French relish quieter, finer aspects of life

I must admit, there are days here when I think to myself “Why can’t the French just do things the American way?” I often miss being in the United States, where stores are open 24/7, supermarkets carry every kind of food, health or hygiene product you could ever imagine and where the interstate can cut your transportation time in half.

I took for granted how convenient life is back home. But what if, with all these new conveniences, we’re missing something?  And if so, what are we missing?

My parents came to visit a few weeks ago, and my Dad mentioned something he had read about French culture.  He said that while Americans live to work, the French work to live.  I had never thought of it that way before, but the more I considered the idea, the more it explained the parts of French society that had baffled me since I arrived.

The American in me could not understand why the shops on my street didn’t open until 10 or 11 a.m., close in the afternoon between noon and 2 p.m., and then close again for the day as early as 7 p.m.  Nearly every store is closed on Sunday, except for a rare few that are often owned by people of non-French descent. Some are even closed on Monday. I wondered how they made any money. One of my French friends told me that they usually receive enough business on Friday and Saturday to cover the rest of the week.

What I realized today is that business and efficiency are not as important in French culture as they are in American culture. We Americans keep trying to think of new ideas, new tricks and new inventions to make life simpler or more convenient. We want to do our everyday chores faster and with less manual work.  But as we make all these advancements in efficiency, our everyday life is no longer everyday life.  We’re trying to fill our lives with shortcuts, and by only taking shortcuts, we are missing out on the mundane, but important, details of daily life.

In France, people take pleasure in going to a bakery every day to get a new baguette and going to the outdoor markets on Sunday to stock up on produce and farm-fresh goods for the week. Even something as simple as walking along the streets and seeing other people running their daily errands makes the city seem friendly and welcoming.

I thought living without a car in Lyon would be confining and restrictive, but it has had the opposite effect. I feel like I’m part of the life here. Sometimes when I go out on the street, people will stop me and ask me directions. If they hear that I have an accent, they’ll ask me where I’m from and what I’m doing in France. I have started a lot of interesting conversations with people this way.

France has taught me that convenience should not always be a priority. And even if daily activities here are sometimes more time consuming or inefficient, there’s often at least a good story involved.

Sara Brouillette is a junior studying abroad in Lyon, France.