February 4, 2014, by Guest blog

Learning how the French do it

When living in a different country the first step is to learn the language. The next step is to adapt to the culture, which I have experienced to be quite difficult in certain situations where I’m so used to my own cultural behaviour and way of thinking.

When I first arrived in Montpellier, I was shocked and overwhelmed by the amount of gypsies in the streets. Old, young and many whom are children who are all very forward in asking for money.  Then there are the numerous creepy men who don’t lose a chance to harass you, especially if you’re English (as I’ve experienced). Nevertheless that’s not to say there aren’t any homeless people or creepy men in the UK. However here in Montpellier, I find it’s very much more in your face therefore was very uncomfortable with this at the beginning. However much has changed since watching and copying how the French handle these situations, with a stern and non-interested face. So looking back, perhaps my fresh English newbie face was obvious or too friendly which allowed them to be in my face.

Another thing I have had to learn is when greeting someone. In France as everyone knows, they automatically do ‘la bise’ (a kiss on each side of the cheek) when greeting someone they know or even don’t know in any situation. Whereas in the UK we would just say hello and maybe give them a hug or shake of the hand if we were feeling like it, but these gests aren’t necessary. So although ‘La bise” is a very simple and well known French cultural practice, I have forgotten to do it numerous times in social situations, solely because of how accustomed I am to my English culture. Yet this has led to me being perceived as rude or distant.

Following on from cultural courtesy, the French say ‘Bon appétit’ when one is eating and I believe we don’t say anything in the UK. Although we could say have a nice meal, it’s not a traditional thing I would personally say. Therefore of course sometimes I’d forget and again unfortunately these situations were sometimes seen as rude.  So I guess my manners had been lost in translation.

Although sometimes I find that some people I have met in France lack the understanding of how difficult it may be to adapt to another culture, I do agree that we must all make an effort. The more we try to adapt to another the culture, the more we can integrate and become culturally aware of the differences.

Fortunately after 8 months in France, I feel like I have acquired the skill to switch between the English and the French culture depending on whom I’m with and where.

So far, so good.

Posted in Cultural challenges