The basis of the training was to provide us with tools that will allow us to understand things that happen while we are abroad and to recognize when some of these things may be due to cultural differences. While the training did concentrate on differences between the U.S. and France - the topics we discussed could be used in any culture.
We avoided the word 'stereotype' and instead spoke in terms of generalities. For example: Americans tend to work longer hours than the French, or the French tend to be better at separating work from life.
There were many things we weren't really surprised about and a few that we had never considered. But a couple of things we both came away with:
- Yes there will be differences and some of those differences may present challenges. For us and for the people we meet there.
- Sometimes we will need to adapt our behavior and sometimes we may need to just understand that we are different and accept that.
- Many French people love to talk about and debate foreign affairs. Great - but I know nothing about foreign affairs and my husband admits this is a weakness for him too. Our trainer suggested we subscribe to (and actually READ) The Economist. We did - and we are committed to reading it on a regular basis. Love having the ability to 'E-subscribe' to my Kindle.
- Our trainer also stressed that you can't begin to understand a culture without knowing at least some of the highlights of that cultures history. So we are also reading a couple of books that provide some basic information on French History. This is something I hope to pursue throughout my stay.
Our trainer was hesitant to give us a list of Do's and Don'ts. These types of tips don't always apply. But there were some simple things we took away that will help right away.
- In general the French are much more private and are more formal than we are. You may be aware that the French language has two words for the word "You" - "Tu" - which is an informal usage and "Vous" which is a more formal usage. We will always use the Vous format when we meet people and continue to use it until it is obvious that we have formed a true friendship with that person. In many cases this will never happen. My husband will rarely use the informal version at work.
- Similar to this is that it is much more rare to be on a first name basis with people we meet. So I will hear "Mademoiselle Ekman" much more than I ever hear "Mrs. Ekman" here.
- My favorite tip came from our native French guest who was invited in to give us some pointers and answer any questions we might have. He said "Never, never, never speed when driving." Not even a little bit. If you're stopped you will get a ticket and it will be hundreds of Euros. So - foot off the gas petal.
- When you walk into a smaller shop you should always say "Bonjour Madame, or Bonjour Messieurs" . And again "Au revoir" when you leave.
A final tip that our trainer really hoped we would both do is to keep a journal. Using it to write down things we observed and try to understand why that happened or what the implication was - and then to go back a few weeks later and see if it makes sense at a later time. This will be a little harder to do. I don't see my husband doing this, but I may be surprised. Knowing myself - I expect I will start the journal and then give it up. After all - I do have this blog to express myself with.