Recently, I ran into some other Americans while in France. It isn’t something I’d say is uncommon, but nonetheless I was ecstatic to engage in some North American small talk, something that is hard to find amongst the French. After some brief introductions, I was asked the standard question, “Why are you in France?” The answer is simple, to study French. However, this time, unlike when I’ve been asked this before, the question had a quick follow up, “Alone? Aren’t you afraid?”
It’s an understandable question, I present female and I’m a foreigner who does not speak the language fluently. I’m not used to the culture of France or even Europe in general, and perhaps worst of all, I’m a frequent violator of the sacred rule of “the buddy system.” Just one of these factors typically puts someone at a disadvantage, all of them together paint a clear picture: I’m vulnerable. But knowing all of this, taking all these factors into account, am I afraid?
No, and that has more to do with preparedness than bravery, or, arguably, curiosity, stupidity and stubbornness. So, what has allowed me to be prepared for this adventure? Three rules: be aware, be ready and, if needed, be rude.
Be aware of your surroundings. This goes beyond looking both ways when you cross the street and not keeping your eyes locked on your phone. This means knowing where you are, the language that is spoken, what the cultural standards are and what is therefore out of the ordinary and where the nearest United States Consulate or Embassy is, even if it’s cities away.
Be ready for emergencies. Know how to call emergency services, key phrases to indicate what the emergency is and if you need help, have pepper spray, or if pepper spray is illegal wherever you are, hair spray works too. Know the way home, know where to go in case of natural disasters and know how public transport works and where the nearest bus stop is.
And finally, if necessary, be rude. Sure, maybe it’s coincidence that person has followed you from across the street for two blocks and then come up behind you, and sure, maybe they look offended when you point hair spray at them and tell them you’ll call the cops, but it’s better to offend them and live to tomorrow than to die polite.
Best wishes on all your adventures and bon voyage,
(If you have any questions you want to ask about study abroad or articles you want to see, or are just curious about what I’m up to, message me on Instagram @laurenkaytravels, I’d be more than happy to hear from my Salem Sibs!)