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CULTURE

Reverse culture shock: The troubles of leaving France

Returning home after living in France can come with some reverse culture shock. Readers spell out the troubles they have re-adjusting.

Reverse culture shock: The troubles of leaving France
Photo: Daniel Lobo/Flickr
The bread is no good back home
 
This was a common response, notably from the Brits. And let's be honest, it's hard to compete with fresh French bread. 
 
… and it's not free either
 
One Australian commenter said she found it “affronting” when a restaurant offers bread and it arrives with a price tag. Yes, in France, bread with a meal is not only delicious, but is free.
 
Photo: Connie Ma/Flickr
 
The binge drinking
 
Several people pointed out that the French were a refined bunch of drinkers in contrast to their home compatriots. 
 
“Everytime I go to the UK I wonder how the hell France can always be ranked higher in terms of average drinking per person in every study,” says Ferdinand Lefebvre on Facebook. 
 
One Brit said that the British towns saw such heavy drinking and unruly behaviour that there was “an atmosphere of potential violence rarely experienced in French towns”. 
 
The kissing conundrum
 
It might take a while to get used to doing “La bise” in France but once you are accustomed to the French greeting kiss, you'll find the custom hard to drop. Which makes returning home a little tricky. 
 
You'll find yourself automatically giving people you meet two cheek kisses when they were expecting a handshake or just a nod and a smile. You'll either have to drop the act for fear of embarrassing people or making their partners jealous or proudly insist on doing it, but explain yourself each time.
 
The weather…
 
For those living in the sunny south of France, the return to Britain is always going to be tough.
 
 
The noise…
 
“Everywhere is so noisy, especially bars and restaurants,” said Nigel Hartnup. Yes you'll have to take your earplugs back home with you if you've been used to evenings on quiet café terraces in France.
 
Having to drink inside, standing up
 
Yes there is far less café terrace culture back home compared to France. That's in part due to the weather, but also because the French just like to sit down, relax, talk and sip. In the UK at least, a night out often involves standing up, inside. Not good, readers say.
 
And also on the subject of drinking…
 
Not eating on a night out
 
What is it with people back home who are happy to go out for a night and just drink. If you've been in France for a while you know that a night out pretty much always involves dinner somewhere. Eating is never cheating.
 
 
The food can never compare to French food
 
Maureen Jones from Canada says that she misses the food from France as soon as she gets home, and who can blame her given France's offerings.
 
“We get depressed visiting our grocery stores, there's nothing to buy,” she says. 
 
The food portions are too big back home
 
This was a common response from people from around the world, with many telling us that they just couldn't get accustomed to the huge servings of food after getting used to how the French eat in moderation. 
 
Big steak? Coming right up. Photo: Jessica Spengler/Flickr
 
They've got no table manners back home
 
Living in France can help you to develop extremely good table manners that you perhaps had never even thought about before. 
 
Tazzy Elhassadi said that when she went home she had a tenfold increase in noticing “all the little things” missing in her home country when it came to table manners. 

 
People don't fight for their rights like the French do
 
Christos Tiger, who says the French are masters of fighting for their rights.
 
“The English put up with everything without complaining,” he writes.
 
“I must have gone native as I always kick off trying to stand up for my 'rights' whenever I go back to the UK, not that it makes any difference whatsoever…”
 
Transport costs
 
Going back to London and seeing how much people pay to use the tube or buses makes you long to be squished in on an RER train or Metro carriage in Paris, one reader declared.
 
Public transport in Paris might have problems but at least it's fairly cheap.
 
 
Expensive French wine
 
You pay a premium to drink French wine anywhere but France it seems. It's pain full having to shell out £10 to get a half-decent bottle of French wine in a British supermarket knowing that the same money would get you a really decent wine from Nicolas or Monoprix.
 
On the other hand you could just buy Californian or South African plonk.
 
They don't do basic politeness
 
Be prepared for strange looks if you continue the French custom of saying “hello” in lifts, waiting rooms, shops etc…
 
The Local's former intern Katie Warren said that basic politeness went out the window when she returned to the US.
 
“Reverse culture shock is so real,” she said. “My first interaction here (in a deli) went something like this:
 
Me upon walking in: “Hello!”
Cashier girl: Silence.
Me: Puts pasta salad on counter.
Cashier: “Seven fifty.”
Me: “Great, thanks. Bye, have a good evening!”
Cashier: Silence.”
 
Jock Meston says: “I've also grown used to the French politeness, saying thank you and please, looking each other in the eye when clinking glasses, that sort of thing being the norm.”
 
The lack of holidays
 
In the US at least, “people work incredibly hard and get very few vacation days… and they do some in an almost robotic way”, says Erielle Delzer.
 
All the chain stores and bars
 
France has managed to look after its independent stores, bars and cafés better than many Anglophone countries. “When you go back to the UK now, all town centres just feel the same. Boots, Costa coffee, Superdrug, Pizza Express…” one UK expat said.
 
French towns are thankfully holding on to their originality. 
 
“Motorway service stations…
 
…With only junk food” was one suggestion sent in by a reader and we agree. French motorway service stations are a pleasure to stop in. And the machine coffee is even decent. 
 
Litter and rubbish
 
Two or three readers, presumably not living in Paris, pointed out how they are shocked by all the litter and rubbish onthe streets of UK towns compared to clean French towns and villages. Not just the rubbish, but also “how scruffy the towns” were.
 
Having to drink six cups of tea a day
 
My bladder is no longer big enough for the average daily tea intake in the UK, said one reader. 
 
But there are positives for some people…
 
The supermarkets are actually open
 
We heard this one a lot, and it's no surprise – many French shops will be closed on Sunday and won't open late. In other countries, especially the US, you can find anything at any time (and often in any place).
 
French café owner fined €190k for closing on Bastille Day

Photo: Sylvain Naudin/Flickr
 
The red tape is suddenly so easy
 
“What will never cease to be pleasantly surprising is how easy everything admin is,” said one Australian woman. “I dedicated half a day to renewing my driving licence and it was done in 20 minutes without an appointment and with irregular circumstances. I was expecting huge problems.”
 
Smiling is normal
 
And lastly, when she's back home in the US, Erielle Delzer says that not smiling “is considered rude”. This no doubt comes as a shock after living in France, or at least Paris, where those who smile are the tourists and the drunks. 
 
Photo: Guille Mueses/Flickr
 
A version of this article was first published in 2016.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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