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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Paris, France

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Yes, before I left. Another (short) class after I got here.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No. I am taking lessons through my company, but it is pretty rough going.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?


How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?


Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

There was no honeymoon stage, oddly enough. Stampeded right into misery stage. I've only been here 10 weeks, but it is pretty nasty so far.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Typical stuff. Depression, anxiety due to the additional stress in doing anything without sufficient language skills, and intense loneliness due to the disruption of the social network.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Food, culture, cultural activities

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The bureaucracy is pretty irritating.

Probably the worst is the tendency of the French to keep to themselves and their network of friends. Makes it exceedingly difficult to rebuild my social network.

The language is causing me a lot of trouble.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

If I did, I was oblivious to it.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

I think there is underemphasis on the stress to single expats, in contrast to the substantial attention given to the "trailing spouse" phenomena. As a single expat, your social network is essentially completely destroyed, unlike that when you have a family with you.

Language skills cannot be overemphasized. Learning after you arrive is too late, as it prevents quick integration.

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Comments about this Report

Jan 25, 2011 11:04

Bonjour - read your commentary on adjusting to Paris through @wifeinasuitcase on Twitter. If you're looking for suggestions, allow me (8th year abroad) to send you some quick and dirty tricks to get out of this funk: 1) Make expat friends, fast. If that means you have to take 1/2 day off work to attend some sort of mid-day meeting, just go and meet people as soon as possible. Search Yahoo Groups, Twitter, and Google for "expats (name your country) in Paris" and you should come up with something that will assist you in honing in on these groups. If I remember correctly, the American Church has some sort of community type center that's not religion-centric and could connect you to other expats. 2) Call your embassy and ask them about networking activities either social or business. A lot of embassies host social events for their ilk, you will just need to get on a mailing list of sorts. 3) Bump up the language courses. Get a private tutor on the side and have your company pay for it once you're at a level where you can converse. Don't be intimidated by the Parisians. Once you can get the requisite greetings out of the way and show that you're trying, you will learn that they all speak English, though not entirely reluctantly. 4) Pursue hobbies that you liked back home, in Paris. Join an athletic club, soccer group, whatever it is that you liked to do back home - the expat forums and email lists will help you connect to these groups, and those people. All the best, bon chance as they say...once you make friends in similar circumstances or those who have muddled through it triumphant, it will make life a lot easier for you. You can find me on Twitter (expatbug).

Feb 1, 2011 01:21

As a native French who has lived half of my life in the US and is considering going back to France (read: applying to jobs there) to be closer to my aging parents, I can totally relate: your anxiety echoes how I am feeling about the prospect of living in France again and I have not even booked a flight yet! The language will not be the issue for me but France has always seemed to be harsh, a place where everything tends to be a little harder than it could be due to the sometimes less than genial attitudes of the people and the inflexible, sinuous processes for most services. But, since I will be living there, I better start changing my perception and opening myself to happy surprises, and to being proven wrong... I will be moving with my American, non-French speaking husband in the next 2-3 months and we'd be happy to be part of your new social network if you still need friends by then. We can laugh about it all together... You can also find me on Twitter (@veroniquelhote.) Best, V.

Feb 3, 2011 05:50

I'm sorry to hear you are having such a hard time acclimating to life in Paris, France. I have a suggestion and I'm totally serious. Seek out Jehovah's Witnesses. They are friendly and welcoming no matter what country one is living in. Go to a meeting at the Kingdom Hall and meet others. There may be an English congregation. If you have any interest in the Bible your spiritual needs will be met. And if you aren't interested in the Bible or knowing more about God then at least you can meet some friendly folks and have a few hours of not feeling alone. I hope things go better for you in your experience of living abroad in France.

Feb 19, 2011 10:02

It seems to me that this individual wasn't well prepared for the move to a new country. It's entirely up to the individual to do some research before a move. Also, I get the impression that perhaps one didn't really want to make the move. As for bureaucrasy - no matter where one moves from or to there is always an enormous amount of paperwork that needs to be done. Such is life. As an unattached expat one can make quicker choises as to what social clubs to join ie. gyms, sports clubs, language classes, international organisations such as rotary or quilting. There is a small matter of positive thinking and maintaining a positive outlook. Just for general information - I have been an expat for close on to 45 years now, as a child, single adult, married couple and family so have a fair insight into culture shock and expat life. It's what you make of it.

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