Since coming to Lyon, one of the biggest adjustments for me has been adapting to a slower pace of life. Wandering around my neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve often felt like I’m back in my small hometown in Alabama rather than the second largest city in France, as the dynamic of my otherwise lively neighborhood changes when all the shop and restaurant owners take their day of rest. When choosing classes, I’ve found myself missing the ease of the American model with expansive online options, as opposed to a smaller list of classes and a paper registration handed in to a physical office. However, when I remember my perpetually stressed, constantly-in-motion self back on campus, I come to appreciate the opportunity to slow down, and I certainly have my five weeks in Lyon to thank for that.
Back at Georgetown, I could often be seen running across campus, from classes to meetings to meals and then maybe more meetings. All are voluntary commitments of my time and genuinely bring me happiness, yet also inevitably end up as sources of stress that lead me to solitary confinement in a Lau cubicle until the wee hours of morning. As a chronic procrastinator, much of this stress is self-created, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t been stressed since coming to Lyon. Of course, running late to class and trying to adapt to a new city and language are inherently stressful experiences, but, I have found that my general attitude towards life and the need for productivity has vastly shifted since coming abroad. The culture of “productivity-to-the-point-of-exhaustion” seems to hardly exist in Lyon, and a beautiful balance between rest and work fills in the gap instead.
Since beginning classes, I have felt a desire to be my most productive Georgetown self slither into the back of my mind, and while I welcome it for waking my mind from a prolonged period of lazy summer hibernation, I am also trying to learn to balance it with leisure. Although I know my internal drive to be productive and successful can be beneficial, I have also seen firsthand how eliminating leisure in the name of productivity can ultimately become a source of stress and pressure. Allowing myself time to just stroll through my neighborhood or enjoy a coffee with friends has felt strange at times and occasionally inspired feelings of guilt for not using my spare time to get ahead. However, immersion in French culture where the idea of leisure is fundamental to daily life has taught me to accept taking a moment to slow down and even realize how “un petit pause” in an otherwise busy day is, in and of itself, a productive use of my time.
At any time of day, I almost always see people – be they friends, couples, or individuals – hanging out by one of the two rivers in Lyon, simply enjoying the beauty of the space. Upon strolling through almost any neighborhood throughout the city, it is not unusual to see cafés filled with people enjoying a coffee at 2pm on a Tuesday. At mealtimes, individuals are not afraid to sacrifice time to properly savor food and eating becomes a social activity shared in good company rather than another checkbox on a to-do list. In my school, there are very few classes offered during the 12-2pm time slot to allow everyone a well-deserved two hour lunch break! While of course this attitude of slowing down has its downsides (I’m looking at you, random store hours and tiresome bureaucracy), I have found that the net positive of the French pace of life is one of my favorite aspects of study abroad.
Just as I count it a personal success when a waiter doesn’t question my coffee-ordering in French, I also count my attempt to slow down and enjoy daily life as the French do as a personal success since arriving in Lyon. In French, there is a phrase “Profitez-en,” which loosely translates to “take advantage (of it)”! As part of my ongoing attempt to adapt, I have adopted this phrase, as well as a similar attitude to “profiter” from each day in Lyon. I can certainly say that the French are definitely on to something…with this and with their pastries.