Culture Shock in France
Feeling like a fish out of water or overwhelmed with life in France at times? Everything is so very different on all levels, from taxation to paying bills, to how to shop for food. What can you do to feel more at home?
This is something that, as a counsellor, I hear on a regular basis. Here are my thoughts.
You certainly are not the only one to be feeling like a fish out of water; in fact on the contrary, the majority of my clients have experienced or are continuing to experience the culture shock of moving to and making a new life in a different country.
Without wishing to oversimplify, Culture Shock is actually a recognised and common phenomenon with four fairly distinct phases and it might be helpful for you to recognise what stage you are at – it will allow you to not feel so alone and validate that your feelings are entirely normal.
The Honeymoon Stage
The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive during which the expats become beguiled with the language, people and food in their new surroundings. At this stage the move seems like the greatest decision ever made; an exciting adventure to stay on forever.
On short trips – for instance if you have spent many summers here – the honeymoon phase may take over the entire experience as the later effects of culture shock don’t have time to set in. On longer trips or a permanent stay, the honeymoon stage will usually phase out eventually. Culture shock in France starts to set in.
The Frustration Stage of Culture Shock in France
This is possibly the most difficult stage of culture shock and is probably familiar to anyone who has lived abroad or who travels frequently. At this stage, the anxiety and fatigue of not understanding gestures, signs and the language sets in and miscommunications may be happening frequently.
Even if you do speak a little French, wrapping your head round just the required paperwork is pretty daunting for most of us! Me included. Making a phone call? Very, very difficult!
This then tends to become a bit of a vicious cycle: the more difficulties that present themselves, the more we tend to back off trying to deal with them (even getting your car reregistered is a classic paper-moving exercise!) and that can have a very negative impact on one’s self-esteem. And that is a very slippery slope!
Things that you used to achieve (and, therefore, gave you a sense of achievement) without even having to think about them become huge obstacles – from grocery shopping to paying bills.
The more knockbacks you get (I know one lady who took too long trying to understand what the automated petrol pump was trying to tell her and got shouted at by a Frenchman next in the queue – she has never been back and her husband now has to fill her car), the more it knocks your confidence and the more your confidence gets knocked, the fewer things you find yourself doing. Taking on any new challenge becomes too much.
By this stage what you feel you have lost, among other things, can be your previous countless opportunities and possibly even your freedom.
This eroding feeling of the lack of independence can make you feel desperately homesick.
Bouts of depression or homesickness and feelings of longing to go home where things are familiar and comfortable are all common during the frustration stage.
The Acceptance Stage
Generally, though sometimes several months (the time of year has a big bearing on this) after wrestling with the emotional stages outlined above, ?the final stage of culture shock is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely understood, rather it signifies realisation that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, the expats have the familiarity with and are able to draw together the resources they need to feel at ease.
You stop constantly comparing and contrasting everything and you begin to realise that one culture is not better than the other, there is no right or wrong, they are just different and it will take time to understand and accept this.
Culture shock in France – what can you do to get through this?