Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

What is going on? I am spending a couple of days in France and it seems that, well, I am standing out. I have taken (some of) my Britishness with me, and it shows. I feel like an outsider. Not nice.

Let me explain. Whenever I meet someone, I ask (in French) ‘How are you?’ Or ‘How are you doing?’ I had two, well, interesting replies today. The first one, from my father, was ‘you know how I am’. The second one, from the shopkeeper, was ‘it is none of your business’. Right. Sounds like my question was a miss then. Ok, lesson learned.
The second one was at the wheel. You see, I don’t do road rage. I respect speed limitations and if a fellow driver is in a difficult position, I will stop to let him/her pass. My mother, who was sitting next to me, was ballistic. She asked me why I had stopped to help the poor guy who had been waiting for so long, because, according to her, I shouldn’t have: I had priority (seriously, who cares?). She went on to illustrate this point a couple of hours later when she was driving ( I don’t think she will let me drive ever again) when she thought that the car in front of us wasn’t going fast enough. She then drove as close as possible to it, and started tooting her horn to try to make it go faster. Suffice to say that it didn’t work. All she got was a middle finger of the other driver. I didn’t understand why she was so worked up about the whole thing. In fact, I still don’t.
What has happened to me? I used to live here. I knew how to behave. Well, not any more. And it feels weird. I really don’t know where I belong any more. Is it good? Is it bad? Well, it is just me.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • My goodness Muriel. The French Chamber of Commerce will not be applauding you…. Sounds like you would fit in much better around here!

    • I know. Seriously, when can I move. Maybe, I have become a citizen of the world.

  • How funny that you are suffering culture shock in your own country.

  • You are yourself…no need to conform to anyone or anything else…

    • Thank you Caro! It is just that I start seeing my home country with a British eye, I suppose.

  • Daria

    I had a very similar experience driving my mum to her local supermarket in Italy. She was not impressed by my polite attitude towards other drivers and to be honest with you the other drivers were as shocked as my mum was. After having experienced how pleasant it is to drive in civilised countries such as the UK and Ireland, going back to an aggressive and badly-mannered driving culture is truly painful. In that respect I’m so grateful that the years spent in the UK and Ireland have taught me that there is a better way of doing certain things, and driving politely is one of them.

    • So am I, Daria. The thing is, I am now scared to drive in France. Sad but true. I can’t win!

  • You are simply taking the best from both worlds my dear!

    • Am I? I just wish it was a smoother ride, Marie. I keep feeling like a misfit wherever I go.

  • It is a bit discombobulating when you start looking at your own country through the lens of your host country. No one knows how to drive here (Chicago) and certainly won’t let you out if you’re trying to get out of a side street. I am on a personal one-woman campaign to be nice to other drivers. I even got honked at yesterday for letting someone sneak in front of me. All that does is make me do it more 😉

    • Well, Chicago sounds a lot like France. I am the same. I am trying to be civilised at the wheel but nobody understands me.

  • Interesting… I don’t think I would say ” How are you ?” ( as in ” Bonjour, ca va?”) to the shopkeeper in France (unless it’s a friend). But that’s probably because How are you in Ireland really means “Hi, I don’t want to know how you are, I’m just being polite”. If you say How are you in Britain, do you always get a real answer ? Just curious… As for the driving, well, I do find French drivers a lot more aggressive and not very helpful on the road…

    • In London, you always say ‘How are you?’ You don’t expect an answer, it is just to start the conversation…

  • Do the French not ask “How are you?” That is a common question here in the states. And road rage is rampant here. I think you should not have to feel like you fit in. Just be who you are!

    • Well, no, the French don’t seem to ask ‘How are you?’ I shamefully admit that I had forgotten…

  • Ah, can’t wait till my summer holidays. Xx

  • Daria

    In France almost all shopkeepers say Bonjour to customers which I find very pleasant. They don’t really go beyond that but I think that it is perfectly fine. I have always believed that the Anglo-saxon way of saying “Hi, how are you?” is slightly exaggerated as what they really mean is just Hi. I keep falling into this trap mumbling each time I’m asked a reply while the person is already miles away. I don’t think that I will ever get used to it.

    • Well, Daria, I fell into exactly the same trap. I must try harder…

  • I drive my husband mad on M’ways. I go too slowly especially when listening to the radio. He drives me mad in the city as he let’s more people through than I do. Funny to hear your experience as there are far fewer cars per mile on French roads so you’d think they’d be more relaxed. Perhaps your mother is kinder to the cyclists, I know they are held in high esteem out on the highways and given much more room than we give them over here in UK. 🙂

    • My mum doesn’t hold anyone in hight esteem when she drives. She becomes a different person, and shouts at everything that moves, cyclist included. Scary but true…

  • Reverse culture shock is a real issue, and one that I am afraid to confront, actually. I know that when I visit Manila, hopefully sooner than later, I will be ‘different” and would have to adapt to things that would otherwise have been just taken-for-granted realities for me as a Filipino. It’s not just you. I’m sure a lot of expats or migrants get transformed this way and find themselves a bit ‘lost’ when going back to their country of origin. It makes you wonder about the idea of nationality and personal identity though, I bet.

    • Joy, I don’t know where I belong any more. Actually, it feels a bit weird…