January 29, 2014, by Guest blog

Many of the stereotypes English people have about the French are stereotypes for a reason

Post written by Bethan Roberts.

Salut! As it is nearing the end of January I am over half way through my Language Assistant placement in Chambéry. There are some things I really like about living in France (croissants and cheese are the obvious candidates!) and some aspects I just have to tolerate, in true British fashion! It is fair to say that moving to France for eight months was a big undertaking, and I don’t think I was quite prepared for all the seemingly little things they do differently here but that for some reason seem very important to me. I didn’t go home over Christmas, so I think that has exacerbated some of the differences between life here and at home. Living here properly has been harder than I had anticipated and it is fair to say there have been a few “cultural challenges”.

Firstly, the sheer amount of paperwork and bureaucracy required just to get the simplest thing done in France is overwhelming. When I first arrived and was looking for accommodation, there were tears, a lot of frustration, and documents emailed home, signed by my mum and then the originals sent back through the post. This seemed ridiculous to me, especially as everything in England can be done online or digitally now. I need to point out that I am not against paperwork entirely. I am the kind of person who would print something out rather than read it from a computer screen, or handwrite rather than type, but the importance of physical paperwork here really is baffling to me. I have to pay the rent each month by cheque, and I have never even owned a cheque book in England! I realise that anyone living and working in France will have come across similar obstacles, and despite feeling totally prepared before stepping on the Eurostar in September, having gathered together documents and photocopies and signatures galore, I really was lost for the first few weeks! Interestingly, although French people don’t really seem to notice, at our training course for Language Assistants in Grenoble, there was a talk about how French schools have fallen behind with le numérique (IT equipment etc) and maybe this is a wider issue in France.

The daily and weekly routines here are slightly different too, and took some getting used to. I work in a primary school, and there is no school on Wednesdays (although changes to this are being disputed). I personally think it’s a great idea, and the children do seem more energized when they come back on Thursday morning: I am beginning to wonder how I ever got up early for school five days a week as a child! The whole school environment is generally more relaxed than in England. The teachers make sure they have a long, sociable lunch: wine and a homemade dessert are fairly normal. The lunch break is two hours long and eating will usually take up about an hour. This is still strange to me, as my parents are both primary school teachers in England and they are lucky if they get time for a quick cup of tea and a sandwich at lunch time.

Similarly the weekends are very different here. Unlike in England, where everything is open all weekend, shops stay open late on week-day evenings and most are shut on Sundays, even the huge Carrefour supermarket. Although this is actually quite nice, and shows that Sundays are still respected as a day for family and relaxing here, I do like the convenience that Sunday opening at home provides. It is not a surprise, then, that public holidays are taken more seriously here. Everything is shut and the streets are empty. The Remembrance weekend bank holiday and New Year ’s Day were very glaring examples of this. In England we are used to using bank holidays as a chance to do things you wouldn’t normally get a chance to, so people always seem to be busy, whereas in France the emphasis is very much on quiet family gatherings.

I find it funny that many of the stereotypes English people have about France and the French are stereotypes for a reason. Everyone does smoke. The streets are really dirty. They do all drink a lot of coffee. And they certainly can’t form a queue and wait patiently like we do. A lot of these differences and “challenges” are actually quite amusing, and although I like to think I am quite adaptable I have been amazed at some of the things I have picked up on that are different here.

Posted in Cultural challenges