Culture shock: Tell me about it! :)


(ALESSANDRI jean-louis) #1

Hi everyone. I'm currently working on "culture shock" with my première in lYcée... Well I have thought of you all. You must have felt some shock when you first set your feet in France. I wish you could tell me about your feelings about some of these "culture shocks". Do you mind? I will use your texts in class (just to let you know). I need authentic English. Thanks to those who will help me out on that one. I need texte of about 10-15 lines... So I have enough vocabulary to teach the pupils.


(Clare Hilgemann) #2

I would like to add a comment but I think there has been a fairly comprehensive set of views here. Love living here any way, --but compared to US, UK, or Germany, - the service is terrible ..the customer is definitely not king!...the French vendors act as if they are doing you a favour if they sell you something!


(Michael Blackmore) #3

We live in three countries (France, Cyprus & UK) and value the differences. In the past we also lived in Canada. There are many aspects of life outside UK which are different. By no means are they all bad. Thee are many features of civil administration in Cyprus which are better than UK (you can always "get round the back" and talk to someone who can actually make a decision instead of battling with obstruction at the hatch, when I take my car for servicing I get offered a coffee and biscuits and sit in the sun and read or talk to the dog while the work is done, many shops also offer you coffee while you are deciding about major purchases, you can eat out any time between about 0800 and 2400 or later) on the other hand there is little or no "fine dining" in Cyprus and fruit and veg tend to be rather big although this is improving a bit. The weather is generally excellent apart from July and August. In France we enjoy the evening markets in the summer and eating out is generally cheaper and better than Cyprus. Traffic outside the towns is much lighter. Although Cyprus has the worst record for traffic accidents in the EU drivers are very courteous to pedestrians and usually will slow or stop to let you cross the road (unheard of in UK!). The wine is better and cheaper in France although good Italian wine is now readily available in Cyprus. Local wine is improving but is expensive. In general I have had few problems with administration in either France or Cyprus, officials are much more amenable and ready to help than in UK and if you ask for help with a problem it is rarely refused. Our neighbours in France and Cyprus are very friendly and welcoming. In Cyprus it is quite common to be invited into a house in the mountain villages and offered a coffee (or something stronger) if you are looking for help or houses. You do need to get used to opening hours in France and the concept that "closing time" is when the door or gate is locked after everyone has left rather than when the last customer is admitted (as in UK and Cyprus). although this is not universal with smaller businesses in France but it is courteous to recognise the importance of the lunch break and that staff may need to travel some distance for lunch as well.

We live where we live because it suits us and we enjoy it. I never forget that I am a guest in the country (apart from UK) and it is not for me to advise on how it should be run. The impertinence of UK expats in this regard never ceases to amaze me. No wonder they don't feel welcome. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience different cultures and customs and happily adjust to the local norms.

I wish UK was less obsessed with "multiculturalism" and would return to emphasising "British values and customs" rather than pandering to the demands of nationals from other countries to adapt to their way of life. If you want to live in the custom of another country or culture than I believe you are better to live there. To impose your values on your host country is an impertinence and should be resisted. I fear it is now too late for UK to reverse this unfortunate trend which has destroyed much of our way of life and added very little.

This was meant to go at the end.


(Michael Blackmore) #4

We live in three countries (France, Cyprus & UK) and value the differences. In the past we also lived in Canada. There are many aspects of life outside UK which are different. By no means are they all bad. Thee are many features of civil administration in Cyprus which are better than UK (you can always "get round the back" and talk to someone who can actually make a decision instead of battling with obstruction at the hatch, when I take my car for servicing I get offered a coffee and biscuits and sit in the sun and read or talk to the dog while the work is done, many shops also offer you coffee while you are deciding about major purchases, you can eat out any time between about 0800 and 2400 or later) on the other hand there is little or no "fine dining" in Cyprus and fruit and veg tend to be rather big although this is improving a bit. The weather is generally excellent apart from July and August. In France we enjoy the evening markets in the summer and eating out is generally cheaper and better than Cyprus. Traffic outside the towns is much lighter. Although Cyprus has the worst record for traffic accidents in the EU drivers are very courteous to pedestrians and usually will slow or stop to let you cross the road (unheard of in UK!). The wine is better and cheaper in France although good Italian wine is now readily available in Cyprus. Local wine is improving but is expensive. In general I have had few problems with administration in either France or Cyprus, officials are much more amenable and ready to help than in UK and if you ask for help with a problem it is rarely refused. Our neighbours in France and Cyprus are very friendly and welcoming. In Cyprus it is quite common to be invited into a house in the mountain villages and offered a coffee (or something stronger) if you are looking for help or houses. You do need to get used to opening hours in France and the concept that "closing time" is when the door or gate is locked after everyone has left rather than when the last customer is admitted (as in UK and Cyprus). although this is not universal with smaller businesses in France but it is courteous to recognise the importance of the lunch break and that staff may need to travel some distance for lunch as well.

