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How Not To Be Miserable When You Move To France! Avoiding Culture Shock!

By Annie André

(Boring Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you use them to buy something, I may earn a small commission (which helps me buy more croissants) at no additional cost to you. Merci for your support)


how not to be miserable in France: Avoiding culture shock

Moving to France can be fun and exciting. You are surrounded by new foods, a new environment, a different culture not to mention the fact that you will be immersed in the most romantic language on the planet; FRENCH! However, unless you do certain things to prepare for these changes, these new and dreamy things could turn into your worst nightmare! Find out what you need to do to avoid being miserable after you move to France.

How Not To Be Miserable After You Move To France

mona-lisa-franceIf you’ve never experienced culture shock let me explain.

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What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock can make you feel isolated, depressed and make you curse the day you decided to move abroad. It can turn an otherwise wonderful adventurous experience into a depressing nightmare.

Imagine arriving in a place where you can’t communicate and you can’t tell anyone what you want. The customs are so foreign that you can’t make heads or tails of any situation. Doing simple things like cashing a check stresses you out and takes more effort than you ever thought possible leaving you feeling exhausted.

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How To Avoid Culture Shock:

You can avoid or at least minimize culture shock by simply learning about the people of your destination, it’s customs, even it’s history. But the single biggest thing you can do to avoid culture shock and ultimately enjoy your life in France is to learn the language; preferably you should start the learning process before you leave your home country. If that is not possible then make it one of your priorities once you get to France.

Knowing just some basic phrases and some vocabulary can help you hit the ground running as soon as you arrive in your new country. You will be able to do simple things like asking for directions, ask where the bathroom is or order a sandwich with no onions.

Kids and culture shock:

If you have kids, it’s doubly important to prepare their minds for what life might be like especially if they are older. Younger kids seem to be able to adapt more easily. This may be due to the fact that younger children are inherently more creative and more open to new experiences than older kids and adults.

As we get older, we tend to lose our creativity and close our minds to change and new experiences. It’s very important to be open to new experiences to make the most of your time abroad otherwise, it will not be fun for you AT ALL!

Did you know that there was a study conducted which showed that living abroad can actually increase your creativity?

How to learn French?

There are many ways you can learn french; take a class, find a French tutor, or buy a language software and teach yourself. There are even video games that can teach you how to speak a new language.  In my opinion, audio and or video products are best in terms of helping your pronunciation.  At the very minimum, get yourself a dictionary. I highly suggest you get a Visual Dictionary. I love how it organizes photos by subject and theme. For example, the herb section in a visual dictionary will have pictures of all the herbs grouped together with translations in both French and English.

Learn as much as you can about France before you go!

Learning about France or whatever country you plan to move to just makes common sense. There is no wrong or right way for you to go about learning either. I would start with the internet an go from there. Just remember that It’s impossible to know and plan for everything.

As for our family? We did lots of research and we adjusted fairly quickly but there were some things we just didn’t know we needed to know. Nothing major, little things like the fact that the grocery stores don’t sell headache medicine like they do in the United States. Or the fact that breakfast restaurants in France don’t serve omelettes for breakfast.  Or the fact that most things are closed on Sunday.

Despite these differences, the one biggest contributing factor to our overall happiness and lack of stress has been the fact that one of us spoke French.

Other articles about French culture

Here are some articles I have written on the topic of French culture. I think they will help you get a better feel for what life is REALLY like in France vs what you see in the movies.

