('French people' eat snails for fun. True generalisation.
Er, actually they often don't like them. Can't blame them :P )
Culture Shock [COL-CHER SHHH-OCK] Culture shock is the difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own. -Acknowledgements to Wikipedia :D
Stereotypes, Tech and Adjusting to France
I actually think, contrary to what I've been told, that I won't get cultural shock during my time in france, at least, not a severe form.This is for a few reasons I think; firstly, that there is so much technology available for communication these days that I can easy Skype my family at the blink of an eye if I feel a tad homesick. In a click of a button I can let all my friends know on facebook what my day's been like. I've been well supported and cared for by friends and family so the transition has been very smooth. I also think that because France is modern country like Australia the transition hasn't been much of a change of gear in terms of technology, convenience, freedom or communication (as already mentioned). But there are some significant factors in the background which do affect people's assumptions and opinions of course, but these aren't as shocking for me as I was expecting. Actually, contrary to stereotypes, the french people in Lille have actually been very friendly and helpful in giving directions and often losing face to talk in English with me when communication is difficult. Another factor which I think I initially underestimated was that I've grown more accustomed to being away from home during my 2 month stay in Sydney. This has very much eased going into a new country, culture and language with all its complexities and challenges. So I actually don't think I'll have the nasty 'culture shock' that people almost dread when they are going overseas for prolonged periods. But it will still be a challenging and educational experience.
Feeble Baby Steps: culture shock
To qualify that, it's worth noting that I will experience (am already, obviously) a mild form of culture shock as I adjust to French culture. I guess I'm arguing that French culture isn't so different from Australian culture such that difficulties I experience will likely stir a negative cycle of emotions and reactions. Actually, so far, it's been a very funny, albeit often embarrassing experience in the 2 weeks I've been in Lille, France. Whether it's asking for directions in broken french and staring blankly as the other person responds in a-million-miles-an-hour french, whether it's being laughed at by 12year-olds who think it's hilarious that I said 'I stink' rather than 'I can' in french--whatever--it's a humbling but enjoyable experience. Even before I left for France I became aware that a simple innocuous word in french sounds an aweful lot like a highly offensive insult--I almost tried to memorise the difference so I wouldn't unintentionally make enemies with everyone!
Probably the most routine difficulty which I face is sitting in a university lecture, listening as hard as I can (with the limited attention span I have), picking out words and phrases here and there but not really piecing it all together. This is hard--especially if you have a wooping exam at the end of the semester on what you didn't really get! I've made my fair share of faux pas (Shnaaap! Using french in an english sentence!) in the limited time I've been here.
In fact today I decided to do something a little unusual--giving a gift to my lecturer--innocent enough you might think. Er, no. I thought she'd be interested in some Australian coins I had--sounds really dumb now that I write it--but I thought it was ok at the time, forgetting my 'cultural spectacles for a second. But of course in French culture it's usually considered a bribe to give gifts to teachers. O-kay...It was most awkward, and I quickly realised my mistake and took it back! This was probably my biggest dose of culture shock so far, but I have the people and cross-cultural training from WEC (Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ) with me which helps in responding in a self-effacing, positive way.
A Slightly Less Awkward Experience
To finish on a less painful note, I had the hilarious experience the other day of trying to use a self-service machine at a supermarche (minding my own business, trying to avoid talking in French). Soon, it was my turn and I quickly weighed my bananas and tried to pay and dash off. After about half a minute of trying to do this, people in the line (as well as the staff member) starting saying 'wait! Wait!' I tried to figure out what they were trying to say, as I couldn't figure out why I had to wait. After all, it was my turn. Had I broken some unwritten cultural rule? I then realised what they were actually trying to say was 'weight it' --I needed to go to another machine first before coming to the self-serve! Hilarious. And just a little embarrassing. As if to add insult to injury, the staff member turned the machine's menu from 'French' to 'English'. Ah, fun times...
My impressions of Lille 3, my university.
Funny cultural observations while in France
For my experiences of the Homeless in France, click here.