We live where we live because it suits us and we enjoy it. I never forget that I am a guest in the country (apart from UK) and it is not for me to advise on how it should be run. The impertinence of UK expats in this regard never ceases to amaze me. No wonder they don't feel welcome. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience different cultures and customs and happily adjust to the local norms.

I wish UK was less obsessed with "multiculturalism" and would return to emphasising "British values and customs" rather than pandering to the demands of nationals from other countries to adapt to their way of life. If you want to live in the custom of another country or culture than I believe you are better to live there. To impose your values on your host country is an impertinence and should be resisted. I fear it is now too late for UK to reverse this unfortunate trend which has destroyed much of our way of life and added very little.

This was meant to go at the end!


(Michael Blackmore) #5

We live in three countries (France, Cyprus & UK) and value the differences. In the past we also lived in Canada. There are many aspects of life outside UK which are different. By no means are they all bad. Thee are many features of civil administration in Cyprus which are better than UK (you can always "get round the back" and talk to someone who can actually make a decision instead of battling with obstruction at the hatch, when I take my car for servicing I get offered a coffee and biscuits and sit in the sun and read or talk to the dog while the work is done, many shops also offer you coffee while you are deciding about major purchases, you can eat out any time between about 0800 and 2400 or later) on the other hand there is little or no "fine dining" in Cyprus and fruit and veg tend to be rather big although this is improving a bit. The weather is generally excellent apart from July and August. In France we enjoy the evening markets in the summer and eating out is generally cheaper and better than Cyprus. Traffic outside the towns is much lighter. Although Cyprus has the worst record for traffic accidents in the EU drivers are very courteous to pedestrians and usually will slow or stop to let you cross the road (unheard of in UK!). The wine is better and cheaper in France although good Italian wine is now readily available in Cyprus. Local wine is improving but is expensive. In general I have had few problems with administration in either France or Cyprus, officials are much more amenable and ready to help than in UK and if you ask for help with a problem it is rarely refused. Our neighbours in France and Cyprus are very friendly and welcoming. In Cyprus it is quite common to be invited into a house in the mountain villages and offered a coffee (or something stronger) if you are looking for help or houses. You do need to get used to opening hours in France and the concept that "closing time" is when the door or gate is locked after everyone has left rather than when the last customer is admitted (as in UK and Cyprus). although this is not universal with smaller businesses in France but it is courteous to recognise the importance of the lunch break and that staff may need to travel some distance for lunch as well.

We live where we live because it suits us and we enjoy it. I never forget that I am a guest in the country (apart from UK) and it is not for me to advise on how it should be run. The impertinence of UK expats in this regard never ceases to amaze me. No wonder they don't feel welcome. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience different cultures and customs and happily adjust to the local norms.

I wish UK was less obsessed with "multiculturalism" and would return to emphasising "British values and customs" rather than pandering to the demands of nationals from other countries to adapt to their way of life. If you want to live in the custom of another country or culture than I believe you are better to live there. To impose your values on your host country is an impertinence and should be resisted. I fear it is now too late for UK to reverse this unfortunate trend which has destroyed much of our way of life and added very little.


(Chris Coughlan) #6

Men and women using each others’ toilets. This would never happen in the UK! Stopping your vehicle to talk to somebody and holding up the traffic behind you. Stores asking assistants to check that your bags are empty or that you have secreted something in your trolley. And only once has an assistant offered to help me to pack my bags. In the U.S. This happens automatically and in the UK it will be done when asked for. There are nice aspects too; medical staff tend to be more helpful. Local matters get attended too more quickly through the mayoral system. If it snows, our local roads are quickly cleared. Unfortunately, in the UK minor roads are never cleared of snow!


