Hydrate or Diedrate: Do the French Even Drink Water?

Authored by:
CIEE Rennes

Since high school, I have carried a 32 ounce Nalgene water bottle around with me wherever I go. I never found this particularly weird or unique or ~edgy~, it was just a thing I did (like many other students in my high school and almost everyone in my college) to stay hydrated throughout the day. So, when I was packing for my semester in France, I made sure to bring one with me, and even spent some time choosing which of my sticker-plastered bottles I wanted to bring. But then I landed in France and began to notice that my big, green, glow in the dark water bottle put me in the minority. I thought maybe it was a quirk of Paris and the big city, and ignored the pointed glances I received when I pulled out my bottle to take a few sips during our long days of sightseeing. I assumed things would be different in Rennes, a smaller city and a college town.

But here I am, in my eighth week of the program, still receiving stares and silent judgement from the French when I carry around my water bottle. Because of this silent barrage of French judgement, I have begun to wonder how the locals manage to stay hydrated. This phenomenon dumbfounded me so much that I decided to take it to the source and ask some real live French people if or when they drank water, or if they were simply all collectively living in a state of dehydration. Of course, when confronted with this (albeit sassy and pointed) question, the French become confused. Bien sûr, on boit de l’eau ?!, they tell me, slightly annoyed. Yes, this question seems stupid to them, we all drink water, we all need water to live, the French are not robots. And yet, I watch my host family drink maybe half a glass of water at dinner but more likely Coke Zero, and usually none of the above for breakfast.

This matter is not helped by the treatment of liquids in classrooms. Food and drinks are not allowed in the classrooms, which further deters students from bringing water bottles and staying hydrated. I have noticed, however, that the students at CIREFE (Centre international rennais d’études du français pour les étrangers) carry around more water bottles than the Rennes 2 students. But of these, many are plastic disposable water bottles they have bought from the cafeteria vending machine. Perhaps the French students are chugging water from the plastic bottles while I’m not looking. 

It seems more likely that the French drink small amounts throughout the day, and are fine not downing 64 ounces of water each day. Although this is not the exciting conclusion I had dreamed of (think: French hydration conspiracy), to my American eyes, it is an interesting quirk of French culture that no one thought to mention before I came. These are the little things about living abroad that you can’t really prepare for, that you can only learn along the way. 

Sophie Spiliotopoulos

Clark University

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