One of the big differences here so far is that between 12 - 1:30 nearly every single store in town shuts down, including banks, and everyone goes home for lunch. Parents even pick up their children from school to bring them home for a delicious meal. I've learned not to try to go anywhere right around 12 because the streets are packed with people leaving to go home and have lunch with their families. It's quite nice I think, even if it's kind of a pain to have this block of time during the day where I can't get anything done. I think it creates a nice atmosphere and feeling that money isn't everything and that family and mental health are more important. Compare this with school in America, where you're lucky to have a half an hour to scarf down a peanut butte and jelly sandwich along with some chips and cookies, or in the workplace where people eat Lean Cuisines at their desk.
Today I went to two elementary schools to make my timetable, and it looks like with the bus schedule I will be in one of these two tiny towns for lunch eating in the teacher's room rather than coming back to Soissons. Everyone was very distressed by this! They thought it was horrible that I would have to eat a sandwich by myself in the teacher's break room. So I said no, it didn't bother me at all, that's a typical lunch for Americans. They laughed, and the topic changed for a while. Then they brought it up again! And again I reassured them that it was fine, and I guess they're used to the idea now and probably scratching their heads about the strange eating habits of Americans. Do they think that otherwise I would sit down for a three course meal? My typical lunch is a sandwich! I love that they are so concerned about this very old, and potentially dying, tradition of long, leisurely lunches with the family. It makes me feel like I'm experiencing the real France, which is exactly what I came here for.