Paris was the first place (and only place so far) that I experienced culture shock. It was really weird, because I had visited foreign places, first world place, other places in Europe and places with languages I couldn’t speak before I visited France and never experienced such foreign, scary feelings as when I first landed in France in 2013.
I knew what it was instantly – France on the surface looked enough like any other anglo culture… The architecture looked enough like the rest of Europe, the people looked how I expected, everything was exactly as I expected… except the lifestyle. It was the day-to-day of the Parisian life that shocked me.
The simple things that tripped me up in Paris. I remember my friend taking me to 3-4 different stores just to gather supplies to make dinner. In her house, her tiny stove and mini-fridge set me into a whirlwind of anxiety. “HOW DOES ONE MEAL-PLAN?!” I asked her. She laughed.
When she would tell me about her job and how people in France don’t really get fired. Or how small her salary was and how many hours she worked – I remember being totally shocked. What about work-life balance? How do you make it to the gym and then all those stores and then commute, then make a healthy dinner and have time with your significant other and perhaps a hobby when you leave work at 7-8PM every night? She said “It’s worse for my boyfriend, he works longer hours.”
I remember taking the subway and watching multiple old men whip their bits out and pee in public. WHAT. I remember how disgruntled the French seemed by my American English. I read online that the French were hesitant to speak English, but I didn’t realize they might also be really rude to you if you were speaking English. I remember thinking “are they being rude? or am I missing some silly nuance?”
This time though, this time I would be ready for Paris. This time I wouldn’t be shocked when I landed in France and everything was strange. I learned some French, I planned how to eat out and was ready to see public urination. And well, it sorta worked and France sorta tripped me up again. It seems, something deep in me adores Paris but in the way that I am also deeply terrified of it. It’s deviant, strange.
This time I could tell my waiters that my French was bad, but I could say please and thank you and a few phrases to stumble through ordering, but I had a waiter dramatically glare at me when I put my fork upside down on my plate when I was done. Another French friend told me I was being offensive my folding my napkin upon my plate when I was finished eating too.
Oh the customs I keep missing.
My boyfriend had a minor meltdown over the lack of coffee shops with to-go cups. He was caffeine withdrawal angry every morning. I was confused about which businesses would be closed on a public holiday and ended up visiting 3 restaurants on my list before we simply had to duck in somewhere and grab food.
Another waiter playfully scorned me for ordering a dessert and not finishing it, saying “An American who doesn’t eat all of her food, incomprehensible!” and then he kissed my hand as I was red from embarrassment.
But I was so much better than my first trip. And next time we visit France, we will be even more prepared. Have you guys ever experienced culture shock? Where and why?