February 12, 2014, by Guest blog

Customer service…the greatest cultural challenge

There have certainly been some interesting cultural shocks I’ve experienced in my 5 months to date in Toulouse. The most striking is probably the complete divergence in mentality between the UK and France when it comes to customer service. This apparently does not exist in France. In all honesty you get the feeling when walking into a restaurant that you are inconveniencing the waiter by just being there. And when I went to ask an idle shop assistant to tell me which of two sets of music speakers was better, he looked at me as if I had just offered to slap him round the face. In another instance I needed a simple signature from one of the administration staff in order to receive my Erasmus grant so I turned up at exactly 2pm, knowing that this is when the office reopened after lunch. I knocked and went in to find this lady mid-sandwich reading a book. I apologised for interrupting (despite the time) and asked if I could possibly just have a single signature. She abruptly told me that it was still lunch and that I should come back in half an hour.

The structure of University is a real challenge as well, with lectures running from 8am till 8pm! Since I currently live 35 minutes away from Uni by metro (about to move closer), this entails waking up around 6.30/45am which quite frankly goes against everything I believe in as a student. To make matters worse, lectures are an hour and a half. This may seem like a pathetic complaint because I know that one day I will need to work long hours in an office job. However, even in England I could usually concentrate for about 40 minutes of the 50 minute lectures. In France, it is difficult to focus past about 30 minutes since they are delivered in French and usually are no more exciting than a man reading off a piece of paper. If you are lucky enough to have a Powerpoint presentation, it will just be a transcript of what he is reading, which sucks the life out of it even more.

Other major complaints include an outrageously large and slow volume of paperwork for anything, the fact that NOTHING is open at night time, lunch time or on Sundays, and that a beer costs around €6.50 which means pub sessions are extremely expensive.

Nevertheless I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on negatives this year, so I will finish by conceding that the metro system is absolutely world class…

Posted in Cultural challenges