From sunlight to sun down as 24 hours pass in a small city called Aix-en-Provence you can watch a town transform. This city known as Aix is located in the south of France. A large group of the population here is young students. There are many universities you can find throughout town for Business, Liberal Arts, and Engineering. Farther from the city center you can find families with children filling the homes. Scattered in between are the older adults and elderly who pass on the traditions and customs of Aix, so they are not forgotten. This variety of people, known as Aixois, makes Aix an unforgettable town. It is a place with a strong rooted culture with many unique and charming characteristics. If you’re careful not to blink you can see a handful of these displayed through the inhabitants actions, language and relaxed way of life.
As the sun rises in Aix producers scurry to set up their market stands, parents walk little ones to school, and I make my way to class. The people surrounding me in the morning are all there for a purpose. Whether it is opening up their boulangerie or heading to work I get the impression they would not be there if they did not have too. The chatter exchanged is minimal and looks are few and far between. Unlike the United States, work here is more commonly selling their homegrown goods or baking in a boulangerie, than working in a large skyscraper. After experiencing this day-to-day I have determined the people of Aix are not early risers or at least not happy about being up early. Before 8:00 in the morning while this scenario is unfolding many places where I would like to pick up a croissant are not yet open. This is fine with me, as I am not an early riser myself, and getting to see the operations of this day begin is very intriguing. To an outsiders view the city of Aix begins its day being closed off and in some sense I first thought it was rude. But, this beautiful city moves outside of this closed off way of life as the sun gets above us, and the colors of Aix culture come more in sight.
When the time finally reaches a suitable waking hour a smile grows across the city. Stores and restaurants stand prepared for visitors and most students are at their universities. Besides the occasional bum murmuring French for money I walk around feeling peacefully pleasant and in a proper town. Often during this time I have finished one class and am headed to the market outside my apartment. On most days, the man whom runs the sandwich stand greets me politely. We have gotten to know each other from my frequent visits. His politeness makes me feel very welcomed by the French. This is quite opposite the feeling I get when I must travel before the city awakes. On most days the sun shines through out the streets, which also seems to lighten everyone’s mood.
The markets are a large part of the culture here. I see elderly ladies and working men picking up fresh products. The market is mostly full of fruits and vegetables but I never sense any competition between venders only hope for success for all. Unique to Provence I find herbs, cheese and lavender here. These are staples of the area that Provence is proud to have. Along with the food markets there are areas of fresh flowers for sale. The flower market is just as busy even though their product would not normally be seen as a necessity. Here in Aix the people value buying flowers just as much as their food. Flowers are their way of showing love, respect, and appreciation to others. Arriving as a guest at dinner without them is a cultural taboo.
As mid day passes new scenery lays out in the city of Aix-en-Provence. Food and flower markets are now packed away. Street cleaners come by to wash the remains of petals and breadcrumbs from the cobblestone roads. This is the time of day that naps are taken and drinks start to be consumed. Though it is only afternoon I notice the people lounging around at outdoor cafes. The people come from all ages, which portrays their unique work life. Here work is not seen as the typical 9 to 5 job. People have unique schedules that allow them to consume a glass of wine during a late lunch break or not have an afternoon job at all. This could be the result of working in a boulangerie, which requires only very early morning hours. This could also be due to the high unemployment rate in the area. No matter why they are out, the afternoon starts the true relaxation time for the people of Aix and it continues in to the evening.
Late afternoon and evening is the time of day mostly everyone is out of school or work. The French language becomes more relaxed as time is shared with friends and family. Walking down the street I hear the frequency of “tu” surpass that of “vous” around the table. I think it is safe to say gathering around food is one of their favorite pass times. Dinner is consumed later in the evening here, but assembling as soon as possible to share a cheese plate is common. Meals accompanied with wine and a cigarette can be seen in every restaurant window I pass. Smoking is more accepted than not. Inside restaurants I see many couples hand rolling cigarettes in a chic manner. This is an activity that comes across as having neither age limit nor a thought of the repercussions. I have become very consumed with watching the Aixois indulge in their daily tobacco. It is such a strong part of their culture that appears to bring many varieties of people together. I observe the passing of lighters and endless laughter flooding from the outdoor sections of restaurants centered on a smoke. This mood grows as night progress into an entire new attitude only those out late get to see.
As night falls the streets of Aix start to fill with a roar from the people of the streets. Young adults make their way to the relaxed bars and pubs that can be found on many streets here in Aix. Now is the time that drinking increases, but for many it stays at a casual level like the French do. Opposite of morning, now people are conversing with everyone often approaching those they do not know. If there happens to be a soccer game on being casual goes out the window. Mostly men of the bars will be chanting and befriending fellow supporters hoping their team will win. When the game ends or the bar closes the crowd not done drinking will travel to a discotheque. If you are lucky to be out on Thursday, or live close enough for it to wake you, you can observe the most unique part of Aix I have uncovered. Thursday symbolizes the last day in Aix for many students because they travel home for the weekend so they choose to celebrate. This ritual takes place in a town square. It is accompanied with singing, dancing, and sometimes fireworks. I have once been woken from my slumber to see a male crowd surfing in celebration. This is an event I never would have predicted come from the people of Aix given their morning demeanor.
The city of Aix is like its own person. It starts the day being very reserved just as people do when you first meet them. Then, as time passes it opens up and is not so stiff. This dramatic change has become my favorite cycle to watch. The city’s shift in conduct goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. Attitudes and actions unfold into being very friendly, which gives Aix its charm. I see this change literally in the switch in French language from formal to informal. If you were to stay in Aix for less than a day your judgment would be invalid. It takes a full twenty-four hours of observing to see Aix in all its colors. I have never been to a place with so many layers yet still all connected. The vast variety yet still one group makes Aix inviting to people from all places and ages. This way of life is what makes it possible for me, an American student from Georgia, able to find a sense of home her in Aix.