(Steve Hayes) #7

In our last week in UK OH was having worries of course - in particular taking the regular walk with toddler and baby the few hundred meters to the co-op. waving at so and so over the road, how's it going to X, yes all packed nearly to Y. Thinking I have a life built up here why are we moving.

The equivalent walk in France after a few weeks, waves and brief exchanges won't do. It is expected that one will stop, bise/handshake all round incl kiddywinks, a proper discussion of weather and so on, 25m further on repeat. In all what took 5 minutes in UK takes 15 minutes here, but really the depth of human interchange here is much more developed.


(Chris Lawton) #8

Culture shocks? there are many for the British. The huge respect of the French for family and leisure time. It's no good trying to do anything between 12 noon and 14.30!

The strength of Laïcité. The openness with which the French talk politics, and their willingness to accept oppsing viewpoints without becoming offended.

The contrast between "Republican values" and Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and the open racism displayed by otherwise charming and cultured people.

In a country where otherwise, people are polite and friendly, why is customer service in shops so often rude and unhelpful?


(Simon Newton) #9

This afternoon I was just pondering this further - differences that end up being cultural. The Urinal or Pisour and elevated to a literary status in Gabriel Chevalier's novel "Clochemerle". The UK infrastructure shows a sparing respect for the bladder - motorways and towns are virtually devoid of public WC's. Whereas here we have (what seems like) WC's every 10 to 15km on the autoroute, villages and towns have public conveniences in all prominent places. I guess this is only partly cultural - but the shock is the seeming disregard many French males have for these WC's and they insist on urinating on road sides virtually in full view of all... Your Brit who is denied all these Public Loos in the UK would never dream of such public displays! Is that cultural or just strange?


(ALESSANDRI jean-louis) #10

Thanks to you all. I greatly appreciate what you've done. It's going to be a matter of choosing some of your texts to study them with my pupils; that will be my "introduction" lesson to the theme. I am really grateful to you all. Some comments made me realize some of the things that might get on the nerves of foreigners when arriving here... But hey! I 've always lived with them... :) :) Never paid attention really.


(Annette O'Sullivan) #11

Coming from London in the early 90's for the first time:

Cleanliness of villages and attention to details of properties like provincial colours painted on garages/ flower window boxes/bistro chairs in the street.
Warmness and personal invasion of space on meeting new people...ie the kissing on the cheeks.
Seeing children drinking watered down wine at the supper table
Long lunches (with multiple courses) and finding all the shops closed for hours in the middle of the day.
Hunting in the countryside and the lack of bird sounds.
Being able to purchase wine 'on tap" into any measurable container
Being provided with an entire recipe from the greengrocer as to how to "dress" my salad leaves.
The poubelle at the end of the street!

These were the novel French shocks I encountered compared to what I had experienced growing up in Surrey.



(Sharon Attwood) #12

We retired to France, permanently and full-time, in 2006. My husband is English and I am American, so we have both experienced different ways of life.

My husband still finds it difficult to understand that restaurants (here in the countryside in the Centre) are only open for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m./14h30 and then don’t open again for dinner until 7:30 p.m./19h30 and close at 9:30 p.m./21h30. He gets hungry late for lunch/earlier for dinner and finds it difficult to comprehend why he can’t go to a nice restaurant for dinner at, say, 6:30 p.m./18h30. If I am hungry enough, I’ll go to McDonalds, no problem, although I do like fine dining.

The lack of cuisine choices in the rural towns is also a bit annoying. We have to travel about an hour to get to a town with Chinese, Indian or other international cuisines.

My husband also finds shop/office hours annoying…closing, as they do, for several hours at lunchtime, not open one day during the week, etc. I just plan my day/week around French working hours and do what needs doing when the shops/offices are open.

He loves the fact that the workers fight for their rights through strikes/protests/work slow-downs. He is a former union representative in a London hospital. Of course, we are not generally effected by said industrial actions as we live in a small rural village and don’t even go to nearby cities very often.

We both have to really think about time on the 24 hour clock, neither of us being used to that system. I seem to get it faster than he does, but still have to ‘convert’ the time in my head. I have a bit more of a problem with this over the telephone.

