Moving abroad & Culture shocks
As many of you reading this will already know, I currently live in Montpellier in the south of France where I work teaching English at a University. For all those of you looking to do an Erasmus term/year in France, I hope this post will give you the heads up about some cultural differences between us and them that you need to bear in mind.
Despite only being separated by a measly strip of sea, France is a very different culture to our own and understanding how it works will help you integrate better into French society but also not get offended by the way les Français behave.
We Brits are renowned for blurting out a ‘sorry' at any given opportunity to avoid conflict at all costs – even if the ‘thing' we're apologizing for wasn't actually our fault. It's just how we are – ULTRA polite. The French just aren't like this and ‘sorry' does not come all that easy to them, which can be both irritating and interpreted as rude. They don’t mean it to be so don't take it too personally, we just probably overuse it.
No post about differences between us and the French would be complete without mentioning the famous ‘bise’. 2? 3? 4? it can be a bit of a minefield and banging head's with a complete stranger is always, let's be honest, extremely awkward (almost as awkward as those who don't make the kissing * mwah * when they touch cheek with you… I HATE people that do that… why are we touching cheeks in silence…I am uncomfortable). This being said, I really like the bise, the fact that there is a ‘set greeting' makes it easier to know what 'to do' in social situations where in Britain it can vary from absolutely no physical contact, to a handshake, to a hug – La bise eliminates this confusion and doesn't make you look overly friendly or very standoffish when greeting someone regardless of your relationship to them.
The French don't seem to have what I would call ‘set meals'. Where England is home to the roast, fish, and chips, shepherd's pie, sausage and mash etc The French don't follow this as much, obviously there are 'les plats traditionnels' but I don't feel they're the same as ours. They tend to eat a bigger lunch (hence the seriously long 2-hour lunch break that I will just never get my head around) and a smaller evening meal. This is the polar opposite to what normally the case in the UK where most wolf down a sarnie in front of their laptops by way of lunch and have a slap-up tea when they get back from work. This being said, 'food' is much more a social event in France, something to be prepared with care and savoured in good company. A ready meal in front of the goggle box just does not cut it from them and pre-prepared food is very much regarded like human dog food - The French definitely live to eat and their global reputation as culinary Gods is, in my experience, not unjustified.
The French aren't the kind to beat about the bush when they've got something to say – FAR from it. Whereas we tend to soften the blow of the message we're trying to get across, they very much call a spade a spade and this can be a little destabilizing if not to say downright rude at first. But again, it's just the way they are and they believe being any other way would render them all hypocrites (I tend to believe it's just a case of not wanting to hurt someone's feelings) but having lived there now for a while, you always know where you stand with them and I kinda like that.
French people can give off the colder vibe in comparison to us because it takes them a while to trust people and suss out if they're sincere or not. You have to kind of thaw them out over time but once you do you'll have made a friend for life so don't let initial appearances put you off getting yourself out there and socializing. They just need a little warming up, that's all.
The point to be noted from all of this is that wherever you move to abroad, the people there are going to be different because no matter how geographically close they may live to your own country, the fact remains is that they belong to a different culture. From living abroad so far, I have become much more open-minded to difference and try to embrace different ways of thinking and seeing the world even if I don't always necessarily agree with them. This is what makes living abroad such an enriching experience and one that I'd highly recommend to everyone to do.