There are many ways to get to know French culture, and many resources available that will assist you in knowing about it. France is quite eager to promote its culture, so any effort on your part to become familiar with it will be met with enthusiasm. There are institutions both in France and abroad that offer many cultural activities and there is a Ministry of Culture within France specifically designated to protect and enhance the cultural heritage of France, as well as the major cultural achievements of humanity.
What Drew you to French Culture?
A good place to get started is to think about what drew you to French culture in the first place. Was it painting, music, dance, cuisine, sports, cinema, the 35-hour work week ... ? If Charlotte Gainsbourg released an album you find amazing, then perhaps you can explore other French artists of her genre or other genres Charlotte Gainsbourg has worked in, such as film. If French cuisine is your favorite, you can explore different regional cuisines and some of the history behind things that the French are famous for, such as wine and cheese. If visual and performing arts are interesting to you, there are plenty of French contributions in the artistic domain and becoming more familiar with artistic works can happen through gallery visits, attendance of performances by touring French companies, and even an evening listening to live streaming of a concert on the radio station France Musique. There are also certain sports in which the French excel – does their recent World Cup win suggest what one of these might be? Aside from soccer, the French, especially in the south, enjoy rugby. Tennis is also a favorite and the Tour de France is, of course, held in France and reflects the interest of the French in cycling.
1. Spend Time with People who are from that Culture
The best way to know a culture is to spend time with people who are from that culture. When you are involved with activities that include these people, you will become more familiar with the ideas, customs, and social behaviors of their culture. Spending a good amount of time with people of a certain culture will more likely than not have an effect on you, and you might pick up some of their mannerisms and turns of phrase. That being said, you are not obligated to copy all of their behavior – your own culture is a unique and important part of your experiences – but it’s great to be aware of some of the conventions in another culture and perhaps you will like some of them and adopt a few. When entering a shop or boutique, for instance, I always greet the people working there and thank them when I leave. I do this regardless of what country or cultural context I’m in, but I probably picked this up while living in France, where this is common practice.
If you haven’t yet met anyone French through work, school, or your favorite activities, you can find plenty of people interested in French culture, including the French themselves, at Meetups, which meet worldwide. These are usually centered around a theme, such as music of a certain era or genre, drawing, fashion, cinema, and much more. Some Meetups may involve fees, depending on the activities involved. The strong point about Meetups, aside from the opportunity to speak French, is that there is a common interest that connects everyone meeting up. You can find French Meetups in your area by searching online or through social media.
2. Institutions that Host Cultural Events Bring Together People with Common Interests
Institutions that host cultural events also bring together people with common interests. The Alliance Française is specifically set up to promote knowledge and appreciation of the French language and Francophone cultures, and to encourage friendship and collaboration with the French-speaking world. You can find an Alliance Française in many major world cities, such as New York, Beijing, Lima, and Dakar, as well as the Alliance Française Paris Île-de-France, where French as a foreign language is taught. Taking French classes at the Alliance Française is quite popular among people with a wide variety of goals, from sharpening French language skills to delving further into a specific literary genre. In addition to French classes, the Alliance Française hosts cultural events, such as film screenings, talks, and readings. Membership and resources differ from one establishment to the next, but the resources are rich and varied.
3. Online Resources Can Expose you to French Culture
Of course there are many resources online that can expose you to French culture, or direct you toward French cultural events that might interest you. France has seven national radio networks that are available online at no cost other than what you are paying for the internet, and whether you are interested in theater, sports, politics, or the environment, you will be able to find segments on a topic that interests you. The websites for these radio stations offer live streaming and podcasts, as well as transcripts of certain segments and short videos.
Watching French television is also a way to get a sense of the French perspective on world events. Television also offers a variety of genres and indicates the interests that the French have when it comes to entertainment. Are they interested in historic drama, comedy, action, music, or science fiction? Is there a French counterpart to American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, or Singer 2018? Watching French television will give you insight into what the French are watching and you will be able to recognize these references and have conversations with others who watch French television.
This might be a little strange – or maybe not – but YouTube and other online videos can also be informative. Using online videos to know a culture is tricky, since it isn’t the most organized approach to cultural familiarity. If you do find an online channel you like after digging through online videos, then it might be informative to watch it. My only caveat is falling down the rabbit hole of watching people who reiterate French stereotypes. We already know what those are. Generally, a bit of humor never hurts, so those who are able to make fun of themselves while making observations about French cultural phenomena will probably have more perspective than someone talking about having personally had a horrible experience in Paris and saying it doesn’t make his or her list of recommended places to visit. Even Carrie Bradshaw on the television show Sex and the City was able to laugh off her miserable experience in Paris when she’d followed a man there who seemed even more narcissistic than herself.
Getting to know French culture – or any culture, for that matter – is a highly personal endeavor, and following your initial interests is an effective way to become immersed in activities, social groups, and behaviors of the cultures that interest you, and to integrate these into your everyday life.
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