I have changed currencies more easily. My husband still thinks in terms of francs rather than euros…and needs me to estimate the equivalent prices in British Pounds sterling…a bit annoying for me but I manage. I have lived, at various times with U.S. dollars, Italian lira, British pounds, French/Swiss francs, German Deutschmarks and now the euro, so I feel pretty adaptable…local currency just becomes the norm for me.

Please know that these are simply cultural differences to which we must adjust, not complaints about the differences. We chose to come here for a better quality of life in our retirement on limited income and better weather than in England. Language, currency and timekeeping are just things we need to learn and adapt to.

We hope this (or some of it) will be helpful to your classes. If you want to know how these things differ in England or America, we would be happy to give you more information.


(Barry Twyman) #13

Culture Shocks : The Friendliness of the French, their idea of timekeeping, their intense Nationalism, the fierce independence and human rights levels. The vagaries, of the "Language of Diplomacy" ,almost everything I say can be interpreted in many different ways . The constant singing of Le Marseillaise . The extent of State Control, even the annual Sales are subject to laws, and the deliberate flouting of the Law by almost everyone . The ignoring of the Gypsy community to do as they wish with no regard to any laws , the almost open corruption in Politics at all levels . These actually are my culture shocks , which I still find very different from my Country of Origin, Britain .


(Paul Dorey) #14

I never understand why the French patiently join the 'car park' that is the A10 between Tours and Poitiers every Saturday in July and August whilst many Brits use the old RN10 which is generally devoid of traffic!?

It seems the French accept the staus quo, whilst the British do not!


(Patricia Compton) #15

My husband and I bought a Gites complex here in September and I am reeling from the shock and confusion of all the paperwork! I love France but all the complicated paperwork needed to set up the simplest of things has quite frankly made me depressed.
I don’t sleep well anymore because I worry that I haven’t done something I should have or have forgotten something important.
When I was in England, I worked in Child and Adolescent Mental health which was very stressful but I have found myself more stressed since I have been here because of all the unnecessary bureacracy involved in every aspect of living here and it has completely spoils my experience of being here. It is possible that I may not stay long-term because of it because I don’t think that I can live on my nerves like this for too long.


(Sarah Hague) #16

The biggest culture shock I got was feeling like a foreigner. I was no longer chez moi and that was very unsettling. I was learning French but was not yet very good so couldn't really understand what was going on around me, and although everything was in some ways similar, it was all different too.

I didn't like feeling dependent on my (then) boyfriend, I didn't like the suspicious looks of people who didn't want to rent us their flat because I was foreign and they thought we'd do a runner!

The supermarkets were different - totally huge hypermarkets, or small tattier supermarkets that had nothing I recognised in them. (This was 1989 however, and lots has changed since then.)

It took me a long time to feel at home, and a longer time before I found cheddar cheese in the supermarkets!


(Billy Gibson) #17

In reply to Michael Blackmore ... I don't see gripes and I didn't make any, I stated what I found. These are cultural shocks between one country and being in France. Some are better, some are worse as you say.


(elaine brett) #18

Animation of conversation. French people are so facially and bodily expressive also seem to have mastered the art of talking over each other (loudly) yet still being listened to. Delightful and charming.


(Billy Gibson) #19

Banks that are closed, or open but the door is locked and people are seen by appointment, no co-operation between branches of the same bank, account holders being told they must go to their own branch to pay into their account; yes it was foreign currency but it was in a tourist area. The tourist (me) couldn't change it anywhere ! Trying to change currency into € even at airports, only one Exchange/Bureau de Change and sometimes they are non-existent.


(Michael Blackmore) #20

Its not easy to differentiate between the comments that appear to be "gripes" and those that simply list "differences".

I live in 3 countries (Cyprus, France and, occasionally, UK). I have also lived in Canada and visited many other countries in Europe and the Caribbean. All have significant differences in various aspects of local customs and administration. However, I have always regarded myself as a guest in those countries other than UK and recognise and accept the right of the local government and people to set their own standards to which I need to adapt. Unlike some UK expatriates I do not expect the citizens or the local administration to conform to my needs. I adapt to theirs. It has never caused me a significant problem. Many things are not as they are in UK. Many are better, a few appear to be strange and occasionally inconvenient but a polite request for help in dealing with them invariably results in a helpful response.

I recognise and value the differences. Why else would one want to live in these countries? The disgruntled can always return to UK. I wonder how many would regret doing so.