A friend of mine here at UTBM set up a photo exposition of various international students. When he came to take my photo, he asked me what France is to me. In all honesty, I picked something that I had noticed and recently discussed with another friend. It was a small observation, but here is the result:
“Vous devez toujour appuyer sur le bouton pour faire n’importe quoi”
When my friend Ana and I went to the photo exposition, we stood a while and chatted with people, nibbling on tasty desserts and considering all of the portraits. At some point, Adrien, who had taken my photo, introduced me to the host of the space and I found myself explaining the phrase I had chosen.
It is, simply, an observation. It is something that I have to do every day and that I had to discover quickly to be able to function in France. There is a button to open the doors, a button to turn on the lights, a button for, well, just about anything.
I remember the first time I tried to open a door here. It took me a few moments to figure out how the door would open. There was no bar to push, there was no noticeable thing – until I saw the button that was on the door frame. It looked like a doorbell, but when I pushed it the door unlocked. From that moment, I took it upon myself to remember that there is nearly always a button to push if you’re not sure what to do next.
During the expo, I explained this to more than a couple people. Most of the reactions were ones of, “Oh, I never thought of that.” It is such a normal thing to them that they don’t even consider it. There are plenty of things like that in the United States: we flip a switch to turn on the lights, we push a bar to open public doors, and we don’t have to push a button to continue the hot water in a shower in hotels or apartments.