Honest evaluations of culture

Today I woke up and read some more of Almost French. This book is fast becoming one of my favourites of all time. But it’s also made me realize I might not want to live in Paris. Although it’s a beautiful city and I want to visit and maybe even stay a month or so, permanently maybe not. If the observations in the book about France are accurate, then I’m not sure I could live in Paris. Turnbull describes how difficult it is to make friends, how the French aren’t really warm or trusting, how women compete with each other instead of being friends, and how long it takes French people to trust others, especially foreigners. It all sounds rather cold and unpleasant and compared to the warm reception I’ve received in Russia, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I don’t know what I’d do without my Russian girlfriends, and friends in general, to help me along the way. Then again, everyone’s experience of a culture is different and sometimes the negative is worth experiencing. So you never know…

But I’m learning that you can’t fall in love with the exteriors of a place or the stereotypes or what you think of a place. You have to be brutally honest about it and about the culture and decide if this is something you can put up with and live with. Visiting a place and living there are also two totally different experiences. This is where expert advice and training can come into play, especially if you are thinking about relocating to another country for a long period of time. I also realized that it’s important whose point of view you consider when you hear about another country. This book is written from the point of view of an Australian so things which were challenges to her might not be challenges to someone else. So it’s important to observe the culture from your own cultural perspective to see what challenges you may have adapting.

Nonetheless the book is fascinating and I can’t wait to read more but at the same time I dread finishing it because then it will be over. This is the kind of book I’ve been looking for and quite rarely find. So I’m happy to have found it and been enriched by it. Here are some more incredible quotes, this time specifically about struggles with the language:

Inside I fizz with frustration at my inability to communicate. I love these sorts of discussions! Or at least I used to. But it was as though in trying to express myself in another language I’d suddenly plunged fifty IQ points.

But the conversation is mostly too rapid for me to follow, let alone worry about contributing to it. I only catch odd words and phrases.

The language remains a mystery to me—a gorgeous, mellifluous gabble to which I can listen forever without identifying where one word ends and the next begins.

Have you ever felt this way? I know I have!


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