  • 20 things you might hate if you live in France: Self-explanatory. All the little things you just didn’t realize about France.
  • Stupid French stereotypes: French people don’t go around wearing berets and they do take showers!
  • Tipping: No tipping. All bills, as required by law, must say “service comprise”, which means “tip has been included”. It is not uncommon to leave small change from the bill in a restaurant or café. A few Centimes.
  • Basic Driving Rules In France: People drive on the right side of the road.
  • How to greet French Friends: French people cheek kiss to greet each other between family and friends. The number of kisses varies between 1 to 5 but typically it’s 2 or 3. Even men cheek kiss. My sons both greet their friends at school this way. ( it’s very charming and civilized).
  • Don’t plan on eating any Cheddar cheese in France! There are over 300 different kinds of cheese made in France but cheddar is not one of them and it can be hard to find it. Forget about aged cheddar. I have yet to find any.
  1. Hi Annie, i really like your website!
    My husband got a job abroad and i cant help not feeling an extreme level of anxiety about everything.I worry about schooling,housing,loliness,leaving my extended family behind,etc..my husband has already left and im alone home wih the kids in a state of limbo indecision between staying or joining him.Please give me an advice to control the anxiety.

  2. Great article Annie! I have learned so much from your post. And I do agree that in our behalf we should make an effort to learn the culture, language and the norms in the country that we are moving in. Now I know what should I do before planning to work or move into another country.

  3. I completely agree. Learning the language can really help get accustomed to being in another country. I can see how it would help you integrate into the country by making you feel less like an outsider and more of a person who belongs there. Plus, for most countries, especially France, they really appreciate when you try to learn the language.

  4. I wish i had this guide before i moved to Paris for university and then subsequently for work LOL
    i do miss Paris though. after getting to speak French then it wasn’t all so bad haha
    Noch Noch

  5. Hi Annie,
    This is my second time here and I enjoy reading your articles about France because I was living for 5 years in Paris. You remind me many things.
    Well I don’t really like the cheek kiss that French People give because I find they exaggerate a little bit: I mean when you go to a soirée and you see avery body for the first time in your life you are not supposed to give them a kiss! But I agree with you that these cultural difference are the most important experience you can get when you are living abroad.
    Do you actually speak French? If not, do you find French people speaking ENglish? My experience was that French didn’t have a great skill to learn English! But that was a great challenge for me to learn French very quickly! I had to in order to communicate with others!
    See you and enjoy your stay in France!

    1. Hello Lenia,
      welcome back. I find that the French especially the younger people do want to speak English. It is taught in school from a very young age. But there are not a lot of people in Marseilles who actually speak english well.
      I do speak french fluently. My family ( my father is french Canadian) so the transition for me was not so bad. But my husband and kids are not fluent so they are dealing with the struggles of language and culture barriers.
      ps.
      I don’t cheek kiss strangers just friends and family.

  6. Hi Annie,
    What a great introduction to moving to France! Can´t wait to read all your other tips and tricks.
    The culture shock can be really huge as you said. When I first visited Nicaragua I felt totally lost even though I spoke Spanish and went with a group of 15 Dutch people. We thought we were prepared for this culture but boy were we wrong! The only thing we could do was to ask a lot of questions, watch and learn. The first reaction to this shock was to want to go back home but after we started understanding how things work we actually wanted to stay longer.
    Concerning the language barrier – you are totally right – teach yourself some basics of the language especially in countries where you can´t expect that people speak English.
    To avoid a culture shock and to learn the language I often take a full time language course for 3 weeks which helps me advance a lot in the language I learn. Additionally, in language school they teach you about their culture, everything you need to know about the town you live in and you get to know the first locals.

    1. Ursula,
      i’mnot surprised that you would dedicate so much time to learning the language before you go. You have a natural love for other cultures. I wish more people would take the time to just learn some simple phrases.

      The culture thing is huge too. I’ve seen Americans leave huge tips at restaurants now knowing that they don’t need to. In Thailand you are not supposed to touch peoples heads. In many asian cultures you don’t leave your chopsticks pointing into the rice bowl. A little research goes a long way.

      1. Hi Annie,
        You are so right – the culture thing is huge and you can and will make a lot of mistakes but it helps a lot to observe the locals!
        If people don´t do the research upfront they can still show that they want to do the right thing by asking how things work and by apologizing honestly for their mistakes.
        Most people will love to help and they often go the extra mile for you.

  7. I have travel overseas and I can understand how hard it can be, the language is the biggest challenge. The food can be a little different. Being an American, I am use to the way American food taste. I got adventurous and shopped an Asian store and the food was too fresh.

