It’s a beautiful Friday morning here in the South of France. The town square comes alive with over 100 local vendors selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade tapenade, blood sausage and the stinkiest cheeses you have ever smelled. Not to mention the various nick-knacks only found in France. It gets so animated and it gives me an excuse to peruse and socialize with the locals.
It’s on these days’ that I truly feel like we actually live in France.
Today however, I had a special reminder that we really live in France. Can you guess what it was?
True story, I found dog poop at my door step AGAIN and captured the moment in photos. Yes, I am this demented but i wanted to show you how normal it is here;
We all have our beliefs about what we think is normal, acceptable and right or wrong but not all cultures share our beliefs & values. These differences can cause severe culture shock. – a term which people throw around but often don’t really understand. You may have already experienced culture shock and not even know it. Here are some examples of culture shock to give you some context into this puzzling phenomenon which can turn a perfectly good holiday into your worst nightmare.
Welcome to your new country:
People do things differently here.
Culture shock happens to everyone, even seasoned travellers experience varying degrees of culture shock- that disconnect between what you expect and what you actually experience when you visit another culture. Sometimes the differences between your culture and your new culture can be very exciting at first. Sometimes they make you feel confused, anxious., nervous, overwhelmed, disgusted or disoriented. until finally, you feel homesick and can’t take it anymore and or go home.
Unfortunately many people underestimate the power of culture shock or don’t realize they are experiencing culture shock which can turn any trip to another culture into a nightmare. By learning to identify when you are experiencing culture shock and understanding why, you can better prepare so you have an easier time overcoming and dealing with your feelings.
I’ve put together 10 examples of culture shock. Read through them and try to imagine how you you might react or feel in these situations. Some may SHOCK YOU, some may not but if you are not accustomed to these differences they can cause culture shock which is totally normal but please don’t be rude when you see of row of skinned sheep heads behind the meat counter by pointing and making twisted contorted expression of disgust. You’ll not only insult the locals but you’ll look ignorant as well.
1 – Food Culture Shock
I’ll have some roasted rat and chicken feet please!
TIP: Expect food to be different. What you think is gross may be considered a delicacy in other countries.
Travelling to a new culture can mean seeing things on the menu that you never even knew you could eat. You don’t have to scarf down every weird thing you see but at the same time, choosing not to eat could insult your hosts or make a bad impression. Use good judgement and don’t insult people by squinting up your face.
Here are some examples of foods which are eaten in different cultures that may send you over the deep end.
Rat on a stick is served in some countries like Thailand and Africa. Not dirty city rats but wild field rats on a stick! MMMMM.
In China and in many Chinese restaurants around the world, chicken feet is served regularly.
Don’t be surprised to find horse meat and blood sausage at the food stores in France.
TIP: Try to learn a few key words and phrases before you go.
In cultures where you don’t speak the language, expect simple things to be more difficult- like riding a subway, ordering food at a restaurant or calling the cable company to tell them your box isn’t working. Don’t expect people to speak your language.
The continued frustration you feel from not being able to communicate can lead to culture shock.
Imagine being in a country like Japan where the language and the alphabet are completely different. You have no car so you head to the subway station or bus stop but you don’t know how to read the signs and no one speaks English. You could take a taxi but how would you tell the driver where to go if you don’t speak Japanese?
This is exactly what happened to me my first 3 months in Japan. I remember feeling helpless and frustrated at my inability to understand anything. Everything took extra time to figure out. I felt anxiety about asking directions because I couldn’t understand what the other person was saying. At times I just didn’t want to go out because it took too much effort.
Rather than curl up and cower home, I toughed it out. I took extra time to figure out the words for the places I wanted to go. I began learning Japanese, made some friends and immersed myself in their culture. Doing so helped me really enjoy my stay in Japan because I actually felt I was experiencing Japanese culture. Being able to speak a little also gave me the confidence to go see and do as much as I could despite my inability to completely communicate fluently.
3 – Nudity in public
(My husband sleeping at the beach next to a topless women)
Boobs on the beach!
TIP: Don’t expect other cultures to have the same views as you about nudity in public.
It’s just not a big deal in some countries. In France for example, it is not uncommon to see women going topless at the beach. Not just young beautiful women, but older women in their 80’s too. Don’t expect hundreds of women to be topless at the beach either, unless you go to a nudist beach. Instead you’ll see a smattering of women here and there because NOT everyone goes topless.
You don’t need to go topless at the beach but don’t act like you’ve never seen a pair of breasts either and for goodness sake, don’t stare. You’ll get used to it and then it just becomes no big deal.
**note: At the pool my husband used to swim at in Hyères France, some women used to swim topless which did shock my husband at first but again after a while he just got used to it.
