Friday, August 05, 2011

France - Language Is Not The Only Key To Integration

Wendy Mewes looks at finding out about France

Many people simply find learning French or other foreign languages too difficult. While they are keen to pick up a few words of greeting and purchasing, there is no reasonable expectation of going beyond that. This could be through age, lack of language experience or just a poor head for foreign sounds. But language is not the only form of integration.

Most expats know their own areas well enough at a certain level. They visit the sights on arrival and repeat the best regularly with visitors. For holidays they may visit other parts of the same country they’re living in, often to experience a different landscape or environment: from country to coast, or vice versa.

But the key to living easily in your own chosen resting place is to understand that place as well as you can. And I don’t mean knowing the best/cheapest restaurants or even picking up and endlessly regurgitating the local legend. Legends spring from history, landscape and human endeavour. The stories may be larger than life but at another level, it is real life they reflect.

As anyone who has read the excellent Discovery of France by Graham Robb knows, France as a united country has a short history and every region is still anchored in its own individual roots. Getting to grips with the unique character of your area will give you a much greater sense of belonging and an appreciation of what matters to the people who live there and why.

Take most basic level: geology determines the landscape, and the landscape determines what can be grown, eaten, exported, built and defended in any area. Find out about local stone/soil and get hold of examples or know where to go to see them. By such a simple step you can get to grips with the essence of a region. Brittany, for example, is said to be a ‘land of granite’, but if you look at a geological map, you easily see the degree of exaggeration involved in that stereotype...

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