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1-Article: Cross Cultural Change   |   2-Article: Trailing Spouse Syndrome   |   3-Article: Welcome to France   |   4-Recommended Resources   |   5-Counselling Approach/Methodology     |   6-AAC-Power Point Presentation

3-Article: Welcome to France
"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
                                                                                                              Aldous Huxley
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Welcome to France !

Relocating across countries (continents even) AND cultures AND language,
is challenging !         It is a wonderful opportunity.      It is also scary.
During the transition phase, between where we had come to feel  really `at home' in one context and where we need to recreate that `home' all over again in another, we are, in a sense, `robbed' of everything we could count on before:  
the information we had (and probably took for granted) as to how  things worked
the support system of family and friends,
the security of our own identity and roles within a community  
and just the plain comfort of familiarity.
Based on the assumptions that .....
Most Internationally transferred people  want to relocate in the first place
They are generally highly motivated and  pro-active
Relocation concerns are often personal rather than professional ----
here are some ideas which may be useful to you, as you begin this adventure in France.

The harsh reality is that:         We are Guests in a Host Country.
The new culture will not change to suit our needs.
We will need to adapt.

It is not useful to us, either to fight, or to resign ourselves, to a situation in a new culture.

We need to actively  `build'   this new chapter in our story.

And that is hard work, because we don't even know the rules of the game here yet. In our home culture we didn't have to think this way, we were `cued in' automatically. Now, for a while, very little will be automatic.

Value-judgements do not have a place in this. Our own, or reference culture, is what it is. French culture, is what it is. We need to accept that neither one is good or bad. They are simply different.
Within any culture there is also a huge diversity of different individuals.
We need to avoid generalizations and stereotyping of people,  which would be based on our personal and subjective experience of them.
We should make NO assumptions, especially cultural ones ….
We need to remember that sometimes we do not recognise what we are experiencing, because of what we anticipate or expect the situation to be based on  personal assumptions. We might not be `getting it', quite as it is.
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NONETHELESS:  

Although we are visitors in France and although we have some serious adapting, sometimes even compromising to do, in order to function effectively here, we are not trying to become French. There is certainly a lot that we need to be ready to bring into question, prepared to review - there is also that which we hold onto always.  Our values, our moral, spiritual and yes, cultural values form the anchor of  who we are    -    and that we keep!!!   

We do not compromise our own values in being open to others, but when misunderstandings arise, we can ask ourselves ... Is this a cultural difference thing, that I can observe, take note of and let go, without it affecting me too much, or is this something I need to make more of a stand on ?   
Sometimes that stand needs to be direct, getting what we need to communicate across, one way or another (perhaps even with the help of an interpreter). Sometimes it is enough just to reconfirm quietly to ourselves, that our priorities in terms of our values, remain, whether or not we find ourselves in a  `different ' country.

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We need to set ourselves realistic and yet ambitious expectations,
respect the values and protocol of our host culture, without compromising our own .

Mistakes are inevitable!
Most are forgivable   ---   by ourselves too!   A bit of humility helps   ---   also a sense of humour   ---   and the effort not to take offense!
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Coping Strategies    
(In this section `you' are addressed rather than `we' to emphasize personal investment)

A move like this is `big'  - be gentle with yourself

Positive Coping Mechanisms

Treating yourself gently like a good friend
Lowering the bar of expectations
      (of yourself and others)                                
Setting obtainable goals  
Taking more time     
Accepting mistakes   
Being who you are
Rewarding yourself       
Negative Stuff

Self-judgement
Blaming others
Host culture `bashing'
Ineffective anger
Expecting too much
      (of yourself and others)   
Resignation
Betraying your own values
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Practical Stuff
This is a bunch of more personal  “ do's and don'ts ”  pertaining to the emotional experience of an International relocation and its consequences,  rather than the usual lists of French etiquette and cultural differences.

