And how meeting my French husband has changed me. Let's remember that before I fell head over heels in love with him, I would have told you that I have no desire whatsoever to visit France or mingle with its people. Shame on me for having been so prejudiced, but needless to say, that's no longer the case! Having lived now in this country of baguette and cheese lovers (and having become one myself), I do notice that slowly but steadily me and my lifestyle are experiencing quite a metamorphosis.
"I could never speak French"
Prior to meeting my husband, I had had ONE French language course at school. All I remember is that me and my friends could not stop giggling and laughing out loud at how bad we were. We wanted to be good and on paper we were okay, but it was the actual speaking part that felt impossible. I was obsessed about trying to pronounce the French 'r' properly. All the throat sounds and nasals were also unattainable at the time. The language of love is hard on the mouth! You have to literally retrain your mouth to be able to produce all the new sounds. I have proven my old self wrong and I am now able to tell people that you can learn to speak French. It takes time for the mouth to learn the new movements and develop the muscles, but eventually anybody can do it. A key for me also was to find the best way for me to pick up the language. I get very bored if I have to study from a textbook. Even researches have shown that it is not, in fact, the most efficient way to learn languages. Obviously just being physically in the country where the language is spoken helps enormously, but you can still fail. My best tip is to always listen even if you don't understand. As a human being you have the natural ability to learn by observing. By active listening and observation, you will learn even without realizing it.
"The French are rude"
Yet another crushed prejudicial thought I used to have in the past. Ask me now, what I think of the French and I will tell you how they are actually some of the most polite people in Europe. They will be rude to you though if you do not follow some basic rules of common courtesy:
1. Always greet people (in French).
2. When addressing people, always start with French language even if you know only a few words. When they see you tried, they will feel more comfortable to try and speak English.
3. Don't forget to say Merci and s'il vous plaît.
What makes the French so great for me is their humanity even when they are on duty and the rules would advice them to do otherwise. The foreigners who have visited Finland know all too well how the Finns will not make exceptions for anybody as "the rules are the rules." In France I have several times been saved by kind people on duty who were willing to help me despite of everything. Once I was getting on the bus and wanted to buy a ticket from the driver. He told me it is not possible as the tickets are available only inside of the station (it was quite far). I told him that he was probably going to have to leave without me then and I started to make my way out of the bus. The driver called me back and made me a sign with his hand to get back on. The ticket would have cost 8 euros and this man broke the rules to make my life easier. This would never ever have happened in Finland!
"I eat just a sandwich or a yogurt for dinner"
To be honest, despite of everything else, this is one of the biggest lifestyle changes I have made after moving to France. In Finland we are not used to eating a big family dinner that lasts for hours and includes everything from starters to dessert. During the first months that me and my husband were accommodated by his parents, I gained easily 1 to 2 kilos weight per month. The French start their dinner with apéro around 7 pm and about an hour later it is time for the main course accompanied often with wine. In the end, before the dessert, the cheese box will be fetched from the fridge. The length of the whole dinner can vary from 1 to even 3 hours. Despite of the first shock and my sore butt muscles, I have grown to appreciate it as a great way to keep the family close and everybody updated on what's going on in each other's lives. I have also become dependent on the apéro. The whole experience is just not the same without it! Especially now that the weather is warm and we can have glasses of rosé and snack on olives in the garden.
No more heavy makeup
The company makes one alike. My husband used to always tell me how he finds that girls in Finland wear tremendous amounts of makeup. When we moved to France I started to understand what he meant: the French girls use a minimal amount of foundation and nobody has fake nails, hair or eyelashes. In Finland most girls don't stick to their natural hair color either, but in France anything unnatural is not considered chic. I used to wear twice more makeup and I have even stopped dyeing my hair. My whole approach on beauty has changed as the true key to the French chic is simplicity. Now I can even spot a foreigner on the street based on how much makeup they are wearing! Less is truly more for me these days even though I am yet to reach the ultimate level of chic as for social meetings in restaurants and bars I am still the one wearing the most makeup.
Greeting is obligatory!
I seriously think now that failing to greet someone is a clear sign of hostility. And I come from Finland where it is normal to pretend you don't know your work colleagues or class mates when encountering them in public places. In France you will say bonjour to a big bunch of people that you would never even look in the eyes in my home country. If you pass someone on the streets and your eyes lock: say hello. If you step into a doctor's waiting room: say hello to everybody. Even when entering a restaurant you can greet the people in the neighbor tables. And when you leave, you'll wish people a good day. When we moved to our current house, our neighbors used to never greet us during our brief encounters. Not greeting your neighbor in France basically means: "I hate you." Now they have changed their mind (after deciding apparently that we are not after all a bunch of thugs) and they say bonjour when passing by.
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