×
Interested in our Partner Program for businesses or our Local Guide Program for experienced expats and digital nomads? Click here to learn more.
Expat Exchange - Culture Shock in France
Expat Exchange
Free MembershipSign In
Montmarte in Paris


Culture Shock in France

By Joshua Wood, LPC

French Riviera House Hunting - FRH
French Riviera House Hunting - FRH

Summary: If you're planning a move to France, or have recently settled there, it's natural to encounter some culture shock as you adjust to your new surroundings. Our insightful article is designed to help you navigate this transition smoothly. It offers practical tips and draws on the experiences of fellow expats who have successfully embraced the cultural nuances of France.

Welcome to the charming and complex tapestry that is France! As you prepare to embark on your new adventure, it's natural to anticipate the excitement and challenges that come with immersing yourself in a new culture. France, with its rich history, exquisite cuisine, and distinct social etiquette, offers a unique experience that can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Understanding the nuances of French culture and the stages of culture shock will help you navigate your transition more smoothly. Here's what you need to know to ease into your new life in the land of wine and cheese.

Understanding Culture Shock in France

When you first arrive in France, the initial rush of excitement can quickly give way to a rollercoaster of emotions as you encounter the unfamiliar. Culture shock typically unfolds in four phases: the honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. Initially, you may be enamored with the beauty of the French landscape and the novelty of daily life. However, as the days pass, frustration might set in as you grapple with language barriers and cultural differences. Over time, you'll begin to adjust, finding your rhythm and comfort in the new environment. Eventually, acceptance blossoms as you integrate aspects of French culture into your identity, appreciating the country for all its quirks and charms.

Language Learning Curve

Mastering the French language is a journey that requires patience and persistence. While English is widely taught in schools, not everyone is fluent, and daily interactions often necessitate a basic grasp of French. From ordering a baguette at the boulangerie to setting up utilities, speaking the local tongue is key to a smoother transition. Immersion is the fastest way to learn, so don't shy away from striking up conversations, watching French media, or joining language exchange meetups. Remember, making mistakes is part of the process, and most locals appreciate the effort to communicate in their language.

Top 5 Cultural Faux Pas in France

  1. Greeting Mishaps: In France, a handshake or "la bise" (a cheek kiss) is common when greeting someone. It's important to wait for the other person to initiate and to follow their lead on whether to shake hands or kiss cheeks.
  2. Mealtime Etiquette: Meals are a ritual in France. Avoid eating on the go, and take the time to sit down and enjoy your food. Remember to keep your hands on the table (not in your lap) and wait for everyone to be served before starting to eat.
  3. Dressing Inappropriately: The French take pride in their appearance and tend to dress more formally than in some other countries. Wearing shorts, flip-flops, or athletic wear outside of appropriate settings can be frowned upon.
  4. Being Too Direct: The French communication style is often more indirect than what some expats may be used to. Being too blunt can come across as rude, so it's important to soften requests and criticisms.
  5. Ignoring Local Customs: Each region in France has its own customs and traditions. Not taking the time to learn and respect these can be seen as disrespectful. For example, in some areas, it's customary to say "bonjour" upon entering a shop.

Expat Advice on Culture Shock

Seasoned expats often emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind and being adaptable. One American expat shared how joining a local sports club helped them make friends and understand the collective nature of French society. Another expat from Canada highlighted the significance of embracing the slower pace of life, learning to savor long lunches and the art of conversation. Many recommend finding a balance between maintaining your own cultural identity and adopting new French habits. Building a support network with other expats and locals alike can provide a sense of community and a sounding board for navigating cultural complexities.

As you settle into your new French life, remember that culture shock is a natural part of the expatriate experience. It's a sign of your growth as you learn to navigate and appreciate the nuances of a different world. With time, what once seemed foreign will become familiar, and you'll find yourself feeling at home amidst the cobblestone streets, charming cafes, and vibrant markets of France.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


French Riviera House Hunting - FRH
French Riviera House Hunting - FRH

French Riviera House Hunting - FRH
French Riviera House Hunting - FRH

Montmarte in Paris

SJB Global
SJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
Learn More

SJB GlobalSJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
Learn More

Contribute to France Network Contribute
Help others in France by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in France.

French Riviera House Hunting - FRH
French Riviera House Hunting - FRH

Copyright 1997-2024 Burlingame Interactive, Inc.

Privacy Policy Legal Partners & Local Guides