly told to return in an hour, as the office was about to close for lunch. Official paperwork needs to be filled out as soon as possible, because it can take weeks to process—the French bureaucracy is not to be trifled with, and it can outwait you every time.

That said, I’ll be honest: I love it. This time last year, I was juggling five courses, two jobs, two board positions, 54 freshmen, and a radio show. I was a mess—there were days when I didn’t have time to eat proper meals, get enough sleep, or do more than set things down in my room before running out the door again.

Here, I have time to breathe. I can come home at lunch, leisurely check my email, and wander back to campus before class. I can go for a bike ride along the Rhône in the evening for no reason other than because I feel like it. I can spend time with friends, and I can spend time alone, and I don’t have to feel like I’m neglecting something else to do so. (I also have four-and-a-half-day weekends, but that was just lucky scheduling.)

I know I’m not the only student who has a hectic life. That’s just how American culture is: we’re raised to believe that if you want to get ahead in life, you need to work fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week. Doing college “right” means knowing everyone, doing everything, and putting sleep off until after finals. We talk about our lives as if being overscheduled is a contest—you think you’re busy? Wait until you hear how busy I am.

Chill. The French have the right idea. Of course life is busy sometimes. Believe me, this house is not quiet and calm when there are three children who need to be at three different schools by eight a.m. But life doesn’t have to be busy all the time. Step away from your email, take a walk, and eat a croissant. The world will still be here when you get back.


This piece is cross-posted on the Georgetown Study Abroad Blog, where you can read about the experiences of Georgetown students studying across the globe.

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