Caitlin Nally is a 6th-semester journalism major who is spending the semester in Paris. She’ll be writing a regular column observing life in the city and commenting on French culture from the perspective of an American college student.

Almost as soon as I arrived in Paris I noticed some obvious cultural differences between Parisians and Americans.

The cultural differences between Europeans and Americans are blatant, and living here has made me question some of our own laws and traditions.

As a college student I’m obviously conscious of the societal norms concerning alcohol, and in France they are very different than those in the U.S. For example, Parisians drink wherever they want: on the metro, in the street, at parks, etc. and there are very few, if any, restrictions when it comes to buying alcohol.

This concept has made me realize that American laws against public intoxication and alcohol consumption are just silly.

Another thing that took a while to adjust to was how school is conducted. First of all, the grading system is completely different because any score you receive is out of 20 points.

So if you make 22 mistakes, which would probably be an 88 in America, you receive a zero. However, no one receives 20s because the tests are engineered to be too difficult. A 14 is a very good grade and 10 is average. I get excited if I receive a 12.

But, these tests aren’t usually weighted very heavily. Instead, there is generally one huge test at the end of a course that makes up about 70 percent of a student’s final grade.

So even if students receive only a few points here and there from the mini-tests throughout the semester, they can still come out with a decent grade in the end.

This system seems to make students and teachers alike a lot less stressed. I tutor in English for French students, and one student said that you only really go to class if you need to be taught the material – otherwise you teach it to yourself and take a test on it.

It sounds simpler than our system, which requires students to write papers, do group projects, have weekly quizzes, a midterm and a final.

April 10, 2008