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.
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.
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.
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.
What can you do to get through this?