Slay the Cliché: A French perspective

Giulia Bassetto interviews one of the university's French students to find out more about France in comparison with the UK

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Photograph by Clément Heil

Clément, 21 years old and in his final year at Lancaster University, is our French protagonist for this week’s interview. While sitting with me in Costa, escaping a typical rainy day, Clément answers my questions about studying in Lancaster as a French student, and sheds some light on France’s culture and stereotypes.

What are three adjectives that you would use to describe yourself?

Perfectionist. Stubborn. Open-minded.

Where are you from?

Reims, France (where the champagne is mainly produced).

According to you, what are some of the main reasons to visit France?

Its history. A rich and interesting past that gives the opportunity to compare with other cultures. Also, France is very diverse and we have various landscapes: urbanized cities but also lovely countryside. And obviously our cuisine… and wines as well.

Are there many French students in Lancaster? And do you tend to spend time with them?

Yes, many French students… but I don’t know exactly how many: definitely many European students. The goal is to melt with other people, and other cultures. So no, I don’t spend much time with French people, even though we obviously share some commonalities so it’s fun and pleasant sometimes to stay with them.

Do you like studying in the UK? If so, why?

Yes, I do. Initially, it was a goal. This English model is different from the French one: generally, English universities are more prestigious, and people here are more respectful about going to university. To give a simple example, let’s think about sport: here it’s almost a matter of pride and recognition, whereas in France relatively nobody would have cared if you were part of the university rugby team. Going to an English university is a great opportunity. It’s a sort of springboard so I must make the most of it!

Do you miss your country? If so, why?

Sometimes. Mainly because I’m a food-lover. I love French and Italian gastronomy but if I need to pick one meal, I would say a tender piece of duck perfectly cooked with a creamy risotto and a glass of red wine from South West France. Saint-Émilion would fit perfectly!

Tell me three major differences between France and the UK.

Here in the UK people are politer than in France. And it’s not something forced, it’s just natural. Even the taxi driver talks to you. In Paris it never happens!

Also, I think the UK have a sense of citizenship France doesn’t have. They are very proud of their country: its history, its culture, their royalty, traditions… I don’t think French people are as proud as they are.

And finally, something that caught my attention, is in England people are more open and everyone is themselves. It seems like they do not care what other people think of them; they just want to be who they are. This creates a lot of diversity and I think that’s really great.

What would you bring from your culture to this one?

As already mentioned, food. But also, I would encourage people in general to cultivate themselves a bit more… Like visiting different places, museums, cities… and finding out more about art and music. Simply enriching themselves.

How would you spend a sunny Saturday in France?

I would go for a walk, maybe to the fresh market. Then lunch with my family, and later just enjoy nature: go for a countryside walk. And during the evening I would stay with my friends, probably go for a drink during the “happy hour”, and go to someone’s house for dinner. You know, the type of casual dinners where everyone is bringing something: you put it all on the table and grab a piece of whatever you enjoy. We call it “apéritif dinatoire”. It is about meeting your good friends, having a good time with them and enjoying some drinks and food. And of course, it happens after 5pm.

And what about here? Would you do anything differently?

Well, mostly the same. I would schedule to visit something: maybe a city, like Liverpool or Manchester, just to go out and do something different. Then again, for the night I would meet with other friends and have some fun… Kind of the same, but earlier.

Would you say your lifestyle changed when you moved here?

Yeah. Now I drink tea at 5pm! Mainly, I would say I’ve tried to fit into this culture as much as possible… I’ve become part of the rugby team and I’ve tried to meet as many people as possible.

Is it true that in the wardrobe of any French person there is a striped t-shirt? And would you describe yourself as “chic”?

No, I wouldn’t describe myself as “chic”. But I do have a striped t-shirt, and I think my French friends also have them!

Is it true that French people drink lots of wine?

It is. We definitely drink more wine than beer.

What’s a stereotype for you? Are those questions I’ve just asked you offensive?

It is the first idea that comes to a person’s mind when talking about another culture. It’s a sort of funny barrier. But still, it is a barrier. Generally, stereotypes describe a bit of a culture, but we must go further: go beyond because there is much more to say! But no, for me they were not offensive questions!