The Face of Newark Abroad

French Culture Shock

I moved to France all of 3 weeks ago. I am still slightly recovering from culture shock.

I dreamed and fantasized about my move to France but never anticipated such huge adjustments. Of course I know France is not America, but certain things that seem common sense to me are foreign or non existant in French life.

Let’s start with something simple: Fire Safety.

French fire extinguisher

I imagine France must not have many fires, because many of the homes and buildings are not equiped with fire escapes. In fact, the windows that one might jump out of if necessary are usually covered at night by shields so that the tiniest bit of light cant’ get in! If there were a fire in a tiny apartment and you could not get out the door, the apartment would become an oven and you would roast.

In my new apartment there is no fire alarm, carbon monoxide detector, smoke detector, fire extinguisher, nor fire escape. Although there was a box of sand in my hostel.

I’ll just pray that the hot plates I have for a stove top don’t start any fires!

Next let us discuss: Breakfast.

Greasy, fat American food. YUM!

Or for me, lack thereof. I am a meat and potatoes type of girl. Even when it comes to breakfast. I enjoy fried eggs, bacon, home fries, and french toast. (Thankfully I knew before arriving here there is no such thing as french toast in France.)

A French breakfast consists of coffee or tea, croissants, a baguette, and possibly cheese. I was shocked when I learned that meat is not eaten for breakfast. So much for my hopes of a sausage cheese biscuit one day. I will have to cook my own breakfast daily because its the most important meal of the day. With all the walking and climbing stairs multiple times per day, I cannot start the day off with a lack of energy or hunger pains.

I’ll just have to make a fried egg sandwhich with a baguette!

Finally, on today’s list anway, there is the issue of: Banking.

The French bank is unlike anything I have ever seen!! I opened a French bank account before I left the US. I had no trouble opening the account and transferring all of my dollars into the new account. I was informed my debit card would be ready upon my arrival in Paris.

It wasn’t until I got to France that the problems with the bank began. The pin code to my atm card was mailed to me. It is not simply printed on the paper. It’s a scratch off thing. I was misinformed by one of my American friends and scratched the wrong side. The numbers were almost invisible by the time I was through with it. I tried the code twice unsuccessfully before asking the woman at the bank if she could decifer it.

We were both wrong and the machine ate my debit card! A new one was ordered and would take 5-7 business days.

Bewildered, I told the woman I needed to make a withdrawal. She seemed aggitated and told me it really wasn’t a good time. How rude of me to inconvenience her by being broke. The woman told me she needed authorization and everyone was on lunch break. It was about 12:15. I asked her when I should come back. She told me at 3:00. “3:00?? The lunch break here is 3 hours?” I barked. 

After about 30 minutes of waiting, the woman made some phone calls and got her authorization. Why an authorization is needed to give me my money out of my account is beyond me.

I signed a form requesting some Euro and the woman gave me a plastic card. She told me to put it in the atm machine and my money would come out.

Let me get this straight, although this is a bank, you don’t actually have any money? This is too much for me to bear!!   

Banking in France sucks and takes some getting used to. I might be able to settle on a few things and accept certain things here like cheese is served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Yes, cheese is on the dessert menu. But when it comes to money I don’t like to play around.

Don’t get me wrong, I am going to stay in France, I just wanted to share my culture shock with all of you. As time passes I’m sure this rough adjustment will just feel like a bad dream. I will awake to my fantasy of a fun and fancy free PARIS! 

Comments on: "French Culture Shock" (29)

  1. Hello! Unfortunately I deleted your post by mistake! I’m still new at this and the iPhone was not forgiving when I pushed the wrong button, sorry. Perhaps you could leave it again? Thanks for writing! All the best with everything!

  2. Fixed it!
    Found a computer and logged onto wordpress from here.
    Like I said, ”newbie” here!
    Btw, the French fire extinguisher is just a riot! 😀

    • We are playing blog tag. I can actually read both the posts i put on your site. One is under jfk-txl I think and the other is under a post about “only running 8 miles.”

      Maybe you cannot see it on your phone, but click on comments either to the left of your post or at the very bottom.
      This will take some getting used to. I am still learning new things and I’ve been on here a couple of months.

      : )

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I stumbled upon this post and you have me in stitches right now with the fire safety picture. I had a similarly frustrating experience in France as well especially when it came to the pace of things. I can slow down with the best of them, but it was even slower than slow. I loved Germany however as they tend to do a lot of the everyday things more efficiently.

    • Where were you in Germany? I lived in Heidelberg a while ago.

      Coming from the NJ I like things done efficiently and in a New York minute! Let me tell you, those days are over!
      I have to get used to my new French life. Cheap and convenient are American. Expensive and complicated is the French way.

