Tag Archives: cultural adjustment

Notes to Self

Today’s entry is reposted in its entirety from Chez Loulou: A Taste of Life in the South of France, the blog of Jennifer Greco.   Jennifer lives in the south of France with her husband, two dogs and a cat.  She is a chef, writer, photographer and French cheese addict.  

by Jennifer Greco

Olonzac Market Day

The expression “I almost had to give up my firstborn child” does not translate into French. Use it and they’ll think you’re certifiable.

Your neighbors and your hairdresser will never stop commenting on your weight gain or loss.

There’s a reason behind la priorité à droite. You will just never understand it.

The type of bra you prefer is a balconnet, not a banquette*.

As soon as they learn that you’re American, they’ll assume that you’re rolling in dough. The expression “rolling in dough” doesn’t translate either.

Stop trying to order your steak à point*. It will always arrive bleu*, no matter what.

That sweet looking, little old lady standing uncomfortably close to you in line at the boulangerie is trying to cut in front of you. Stand your ground.

It is de l’eau* or un verre d’eau*. Get that through your head already.

The day that you’re running late for an appointment in town is the day that all the streets on your route will be shut down for a manifestation.

You will never be able to pronounce the words grenouille* or moelleux*. Stop embarrassing yourself by trying to.

You will continue to have those incredible “oh my god I live in France” moments. Savor them.

As soon as you get comfortable and think you’ve got this whole living in France thing all figured out, remember that you really haven’t.
And remember to breathe.

*banquette – seat
*à point – medium
*bleu – rare
*de l’eau – some water
*un verre d’eau – a glass of water
*grenouille – frog
*moelleux – soft or mellow

Que Sera Sera

Moving to another country takes you out of your comfort zone, a change that can be tough when you are used to being at the top of your game.   It can be particularly rough for trailing spouses who don’t have a structure to their days or a defined network of people with whom they interact each day.    Adjusting takes time, sometimes a lot longer than you expect.   In today’s  post, guest author Ashley Benz reflects on her own process of adjustment.  So take a deep breath, relax, and realize that you are not alone.

 by Ashley M.  Benz

My elementary school music teacher Mr. Cross (whose name was oh-so-perfect due to his militant demeanor) forced us to sing Que Sera Sera in fourth grade. Standing there, pigtails disheveled, having no idea what I was singing, I remember finding it both very exciting, as I was speaking another language, but also quite frustrating, as I had no idea what I was exactly saying.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and that very same feeling has hit me once more. This time, however, I can’t put down the sheet music and run out onto the playground, completely forgetting those feelings of confusion, frustration, and yet, every once in a while, a little jolt of excitement. It also is quite fitting that the translation of que sera sera means “whatever will be will be,” a phrase and ideology I grapple with daily as an American in Paris. Of greater irony, however, is that song itself was introduced in Hitchcock’s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. Currently, my applicable title would be The Woman Who Knew Too Little.

It is not as if I didn’t know that moving abroad, and away from my native tongue, wouldn’t be taxing. And, I can say that after five months and change as a resident of Paris, I am slowly getting my bearings. I have learned the five or so words to get my intoxicating pain aux raisins from the patisserie; I can tell you where the main rues and boulevards are, and how to buy a Metro ticket. I have even made French Facebook friends! What I am still grappling with, however, is assimilating with the true French culture — a que sera sera attitude that is making this Type A American want to pull her dried up, over-calcified hair out.  (Another small change that they fail to mention predeparture is that calcium is no longer gunk you find solely in your pearly whites and involuntarily hiding out in your dairy products.) 

I grew up in a bubble, went to college in a bubble (endearingly termed “The Bucknell Bubble”), and until now, I was not aware of or prepared for the cultural changes that I would meet moving to Paris. I am a vocal woman (or was a vocal woman — now I can’t even tell someone my name in French without stumbling), and to have my vocal cords cut is frustrating. Perhaps it is making my assimilation slightly easier though, because yelling apparently gets you nowhere here. Customer service is not a booming industry like it is in the U.S.: you wait your turn, and you will like it. This goes for everything from insurance cards to internet installation. For those of you who think that Verizon should be dissolved because it takes a week to get FiOS, try moving over here.  (Actually, don’t do that; getting your visa is your first introduction to the escargot-pace of the French government, and should have been our indication of what was to come!)

We are used to a “go, go, go” culture in America. My weeks were stressful blurs, and my down-time was spent getting ready for the mayhem of the upcoming week. There is a good reason the French pooh-pooh our way of life — it is drastically different from theirs. As I come upon the six-month mark of my time in Paris, my insight is far from perfected. What I can say, though, is that moving to France has made me re-examine my modus operandi. I am no longer running sprints, but instead running a marathon (in overpriced Adidas). Living here is not simply about a change in clothing style, or learning a new language. It truly is a paradigm shift, and one that is quite difficult for any American that does not know how to slow down and how to let go (moi in a nut shell).

Had I truly understood the journey I was about to embark on, I might have reconsidered.  But that would have meant stopping to do so,  something I was incapable of doing back home. So, moving forward, I will do by best to reassemble my pigtails, recover my sheet music, and hold my head high while singing loudly (although not correctly or with complete understanding) “Que sera sera.” Because as I now know, what will be will be, and there is nothing I can do to change that.


Ashley M. Benz is a recent transplant to Paris from the U.S., having spent her previous life in public education working with both middle and high school angels in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. When she is not serving on the board of the American Women’s Group, cooking with Enfants du Monde, teaching English, bootcamping in the Tuileries or volunteering with Gifted in France, she likes to spend her downtime with her adoring beta, Reuilly-Diderot (and occasionally her husband).