 Learn the Language   -   Really there's no choice here, we're living in France now - where they speak French. It's hard  to keep up those lessons, but worth every word acquired! Get out there and speak - even you think it sounds ridiculous - it probably does!  Sometimes, singing a French sentence in front of the mirror, with added gestures, helps towards getting some initial fluidity.
If you need information, it is always a good idea to start with even the `most pathetic'  French  and then switch to English, rather than ask if someone speaks English first. When our French is so obviously worse than their English, help will often be more easily forthcoming, in English too !

Face the scary bits (doctors / schools / admin/ appointments). You may have administrative help from your relocation agent  to begin with, but how about taking on a dry run to the emergency ward of the hospital, when you don't need to and you're not in crisis mode ?  You may never need it (and hopefully you don't), but it's a reassuring exercise!  Doing difficult stuff is always hard at the time, but when we manage, it's so good for the self esteem.    

Take extra time to do the things you have to. eg. Food shopping takes hours at first, because nothing looks like what it is and the words on the box (when it should be a packet anyway) don't help!  Perhaps you could do seven other things, after work, on the way to picking the children up from school, before. Now you need to scale that efficiency right down and take the time it takes!   
If it takes weeks to do what used to take days, it doesn't matter. It is not a reflection on you as a functional person.  Just make sure that the things that  really do matter are given priority.
 Don't give up the things you love. (eg. a dance classes, painting ... keep doing them somehow)                 
 Don't do the things you really don't want to. (eg. Some people really don't like ski-ing. You don't have to do it - even though everyone else in Grenoble seems to! )
Look after yourself  healthwise.
Don't fear mistakes (we do get it wrong a lot of  the time and we learn in so doing)
Keep the radar on. Observe and ask all the time.
Keep children, especially young ones, informed all the way ( they need reassurance that their parents are ok, if a little lost and confused, still ok and still in charge)
Keep regular and ongoing contact with faraway loved ones, even if it is to moan and groan at first. You haven't `betrayed' them by coming to France and the more part of your experience they remain, the easier the separation for everyone.   
Take time out to relax and for fun stuff,  to gather up those emotional resources again. This is not an endurance test.  It is an ongoing process. Tomorrow you can start actively adjusting again!
“When one is going to lead an entirely new life, one needs regular and wholesome meals”                                                                      Oscar Wilde

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A brief look at Professional Adaptation

Any professional change requires a period of adjustment.  How much more so a move of this magnitude -   across countries (in your case continents) cultures and languages ?!
Surface familiarity can be deceptive!

Office space, meeting areas, conference rooms don't differ that much from location to location, especially within the same company,  and a strong corporate culture, as well as being able to communicate in English for the most part, all help  to maintain enough of what is already known to you, to be able to function fairly effectively almost immediately.

But:
                            One does not hit the ground running!  

You will not be expected to be optimally effective instantly,  nor should you expect it of yourself.  You were offered your overseas assignment, as a consequence of your technical, professional or managerial competence and probably your personal resources too!
Take the time to observe how things work in the professional environment here, what is different, what is not.  Ask questions and verify your understanding of the situation  all the way. Colleagues who have come through this period will generally be very willing to help and offer information.  They remember just arriving themselves  - only too well!
This initial transitional  phase will soon give way to a more effective mode of functioning  and improved performance.  Be patient with yourself!   
Family adjustment is very important and plays a big role in alleviating your own professional  adjustment. A little more time invested at home to begin with, will go a long way towards  developing a less stressful work/home balancing act later on, when the workload increases in bucketfuls - and it will!
France prides itself in being `different' and the work-place is fully included  here.  Underlying any business and work-related issues with French colleagues, will always lurk larger cultural values.  It is worth familiarizing oneself with some of the well documented, cultural differences one can expect to encounter professionally.    

The back cover of    `Culture Shock France'   by Sally Adamson Taylor, sites a wonderful quote:

“Outsiders go wrong by looking at France through their own optics.
It is always a jolt for veteran travelers to find that culture shock in France is more severe than in Saudi Arabia or Bolivia. Elsewhere things look and sound different, so you expect them to be different.  France looks like home, or at least like familiar old postcards and paintings.    
Surprise..........  ”                                      Mort Rosenblum in Mission to Civilize

                                                                                                                        ©T.P.
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