Going as a tourist to a foreign city or country for a short period of time can be fun, but living and working there for longer than a few months is a completely different experience. You get to know the place and the people on a much deeper level. At the same time, you will have to deal with some physical, mental, and social challenges.
Even though living in a foreign country can sometimes be frustrating, it can also be very rewarding. The majority of people who live and study in France for an extended period of time go home feeling positive about their experience and believe that the time spent abroad was beneficial both professionally and personally.
There are two types of families: the married couple with children, and the extended family, the network uniting all the blood relatives with a common ancestor. The former has been considerably weakened in the last fifty years by the increase in divorces, cohabitation, unmarried men and women, births out of wedlock and single-parent or “recomposed” families. The couple has lost that extraordinary stability advocated in particular by the Catholic Church, which used to characterize French families.
For a long time marriage was the basis of the family, yet today it no longer symbolizes the transition to adulthood. Nor does it constitute any longer the obligatory rite before founding a family. Cohabitation outside marriage is developing: more than half of first-born children are born outside marriage (57% of first-born children, 45% of births). The number of marriages is declining (280 000 in 2002) and the French are marrying at an increasingly later age, on average at nearly 29 in the case of women and 31 in the case of men. In 1999, the Civil Solidarity Pact (Pacte civil de solidarité - PACS) was introduced. It is a contract drawn up between two adults of the same or different sexes, allowing them to organize their life together. An estimated eight PACS were signed in 2002, as against one hundred marriages.
Young people are leaving the family home at an increasingly later age, at around 22 for girls and 27 for boys. They retain their links to it and some of them, students or job-seekers, come home at weekends. It is no longer the case that several generations cohabit under the same roof, but the obvious solution for three quarters of young married or unmarried couples is to live close by. They live on average less than half an hour’s drive from the home of one set of parents, most often the wife’s. Yet distance is no obstacle to meeting and the grand-children spend Wednesdays and weekends with the grand-parents who live closest, and every school holiday with those who live furthest away.
The family remains the main reason for buying or keeping on a second home, which is also the family home. From one summer to the next, it brings together family members living in different places. The first of November is a date on which family reunions take place, as many families visit the graves of their deceased. The sharp rise in cremations does not yet appear to have brought about a drop in visits to cemeteries. The month of November, with All Saints’ Day, the day of the dead, and 11 November is the high point in the religious worship of the dead, a patriotic family event.
The working week is getting shorter and leisure activities at home are on the increase. The French are spending more and more time at home, in their flat or house. More and more of them have second homes, which may be caravans or mobile homes.
About three-quarters of the French live in urban areas (i.e. towns or districts in the vicinity of towns). 56% of them now live in detached houses (compared with 48% in 1982); the remainder live in flats in blocks of flats, of which about 15% are low-rent subsidised housing.
54% own their accommodation; 38% are tenants; and 6% are housed free of charge (by their families or their employers).
Accommodation has become much more comfortable since the start of the 1960s. Nowadays, 80% of the French have bathrooms or showers, indoor lavatories, central heating and so on, where only 34% of them did in 1970. They also have almost the complete range of household electrical equipment such as refrigerators, freezers, electric cookers, washing-machines and vacuum-cleaners, and over 40% have a dish-washer. They are also well-stocked with leisure equipment (television sets, VCRs, hi-fi and so on).
The French now strive to make their surroundings as pleasant as possible by adorning their homes with a wide variety of types of furniture, fabrics, carpets and decorative objects, as well as flowers, plants, scented candles and so on.
Their accommodation is no longer simply a place to live, but also a place to work, rest and enjoy themselves in, and somewhere where they feel at home, comfortable and safe.
For a long time, the French spent more on food than on anything else. But that place has now been usurped by accommodation, and the French now spend only 18% of their household budget on food (as against 21% in 1980 and 30% in 1960). Their dietary habits and behaviour have also changed.
What the French Eat
Not only do they now spend less money on food, the French now have a lighter diet (1,900 calories a day, compared with 2,500 just after the war). They spend less time per day having meals (an hour and twenty minutes, of which 33 minutes are for lunch and 38 minutes for dinner, compared with two hours in 1965). This decrease is due to shorter lunch-breaks and more women working.
Similarly, the preparation time for meals is now only 10 minutes, compared with 30 minutes twenty years ago. On the other hand, breakfast is now a longer meal: around 20 minutes today, 10 in 1980 and 5 in 1965.
62% of the French have a traditional breakfast of bread and butter dipped in coffee and 14%, of most the majority are young people, eat a heartier breakfast of cereal, dairy products, fruit and other foods.
Not only the time taken for meals, but also eating habits in the sense of mealtimes and the courses eaten have changed. But it is the composition of meals that has changed the most. For example, the French now eat far less bread (100g per person per day, half as much as in 1965) and 15% of them eat no bread at all. They eat only a third as many potatoes and much less sugar, butter and cheap wine.
In contrast, the consumption of other products has gone up: 95% of the French buy yoghurt (as against 75% in 1980 and 45% in 1965). The consumption of frozen products rose from 2 kg in 1965 to 37 kg in 1995). Pork-butchers’ products, cheese, mineral water and fizzy drinks have seen similar rises. Bread is still the foodstuff most widely eaten, ahead of potatoes, eggs and cooked ham; and steak has dropped from fourth to eighth position.
