February 5, 2014, by Guest blog

Corsica – the culture is neither entirely French or Italian

Post written by Josephine Adams.

Whether we realise it or not, we all expect to have to conform to the culture of the places that we are used to, and are innately aware of when and how to greet people, thank them and know how to act. Somehow, the cultural make-up of countries is unique, and expectations change completely when you cross a border or a body of water. As many people here will stress repeatedly, Corsica is not France: their culture is neither entirely French nor Italian, and the island’s traditions play a key role in almost every aspect of daily life here.

Having always lived somewhere that you can buy almost everything you could possibly want at any time of the day or night, I underestimated the differences that I would encounter in Corsica. Here, it is entirely impossible to achieve anything at all either at lunchtime (12-00 to 2-00) or on Sundays. Shops, banks, offices and any other places that you might want to visit during lunchtime shut down, as all of their employees take the extended lunch break which structures the day. The obvious exception to this rule is cafés and restaurants, but otherwise, as far as I can establish, the only other Corsicans who are occupied at lunchtime are secondary school pupils, who get a measly hour for lunch, as well has having to start at 8-00 and only finish school at 5-00, very different to studying back in the UK.

Corsica2A linguistic challenge which I rapidly encountered when I moved here is the question of deciding how to greet people. Back home, there is always the choice of ‘hello’ to fall back on but, when your decisions are effectively limited to ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’, there is frequently a need to rapidly ascertain whether it is, linguistically, officially evening – something which there does not appear to be a definitive answer to. In most circumstances, it’s acceptable to take your cue from whoever you are speaking to, and generally to assume that if everyone involved has finished work for the day then it’s ‘soir’. Equally, living in the Anglo-Saxon world failed to equip me with the innate knowledge of when to address someone with the formal or informal pronoun – an element of the English language that I have never appreciated as much as I should have done!

Working here is very different to studying in the UK, and some differences certainly take a bit of getting used to, but I’m sure that I’ll be much more able to the quirks in British culture when I go back home in the spring. And maybe it will be a little more difficult to just accept them now!

Posted in Cultural challenges