February 3, 2014, by Guest blog

Cultural differences are what makes living abroad such a unique experience

When living abroad it is hard to escape noticing the cultural differences that exist between your own country and the way of life you’re used to living, and the one you now reside in and the new norms and ‘rules’ you are to abide to. And whilst still living in Europe this may not be drastically different, you do come to realise that there are more differences than you would have perhaps thought. Living in France, a few that spring to mind are eating times and styles, queuing, (or the lack of it!), the length of school days and the refusal to take down Christmas decorations!!

But whilst the majority of these cultural differences can hardly really be classified as challenges, there are one or two that I have found a bit more difficult to become accustomed to.

The first is the transport system. In provincial French life, the buses will stop running around seven. So let’s say you get the bus to go somewhere in the evening, you are then unable to return. Why? Because you haven’t booked a taxi a day in advance to come and fetch you, and even then the guy may be ‘out of town this weekend’ or you ‘didn’t ring early enough’. Living in my town, I have grown used to walking most places and although I’m not complaining too much (the exercise is probably good for me) there have been several nights when the ease of just ringing up a taxi to drop you home didn’t seem like it should be too much to ask for.

Another is Sundays. Although supermarkets are now open until about 12 on a Sunday, the majority of other shops, or activity of any kind, will be shut. Again, whilst it is a good thing people are at home spending their day of rest with their families (and there has been much debate recently as to whether things should be open on a Sunday) it has been difficult at times pondering what you can possibly eat for dinner as you didn’t get up in time to get to the shop, or wanting somewhere to go or something to eat in what can often only be described as a ghost town. Not forgetting Monday morning and daily lunchtime closures also…

The biggest though, and the French are renowned for it, has been their bureaucracy. I was pre-warned before coming to live in France, by natives and non-natives alike that it will take forever to get anything done. And that the authorities will require documents upon documents, often more than once, to complete that paperwork they so desperately need, or your salary for example, that you really could have done with getting that a month earlier.

But these cultural challenges, or differences, or whatever you’d like to see them as, is what makes living abroad such a different and unique experience, (with often a good story or two to tell as a result) and I wouldn’t change it for a second. (…well, maybe just occasionally!)

Posted in Cultural challenges