Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly.

Dear Madame K,

Just love your blog! I'm reading a book on cultural misunderstandings, written by a French anthropologist, and was wondering if you could share your overall insights into the Good, the Bad, and Ugly of adjusting to French culture in one encompassing list ( well, you know what I mean?). I've got this thing about France and the French way of life seems so inviting.

Thanks a bunch,

Janet Jackson

Dear Janet Jackson,

I started to reply to your question, but then realized that it was turning into a short memoire of my years in France. There is no way to compile all that experience, observation, and analysis into one list. I’m starting to think that perhaps me mum is right. I should write a book.
So instead I’ve just narrowed it down to the basics:

The Good:

I’ve thought about this one really hard and the only ‘good’ thing I can think of in terms of adjusting to French culture is well, the food. Oh and let’s not forget the wine. It’s no secret that I’m a Foodie, but I certainly didn’t start out in life that way. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in the Midwest. Des Moines, Iowa is not exactly a food culture hot spot unless you consider a jumbo corndog to be a gourmet dish. It wasn’t until I moved to France that my love affair with food began. Especially with cakes. I’m not much of a cheese fan, but oh pastries, how I adore thine elegantly crusty texture and long to take thy fluffy cream into my mouth. Yep, cake porn.

Anyway, I could go on and on about how much I love French food and how cool it is that you can get ripped at lunch on a bottle of wine and nobody threatens to send you to an AA meeting, but before you get all carried away, I’ll leave you with this bit of tragic info. Since moving to France, I have gained 50 pounds. So, there ya go. Everything comes with a price.

The Bad:

Again, it’s hard to make a list, so I’ll just tell you a bit about my struggles during my first year in France---because the first year is the hardest. First and foremost unless you are exceptionally talented with languages, you will be confused and overwhelmed in the midst of all those irregular verbs and all those nonsensical clever French expressions. And you will be humbled time and time again by those who are inpatient with your weak language skills.

When you are finally able to understand and speak a bit of French, guess what?---- sucks for you because all of your friends live back in (insert-name-of-your-home-town-here) and thus you have nobody to talk to anyway. You will try to make French friends but instead you will end up hanging out with just about any Anglophone Ex-pat you can find because in general French people really aren’t all that interested in making new friends, especially with people who barely speak French.

The Ugly:

According to the Wikipedia Gods, France has been a world famous center of global fashion since the 17th century. But nowhere in this wikipedia article do they mention the persistant ugliness that is Euro-Trash.

So there you have it. Have I convinced you to move to France yet?

You see, Janet Jackson, If I ever did make that all encompassing list, I'm afraid it wouldn't make a pretty picture of this here country. I love France, or maybe that's too strong of a word. Let's just say I'm OK with it. Even after almost 6 years, there isn't a day that goes by where I don't feel like a complete an total outsider. I have been "Frenchified" in so many ways that even I am astounded, yet I am who I am, and God help me, I think I'll always be more American than anything else, and day by day I'm becoming very OK with that fact.

I really do love corndogs.

I'm always cautious when it comes to answering questions about transitioning into French culture. I think it's such an individual thing. Some have a harder time than others, but nobody finds it to be easy. You can ask any ex-pat living in France if they think of France as being an "inviting" culture to try to integrate into and I think you'd be hard pressed to find any who would use that term.

Hope I didn't rain too much on your parade.

Madame K

Have a question you’d like me to rant about? Send your question to: Madamek at ymail dot com.


Andromeda said...

I love corndogs too. More than is really normal I think.

And even when you do speak the language very well, it doesn't really help things! The French are just French, they can't help themselves.

Foxxy said...

This was a good post. Really honest. I have a cousin living in France and she says pretty much the same thing, but with more cursing.

k said...

Those pictured cracked me up. Ha! :]

Megan said...

French way of life... maybe. French themselves... maybe not.

'Drea said...

So, does that mean that you have to be originally from France in order for the French paradox to work?

Dedene said...

I agree with just about everything you wrote. After being here 20+ years, I'm finally, finally relating to French women! That was a struggle.
But I still get all giddy when I get a jar of peanut butter from the U.S. :-)))

Shanster said...

I've been told integrating yourself into the small East coast towns when you are NOT from the East can be the same way! heh....

and ditto on the corndogs.

KLS said...

I agree with your mom, you need to write a book.

Cherise said...

I'm learning Swiss culture, at least the French-Swiss, is very similar in terms of welcoming to outsiders. I am finding that true even with kids - usually, kids everywhere in the world have some common language and seem to bond no matter what. On this trip, however, I've seen my uber-friendly social butterfly 3-yr old struggle because every time she sees kids and wants to play (even the kids who are friends of ours), they're not interested in an 'outside' kid. Well, at least that's my take on it ;-). Oddly, however, in the random places we've been where there have been ex-pat kids, they're super friendly to her. Weird.

It's interesting to see how much the French-Swiss and French have in common, and how much they don't....

Good summary.

raynaae said...

It's a grave misconception that we have the the French can dress...I've been disapointed many months walking through the streets of Lyon.

Veronica Venice said...

I'm from New Orleans and now living in the Rhone Alps region with a 5 year old (since July '08). I have found the locals overly friendly. I was overwhelmed with how inviting people have been (even aggressively so). Random parents at the school and in our building will invite my daughter and I to their homes for a play date. Even my daughter's teacher invited us to her home for dinner. It was a bit much for me - like going to 3rd base without even a warm-up. In the States, I don't find parents wanting to invite you to their homes for play dates unless you really know the parent (like via work or church). Kids bring out best behavior among the locals -- they seems to focus their world on the kids. At here, in Grenoble, they do!