The french way of thinking, being and interacting

Programs for this blog post

Summer Intensive French Language

Authored By:

CIEE Rennes


I’m Tomi, a rising sophomore at the Claremont Colleges in Los Angeles, California. I’m originally from Seattle, Washington, like many of the other students at my school. We all ran from the rain. 

I then decided to run to Rennes, which is funny because the weather is actually quite similar to Seattle. Highly variable temperatures, drippy downpours, wind from the ocean… and the Breton mentality is not that far off from that of the Pacific Northwest. 

I want to talk about the “French mentality and French way of thinking.” Why? Well, for one, contemplating the inextricable differences between cultures is a passion of mine. I love language and history (why do you think I came to France?), and plan to be an international relations major. And two, because, for some reason, I thought that I needed to adopt a “French way of thinking” when I got here. 

Let me explain. 

When I arrived, I immediately noticed that I was acting differently from back home. I was quieter. I didn’t look at people in the same way on the subway. I found the urge to fix my posture and shop at Bershka (basically European Urban Outfitters. The girlies love it), all because I thought that “being more French” would help me absorb more of the language.

The thing is, there’s no solid definition of a French person, or what “being more French” is. My host family are from les outre-mer - the former French colonies, now territories, dotted across the Caribbean, pacific, arctic, and Indian oceans. Sort of like Hawaii and Alaska for the US. So is my family French? Of course, but they still have a full outre-mer (specifically Caribbean) culture of their own. It’s hard for me to distinguish between “French” and “Caribbean” ways of thinking, or between “Breton,” “Rennais,” and “French.” One can really only talk about averages, or stereotypes, both of which can be harmful. The things that I was trying to emulate weren’t really about learning French, and more about me feeling lonely. I wanted (and want) to be accepted into the French flock, considered capable of connection. My American-ness seemed to get in the way. 

The “French mentality” I was looking for was actually preventing me from simply enjoying my time here, and being myself. France is different from my hometown, but the things that I find surprising in people here are often more products of their own particularities than a larger nebulous culture. This realization allowed me to stop trying so hard to become something I wasn’t, because that thing didn’t exist in the first place. I learn more from being a fumbling American trying their best than being an extremely anxious American trying to hide the fact that they are American. I’m still going to question what makes the “French mentality,” but I’m going to do it by observing and listening rather than assimilation. For now, all I can say is that French people are just like people from back home, just with better food. I’ll let you know when I learn more. 

À bientôt,

Jinks, Tomi 

Scripps College

Summer Intensive French Language 2023