Panther at Large: Culture shock

Urban Dictionary defines “culture shock” as “the shock of moving from one culture to another often associated with laws, traditions, food, music and general lifestyle choices.” I think they left the most important factor out of culture shock: language.

As an English speaker and a very mediocre French speaker, I landed in France with extraordinarily high expectations. I was going to be able to use my French every moment of every day! It was going to be immediately and amazingly successful! After all those years of studying French, surely it would pay off now!

Sometimes, I tend to expect more than I should. This is most definitely one of those times.

Imagine you are talking to your friend who speaks extremely fast. Sometimes, your friend speaks so fast that you can’t understand what they are saying. It took you a while to get used the speed of their chatter. Now, insert a language with which you are only slightly familiar.

Seems a little scary, no?

For this semester abroad, I am living with a host family in a town called Montigny-le-Bretonneux, which is part of St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, a suburb of Paris. I will be attending the University of Versailles, which is in St. Quentin-en-Yvelines. My host family speaks very little English, which made the first couple days difficult, but every day has improved my French—both my understanding and my ability to speak.

After a few days, I could very efficiently talk to the dog. “Viens-là!” “Assis!” “Donne-le-moi!”

Talking to the 16-year-old (we’re talking French slang and abbreviations…oh la la!) is a completely different story.

The American accent has also been a constant barrier. It is very distinct—Americans have a lot of difficulty with the French “r” and the “u.” And, interestingly enough, the French have informed me that, to them, English is a very musical language, and that creates difficulty understanding Americans when they speak French—which is very monotonous when spoken.

But with my very fluent Frenglish, I have successfully asked for directions (and given directions, once, to a Parisian—a very proud moment), bought train tickets into Paris (only once has a Parisian switched into English after hearing my American accent), and briefly mused with someone on le métro about why it was stopped for such a long time. Hopefully soon I can do that only in French.

Thank goodness it only gets better from here!