Culture shock in France

How charming things can turn into a nightmare

The definition of culture shock? When things that were quaint and charming when you arrived in a country suddenly seem stupid and backwards, that's culture shock.

When you miss the way things are done "back home" and just KNOW that the new culture could really use some help in updating itself, that's culture shock. When you're irritated and grumpy and can't really pin down a reason why, it's probably culture shock. One arrives in a new culture with romantic notions of how things will be, and after about 6 weeks, runs into a brick wall that shatters ALL of those notions! Here are some things we loved when we first got to France, and our subsequent responses as we were caught in the murky bowels of culture shock...

1. WOW! All this CHEESE and YOGURT! How will we ever get to try it all?

(okay, can we not get anything like CHEDDAR? Is there *ANY* cheese that *ISN'T* creamy and white?)

2. How nice it is to be forced to relax on Sundays, since everything is closed.

(We're out of MILK? And we can't run to Wal-Mart and GET some? AAAARRRGGGHH!!!!)

3. All the food is so subtle and complex- what a blend of flavors and tastes!

(is there NOTHING SPICY in this whole country? I WANT BUFFALO WINGS!!!)

4. How neat- everyone takes a 2 hour break for lunch. That's a great idea to recharge in the middle of the day.

(okay, I have to wait HOW LONG to make a deposit at my bank? I can't run ANY errands over the only time of day that I have open?)

5. I can only use the bank branch where I opened my account to make deposits and withdrawals? That's nice- they are being so personal.

(I can only use ONE BRANCH to make a deposit? But they're closed on Monday and I need to deposit this money)

6. No American fast food restaurant except McDonald's? That will be WONDERFUL- we'll have home cooked meals every day for lunch and dinner and not eat out so much and have more nutritious food!

(okay, I would KILL for a Taco Bell Burrito, a hamburger from Wendy's, a Whopper, or a Chik-fil-a sandwich. And don't EVEN get me started about longing for Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, or MoJo's Chicken wings!)

7. I love this vinaigrette salad dressing with the hint of dijon mustard!

(what??! It's the ONLY kind of dressing in the store? You mean it's the only salad dressing in the COUNTRY? What about Bleu Cheese or Italian? no? No ranch either? I've got it- they *have* to have FRENCH, right? *sigh* Never mind....)

8. The food is so good!

(isn't there *anything* I can eat that won't upset my stomach?)

9. It stays light so late! We can relax in the evenings over a glass of wine and talk about our day after the kids are in bed.

("DAD! I can't go to bed, it's still DAYTIME!" "Sorry son, it's 10:00 pm, you have school tomorrow, now GO TO SLEEP.")

10. The sun comes up so early- we can take relaxing walks in the early morning fresh air, when the dew is still clinging to the lavender.

("My GOSH it's bright out- what time IS it?!?!" "Sorry honey, it's only 5:30")

So as you can see, adapting to life in France has been a mix of emotions. Sometimes I find myself laughing and crying at the same time- crying because I'm upset (like the moment it hit me that I couldn't get cheddar cheese or refried beans) and laughing at the absurdity of what has upset me. It amazes us that so many of our adjustment issues seem to revolve around food! I have gone through periods where I would give my left arm (huge for me, because I am left-handed) just to be HOME where things are normal, everything is as expected, and to be completely honest, rather boring at times. Sometimes we crave just being bored with how easy it is to LIVE back in the states.

But at last we are now getting into a rhythm- the rhythm of France. We are adapting to the 2 hour lunches, the 4:30 snack, and the later dinner (which to a good French person is 8 pm. We are not *quite* that good!). We are adapting to no air conditioning, no screens on the windows (I never knew mayflies could be so *big*), and all the other things that make France France.

There is no comparison to the produce that you can buy fresh from the farm within days of its being picked. The cheese that isn't pasteurized and ends up being so full of flavor (I never imagined Brie tasting like this!). The pace of life here is so much slower in many ways, and it really has been nice to slow ourselves down and adapt to that pace (now I find it difficult to imagine speeding up again!). We know that we will have more pangs of homesickness (sometimes they are almost physically painful as we reminice about our home church, our families, the Florida coast, and boating in the gulf), but for now we are enjoying those toddling baby steps toward trying to integrate ourselves into a new culture and opening ourselves to different ways of doing things, that may seem odd by American standards, but here, in this society, they seem to work.

By Chery Stauffer


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