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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

How to make the most of France’s ‘night of museums’ this weekend

More than 3,000 French museums will stay open long past their bedtimes on Saturday May 14th for the 18th Long Night of Museums.

How to make the most of France's 'night of museums' this weekend

The annual event takes place on the third Saturday in May each year in towns and cities across the whole of Europe. There are temporary exhibitions, themed guided visits, musical entertainment, lectures, concerts, food tasting, historical reconstructions and re-enactments, and film projections. Best news of all, almost everything is free. 

Here’s The Local’s guide to getting the most out of the night:

Plan, plan, then throwaway the plan

Consult the online programme and map out your route. A little preparation will make the night much easier – 3,000 museums will be open long into the night in France, and you don’t want to waste hours standing on a bridge arguing about where to go next. 

The site has suggestions for major cities, including Lyon, Dijon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseilles. And four museums that have been closed to the public for years – Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Musée de Valenciennes, the Forum antique de Bavay in Nord and the Musée départemental Albert-Khan in Boulogne-Billancourt – are reopening on the night.

So, decide where you’re going beforehand – then feel free to dump your carefully plotted plan in a bin when you overhear someone else talking about this extraordinary thing they have discovered and go with the flow.

Be patient

When you are consulting the official website, try not to scream. You have to navigate a map rather than a traditional programme format – though, at least, this year it’s broken down in to French regions, which is marginally less frustrating.

It is actually much easier if you know the specific museums you are interested in visiting, as they have individual programmes of events. But half the fun of a night like this is visiting somewhere you’ve never been before.

Wear comfortable shoes and travel light

Wear shoes for the long haul rather than the first impression. There will be distances to cover and you might even find yourself dancing in the middle of a museum. 

And blisters are never a good partner with great art. Leave your skateboard and shopping trolley at home, they will just prove a nuisance when you are going through security checks.

Come early – or late – to avoid endless queues

Arriving at the Louvre at 8pm is always going to mean a giant queue. And nothing ruins a night quicker than spending most of it standing in an unmoving line. Try to escape peak times at the major museums – but check they’re not doing something interesting that you don’t want to miss – hip hop dance classes in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, in the Louvre’s Richelieu wing, for example…

Go somewhere you’ve never been to before

Do a lucky dip. Pick somewhere you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. What about the Musée de Valenciennes, which reopens after years of being closed to the public, for example. Its giving visitors the chance to see its fine art under ultraviolet light – which will reveal things you wouldn’t normally see.

Or you could delve deep into the Aude Departmental Archives, in Carcassonne, and discover the amazing life stories of some of the region’s historical figures

Make it social

Gather the troops, this is a night for multi-generations of family and friends. Art, history and culture, is very much a shared experience and you can usually find something that everyone loves – or hates.

Plan a pitstop

You will always need refreshing and wouldn’t a night of culture be wonderfully enhanced by a delicious picnic on the banks of the Seine, if you’re in Paris. 

Your mind will need a little pause from all the intellectual overload. Find a spot, listen to the music (there’s always music from somewhere) and watch the Bateaux Mouches go by as you eat a baguette with some good local cheese and some saucisson.

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