These changes in French eating habits can be observed in all social groups, even if some differences remain.
Certain international products (likes hamburgers, pizzas and fizzy drinks) are also very popular with the French, and especially with the young; and low-fat, sugar-free and slimming products have also been well received.
Incidents like the epidemic of "mad cow disease" have made the French more aware of the risks arising from lack of controls on food production (about 30% of French people say their beef consumption has gone down). More and more people are aiming at a healthier, more natural diet and buying more fresh food and organic products. There are more and more grain-fed chickens and local wines in the shops, as well as convenience foods cooked to the specifications of well-known chefs.
Taken in conjunction, these developments in French eating habits suggest that the French are more and more interested in the quality of what they eat, and that taste and gourmet ingredients, especially exotic products (from Asian, Italian and Mexican cuisines, amongst others), are becoming more and more important.
Where People Eat
The French are eating outside the home more and more often (the average figure is now 55 meals per year), but this does not mean they are going to restaurants (this figure is falling and currently represents 30% of meals eaten). Following a period of growth since the early 1960s, the restaurant sector has been in decline for the past three years. In 1997, the number of people eating in all types of restaurant (from fast-food outlets to three-star establishments) fell by approximately 10%.
55% of meals eaten outside the home are consumed in workplace or other canteens and 35% in restaurants. The French spend an average 2,850 francs per year (1,000 francs on canteen meals and 1,850 francs on restaurant meals) on these meals outside the home.
An alternative type of meal provider is on the increase: bakeries, delicatessens and garage forecourts and other retailers. In and around Paris and other big cities, 65% of workers buy meals from these outlets.
Patterns of restaurant patronage have changed considerably. People now eat in different types of restaurant according to the context (as it might be, weekday lunch, family outing or socialising with friends). Restaurants often provide a particular style of cooking (fish, good plain cooking, health-food and so on) or ethnic cuisine (Japanese, East European, Tex-Mex and so forth.
"Nouvelle cuisine" has gone out of fashion and restaurants, like society as a whole, are now extremely diverse: fast-food outlets and high-class restaurants like "La Tour d’Argent" now exist side-by-side in the gastronomic landscape of France.
75% of French meals are eaten at home, 18% in a canteen or restaurant, 5.1% are eaten in the office and 2.3% are eaten outside (e.g. sandwiches eaten in a café).
Whilst housework has not really changed significantly, particularly for women, paid work has undergone profound changes, in which twenty years or so of high unemployment figures in France have been a major factor.
The French as a whole spend around 15% of their time on work, counting both paid work and work on the home. In almost all working couples, both partners work and about 80% of women with two children have jobs.
Whilst work allows people to be and feel part of society, nowadays the lack of it often turns people into outcasts. The possibility of "the end of work" has been brought up by some commentators: it seems unlikely, but the shorter working week (35 hours instead of 39) currently being implemented by the government and the idea of job-sharing will surely encourage the French to look at work in a different way from now on.
The French spend more and more of their time and money on leisure activities - not only on holidays and travel, but also on sports and games.
Holidays and Travel
60% of the French go away on holiday at least once a year. The largest increase is amongst farmers; and people over the age of 60 are the group which go away on holiday the least.
Not only are more and more of the French going away on holiday, but they are doing so more and more often.
With five weeks’ paid leave a year, people tend to take holiday in two or three blocks. Summer is still the favourite time for holidays (a third of holidays are taken between 1st July and 15th August), winter is becoming more and more popular. during the last twenty years, the number of people going away for a holiday in winter has risen from over 4% to over 10%. Winter sports are largely the preserve of city-dwellers, senior executives and members of the liberal professions (who account for nearly 19% of winter sports enthusiasts), although other social classes with a more modest income (general employees and manual workers) also go on winter breaks (about a third of them have stayed "in the mountains" at least once in the last five years). The largest group of winter sports enthusiasts are the 25-34 age-bracket and people from Paris and the surrounding area.
50% of the French say they take part in a sport either regularly or from time to time.
It is in the 25-49 age-group that the most people take part in a sport (62% of men and 53% of women), but more and more people aged 45-50 either continue or take up a sporting activity. Women are increasingly keen on sport, as are pensioners. Both groups’ preferred sports are often walking, gymnastics and swimming.
More leisure time and more stadiums, swimming-pools and gyms have encouraged the growth of sport in France, both in schools and in private clubs.
In general terms, sport is now seen more as a leisure activity than from a competitive viewpoint. It is part of the general desire for better health and quality of life. It is open-air activities like hiking, rock-climbing and sailing that have been the largest growth area in recent years.
The French hold the world record for pet ownership. 51% of the French have at least one pet at home. 28% have dogs, 25% cats, 9% fish , 6% birds and 4% rodents.
France has 58.5 million human inhabitants and 42 million pet animals. To these should be added an indeterminate number of tortoises, monkeys, snakes and other creatures.
Your Host Family will expect you to let them know when you are going out and will expect you to return at the designated time. Be sure to telephone to let them know if you are going to be late. Of course, you have the right to go out in your free time and come home when you choose, provided this does not interfere with your ability to care for the children the next day.
While in France you will have many opportunities to discover more about the country through daily contact with local French people, by exploring all that your area has to offer, and by taking some time to travel to other parts of France. You will have to deal with such matters as banking, shopping, postal and telephone services, automobiles and traffic laws, tipping customs, and so on.