I’ve applied to go on the trip to Paris & Marseilles this January through MIT. I’m very excited and I hope I get to go. The app was due today, so I thought I’d share my essay.
The prompt: (500 words) What one aspect of French life and French culture is most intriguing to you? (Write in English.)
Here it is:
I can hardly imagine what having a history that is thousands of years long must be like. But while trying to imagine it, I can be utterly amazed by how the French, who do have such a rich history, are affected by it. I’m fascinated by the history of France, but also by the visible influence that history has on the modern culture of France.
From what I know of French culture, they are far more aware of (the very cliché) “what’s really important.” Lunch is two hours long, work is not the be-all, end-all, and time for relaxation and enjoying life is extremely important. Somehow, through hundreds of years, this mindset has permeated the culture and become the norm. I want to experience this way of life, because here in the United States it is rare to find such simple enjoyment in meals and walks around the corner.
The Revolution, of course, is one of the most lasting and prevalent examples of how history is an important part of French culture. Marianne, Lady Liberty, graces every city hall, and even in the 21st century personal liberties and the “fraternité” of the French is an important topic in politics. The United States was made possible by a Revolution, as well, and we have our ways of showing our patriotism; but to have a thousand-year-old history before a Revolution is another matter entirely. For example, the materialistic court of Louis XIV and the plight of Jean d’Arc also show their influence in modern French culture. Isn’t Paris the fashion capital of the world? And Jean d’Arc is seen as a national heroine and is one of the five patron saints of France.
In Professor Turk’s Introduction to French Culture, we have discussed the painters David, Delacroix, and Ingres and their influence on their contemporaries. Yet their effect is also on modern culture. Unlike students in the United States, students in France are very aware of such famous people in their history and revere them. The other day I asked one of my friends what she thought of Ulysses S. Grant’s Reconstruction of the South, and she responded, “He was a President, right?” It saddens me my peers do not know even some of the most basic history of their own country; I would be afraid to ask if they know of any celebrated American artists. While I hardly expect everyone in France to be a history aficionado, I do think they at least know – and are proud of – their basic history.
This influence of history is not only relevant to the people of France, but to the places, as well. There are buildings in France that were built before Plymouth was settled by the Pilgrims. There are works of art older than the idea of a spherical earth. I want to stand in one of these buildings, see one of these works of art, and marvel. It may sound odd, but I want to feel my own insignificance compared to the grandeur that is French history. I am, in a way, envious of them, who have such a long history. There are so many stories, so many changes, so many incredible figures to learn about and admire. I intend to learn about as many as I can, and give them their due reverence. But how much more amazing would it be if I could do so while walking along the Seine?