Ah, the country of cheese, wine and romance. It’s hard not to fall in love with France. As you’ll find out soon, France is a beautiful country which is perfect for a relaxing holiday. Raphaël Chalicarne is studying a Master of Engineering at Ecole Centrale de Lyon. He is from Lille but studies in Lyon. He has shared some of his favourite parts of France and all that this country offers!
Disclaimer: These are personal opinions and perspectives of the interviewees and are not a perfect representation of the whole country/experience.
Edited by Megan Chen
Most people only think of the Eiffel Tower and Paris when France is mentioned. Yet, as shown in the map below, there are a great number of places to visit that are just as worthy! Take a trip to the neighbouring countries if you’ve got the time. It’s a great European destination.
Please introduce France to our readers.
My country is sometimes called ‘The Hexagon’, or the ‘Country of the Human Rights’. I think the most important point would be the diversity of our cuisine (the French typical meal is protected by UNESCO since 2010), with our bread, cheeses and wines. We are a relatively small country but with various landscapes and different regional cultures.
Describe the culture of your country.
Meals are a big part of our culture. Most of the time, we take one or two hours at lunch break to eat a hot meal with different courses, just as in the evening for dinner.
Football is by far the most popular sport and everyone stands for their local team. There can be a lot of rivalry between some cities, for example between Paris (PSG) and Marseille (OM) teams. One should not forget that we won the world cup in 2018, which was widely celebrated everywhere in France. Apart from that, I would tend to think that Australians would spend much more time outside than French people, especially to exercise. In France, we mostly spend our time outside for the “apéritif”, which means sharing a drink and maybe some aperitif cookies, usually between the end of the workday and dinner.
I tend to think that we are a relatively progressive country. Our dominant culture is Christian, and there is a notable community of Moroccan / Algerian origin. France is a laïc country though, so it doesn’t play any role in the everyday life. Homosexual marriage has been allowed since 2013 and I tend to think that homosexuality is not an issue for most French people.
I think that French people dress similarly to Australian, and what many people imagine of the Parisian style is an exception. Furthermore, greetings often involve physical contact, like “la bise” (when you meet colleagues, or friends), or handshakes with people you are less familiar with. However, this tradition might disappear because of the pandemic.
I hope that the only cultural shock that one would have is how good our food taste! And unfortunately, how busy and dirty Paris can be.
What are some famous places or experiences to visit?
In April, the weather starts to be much nicer. I would recommend visiting the biggest cities, such as Paris or Normandy.
In the summer, hit up some of these places: South from the Basque Country (Biarritz, Hendaye, in the South-West), Occitanie (Toulouse, Carcassonne, in the South-West) to Provence (Arles, Nîmes, in the South) and the Côte d’Azur (Marseille, Toulon, Cannes, Nice, in the South-East).
If you can, visit the island of Corsica as they might have the most beautiful landscapes in the world!
In the first weekend of September, you can go to the North for the “Braderie de Lille”. Europe’s biggest clearance sale doesn’t stop during the night and attracts millions of visitors from Europe. It’s the perfect occasion to taste the beers, and the fried mussels, one of the specialties of the region.
In winter, a very popular attraction would be to ski in the Alps.
You can visit Alsace, the Eastern region at the border with Germany, and the Christmas markets of Strasbourg and Colmar. In the beginning of December, you can as well head to Lyon for the lights festival (“Fête des lumières”).
What are some must-try foods?
It’s hard to give examples because the food is really diverse across regions. However there are some meals that I think can be found only in France.
Escargots de Bourgogne (Bourgogne snails)
They are eaten with butter, parsley and garlic, which gives them most of their taste.
Raclette savoyarde (Savoyard raclette)
It’s a recipe which originates from Savoie, in the Alps. It’s basically melted cheese on hot potatoes and delicatessen. This meal is mostly eaten in winter and shared with friends.
Moules Frites (Fried mussels)
Finally, a meal that I love and is a specialty from the North and Belgium is fried mussels.
What are some local travel destinations that tourists might not typically go?
I think that many people know of the north of France but don’t travel there because the weather is not as good as in the south. There used to be coal mines and textile factories in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The favourite beverage there is beer and there are hundreds of local beers brewed there. If you go out and try to speak a little bit French, I’m sure that people will be really friendly and be open to talk to you.
What’s the best way to get around the place?
I would recommend to use the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, i.e. High-Speed Train) to move across France. The mean speed is 300 kms/h and you can cross the country in just five hours (north-south axis). Most cities are within 2 hours reach of Paris.
What is the weather usually like and how do you suggest dressing for it?
That definitely depends on the seasons and the part of the country you’re in. In Paris, the mean temperature in winter is between 3°C and 7°C and it’s quite rainy, while in July it will be between 15°C and 25°C, and it can easily reach 30°C or sometimes 40°C.
In Marseille (in the south) the temperature in January will be between 3°C and 13°C, and between 20°C and 30°C in the summer. However, there are more sunny hours in the south than in the northern part of the country.
What are the most well-known universities in your country and what are they usually known for?
The best engineering schools in France are Polytechnique (l’X), which is a military school, CentraleSupélec and l’école des Mines.
SciencesPo (IEP Paris) is known for human sciences, and international relations.
HEC is the best Commerce school and is also in Paris.
UNSW Exchange Partner Universities: University of Pantheon – Assas – Paris II, University of Jean Moulin – Lyon III, University of Denis Diderot – Paris VII, Sciences Po Aix, Sciences Po, Paris Sorbonne University – Paris IV, Institut National des Sciences Appliquees de Lyon (INSA), ESSEC Business School Paris, Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Arts Decoratifs, Aix Marseille University
What is the study-style and teaching-style like at your university?
Since I study in an engineering school, the teaching style might be different to the one in universities. We mostly have lecture courses with groups of 100. Then we have tutorials with a group of 25 where we have one half lessons and the other half exercises to solve. Finally, we have a lot of practical works with groups of 4 to 8 where we do experiences and usually have reports to write afterward.
The year is divided into two terms of 5 months each (September – January and February – June), and we have final exams at the end of January and June, or earlier depending on the year you are in. We also have internships to do at the end of each year, in order to be initiated to the job of an engineer.
What is your favourite part about France?
It’s hard to focus on one point but I would say that the rural areas are really the soul of France. They look different depending on the region you’re in but they usually have the same characteristics, such as a middle-age church, a post office, and a small town hall. You might as well find the best food in small and old restaurants there. Be open to try the local specialties!
Surely, you’re eager to find out more about the surrounding regions! If you’re looking for other universities in Europe, take a look out our range of interviews with exchange returnees.