Culture can be defined as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group and that are transferred from one generation to the next. Like all countries, France has a distinctive culture, reflecting a centuries-long and complex history. Before you apply to and attend one of our programs, it is important to understand that your experience will be unique and, despite some similar elements, very different from living in the U.S.
France is a high-context culture. What does that mean? Anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the concept of high- and low-context cultures in his book The Silent Language in 1959. A high-context culture is one in which communication may be more unspoken rather than explicit - for example, much attention is paid to body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues in order to discern a speaker's meaning. (By contrast, the U.S. is considered a low-context culture, where verbal communication is more explicit, direct, and elaborate.) This means that, in France, you may have to spend some additional time and energy observing and listening to others in order to pick up on subtle information.
Things may look familiar, but there are subtle differences below the surface. Many aspects of France and French culture may seem familiar to you. There are the stereotypes that you may have read about or seen in movies, like the daily French baguette, the cheese and wine, or the classic beret. You may also see many familiar American cultural elements, such as fast food and pop music, that have been integrated into French life. The context of these elements, however, is very different in France than in the U.S. In the months leading up to departure, we will provide you with several examples of what this looks like.
Traditions and social norms are deeply anchored and evolve very slowly. The French are generally very proud of their way of life, with an emphasis on taking time for personal relationships, preparing and enjoying meals, and enjoying the present moment. These values have been an integral part of French culture for a long time, although globalization has influenced French society to some degree.
Feeling out of place in another culture is normal. Encountering different norms, social cues, and language may leave you feeling tired, unsettled, and homesick. This a normal reaction to being immersed in a new culture! Small actions, such as keeping a journal, can help you process and better understand your individual experience. In addition...
...Our job is to help you prepare for and process this new experience! In the months leading up to the program, the European Center will provide you with regular communication via email about France and its history, society, and culture, as well as tools to help you better understand life in France. Once the program is in session, the staff of the European Center and the Tufts faculty on site will be there to support you as you process all the aspects of living in this new environment.