Crossing Cultures = Stopping Clocks?

Could it be that, in the comparisons between European countries and American states, only one of these cultures has the right answer regarding the most favorable way of life? These two sides of the world are so different that it seems that we both can't be right.

Perhaps Americans are not enjoying all that our environment has to offer. On the other hand, Perpignan may have its priorities backwards when it comes to making a living.

The Americanized version of leisure does involve relaxation and communication in a social environment. But the level of leisure seems to be the absolute main priority here in Perpignan, while money reigns supreme in American culture. In Perpignan, businesses close for hours during the lunch area of the day for the simple reason that, quite frankly, it's break time. The need to have a break during the day yields more importance than the idea of a business gathering any additional income during those lunch hours.

By the same token, waiters in restaurants do not immediately rush to get you to pay your bill in an effort to seat the next party at your table as quickly as possible. They don't mind waiting to gather a payment until long after the meal is finished (and by "after the meal," I mean hours after). The bill for dinner is not rushed to the table as the third bite of an entrée is taken.

Servers would rather know their customers are enjoying their time after a meal conversing and socializing than hurry to make their next buck or two. Speaking of making the next buck or two, tipping is unnecessary here. The idea that waiters can make a minimum wage proves much sense in the idea of diners lingering at the table. Perhaps American waiters work on tips in an effort to make the restaurant more money on turnover by rushing to the next set of tables. The "quality versus quantity" debate never ceases to arise in cross-cultural situations.

Multitasking seems prohibited here. Coffee is not offered as a "walk –and-talk" accessory for the morning sidewalk commute. Food untouched during an after-work bite is not taken home as leftovers.

Maybe since Perpignan is technically living in the future, they have the time to slow down. With America being six to nine hours behind Perpignan, perhaps the American way of hustle and bustle is just to play a good game of catch-up.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.