4 – Clothing: Burqa’s and the way people dress
Do you dress modestly enough?
TIP: Do some research about proper attire before you go. You may discover certain things are inappropriate.
At the other end of the spectrum of nudity are women who must cover most of their body including their arms, legs, ankles, neck and sometimes their face like many women from Muslim countries who’s custom is to dress this way mainly to enforce female modesty.
The first time I saw a woman wearing a burqa that wasn’t on TV was in France. There is quite a large Muslim population in France so it’s not unusual to see women wearing a Hijab ( scarf on their heard) or a Burqa (covered from head to toe).
I felt a little frightened but immediately felt ashamed for feeling that way. I remember there were two women wearing full burkas which covered up every inch of their body except for their eyes. One of them was wearing black gloves as she pushed her baby along in a stroller.
I couldn’t help but stare (I tried to do it discreetly). I wondered how they ate with their mouth covered up. How they swim. How could they stand the hot summer months wearing a burqa.
I met the woman above in Marseille (she is wearing a hijab)
5 – Hygiène: Blowing your boogers and snot
How to properly clear your nose?
TIP: People from different cultures view hygiene differently.
Most of us are taught from an early age that it’s just not polite to pick a winner. One must use a tissue or handkerchief and blow our nose into it, then put the tissue in your pocket until you can dispose of it later.
Theodora, a single mom who is travelling the world with her son, said that in some parts of Asia, the thought of blowing your nose into a tissue and saving it for later is disgusting. Instead, many people covered one nostril and blew out the other so whatever is up there will get blown out like a projectile and hopefully land on the ground.
6- Don’t use toilet paper
You probably think toilet paper is necessary.
Ha, you are wrong, You don’t need toilet paper!
In many culture people would rather use water and their hands to clean their private parts after a pee or a poo- not toilette paper.
I know what you are thinking. WHAT! They use their hands to wipe their bum?
Yes It’s true. Using toilet paper to wipe your bum is considered not as clean as washing yourself with water and your hand because toilet paper smears as you wipe. So if you go to any of the countries that have this custom, don’t be surprised to see a water source in the stall but not toilet paper. Countries which do this include many Muslim countries like Morocco, Asian and south east Asian countries like India and even parts of Africa.
Tutorial: How to use the WC without toilet paper!
According th Wilbur Sargunaraj in the video, a bucket filled with water and a smaller container in the bucket called a dipper is used to scoop out some water and pour it on your rear while cleaning yourself with your left hand. After it is all said and done, you wash your hands with soap. This method is considered much cleaner than using toilet paper in India.
7- Strange celebrations & customs:
When is it ok to cut and hurt yourself?
TIP: Every culture has their own customs and rituals. To the rest of the world they may seem strange and bizarre but to them it has special meaning. Learn about their customs to get a better understanding.
There are customs and rituals around the world that would make many of us scratch our heads and maybe even recoil in disgust. This feeling is yet another example of culture shock.
My friends Jennifer and Tony Miller, were in Thailand during their world travel tour with their 4 kids, saw a festival in Thailand called the Phuket vegetarian festival. People participating in this festival were causing all kinds of bodily harm to themselves as part of the festival. Blood was everywhere.
One man was slicing his tongue with a knife.
Another man was jabbing his cheeks with sharp objects.
Most travellers and tourists would probably be quite horrified to watch this festival and wonder “WHY?”. But this festival holds special meaning to the locals.
If you are interested in seeing Jennifer’s photo essay about this festival, you should go and read about it on her blog here Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Just remember, that you may not like what you see.
8- Dog shit- Accepting the unacceptable social norms
There is no worse feeling than taking a stroll and stepping in a hot pile of dog dung. That disgusting stench that is released and won’t go away no matter how much you try to scrape the bottom of your shoe on the curb or in the grass.
France has had a bad reputation about all the dog shit everywhere and guess what. It’s true. There IS an exceedingly large amount of dog dung everywhere.
I remember hearing about the dog poo problem in France but knowing and experiencing first hand are two completely different animals. When I was actually living in France and saw the problem up close, I felt frustrated and confused. How can you just leave your dogs feces lying in the street? It boggled my mind. Even the French hate dop poop and know they have a problem. Why else would their be avertissements saying there is a 50 euro fine for not picking up after your dog. It does not good though.
It took about a year for me to adjust and take on the French attitude towards the dog shit problem which is………. I don’t have to like it but I don’t have to get frustrated or angry either. I tolerate it and say “That’s just the way it is, what can I do?” C’est la vie!
