05 December 2005

Culture Shock: Check-up

Before we left the US, several friends gave us books to help us better adapt to life in France. One of these, Sally Adamson Taylor's Culture Shock: France, contains a checklist of what to expect at various stages after moving to France. Since I've been here for three months and Amy for two, I thought it was time for our check-up.

According to Taylor, the second month of living in France tends to be like this:
1) Settling into a routine
2) The charm of the tiny apartment and the exquisite menus of local restaurants start to look different.
3) Growing awareness of what is not available, or what is ridiculously expensive.
4) Impatience with "rude" waiters and "indifferent" shopkeepers.
5) Nervousness and uncertainty about how to function.
6) Some withdrawal from the French, and seeking the familiar in friends and food.
7) Colds and the flu (especially in winter). Gaining weight.

Amy has indeed settled into a routine—which is great for me because (when she's not off sight-seeing or meeting with her conversation partner) the grocery shopping is always done and the apartment is always clean. The routine for cleaning is crucial, since it takes about 5 hours to do a load of laundry (and a small load at that...) and since Didg's hair is constantly accumulating in small molehills on the blue carpet.

She says that the apartment is still charming to her, but understand that our apartment is almost twice the size of any of our friends' here. She does, however, notice what is missing in France. In a word: BROWNIES. Well, that and the fixings for pumpkin pie (thank goodness Michelle left Michigan prepared for that) and Thanksgiving turkeys. I guess, it's not so much that these things are missing, per se. It's more that they are ridiculously expensive! So, if you're planning to send care packages to add a little American charm to our apartment, make sure to include a box of brownie mix.

While Amy really hasn't complained about the waiters or shopkeepers, she does seem to be finding herself frozen in conversations in restaurants and stores. She's hit a plateau in her spoken French skills, which will hopefully pass soon. This has, of course, led to some withdrawal from the French, mainly in the guise of the American Library in Paris. On her last visit, she discovered that they have VHS tapes of Sex and the City, meaning that she will soon be caught up with that show.

As for the two health issues. she got knocked out with a cold last week but is better now (thankfully, since I've been suffering from it for a few days). As for weight, she's been completely steady, which must surely be accounted for by muscle gain, since she looks like she's dropped a few pounds.

You may be asking now, what does Amy have to look forward to? Since I've been here a month longer, she's looking ahead to what I've gone through in the last month (or should have, according to Taylor):

1) "I like France but I don't like the French."
2) Stereotypical truisms seem confirmed and conversations turn into long strings of complaints.
3) Language skills his a plateau and seem to stop improving.
4) Work performance declines.
5) Extreme fatigue, often illness.

The first quote here says it all. I love France and love living in Paris. However, if some of the Parisites would just quit living up to the stereotypes, I'd be thrilled! For example, one might think of Parisians (or people in any big metropolis) as being pushy, rude, and cold in public. The other day, I was riding home from the BNF on an extremely crowded bus. I finally managed to work my way to the aisle in the back of the bus, behind the exit doors (where nobody ever wants to stand, since moving past the exit doors means they have advanced farther than necessary). As we left a stop and the bus driver carved out some space in the busy rush-hour traffic, a woman slid around me, filling all the space between me and the mob in front of the exit door. No problem. Then a rather large man (her husband?) tried to push past me. I was already nearly standing in a woman's lap, so I couldn't move any further off to the side. Nor could I move back, since he was trying to push past (shoulders squared with the bus), rather than trying to slide past (shoulders perpindicular to the bus). He didn't seem to comprehend the fact that I couldn't move, since he just kept trying to shove me out of the way. Two minutes later, we'd advanced a block (with a block yet to go to "his" stop) and he gave up, "patiently" waiting for the stop. As we approached the stop and the driver tried to navigate around a delivery truck that was blocking the bus lane, the woman in whose lap I was nearly standing gathered her things, making it clear that she wanted to get off at the stop. Being a chivalrous guy, I went to the other side of the aisle, standing in someone else's lap as the woman stood up. The Parisite behind me saw an opening and dove for the hole, trying to push me and the other woman out of the way. She won that little confrontation, which left him and me, front-to-back, standing sideways in the aisle. Or really, he was in the aisle, and I was in somebody's lap, pinned and unable to move. At this point, he decided to get his revenge on me for impeding his progress for so long. He was holding onto a pole, against which he pushed over and over again, shoving his bulk into me. Regardless of the looks he got from me, the woman in whose lap I had been standing, and everyone else in the back of the bus, he seemed to find this perfectly acceptable "bus attitude" (to quote the posters in the bus). We have several wonderful Parisian friends, but unfortunately, everyone else just seems to live up to the negative stereotypes.

My language skills have hit a plateau. I think my next climb, once this passes, will come when I have the confidence to cuss out people like that guy on the bus. (On a related note, one of the books in our apartment has a chapter titled, "How to Be Angry in French.") My work performance has declined in the last week, but mainly because I've been flat on my back (or should have been flat on my back) with this stupid cold. I think I'm finally on the mend, but it's going to be another day or two before my mind is fully back in the game.

So, it seems that Taylor's observations were pretty much right on. We're both living up to what she expects from people transitioning to life in France. The good news, I should be about at the end of the deepest, darkest period of the transition. She describes months 4 and 5 (December and January for me) as:

1) Small victories in work and language. Moments of competency bring hope.
2) Accomodation to the French way of doing things.
3) Renewed interest in France and the French.
4) Health restored.

Right now, I'm just looking forward to #4 coming true...


At 6/12/05 06:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess in a way, I am glad the Culture Shock book was right on for you guys. The book I read for Australia hit the mark for me when I moved there. But on the other, hand, it's sad that the stereotypes so often turn out to be true.


P.S. I can't seem to get Paypal to work for me.

At 13/12/05 21:58, Anonymous Frenchmama said...

When I'm craving a brownie fix here, I make these with dark cocoa powder (1848):

I think they're better than the box!

I hit those transitions by the book, the worst being at the 4 month mark. That's why they tell you not to visit the US before your 6 months hits. Good news is it can only get better from there and it does.


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