One of the aspects of French culture that I keep going back to as I think about similarities and differences between here and the USA is my fascination with French people’s apparent love of English music. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited France one time before this ten-week stay, and one of the things I remember clearly is my confused happiness upon hearing songs that I knew (or at least knew what they lyrics meant) while on a long car ride to visit the local castle.
One thing that I’ve noticed here that is different from my experiences at Bush is that a lot of students will listen to music on portable speakers or just out of phones while hanging out during lunch or free-periods. I’m sure some students at Bush do this too, but it seems more common here. Maybe it’s because there’s more free places away from classrooms where people are working, or maybe it’s just a variation in the culture surrounding music here. Whatever the reason, it means I’ve gotten lots of chances to listen to what types of music people my age like to listen to.
While the music I’ve heard ranges from rock to 2010s pop music to folk songs it’s clear to me that a good deal of the music people here listen to has English lyrics. Of course I’ve still heard them listen to plenty of French songs (Stromae is a popular choice, along with other songs they all seem to know the lyrics to while I’m left trying to make out the words), but there’s no denying they listen to a ton of English songs.
When thinking about how I’m adjusting to life here in France and how all this English music is affecting me, I find it difficult to decide if the positives outweigh the negatives. On the one hand, it’s comforting to find a little piece of home here across the sea. When an English song comes on the radio there’s an immediate relief of knowing what the people are saying without a struggle. At the same time, it can lead to a little stab of homesickness when a certain song reminds me of people who I’m missing while over here.
I also find it intriguing how much French people actually understand what they’re singing along to. Usually when a song they like comes on, they will sing along to the chorus, or maybe the whole song if it’s slower/ they know it well enough/ they look up the lyrics on their phone. Still, even if they do a good job mimicking accents and pronouncing words, it doesn’t always mean they understand what they’re singing. I want to be clear this is not a criticism- I’m sure the same goes for me when I sing along to the few French songs I’m familiar with, I just find it interesting.
There have been times when I’ve asked someone if they understood the lyrics and they said yes, but other times they admitted to having no clue. I’ve tried my best to explain the meaning of the chorus in “Can’t Hold Us” to both some friends at school and to my host family and it was surprising when I realized they didn’t really understand the feeling behind the song. Though maybe I’m not giving them enough credit by saying that. One thing I’ve certainly learned while over here is that you don’t always have to understand exactly what someone’s words mean to understand what they’re trying to say.