Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A good beginning

There is a baseline level of civility and mindfulness that is quite something to experience here. Coming back from Christmas break on Jan 8, I had to a certain extent already put New Years behind me. When entered the la salle des profs I found myself greeted warmly and individually by nearly everyone that came through the door. Each one wished me a happy new year and best wishes, shook my hand or exchanged kisses on the cheek. I found myself recovering a buoyant sense of holiday even as I prepared to trudge off to my first class.

As I reflect on this I think that what I witnessed was really business as usual for the French. They do as a matter of common practice take the time to pause, look you in the eye, take your hand and say good day to you. Fly-by greetings, while they do happen, are not very common. And this extends to students as well. At the beginning of the period I am greeted again and again by students coming through the door and at the end of the period the great majority of them take pains to saw goodbye to me, one at a time, as they leave. I don’t mean to make too big a thing out of this but it is distinctly different at home.

I shared with some of my students the observation that French people spend a long time à la table. I described the Christmas meal we had with our neighbors. The students all smiled indulgently at me. It was evident that they were comfortable, even proud, of this practice. I asked them, what do you do for two or three hours at the table?...They laughed, one girl said that her family spent more like five hours at the table on Christmas. No one scoffed or acted surprised. One or two kids did offer the opinion that three hours was plenty …I thought to myself, if three hours represents the impatient end of the spectrum what a contrast is that to American table traditions.



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