Warning: generalizations about French education ahead

I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just put it out there: the French education system needs work. I attended my last class for the semester at the Sorbonne this morning and I am pretty happy about not seeing that building until January (other than next week's final). The Economist published a survey about France at the end of October, which identified some of the biggest problems facing France today. It was a solid piece, but nowhere did it mention the third-world country conditions of French universities. Example? Our class must change classrooms after one hour because the rooms are too overbooked. And the best part is that the second classroom isn't even a classroom- it's a meeting room, so there's no blackboard and ... wait for it... there AREN'T ENOUGH CHAIRS. So here in France, a rich, civilized country, its university students have to sit on the floor, crammed into a meeting room to learn.

This morning I sat next to a girl I'd never seen before. This doesn't mean much because classes at the Sorbonne are like being stuck in an elevator with complete strangers. No one looks at each other and everyone tries to avoid each others' eyes until the experience is over. The result is that the only people I truly recognize from the class are the other foreigners: the American students from Princeton (noticeable by the way they say the word "PRINCETON" in every sentence and pronounce it with a French accent. Please.), the Eastern Europeans, who are typically shy, but make an attempt to speak in class, and of course, the Italians, who are all dark-haired and charming when they speak French (always while waving their hands).

The Frenchies, on the other hand, continue to impress me with their detached way of learning. The girl to the right of me this morning spent the entire 2-hour class CAPPING and RECAPPING her highlighters. Know why? She was taking color-coded notes, which incidentally matched the color-coding system she'd used to annotate her book. At one point, she even took a ruler out of her pencil case and used it to underline a word because she needed that straight a line. Not kidding.

The insane thing here is that she isn't the only one doing it. Even the guys in class carry pencil cases with a wide supply of highlighters, pens, pen accessories, rulers, and erasers. French students' notes look like works of art. But here comes the rub: they may have the prettiest notes in class (and 90% less grammatical errors than the rest of us foreigners), but they don't dare volunteer their opinions. Our young, dynamic professor was trying to develop a discussion in class this morning and there were only three people talking: me, an Italian, and one French girl (who probably has foreign parents). The other 30 students would not open their mouths for this poor prof, who was trying her best to avoid lecturing as she usually does.

The moral of the story: cultural differences with regard to education run deep. Whereas my friends and I loved Rosenwasser's jumping on tables during our Irish lit classes at Muhlenberg, a French student would have an aneurism if their prof wasn't reciting 3-part outlines. They may dress in the latest fashions and carry special erasable-pens (WHY haven't these been exported to the U.S. yet?!?), but spontaneous conversation in classes is not their thing. I may be paying 1,000 times more than they do for my education, but at least I have a damn chair to sit in and a group of classmates who are more than willing to share the experience.


steven michael said...

Haha, very funny.


The good ol' US of A has indeed caught up with our European friends in the pens race, as you can find this little papermate treat in most stores:


I will warn you, however, that the technology of erasing ink has fallen a bit behind writing in it. If you haven't had the pleasurable experience of trying to erase with these pens, let me tell you that "erasing" doesn't get rid of the words, but diffuses the ink across the ENTIRE page like a smirf peed all over your paper.

ps - it's obviously finals time at muhlenberg...going a little crazy ;-)

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts, summarised in a lovely 3 part post (chairs, participation, pens) - something must be rubbing off on you over there!

Anonymous said...

a little late, but i chose the new year as a day to catch up on your blog because i LOVE it. .
and yes, i was going to say that we do indeed have eraseable pens, but they sucketh.

p.s. i saw that you visited good ole 2B last week, sorry i missed you!