February 4, 2014, by Guest blog

French admin…my biggest challenge

There have been a fair few cultural challenges to face up to so far on my Year Abroad in Paris, but they’re all part of the experience in the end, so I’m not going to complain.

The language barrier is first and foremost in my mind. Having to speak French on tap is quite draining at times. Quick-fire French still knocks me for six – and did so especially recently, when an old French couple in the local launderette asked me, rat-a-tat-tat style, how to use the driers. I stuttered and could only wait for them to realise I was English. Contrary to Britain, though, where most people try to be helpful when they don’t understand you, the French do not beat about the bush. If they don’t understand, a disdainful, uncomprehending ‘Quoi?’ (‘What?’) will come your way faster than a speeding bullet. Ironically, that’s a turn of phrase for which the French probably have no equivalent.

The biggest challenge (NB: downright pain) of this Year Abroad so far has been the admin. It is endless. Seemingly, to be able to do anything that us Brits take for granted, you need every important piece of paper you’ve ever accumulated in your life. Passport, bank details, photos of yourself, practically all the way down to your inside leg measurement.  Getting a bank account proved surprisingly easy, but other things such as the CAF (a type of French housing benefit, the offices for which appear to be open about once every ten years) have proven to be tougher nuts to crack. Part of me positively wants to leave them un-cracked and get on with experiencing Paris.

However, every other cultural challenge thus far pales into insignificance when compared with the monolith that was England v France in the Six Nations last weekend. Sitting right at the front of a French-occupied bar, so close to the screen that I was almost in the game, was quite a trial. It was made even worse by the fact that England were ahead for most of the second half, before the last two minutes returned us to business as usual – losing.

Ah well, you can’t have everything. But perhaps the biggest challenge is yet to come. Exploring every aspect of Paris by July (whilst working) is going to be very difficult – but I’m relishing the opportunity.

Posted in Cultural challenges