Study Abroad Journal

Vanessa Weller

It is not easy being green in France. This statement is likely coming from double culture shock, but still, France is not nearly as eco-conscious as Germany is.
I am not expecting the same amount of attention to be given to the environment in both countries. For one, the cultures can’t help but value, and therefore go about doing, things differently.
Germany is the third greenest country in Europe — beat out by Sweden and Austria — and Germans pride themselves on their recycling abilities and fuel-efficient cars.
Although France has got emissions down, the country has lagged behind on the recycling end of things. Sure, the big bins for glass, plastic, and paper exist, but it is a trek to try and find them; last week, I carried around a dossier I wanted to recycle, waiting to find a paper bin.
And the French have not quite heard of composting. I find this odd, because there seems to be so much more to compost here.
For example, because the French are the originators of “gourmet,” regulations abound when it comes to food. Fruit is to be peeled with a knife and eaten with a fork; that is, no eating apples whole at the table. You eat until you are full, no more. If there are leftovers from the meal not substantial enough for a second meal, they are thrown out.
These French customs seem incredibly wasteful to me. In Germany, I could eat fruit whole without being rude, and the extra half cup of pasta sauce from dinner would always be used as a base for soup or another sauce the next night. And if not that, it was definitely composted. At home, my mother does the same with dinner leftovers.
My French family has made reference to the German taste buds being more “rustic” than the French. That is to say, they eat their foods whole — without pureeing every vegetable — and Germans on the whole do not worry about food presentation.
Americans, of course, seem to eat atrociously next to the French. Need I say more than “Big Mac”?
It is also easier to be vegetarian in Germany than in France. Almost. I assume this is because there is less of a premium put on the experience of eating. Of course, Germans love their bratwurst and schnitzel, and as a vegetarian the most complicated dish I’m served is some sort of combination of cheese or egg, but the idea of vegetarianism isn’t completely foreign.
Vegetarianism is on the fringe in Europe, and in France, you might as well belong to the Church of Satan as be a vegan, but I am convinced that because they sell soymilk in the store, there is some sort of vegan colony or support group in existence.
I suppose the same could be said of the United States. Aside from the Lawrence campus, I feel the number of vegans in Appleton could be counted on one hand. Nevertheless, it seems like more of a struggle here in France.
Perhaps this is because I do not have the autonomy to make my own meals, or the use of the vegan option at Downer. That is not to say that I would trade home-cooked French meals for a Downer swipe, but sometimes I feel like a burden.
Perhaps it is the same with recycling: It is a burden. It is indeed a fair amount of work to separate all household waste into category based on its material. It is something you have to think about, and you have to want to do enough to take the time.
I’ve heard Germans say they do not mind recycling, not really because they care about the environment, but because it saves them money. Such a statement is probably said tongue in cheek. And yet it makes me wonder, what is more important to the French: time or money?