Remember, it’s France.

For 21 years, I thought “winding streets” was a mere figure of speech. Streets don’t wind. Curve, yes. Turn, yes. Wind? Never. But in Perpignan, the streets inside the old city walls do exactly that. Not only do they wind, they twist, they turn, they curl and coil into each other like the ancient Egyptian serpent eating its own tail.

Perpignan from above

Perpignan from above

And for three girls on a scavenger hunt, used to straight American roads, it became a bit of a problem. To put it simply, we got lost. Even with a map. And then got directions. And then got lost again. Heat and frustration didn’t make the experience any better. We had so many circles drawn on our map we barely knew which marking was which. I hated every second. “This is the worst part of being in a foreign country,” was all I could think during the entire two-and-a-half-hour ordeal.

Then over the next few days, with long dinners, long classes and many discussions with teammates and faculty, I realized that the winding roads are not only part of what makes France distinctive, but are resonant of the culture itself. It seems nearly impossible to hurry on those roads (though certainly some of the cars try). In a land where strikes are normal, where lunch breaks take two hours, where the workday is seven hours long, where dinner is a social affair that can take four hours and many bottles of wine, hurrying isn’t done.

And compared to America, where we eat lunch at our desks, dinner while we drive, constantly connected via smart-phones and laptops, it’s both a shock and a pleasant surprise. I’m not adjusted to it all yet. It bothers me that I can’t go to a bank during lunch hour or a market on Sunday. But nonetheless, as a classmate told me when I asked if we should tell our teachers we were running behind schedule, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Remember: It’s France.”