“Yes, French girls shave their legs”, I repeated over and over to my intrigued friends and family. “And no, the French did not invent the word ‘surrender’.” Although the French are usually convicted of these things jokingly by the average American teen, stereotypes still provoke a sense of wonder about other cultures and races. This past summer I found out first-hand how the average French teen goes about their daily life and how bizarrely similar it is to Americans.
In June I debarked on my trek across the world, braving all possible odds to go where few have dared to go before…Paris, France. Okay, so there have been quite a few million to go before, but the excitement of journeying somewhere new intrigued me more and more as the days led up to my trip.
I traveled with a program that placed me in a French teen’s home to “fully submerge the student in true French culture”, according to my teacher. As our plane took off and landed the anticipation of meeting my correspondent (and needing to use the restrooms) filled me and before I knew it we were in the most famous city in the world. I get off the bus after whizzing around the outer-loop of Paris to step face to face (or face to forehead…French teens are surprisingly short) with the most stylish and clean-shaven girl, Marion, I have ever seen. We exchanged genuine smiles, with a hint of nervousness, and then came the speaking. In short, I was quite overwhelmed but after getting settled into her flat I was ready to “submerge” myself in this new culture.
As the days went by, the language barrier started to disintegrate but I found that my previous four years of French served no good whatsoever seeing as how all French teens speak with just as much slang as Americans. I was back at square one.
In the following days I went to French school (meeting a teacher with the EXACT same accent as Inspector Clouseau), a French supermarket, a French fair, and at night hung out the the town’s stadium. I motioned to things instead of speaking, smiled instead of voicing happiness, and created a nice little version of “Fr-anglais” to use with Marion. We communicated through facial expressions and laughter and learned more about each other than I have ever known about anyone by saying very little.
Each morning we bonded over our love for Nutella, a chocolate/hazelnut spread, and each night we stayed up late gossiping about boyfriends and girl-drama. She would oversleep, groan at her mother’s demands, beg to stay out later, miss the bus, dance to her iPod, and shaved her legs. She showed me that no matter where in the world you are, a teenager is a teenager. Whether their main language is French, English, Greek, or Swahili, all teens share the same universal traits.
By the end of my stay tears were shed and inside jokes were repeated over and over countless times to drill them into each others heads as memories. Marion and I still communicate over the internet and hopefully will for years to come. We console each other on boy troubles, friend issues, and the stress placed on us as teenagers. I have found that we are the same person…a few thousand miles apart and yet so close.
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