If you’re a New Zealander thinking of going to France, here are some key things about my experience that might help you make your decision!
EPISODE ONE: Why France?
Why did you decide to go to France and not another country?
I wanted to have a gap year once I’d finished college but I didn’t really know where to go first, or for how long – all I knew was that I wanted to be in Europe. When my Mum suggested being an au pair, the only country that made sense for me to go to was France, because it was the home country of the language I’d just spent five years learning at school.
In which part of France did you decide to go to and why?
I didn’t want to go to Paris because in New Zealand when you say you’re going to France, people automatically assume Paris is France. I left my profile specifications as open as possible so I could find the right family and not restrict myself.
When the family I ended up living with showed up in my searches, I saw that they lived in a place called Prévessin-Moëns, which was a village I’d never heard of and couldn’t find much information about on Google. Initially, this made me feel a little bit uneasy but when they told me they lived close to Geneva in Switzerland, that was a big selling point in terms of location choice, because I was on a gap year with the intention of seeing as many places as possible. I also knew that it was close to the Swiss Alps and other beautiful scenery, and it only a few hours’ drive from the beaches in the south!
Of course, I definitely would not have gone there if I didn’t build a good connection with the family over emails and Skype, because at the end of the day the family choice is more important than the location, but knowing they lived somewhere completely new to me, on the border of a famous city (United Nations HQ) definitely helped me make a decision.
EPISODE TWO: Culture differences
What are some of the key differences between the Kiwi and French ways of life?
Kiwis tend to eat dinner quite early (between 5 – 8pm depending on their kids’ timetables). I didn’t realise that French people don’t usually eat dinner until much later, between 7-10pm. This can take time to get used to, and this leads me on to my next point …
French people often have a cooked meal for lunch at home, which makes sense considering there is such a long wait for dinner. Just to add to the consumption of two big meals …
In France dessert is eaten after both lunch and dinner. I found this super funny and partly responsible for why I gained weight during my stay. And, what’s even funnier is that French people like to eat yoghurt as a dessert, whereas it would be something people in NZ eat for breakfast. To kill the hunger between a big lunch and a long wait for dinner …
Snack time is so specific in France and takes place around 4-4.30pm – it’s almost like a ritual. When it comes to drinking at meal times …
French people like to have different wines with different stages of a meal (obviously just for weekends and social gatherings). Sometimes it can be hard to keep up if you don’t drink wine or are a slow drinker, like me! Water is usually drunk with every meal too. And, if you’re like me and enjoy coffee …
Coffee is not served in the same way! In NZ you are spoiled for choice with a multitude of coffees, whereas in France it’s mostly black/filter coffee or cappuccinos. Oh, and the French like to dip their toast in coffee too!
French people are quite direct with what they want to say, and sometimes it’s easy to take things personally if you don’t understand the way they were intended.
French people like to plan gatherings with their family and friends quite a bit in advance. Kiwis can sometimes be quite ambiguous.
Something that everyone needs to prepare for is the kisses on cheeks (‘bises’) culture with French greetings. The tricky part is that no one ever seems sure of how many ‘bises’ you’re supposed to give to different people.
The school hours are different in France. On Wednesday’s kids are only there in the mornings and have the afternoon free, but then they might have to go to school on a Saturday morning as well.
Working hours seem a bit longer in France – sometimes parents can arrive home past 7 pm, and that’s normal.
Dinner parties tend to be hours-long in France and you can be sat at the table until very late.
Physical presentation seems more important in France, and people tend to make a comment if they think someone looks good or attractive.
People are a lot more open in NZ – talking to strangers in public is very normal and encouraged. This is not so common in France.
In the shops in NZ, salespeople are super friendly and want to help you all the time. In France, it’s not quite the same and you can expect to be able to shop without much interaction with others.
Most places are closed on Sundays in France, especially in small towns.
Public transport is a lot more reliable and available in France.
French people can sometimes talk in half-sentences and finish their sentences with a sound effect coupled with exaggerated facial expressions. This is used to summarise a bad experience, an amazing experience or something that shocked them, without having to use too many words to do so.
My tips for adapting easily in France:
Remember that most French people will greet you with the ‘bises’, but don’t worry about how many they’ll give you – just go with the flow.
Make sure you know how to say phrases such as ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Please can you repeat that?’ and ‘Could you please speak slower?’ because sometimes French people can talk very fast and there are lots of words that sound similar or the same.
Be open to trying new food – especially different types of cheeses. (If you really don’t like cheese (funnily enough I didn’t unless it was melted), you should let your host family know early on.)
Make some friends! Knowing people from different countries helps you gain new perspectives about your own experience, learn new phrases and tips for au pairing, and can help you settle in quicker, knowing there are others having the same kind of journey as you.
Be yourself – the reason you are in France is that your host family wants you to be there, knowing that you come from a different culture and background. Share stories with them and try to find things you have in common.
Have fun and embrace the differences!
International Women’s Day
This year I asked lots of my friends of different ages and backgrounds to share what being a big sister means to them! Check it out!