As someone born and raised in Miami, Florida, embarking on the adventure of pursuing my MBA in the picturesque landscape of Southwest France, I anticipated some degree of culture shock. From specific greetings to more general lifestyle differences, these experiences have been both enlightening and educational. 


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Navigating Social Norms and Etiquette

From greetings to dining etiquette, navigating the intricacies of French social norms has been an enriching journey. Whether it's mastering the art of la bise (the traditional French cheek kiss greeting) or learning how to greet someone in a store, each encounter has offered valuable insights into the rich tapestry of French customs and traditions.

It has been 8 months, and when I greet people I still find them hovering, waiting for the second “bise.” In Miami, where Latin culture is strong, I was used to only giving one “bise” on the left cheek. I often leave my French counterparts hanging for a second too long as I catch myself and jump right back in to complete the greeting.

Speaking of greetings, another small but crucial norm in France is the act of saying hello when walking into a store. Whether it is a simple “bonjour” or “bonsoir,” the small act of making eye contact and acknowledging the person at the cashier, the kiosk, or the stand can and will make the difference between a pleasant and not-so-pleasant experience.

I have a theory that when Americans come back from their Paris vacations saying “The French are rude,” it is possible that they just didn’t make a habit of greeting a store clerk when walking into the store, so the French person was a little sour about it. The French person leaves the interaction believing the American is rude for not greeting them, and the American leaves not knowing what they did wrong. In the end, it's just a lack of understanding of the local customs.


Bluntness

One of the most surprising culture shocks I've encountered since moving to France is the tendency towards bluntness in the French culture. Unlike in the United States, where indirectness and euphemisms often soften conversations and provide for overall lightheartedness in situations with acquaintances, the French tend to speak their minds with sometimes jarring (but very refreshing) directness.

Whether it's an opinion about food or your lifestyle, the French will often openly and directly speak their minds. While this initially felt jarring, I've come to appreciate this cultural trait for its authenticity. It eliminates the guesswork in communication and fosters a sense of transparency that can be incredibly valuable, especially in an academic or professional setting.

One evening over dinner, I was talking about stereotypes with a German friend. She said that many Europeans generally find Americans to be overly nice, but that sometimes it makes people second guess their authenticity and genuineness. She said she would never really know if they actually liked her or if they were just being fake.

Her comments made me ponder for days afterwards, and when I compared it to what I have observed in the French - their bluntness and directness - it made me appreciate that I never have to wonder whether I get along with someone here or not. I have found that when a French person takes an interest in you - whether romantically, in a friendship, in the workplace or even when they are serving you in a bistro, it is usually very genuine. The same goes for the opposite: if they do not like you in any of these situations, they will almost never pretend to. They are a polite culture, but never a fake one.

The US is a society of customer service and smiles - we beat around the bush and sugarcoat everything. With the French, there is no sugarcoating. In my experience here so far, the French tell it like it is. I have been told very honest opinions by people I hardly know, and that made me think, “Wow, I think back in Florida, that would have been extremely sugarcoated.”

In a business setting, this can be extremely beneficial. The clarity and straightforwardness can lead to more efficient decision-making and more honest feedback. You know exactly where you stand, which helps in setting realistic expectations and improving performance. While it may take some getting used to, embracing this cultural difference has enriched my experience in France and enhanced my communication skills with the French, both personally and professionally.


Appreciating the Art of Slow Living

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In a world characterized by constant connectivity and instant gratification, France has taught me the value of slowing down and savoring life's simple pleasures. Whether it's meeting a local expat group for weekly coffee get-togethers, taking a packed lunch to eat on a bench in the park, or watching the sunset over the beautiful Bay of Biscay with friends over some cheese and aperitifs, embracing the art of slow living has been a transformative aspect of my journey.

In France, there's a clear distinction between work and personal life, and striking a balance between the two is highly valued. Coming from a culture where long work hours and hustle culture are often glorified, adapting to the French emphasis on leisure, time with loved ones, and relaxation has been refreshing and has even positively affected my physical and mental health. Having lived in this culture for around 8 months now has been a reminder to prioritize holistic well-being amidst academic and professional pursuits.

In conclusion, while moving to France as an American MBA student has certainly presented its fair share of culture shocks, each experience has been an opportunity for growth, learning, and personal enrichment. As I continue to navigate this vibrant and dynamic country, I look forward to embracing and adopting even more aspects of French culture.

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