I had a fun French class today; mainly because we went off topic and started talking about all the culture shocks we experienced so far living in France. It was hilarious, amusing and brought back a lot of memories of when I first arrived in the south of France.
It also gave me the inspiration to write this post! Here are some culture shocks I experienced as a Canadian living in France:
#1. La Bise
The French language has many ways to express the word ‘kiss’. La bise is French cheek kissing when you greet someone. This is normal in some cultures, but not when you’ve been living in Canada most of your life.
So there I was, meeting my French Airbnb host for the first time right after arriving in Montpellier, all excited to have my first French conversation. As I went in for a handshake to introduce myself like a polite Canadian, she leaned in to kiss my cheeks. I went with it, but I couldn’t stop thinking that our cheeks were having a very intimate moment and she hasn’t even told me her name yet!
The second time, I was all like, ‘I got this’, but I went on the wrong side and stopped too early. In southern France, you’re supposed to start on the right side and give three kisses. Who knew there were so many rules! (which change by the way if you’re in another part of France). And if you’re wondering whether you should make kissing sounds when your cheeks touch, the answer is yes.
Marc was brought up with this custom and was all too familiar with it…until he had to greet a Frenchman. Up until that point, I don’t think his face touched another man’s face. It was hilarious to watch to say the least. Unfortunately, I don’t have that encounter on camera, but this funny YouTube video sums up the whole thing pretty well.
#2. Dog Poop
It’s EVERYwhere. I’m not talking about the occasional dog poop hidden in a street corner somewhere, or in sketchy neighbourhoods. You can literally find them all over the major streets because the French don’t pick up after their dogs. Imagine walking along a big pretty street full of shops and all you want to do is look around and check out what the mannequins are wearing. Nope! You gotta turn on your dog-poop-radar and scan what’s in front of you, or else you risk taking home some unpleasant souvenirs under your shoe. That shit will smell for days! Given that we spent a long time talking about this in my class (I picked up some interesting vocabulary too), it’s safe to say that no one expected this before coming to France.
#3. Everything is Closed on Sundays
Imagine this scenario. You worked hard all week and didn’t have time to do groceries mid-week. Then comes Saturday, you decide to eat out or you have an aperitif or cook with friends – basically, you empty the fridge. Well now you’re doomed. Sunday, everything is closed – I mean everything! You don’t get to eat, you can’t shop, even the homeless take Sundays off (there is a joke about that in the Amelie Poulain movie, but it’s true!).
Another favourite topic in my French class. There are protests every week. The French fight for everything. When Marc woke up yesterday, he asked me: “What’s this noise? Is there a protest today?” I casually answered him: “Of course, it’s Thursday…Thursday is protest day.” They are very organized. Granted, there are some big upcoming law changes but I never expected weekly protests. Protests are usually peaceful, but occasionally you get the teens seeing it as an opportunity to break things. Truth be told though, I admire the feistiness of the French and that they speak up and fight for what they want in life.
Have you experienced any culture shocks in France? I’d love to hear some!
Thanks for reading et à la prochaine!