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The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe

We asked our readers what surprised them most about working and living in Europe. This is what they had to say.

The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe
Photo: elenathewise/Depositphotos

Every country has its own little quirks and discovering them is part of the fun of living abroad. That’s not to say it can’t be tough to adjust at times, as many of our readers have found out for themselves. The Local has partnered with AXA – Global Healthcare to present a handpicked selection of the biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe.

No smiles in Sweden

One of the first things expats notice about the Swedes is that while they are (almost unnervingly) polite, they prefer minding their own business – so don’t expect a smile on the subway.

Photo: danni.ronneberg/Depositphotos

Swedes may be all about solidarity and equality, but they’ll never give away their favourite spot for picking mushrooms, let alone give up their bus or train seat. They’re also strict about queuing but are often seen crossing the street where there isn’t a designated pedestrian crossing (the horror!) and spitting on the ground which may seem shocking to some expats in Sweden. 

Old-school in Italy

The Mediterranean country boasts lush vineyards, serene coastal landscapes, and lively cities bursting with culture. However, its nightmarish bureaucracy and lack of digitalization sometimes outweigh the many positives for its international residents.

Slow digitalization is a common bugbear experienced by expats in several European countries. When it comes to digital healthcare at least, AXA is on-hand to support Europe’s international residents. The Virtual Doctor Service, offered with AXA’s global health plans including out-patient cover, allows expats to speak to a doctor in a range of languages, at short notice from anywhere in the world.

Find out more about AXA’s online doctor service

No lunch errands in France

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The French are famously hot-blooded so you’d think they’d see the merits of air conditioning. Think again. Even in the hottest months, they manage to get by without air con — much to the dismay of the country’s international residents. 

Your French colleagues won’t be impressed if they catch you rushing your lunch or eating it at your desk. The French make time for each other and are well-known for their long lunch breaks and lively dinner parties. But for those who are used to taking a quick lunch – or even working through their lunch breaks – lunches that last for hours can be an adjustment.

Internationals used to running errands over lunch will have to reschedule: banks, post offices, most shops, and even the gendarmerie (a branch of the French armed forces responsible for internal security) close down for at least a couple of hours at lunchtime.

Speeding in Germany

Photo: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Germany is another country where digitalization has been slow on the uptake. Mobile data plans are simultaneously slow and expensive, which can be frustrating for expats used to a more seamless online experience. In contrast, there is no speed limit on the Autobahn which can come as a terrifying realization for internationals driving in Germany.

Stereotype or not, Germans are famous for their efficiency. That said, expats in Germany report finding simple bureaucratic tasks – such as setting up a bank account – to be far from efficient.

Timekeeping in Spain

It’s hard to think of Spain without envying its siestas – the obligatory down-time when the entire country shuts down for two hours in the middle of the day – and its fiestas – which needs no translation.

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The Spaniards certainly do seem to have a unique relationship with time, as expats soon come to realize. We’re not just talking about the late-night dinners. In Spain, there is little road rage (a by-product of no-one rushing to get anywhere), young children stay up later than many expats are accustomed to, an “afternoon appointment” can refer to an appointment time after 8pm, and you can comfortably say buenos dias (good morning) until after lunch. This takes some acclimatising for expats coming from countries with stricter rules about timekeeping.

Strapped for time? AXA’s Virtual Doctor Service can save you time and give you peace of mind while living abroad. Click here to find out more about AXA’s global healthcare plans or click here to get a quote.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

HEALTH

UPDATE: How to access mental health services in France

On World Mental Health Day, we take a look at how to access mental health services in France - and what changes will come into place in 2022.

A man sits depressed during a mental health consultation. The Covid-19 pandemic has put us all under mental strain.
Accessing mental health services in France can be difficult. Read our guide on how to navigate this system and changes on the horizon. (Credit: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash)

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a mental toll on people around the world. France is no exception. 

According to a study conducted by French health authorities in September: 15 percent of French people are depressed (up 5 percent from pre-pandemic levels); 23 percent are anxious (up 10 percent); and 10 percent have had suicidal thoughts over the course of the year (up 5 percent). 

Accessing partially reimbursed or fully reimbursed mental healthcare in France can be difficult. Soaring demand coupled with a lack of staffing (close to a third of positions in public mental health hospitals are unfilled) means that waiting lists can be long. But there are ways to get help.

Accessing mental health services

The easiest way to book an appointment with a psychiatrist is through the Doctolib website. It is possible to filter your search for English-speaking clinicians. 

READ ALSO: How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

If you have a carte vitale it is possible to have partial or full reimbursement for psychiatric treatment in France. If booking an appointment online, be sure to check whether the doctor is conventionné secteur 1 to get the highest level of reimbursement possible.

You can read an approximate guide to current reimbursement levels HERE.

Psychologists (who are unable to prescribe drugs) are not considered doctors in France and therefore consultations with this kind of practitioner are rarely reimbursed. However, you may be able to access both psychological and psychiatric treatment if you can get an appointment in a Medical Psychology Center (centre medico psychologique – CMP). These services are free but often require a referral letter from a GP.

Counselling is another option. Generally less qualified than psychologists or psychiatrists, counsellors can provide a simple form of listening therapy. Anne Poulton, a retired professional counsellor with an NHS Community Mental Health team, set up the Counselling in France website after moving to France with her husband in 2000. It serves as a directory for English-speaking counsellors who may be able to help you. These services are not covered by social security.

READ ALSO: Health insurance in France – what you need to know about a mutuelle

Private mental healthcare will only be reimbursed if you have a private insurance (mutuelle) which specifically covers this kind of healthcare. It is however, easier to get an appointment quickly if you go down this route. 

Upcoming changes

In September, President Macron made a number of announcements that should significantly improve access to mental health services from an unspecified date in 2022. 

Psychological consultations will finally be at least partially reimbursed by the state – although you will need to have a recommendation letter from a GP to benefit from this.

For everyone with a carte vitale, the state has promised to cover ten psychological consultations at the price of €40 each. These ten consultations can be renewed once. After that, patients will continue to receive reimbursement, to the tune of €30 per session. 

READ ALSO: What your French health insurance card entitles you to

The French government intends to spend €50 million to cover these costs in 2022 and a further €100 million in 2023. 

CMPs are to employ a further 800 staff, which will help to absorb some of the demand for free mental healthcare. 

The government has also promised to invest €80 million in neuroscience research in a bid to find better treatments to the country’s mental health crisis. 

Helplines

SOS Helpline offers a telephone listening service in English – 01 46 21 46 46

The UK-based Samaritans can be accessed from France – 0044 8457 909090

If you are experiencing domestic violence you can call (English-speakers may not always be available) or report online HERE.

The British Consulate is able to advise you on various treatment options available but cannot give clinical advice on individual mental problems – 01 44 51 31 00

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