I am currently spending 6 weeks of my summer in France with my family. I spent a few days in Paris - going to the French Open, walking everywhere, and dining out for lunch and dinner. After that, we went to Brittany for around a week, again living the tourist life. Right now I am currently in Damgan, which is still in Brittany, and there are so many palm trees here that it looks like California, although it has England's weather. What I have found remarkable at all these places is the French's, and maybe Europe's, ability to meld old traditions and culture with modern technology.
A prime example of this are their houses. It's not uncommon to see houses that were built before the United States even existed. There are many new homes, mostly because World War II’s dreadful toll on the French, but there is at least one old relic on each street. New or old, these houses have modern appliances and utilities. From the inside you would not be able to tell the difference between a house built in 1854 and one built in 1994 - they both would have fully functioning plumbing, heating, and cooking. It astounds me because there are houses that have seen the better part of three centuries, but instead of being backwards technologically, they are on the cutting edge, with kitchens that wouldn't look out of place on the set of Star Trek (per today's culinary trend).
Another example of the synthesis is the way many people start their day. They wake up, and promptly set out for the local boulangerie. These bakeries are usually family-run and the source of some of the French stereotype. On any given morning, you can see a man with a mustache, in a horizontally striped shirt, carrying a baguette. (Once in a while, you'll have the good fortune of spying a beret too!) It's so French you expect some accordion music to be his stroll's soundtrack.
But, the main point of the boulangerie is that it has existed since the town first was built, and while the technology around and inside it has changed, one thing stays the same - they still make same delicious bread and pastries that are enough to get you up in the morning. The baguette is, and has been, practically the only breakfast food for so many French people ever since before the French Revolution. It has seen its way through two world wars and countless strikes, and still it is the French's breakfast, lunch, and snack of choice.
I think that this blend of old and new transfers over into society as well. Instead of having inter-generational unrest (i.e. the 70's in the U.S.), the French embrace their traditions and pass them on to their offspring. Now, I'm not saying France is a land full of sunshine and daisies, where at every crosswalk you can find a teenager helping an old lady across the road - by no means does every old French person agree with their younger counterparts. But, with each coming year the traditions are passed down and carried on.
This old/new meshing affects me because I saw something that I could apply to my life. I'm a born and raised Alaskan and I’m always going to keep the little nuances of the Alaskan culture I know, stuff like: scoffing at the Lower 48's "mountains" (well, besides the Rockies), telling fish stories that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and practically melting in all weather warmer than 70°. Just as the French keep their baguettes and boulangeries, I'll keep my fish and thick-blood, no matter how far I get from home or how much things change over time.