06 March 2012

Why a blog on moving to France (hint: culture shock)

 Life in France is good, but the culture shock can be severe.  Knowing why may help you survive the experience.
Life in France is good, especially for a retired person like me. But it is different in countless ways, large and small, from life in America. These differences are what this blog is about. Some you notice right away, some later or maybe never; some you can make sense of, some not. Now, if you're looking for humor, expecially sarcasm based on making fun of France and the French, this is not the place. France is a great country with a long and complex history and deserves our respect. As Raymonde Carroll suggests in her book Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience, when we get to running on about how screwed up France is, we're saying more about us and our culture than France's.

It's been a little over eight years since I moved to France (late 2003) and I've (mostly) had a great time.  Since I came here for love, early on it occurred to me that learning how to get on in France, particularly with my favorite French person, was a smart move. So I started reading up on Franco-American cultural differences. That got me paying attention to the differences and I've noticed there are a lot more than are mentioned in the books I've read. As one of the members of Live-in-France email exchange group, I've also noticed there are a lot of Americans who want to move to France or already have and are still settling in. I think maybe I can help.

If you move to Lagos or Djakarta, you expect serious cultural shock.  Those cities look, smell, sound, and taste different, so you're prepped for feeling unsettled.  But, this is France.  Just like the French think they know America and Americans, we Americans think we know France and the French.  After all we've seen the movies and news shows, watched the fashion shows, worn the cologne and perfume.  Goodness, they even wear jeans and sneakers.  OK, they've got a charming accent and they like to dress in dark colors, but otherwise you can't tell 'em from Americans.  And then you move here and get hit by as much culture shock as if you'd moved to Nigeria or Indonesia.

France is so different: different history, different culture, different rules for what's polite and what's not, different idea of what life is about, and on and on.  Unfortunately you can't appreciate the differences till you've lived here a while and experienced it.  Some make it through the transition, some don't.

This blog is my attempt to help you get ready to enjoy living in France.


  1. I will enjoy reading your blog, Harvey! My family lived in Viroflay from 1955-1959. We were the only Americans in the town, so I will relive my teenage memories as I follow your blog. I have returned to Viroflay twice and my memories stay the same. We made some lasting friendships with our neighbors.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Welcome to OntoFrance. I look forward to reading your comments.