  8. Wow Annie, that was very interesting.

    I’ve never really visited a lot of different countries, a few. But I was always with a bunch of people so I never worried about the language barriers. Moving would be a total shock to me.

    This is going to be a marvelous series Annie and I’m going to get to live it through your experiences so it doesn’t get much better than that.

    I will admit, I love hearing people speak the language. It’s just beautiful, even if they are probably cussing me out! lol… Still sounds cool. :-)

    Thanks Annie and I look forward to more of what you have to share with us.

    1. Hello Adrienne,
      i’m so glad you enjoyed it. My goal as i said really is to make it interesting for everyone. I love the history channel and i want this series to be a bit like that. Part educational part entertaining?

      Please if you have any suggestions let me know. i value your opinion more than you know. Bonsoir.

      1. I’m not a history buff but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find things fascinating. I think to me it’s more enjoyable because it’s coming from someone who is experiencing it if that makes sense.

        I have no suggestions at all, you are doing a fabulous job. I think more people can relate because like I said, you are living this experience and we just get to see it through your eyes. How cool is that!

        I’m going to enjoy this year myself living in France through you! :-)

        Wonderful job Annie!

  9. It’s interesting to know that you don’t have to leave a tip. I like it much better that way! There’s no pressure to figure out how much to leave. It’s the same in Taipei. The tip is already included at some restaurants. Even when I get a haircut, no need to tip. I don’t like how the US is so dependent on tips. A hotel guy hails you a cab and you’re suppose to tip him? For raising his arm and having a taxi, that’s waiting in line, pull up?

    Your intro about culture shock and not knowing the language reminds me of when I went to Taipei to study Chinese. For the first couple weeks, I think I ate food from 7-11 for lunch because I couldn’t order food. I was too scared cause I couldn’t read so I couldn’t order. I just grabbed something. Looking back now I laugh at it cause I couldn’t do something so simple.

    Learning French would be pretty cool. Can I move to France and you be my teacher?

    1. Benny,
      I can’t picture you being scared to order. The Benny I know, goes all out in a big way.
      But i can see how it can happen so easily because culture shock is something people tend to think won’t happen to them. Once it happens, it’s undeniable.

      And yes, you can move to France and i’ll be your teacher.

  10. Great primer on moving to France! I love French, learned it as a child while living in Belgium, continued to study it in high school and college. but I’ve lost a lot of it now (it’s not that useful in California where if anyone knows another language it’s Spanish) Great to know how useful it is in Europe!

    My daughter also chose French for her language to study and she longs to live in France some day. I will share this with her. Maybe after she finishes college will try living in France for a while – then I can visit.

    Another tip in the “tools” category: if you are using a smartphone while abroad you can get language translation apps, and also an app that gives you instant money conversions. I found these so handy while traveling in Thailand last year.

    1. Hello Sarah,

      I think it would be an amazing experience for your daughter to live abroad. Here in France, all of my sons friends long to move to America. It’s a funny thing.

      As for your French. I think it will take you no time at all to remember your French. I bet if you spent a month in France it would all come back to you like it was yesterday.

      I like your suggestion about smartphone language apps. There are quite a few on the market i haven’t looked into any yet but that does sound like a fantastic resource for would be travellers.

      Thanks for the suggestion.

  11. Great idea for a mini series! I look forward to it unfolding! As for. France, I’m excited for all the kisses! :)

    Okay okay, but truly, I had no idea French was such a highly spoken and learned language! I’m in a bit of a Francophilia stage right now, so I am determined to learn me some French!

    1. Thank you david. There are so many things to write about. Liket he fact that i can’t find a taqaria or descent.

      Be careful David, once a Francophile always a Francophile. Interesting enough, there are quite a few anglophiles in France.

      French is very useful for traveling especially through Europe. You will find that someone usually will speak french before they speak English. If you speak both french and English than you will have no problem getting around and communicating.

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