Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Culture Shock - France

I initially began to think that with all the warnings and stuff, I would be immune to culture shock. In a sense, its true. I was told stuff by the French, I read (/am reading) a book called "Culture Shock - France" - written specifically for helping adjust to this new country. So, there are many things that did not surprise me as much as they should have. But I just darn well can't help wanting to note them down.

The previous time I wrote a Culture shock post, I think I was a bit too early in writing it. I had landed in India after a year, and saw things differently. But in the first 5 days, I did not notice many things. Rather I didn't experience them. So this time, I waited. And it has been good to wait, because there is more to write. The initial feeling of not having any "shock" to write about has gone. So here goes nothing:

1: Food: one word - awesome. That is if you are a meat eater. For me, non-beef products are okay. So, I think I have gained a few pounds in the last two weeks. USA, take note: Even non-fried meat can be made to taste good. And an excellent meal is comprised of a salad, a meat product, fruits, dessert, cheese and wine. Heaven... with a few additional pounds of course.

2: Roads are narrow. In general, they are two lanes or maybe 4. The lanes are narrower. The buildings are much much closer to the road. And parallel parking is a necessary art you HAVE to master. Forget straight roads and be prepared for round-abouts, curving roads and probably pedestrians on the street.

3: Cars are almost always small. The narrow streets and smaller space necessitate it. Its nice to see small cars that you see in India - the Swift, Punto, Zen (?), an Indica variant. Its a little odd to see a big ass truck or mini-van. Almost all cars are manual transmission (hooray!). My hands are itching to drive cars here. Good roads and manual transmission is great combination.

4: Language: Its a scary realisation that the languages you are most comfortable with don't work. Sign language, phrase books and blank looks are a way of communicating. Its an interesting contrast to India, where everyone is trying to switch to English. France decides to preserve its language, and make people who want to stay here adapt. Of course, its made sure its in a position to force this.

5: Metric system!!!! Say hello to kilograms, kilometers and litres! Things make sense again. You don't have to worry about how many ounces make a quart or a gallon. Or how many ounces (again!) make a pound. But its time to remember what you learnt in school - mili-litre, centi-litre, litre. :)

6: Fuel: It seems only the US and the Arab countries have access to cheap fuel. And for some reason, India is getting it cheap too. In France, diesel costs 1 Euro per litre! Almost twice as much as in India. And petrol is even more expensive. I'm confused about this. India apparently gets fuel cheap, but taxes it a lot. US gets the fuel cheap and capitalism drives the cost down. Whats the deal in France? And Europe in general?

7: People say US is multicultural. Maybe it is. But its much easier to find your own community there and settle into it. And then not worry about interacting with others. France has been an awesome place to meet new people. In this small area where I am, I've already met people from about 7 different countries, excluding France. On a recent trip, all 5 of us were from different countries, each with different mother tongue. Its interesting that broken English is the only way of communication.

8: Motorcycles! They are a viable mode of transport. Thanks to the short distances. And you can rent them too. I am currently in a dilemma. Buy a motorcycle? or a car. * sigh *

Maybe I sound harsh on US in this. Its because right now, the concept of foreign land to me included only US. And this new addition is quite different. I've accepted the fact that I should not compare this place to India.

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