  4. nelleytimes said:

    you’re in France right now? You lucky bitch and I say that with much love because I’ve always wanted to go back and now you’re there now and I’m here! (here being Vancouver, BC, Canada)
    OMG! I will definitely follow you on your travels. Good luck and have fun my dear.

  5. I lived in the Netherlands for almost a year and your post brings back so many memories of the slow pace. We had painters who would show up in the morning, take a morning break, a 2 hour lunch, and quit for the day by 3 pm. I so wanted their job! But overall my time their was wonderful and unforgettable. I hope you enjoy every minute of your stay.

  6. vodkacranberry said:

    Funny… 🙂 It takes a while to get used to the different way of doing things. In Germany if you ask a teller for cash in a bank, you will also be given a card to withdraw it from the atm. Then again there are no glass screens here to separate you from the teller, which says its an anti-robbery thing. But that to one side… be thankful you are not in London.

    Just try opening a bank account there… it takes “months” not days. You have to provide proof of residency, proof of address (gas bill etc), proof of identification, proof of income.. the list goes on.

    I will definitely be following your travels…

    • Thanks for the response.

      Luckily while I was in England it was a short enough time period I did not have to open a bank account.

      How is life in Berlin? I’ve never been to that side of country. I’ve spent time in Heidelberg.

      • vodkacranberry said:

        Oh Berlin is great! So Bohemian it’s crazy and packed full of Americans, Brits, French and Spanish. Heidelberg is cute for a visit, would drive me nuts to live there though.

      • I need to check Berlin out. I am planning a trip back to Germany in December. Idk if I’ll get to Berlin this time though.

        I lived in Heidelberg as a teen. It was great!
        Now in Paris trying to find my bearings.

        You should email me (or BBM if you have a blackberry). I’ll let you know when I land in Deutschland!

  7. Haha, I loved this post! I lived in France for a year and the banking system just amazed me. First you had to go to the bank to make an appointment, then go and open the account, and then a week later you could get your stationary. And no, the bank wasn’t open between 12-3! I work in a bank now and I just can’t believe the whole system…

    Oh well. Amuses-toi bien en France!!

  8. The funniest thing is about the extinguisher.
    It never came to my mind that they actually have sand as extinguisher.
    However it’s always interesting to find out how people do things in new places.

    Nice post!

    • @ harindabama, thanks. That had never occured to me either. I guess that’s how they used to do it back in midevil days. (lol)
      I am shocked and amazed regularly here in France.

  9. I’d kill to live in Europe even for just a short period! Just got back from Portugal 3 weeks ago. The idea of being that close to so many different places makes me giddy. Very cool blog!

    • Living here does entice me to spend all my money traveling because everything is so close!! I have only been to Germany so far. I have to finish this degree before I go country hopping. 🙂
      Btw, Portugal is on my to-do list. Lucky you.

  10. How I can relate to your cultural shock! Coming from an island in the South Pacific, I remember crying a lot during the first few months, but after I overcame the shock, I realized how much I’ve changed and grown. After you adjust to life in Paris, you’ll feel ready to venture anywhere 🙂 All the best!

    • @melgyg, There is no way that I will come out of this situation unchanged! I am sure I will look back on it fondly one day. Just trying to make it through the now.
      Thanks for the well wishes 🙂

  11. Oh my goodness! That fire extinguisher is very unusual!

    I think banks are like that everywhere – Unhelpful at the best of times. Good luck adjusting.

  12. So it’s not just the British who have an annoying bank system! Vodkacran is exaggerating a bit, it didn’t take me months but maybe a few weeks to open one. The process is quite long and drawn out.

  13. Haha this is just lovely 😀 The fire extinguisher I mean 🙂 So natural and eco-friendly, that it even makes it dangerous.

    Here in the UK everyone is crazy about Health and Safety, something I was not very prepared to see coming from Bulgaria.

    Another thing are banks. You would think that Bulgaria is a Third World country and would expect some high end services in the good old United Kingdom, but no – the bank system is unbelievable, all the shops and everything close before 6 pm, and you wait for weeks for the internet provider to connect you to the net… I guess if I want services, Bulgaria is better 😀

    • @Rumena, I was shocked as you read with some things here. For some reason growing up we always thought of Europe being so advanced and sophisticated. All these rosy myths are not true!
      So, so far we’ve got Bulgaria and the United States with good service. France and the UK are on the “need for improvement list.”

  14. This is a great blog!!! Love it!

  15. oh yaeh thats france for you, anything with papers takes weeks and don’t even think about doing anything on lunch hour! Oh Mon Dieu!

    • @ GurngeDuTerroir, It’s true the French love paperwork and sign up lists. I’ve learned about not attempting to get anything done during the 2 hour lunch siesta!! I’m usually at places bright and early!

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