French students enjoy friendliness, openness of Arenac County, surrounding area
WHITNEY TOWNSHIP — Camille Le Guern, Emma Berthod and Julien Raflin have been hanging out at a cottage on the beach for the past two weeks and appear to be normal American teenagers, which may confuse people who see the three in awe of huge ice cream cones, fresh water beaches and working teens.
That’s because the three, though you can’t tell from looking, all permanently reside in Lyon, France. Le Guern, Berthod and Raflin traveled to the U.S. with Nora Trout and her sons, Stefan, 16, and Cristian Trout, 13, who are originally from the states, but now also reside in Lyon.
“Emma goes to the same school that my son goes to,” Nora said. “I just put an announcement on one of the bulletin boards saying ‘American family hosting French kids.’”
For Berthod, 15, it was her second time traveling to America, but she says she is still surprised at how friendly the people she meets are, especially in Arenac County and nearby areas.
“The American people are very nice. When you enter in a shop, people say ‘Hi, how are you?’” she said. “The French people just say ‘Hi.’”
She also added that while visiting a fudge shop in Tawas, the owner took time to explain just what fudge was and exactly how it’s made.
“I think in general, Americans are more open, whereas in France, I’ve always thought strangers are a lot more cold,” Stefan, who was born in San Francisco, Calif., added.
Raflin confirmed that the experience of shopping in America, where the shop owners like to make small talk, is vastly different that in France.
“In France, we buy what we want and we leave,” he said.
But while shopping in America, the disposition of shop owners wasn’t the only thing taking the French students by surprise. They also had some sticker shock.
In a good way.
Raflin, Berthod and Le Guern say they were able to scoop up watches, plenty of clothes and a baseball in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., where the travelers stayed for a week before coming to Whitney Township to stay at Nora’s parents’ – Bob and Marge Palmieri – cottage on Lake Huron.
Being on the beach at the Palmieri cottage, and being able to take a swim everyday, was an exciting attraction, according to the Lyon natives.
It was definitely a change of pace for Le Guern, 14, who visited America last year, but stayed in Boston, Mass., as opposed to a rural township touching fresh water.
“I like here (more) because there is beach,” she said, adding memories of Boston were more along the lines of seeing plenty of tourists and tall buildings rising up from crowded streets, rather than hanging out lakeside.
“In French, it’s (beach) like a tourist spot,” Berthod said, adding beaches in South France are often crowded sites. “But here (Whitney Township), it’s just people who live here.”
Raflin was more taken aback, though, not by the sight of less people, but by the salt-free water.
“It’s a big lake,” he said. “In France, we have just sea, there’s no lake.”
Raflin, 14, the lone French citizen coming across the Atlantic for the first time, didn’t only note the massive lake as something larger than what he’s used to, though.
“The roads are big, and the cars, the houses [are big],” he said. “There is many places for parking.
“There’s big ice cream (cones) in America.”
Besides the ice creams servings being bigger than he’s accustomed to, Raflin says the food, overall, was quite a change from his status quo.
He says he was introduced to bagels, lemonade, waffles and donuts, but there was one food that he tried that was clearly his favorite – Oreo cookies.
“He bought some Oreos to take home with him,” Nora said.
The time the strange food was enjoyed was also a change that the French teenagers had to adjust to.
“Here we eat at 6 o’clock (p.m.),” Berthod said. “In France, we eat between 8 and 9 o’clock (p.m.).”
She also says in France, it’s not uncommon to eat a large, hot lunch, rather than a sandwich or something on the go, which is more common in the U.S.
Differences in the U.S.A. and France aren’t only contained to food and shopping, though. The three teens from France, unlike many other kids their age in Michigan, aren’t concerned about finding a job or getting their drivers’ license in the next couple of years.
Nora says in France, seeing a 16-year-old working at a store or restaurant is rare at best. Plus, French students don’t get a driver’s license until 18.
“When I’m in Wal-Mart (in Tawas City), I see a girl, looks like me (same age) and she drives,” Raflin said.
In fact, even Cristian, Nora’s son born in Texas, who has made a few trips back and forth, was surprised at this.
“I didn’t even realize that you could drive at 16 until I came back this year,” he said.
With all the surprises and new, American attraction they witnessed, the French students say they are sure they will have memories of the trip for years to come.
“Just to say we went to America, it’s great,” Raflin said. “Because in France, everyone wants to go to America.”
Berthod says having a fuss made over her, Raflin and Le Guern is a memory in itself.
“We are here two weeks and here we are getting interviewed,” she said.
Out of the whole trip, there was only one complaint about American culture brought up by the visitors.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it dealt with television.
“There’s too much commercials,” Cristian said.