I have to give myself credit, absolute credit in underestimating my full adjustment period. Though I’ve lived in the French culture before, I must say that living as a student is completely different than living and working in another culture.
Since day one, I’ve known that living and, more specifically, working in France were both going to be quite the challenge. However, as I’ve been here for 4 months, I figured that I would be well adjusted at this point. Boy, was I wrong.
Though I’ve been quite frustrated recently on the mode of communication that most French choose to use (I’ll expand on that in a little bit), I must say that it does allow me to understand my own culture and my own preferences when it comes to communication styles.
My senior year of university I took a foreign language senior seminar course in which I studied the differences in cultures, including most definitely the differences in communication. Here is what I know. Here are the facts, based on what I learned from textbook. In the United States, we tend to have an extremely explicit culture, meaning that when we communicate, we say everything (well almost everything) that we intend to communicate, and most of the time we use gestures to emphasize that which we say. That is not to say that we don’t use body language to communicate, because we most certainly do, but compared to the culture that I am currently living in, I would say that we are most definitely the far more direct culture.
I had always believed this to be true, however, it was not until I came to work in France that I came to experience it as true.
I can honestly say that I am frustrated. While living here, I’ve learned that France is more of an implicit culture, well at least compared to the United States. I think they are much less implicit than many other cultures but just in comparing the two cultures that I’ve come to call home.
In the States, if you don’t know the information or understand what is expected of you, I’ve come to realize that we tend to believe that we will be informed by those whom expect said things from us. That is how we tend to operate, in almost every aspect of our lives. In school, teachers hand out a syllabus, which notes what books they expect you to read, what rules and regulations they expect you to abide by, and what you should expect to learn or to do in the course of the semester. When applying for a job, the job post lists the duties expected to be performed along with a set of listed expected skills, and a major part of the interview is the interviewer telling the interviewee what exact duties will be expected to be performed. In fact, it’s one of the first things covered.
In my experience, France tends to operate slightly in the opposite way, not completely but almost so. There is a sense of assumption here. There is a sense that if you don’t ask for information then you already know it or you don’t need it. As an American assuming that I be or expecting to be told everything without having to ask, you can probably see that I’ve had quite a few situations filled with frustration or miscommunication.
In the beginning, I just assumed that I would be given all the information that I need for my job because as I come from an explicit culture, it would only seem normal that people would give me information that I need without me having to ask. However, because the sense of assumption in France operates in the opposite way, I’ve struggled to adjust these past few months.
I’m not saying that the way the French communicate is wrong, because it’s not. Each country operates differently, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s just that I’ve been struggling with it, and I can’t help but to feel that extreme frustration and slight depression that comes with the culture shock that this particular struggle forces upon me. Culture shock is a roller coaster, and I’m hanging out in a valley right now, hoping that it starts climbing again soon.
I must admit though that this is a part of the experience that I was looking forward to. It definitely angers me from time to time, but it is this challenge that is making me grow. Learning to live and work in another culture is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (and I’ve done many difficult things). I have to believe that come May it will all be worth the struggle. I have to believe that I will have changed in ways extremely beneficial to my future.
Other than my communication struggles, life in France is going quite well. The sun is currently out and shining bright. I’ve been attending and participating in a church here regularly. I continue to make new friends, spend time with the friends I have had, and to try to improve my French. I’m also planning a trip to Spain and Portugal with two of my other assistant friends for our February vacation. So, life in general is not too shabby.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been here for 4 months and that I only have three and a half left to go! Looking forward to seeing home, family, and friends again but also dreading leaving this place that I’ve come to call my home.
I suppose that too is a struggle. So, basically sometimes, all of the struggle is happening.
Believing the struggle will be worth it….A plus mes amis….