Less Is More Dans Une Petite Ville

The North American lifestyle is notorious for its size; everything from our food portion sizes, to shopping malls, to populations and density is big. We live our lives in excess.

The people of Perpignan, France, do not.

My eyes have been opened to a number of differences since our arrival more than a week ago, but nothing has registered as much as the realization that the lifestyle I've left behind in Canada has been grossly blown out of proportion. My life is great in Canada, of course, but I keep catching myself, wondering why the simplicity of Perpignan is so beyond my grasp.

We eat more than we need to, stress ourselves out more than is healthy, and generally rush about our lives looking out for number one, forgetting about the small (and important) stuff.

Here, it's the polar opposite. The coffee I drank the other day at the market in Place de la République is a third of the size of my chosen double-double at Tim Hortons. Stores close at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. during the week, and Sundays are a true day of rest with very few stores open (including one pharmacy, on a rotating schedule).

At first, the relaxed lifestyle of the French came as an annoyance to our excited, fast-paced, North American group. A week later, I'm starting to take pleasure in discovering just what the people of Perpignan have figured out.

Last night I took a walk with two girls in the program. It was after 8, the stores were closed, and we had nothing to do. We ventured to a side of town I hadn't come across yet. There we found people strolling through a beautiful park, people sitting on benches enjoying the Perpignan Fountain (which apparently has an amazing light show), and others walking their dogs.

I can't remember the last time I took 20 minutes out of my day in Toronto to take a quiet walk and just enjoy my surroundings.

Here, everything appears simple. People sit for a long time at meals, enjoying each other's company. They walk leisurely no matter where they're going and genuinely just enjoy life. It's a concept that shouldn't be so hard to understand, but seems to get lost in the over-stimulated lives we lead back home.

Florence Delseny Sobra, director of the Académie de Langues France Méditerranée, the language academy where we are studying, said that she wants "to live here and die here." I think living here for a month will make me realize more and more, day by day, that maybe living a good, enjoyable life doesn't just appear simple; it actually is.

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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.