Tip: Try to understand why something is different because sometimes there is a practical reason for the difference in a cultures social norms
Nancy Vogel of Family On Bikes said in many countries, especially in Central and South America, one should not throw used toilet paper in the toilet. You must throw it in the rubbish bin. When I heard this, I immediately thought wouldn’t it start to smell up the bathroom? It turns out, toilet paper is thrown in the rubbish bins because the septic system cannot handle anything other than human waste; not even toilet paper. Some hotels even have signs asking guests to throw their used toilet paper in the waste bin and NOT the toilet.
Not all toilets are created equal.
TIP: Learn about the toilet customs before you go. You might thank yourself later.
Some toilets have lids, some have a lever you push, some you pull. In other words not all toilets look like American toilets.
In FRANCE: it is not uncommon to find toilets with no seat covers or lids.
When I lived in Japan, I was surprised to learn that many of the bathrooms were actually squatting toilets. If you are really lucky, there was a pole to hang on to so you didn’t lose your balance.
I admit, at first these differences in the toilet do seem a bit strange but after a while you barely notice.
Your best chance at overcoming culture shock is to adapt to your new culture and try to understand the history and reasons why the cultural differences exist. Look at it as a learning experience to gain a new perspective and develop a better understanding for that other culture.
You just might see things in a whole new way and find it easier to adjust and deal with the differences. It’s these differences that make travel so interesting.
If you want everything to be the same, you can always just stay home.!
Moving to France can be fun and exciting. You are surrounded by new foods, a new environment, a different culture not to mention the fact that you will be immersed in the most romantic language on the planet; FRENCH! However unless you do certain things to prepare for these changes, these new and dreamy things could turn into your worst nightmare! Find out what you need to do to avoid being miserable after you move to France.
How Not To Be Miserable After You Move To France
If you’ve never experienced culture shock let me explain.
Culture shock can make you feel isolated, depressed and make you curse the day you decided to move abroad. It can turn an otherwise wonderful adventurous experience into a depressing nightmare.
Imagine arriving in a place where you can’t communicate and you can’t tell anyone what you want. The customs are so foreign that you can’t make heads or tails of any situation. Doing simple things like cashing a check stresses you out and takes more effort than you ever thought possible leaving you feeling exhausted.
How To Avoid Culture Shock:
You can avoid or at least minimize culture shock by simply learning about your destinations people, it’s customs, even it’s history. But the single biggest thing you can do to avoid culture shock and ultimately enjoy your life in France is to learn the language; preferably you should start the learning process before you leave your home country. If that is not possible than make it one of your priorities once you get to France.
Knowing just some basic phrases and some vocabulary can help you hit the ground running as soon as you arrive in your new country.You will be able to do simple things like ask for directions, ask where the bathroom is or order a sandwich with no onions.
Kids and culture shock:
If you have kids, it’s doubly important to prepare their minds for what life might be like especially if they are older. Younger kids seem to be able to adapt more easily. This may be due to the fact that younger children are inherently more creative and more open to new experiences than older kids and adults.
As we get older, we tend to lose our creativity and close our minds to change and new experiences. It’s very important to be open to new experiences to make the most of your time abroad otherwise, it will not be fun for you AT ALL!
There are many ways you can learn french; take a class, find a French tutor, or buy a language software and teach yourself. There are even video games that can teach you how to speak a new language. In my opinion, audio and or video products are best in terms of helping your pronunciation. At the very minimum, get yourself a dictionary. I highly suggest you get a Visual Dictionary. I love how it organizes photos by subject and theme. For example, the herb section in a visual dictionary will have pictures of all the herbs grouped together with translations in both French and English.
Learn as much as you can about France before you go!
Learning about France or whatever country you plan to move to just makes common sense. There is no wrong or right way for you to go about learning either. I would start with the internet an go from there. Just remember that It’s impossible to know and plan for everything.
As for our family? We did lots of research and we adjusted fairly quickly but there were some things we just didn’t know we needed to know. Nothing major, little things like the fact that the grocery stores don’t sell headache medicine like they do in the United States. Or the fact that breakfast restaurants in France don’t serve omelettes for breakfast. Or the fact that most things are closed on Sunday.
Despite these differences, the one biggest contributing factor to our overall happiness and lack of stress has been the fact that one of us spoke French.
Other articles about French culture
Here are some article I have written on the topic of French culture. I think they will help you get a better feel for what life is REALLY like in France vs what you see in the movies.
Tipping: No tipping. All bills, as required by law, must say service compris, which means “tip has been included”. It is not uncommon to leave small change from the bill in a restaurant or café. A few Centimes.
How to greet French Friends: French people cheek kiss to greet each others between family and friends.The number of kisses varies between 1 to 5 but typically it’s 2 or 3. Even men cheek kiss. My sons both greet their friends at school this way.( it’s very charming and civilized).