Your average secondary school French teacher, however inspirational when armed with a rainbow of board pens and with the dulcet tones of our friends from Encore Tricolore as background noise, cannot teach you everything you need to know ahead of your ventures abroad.
As part of my French and German degree (class of 2008), I underwent a period of time in the respective countries. During the fifteen months that I split between Tübingen, Tergnier and Munich, I kept a list of the peculiarities I discovered on an almost daily basis. Here is a small sample…
Lucy’s Top Five Tips
1.) In France, everyone wants to kiss you. And I mean everyone. This is something for which I was not prepared. Over the years, it had become clear, through cultural instruction and the often outdated photos that accompanied our many reading and writing exercises, that the customary French greeting was to cheek-kiss (se faire la bise) multiple times. However, it was not until I arrived in the little town in Picardie where I had been posted as a British Council language assistant, that I understood the full extent of this kissing saga: not only did I have to circulate the playground each morning (and again when I skipped in after epic lunches steeped in wine) but I also acquired a QUEUE of children, waiting to kiss me: three times and proper smackers too! This was touching, if somewhat unnerving at first, and, given the inevitable delay to the start of all my lessons, I soon began to wonder how anyone ever got anything done in France!
2.) I grew up in reverence of the Tooth Fairy, played Simon Says and watched episodes of Noddy. I had no idea that French children were having similar experiences but with different icons. On losing their milk teeth, the children I taught would chatter excitedly about their findings after a visit from La Petite Souris (‘the Little Mouse’). It’s not Simon but rather Jacques who calls the shots in the game Jacadi (literally, a compounded form of Jacques a dit or ‘Jacques said…’). Finally, the happy chappy to the right goes by a name that will raise a snigger amongst all those with such a childish sense of humour as myself…Oui-Oui
3.) Even gestures are affected by the waters between our shores: in France, they shake out their right hand when they are incredulous about something, for example a near miss between a racing Renault and slick Citroën or even just the price hike at the local boulangerie (yes, they do buy fresh baguettes every day). Over in Germany, it’s the custom for students to rap the bench with their knuckles after lectures to show their appreciation and signal the end of proceedings.
4.) Without wanting to detract from the many social highlights of life in a German University town (in just three months of study, I was lucky enough to experience the Stocherkahnrennen on the Neckar river – a jumble of gliding groups of students atop themed vessels, aka the annual student boat race), one of my favourite things about eating out there is that it’s so easy to pay the bill. The first question your server will ask having brought the bill is zusammen oder getrennt? (‘together or separate?’). If he tells you your portion comes to €6.50 but you only have a €10 note, you can simply say ‘8’ and the server will produce a €2 coin from the wallet he carries to each table and you’re done (€1.50 tip for the delicious Currywurst)!
5.) A funny one to end – if you spot a German bride-to-be on her pre-wedding night out, make sure you have some loose change to hand: tradition dictates that the hen (and sometimes also the stag) should be equipped with all sorts of novelty knick-knacks, such as sweets and small toys, to sell in exchange for drinking money! Prost!
So there you go, I hope I have given you an insight into life beyond the textbook and you are perhaps inspired to write you own unique list, wherever it is you choose to travel…