My First Culture Shock: Life in France

After living in France for two months I think I finally experienced true culture shock. Culture shock is thrown around a lot, similar to terms such as ‘writer’s block’ or ‘depression’ – most of us don’t really know what it means or what it’s like to experience them.

But this time I wanted to hit somebody and make them explain why they needed to do things the way they were doing it – and make them change it. I wanted them to justify why anyone would need to not do things how I do them in Australia.

And it was all because I wanted a piece of bloody pumpkin

It all started as a normal day where I went grocery shopping for my dinner – I had one of my favourite recipes planned – chicken and pumpkin casserole in a simmering sauce of white wine, balsamic vinegar and cream. YUM! All I need was one slice of pumpkin – and then I made the mistake of looking for it at 1pm.

The first stop I tried was my local Lidl (a generic brand supermarket similar to Aldi) but found they didn’t have any. No problem – I thought I could head to a fruit and vegetable store I had found in the city centre – but it was closed…. huh?

Then I remembered that French businesses like to close for a few hours in the middle of the day for lunch. For example banks are often closed for two hours every day and the post office is closed from 12pm-1.30 while everyone enjoys their lunch.

No problem I thought – so I sat down at a cafe around the corner and figured I’d wait until 2pm, surely it’d be opened by then?

2PM rolled by and when I arrived at the store again it was still closed – what the fuck? Who is still shut at 2pm on a Friday? It’s the end of the week for God’s sake! Still not losing hope I caught the bus back home to my area to search for my vegetable there – and what did I find?

CLOSED

CLOSED

CLOSED FOR ANOTHER 30 MINUTES

CLOSED UNTIL 3PM

3PM?!!!?! Are you joking? – How can anyone justify running a business and then closing for almost 3 hours of the day?!

By this point I was tired, grumpy and then as I angrily marched myself home the following angry monologue started running through my head.

 ‘I can’t believe they are still closed, what the hell? It’s a weekday – people are shopping, I just want one stupid ingredient! Would it really be so difficult to just have one person in the shop break from 12-1pm then the next person to break from 1pm-2pm? Why do they all have to piss off out of the shop? Don’t they realise they’re losing customers and money! It’s just bad business skills!’

By the time I got home I had managed to calm down more and resigned myself to the fact I would just need to go back out after 3pm when things were open.

I suppose the pumpkin incident was an eventuation of suppressed culture shock that I’ve experienced, like when I wanted to go deposit a check at the bank before I found out they were closed every Monday or when I walked with some friends to enjoy some French treats at my favourite patisserie only to find out it was shut for two hours.

Then there’s the sheer inconsistency of the whole ‘closed for lunch thing’. Some shops close at 12, others shut at 1 – some are closed for 2 hours, other for 1 hour and a half. So you just never know when something will be open.

I’ve gotten over my culture shock now and the happy ending to the story was I did manage to find what I was looking for and cook a nice dinner. Now I’m in the habit of checking online to see when shops close/reopen – and feeling a bit more adjusted to the culture. After all c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas ? (That’s life, isn’t it?) As the French would say. 

 *Note: You’ll notice the recipe I used calls for sweet potato, but this ingredient can be hard to find in France – so I used pumpkin instead. 

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