14.7.10

French or Foe?

i'm reading this book which was written in 1994 about how to process the culture shock foreigners experience in France. it's all about the small things. the social codes that have been developed and carried through generations and centuries are part of the way of life. this book is all about trying to assimilate, to move from being a "them" to being an "us". here are the things they don't teach you in any french class, most probably because they are french and it happens like breathing or perhaps they are american but never fully caught on while they lived in france. a watch-and-learn approach for a year abroad could hardly teach me all these things that this woman has observed, experienced, and accomplished in her 25+ years living in the country. so for me, this tells me what to look for. also, it prepares me with how to react to the quirky/frustrating stuff -- especially with #1. you could easily follow each of these items with "this isn't america, honey."

1. don't smile all the time, nor at strangers. when you do smile, it ought to mean something, so by not always smiling it's more meaningful.
2. the personal space bubble extends to about where your skin ends.
3. always say hellogoodbye and monsieur/madame.
4. magic words: excusez-moi de vous déranger (mais j'ai un problème).
know (or figure out) your status in relation to those around you so you know how to act toward them.
5. leave doors closed in the house and office. if the prof's door is closed, knock and walk in. it's more economical.
6. time isn't money. no time is wasted or spent.
7. know when being on time is important. the rest of the time, use your discretion. (and don't get your hopes up because your new french friend may not show up until 20 or 30 minutes after your scheduled coffee date, and they probably won't make any excuses.)
8. get to know your local vendors (boulangères and the likes). tell them your life story. use the same checker at the supermarket and get to know them. if you can help it, go there every day or every week. you'll become known as "that lovely american girl that likes oranges".
9. PPO: persistent personal operation. when you want or need something, throw on the flattery and give them your sob story. impress them with how badly you just need whatever it is, whether it's their help or a deal on that sweater. in short, grovel. earnestly.
10. it's never YOUR fault. blame the couch for being beige and not wine red like what you just spilled on it. if you mustmustmust admit it, it's an erreur (implying ignorance/innocence) not a faute, which is a real scandal. (this one still boggles my mind... it seems arrogant, but they probably don't think anything of it.)
11. lying is okay. you will get duped on occasion. but lying doesn't mean you sacrifice your personal integrity. try it out sometime, you may just get what you want.
12. non = persuade me. impossible = i don't feel like it. apply PPO as needed.


this is only halfway through the book, so i can't imagine what comes next! man, what did i get myself into?! it will be even more fun now that i will be trying to play them at their own games :P



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