Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Slow Motion Culture Shock or how Being in India is Easier than France (psychologically anyway)

 French cultural cues are often the same as American cues, but the ways people react to them tells a very different tale.  This is why culture shock comes in slow mo.  The experience of culture shock is different than that of more obviously different countries or cultures.

I would rather eat here, it would be more fun anyway.

You can accept even the most uncomfortable situation in some places simply because you KNOW you are not in a Western mindset environment.   When I was in India/Taiwan/Nepal/Thailand, it was clear I was practically on another planet. There are OBVIOUS signals that the mentality is different, the right way of doing thing is just so wrong.  People pulling you by bike in a cart  BAREFOOT while dodging sleeping cows in the middle of the street.  People throwing their babies in your arms to get a picture.  Children sweeping the train car for coins.  Men sitting on each other's laps.  And on and on and on.  There is less judgment, more going with the flow, more acceptance as you eat spicier than hell food on the hottest day you have ever experienced in your life on an aluminum plate with your dirty hands.  You just smile and do it!  Hell, they are smiling all the damn time, why shouldn't you?

Me in India (in the center)
But eating dinner in France can startle even the most cool cat.   BECAUSE IT LOOKS THE SAME as an American eating environment, one has certain expectations.  When your water glass is emptied, the waiter will come and refill it without being asked multiple times, when your plate is clean the waiter will get the dirty plate out of your face without being asked multiple times, when you go to wash your hands in the bathroom there is soap, when the restaurant is virtually empty the next customers will not be seated at the table 2 inches away from yours, when you order a cocktail there is more than one cube of ice, your dinner is brought to within 30 minutes or they will apologize and offer free dessert, when the meal comes it is not usually oversalted and overgreasy and child size portions and doesn't run you thirty dollars ... when... when.... You get the point.  My experience eating out in Paris has inevitably been miserable.

When those expectations are not met throughout the course of the meal, I get crabby.  I get snarly.  I get critical and bitchy.  I start a running monologue about the restaurant, the waiter, the cook, the other diners, the time, the service etc.  It seems I just cannot have a nice time in a French restaurant, even if I go in with the idea that I must turn off the judgment and just go with the flow.   Now, don't you want to go out to eat with me?

Knowing how the scenario is likely to play out, I  put on my big fake smile and go in focusing on the fact that I am not home making dinner and then cleaning the kitchen.  That should be enough to quelch the complainer.  But no - each time, amazingly some new way to piss me off will occur and then the floodgates open.

Last night, for example, we went out with our lovely friend to celebrate her birthday.  We returned to a restaurant that we really liked from having cocktails there once.  It is a cool as hell restaurant, really.  Three nights a week they even move the furniture, have a dj and people "dance".  I want to check that out sometime.  Pics are below.  As always, click on the photo to see it up BIGGER.

Beautiful Restaurant called Delaville Cafe, Paris.

Anyway, I discovered something very peculiar.  It was something called a "Children's Meal".  I searched my memory, yes, I know those two words - but for almost three years, they have never quite gone together.  Did this mean, what I think it means?  Wait hold on, it's fuzzy.  A meal just for a kid?  This is the first time I have ever seen that in France.  I was inappropriately giddy at the idea of a something geared toward kids here, so much so that I didn't really think about what I was ordering for Sabine.

Of course, we did have to bring our inflatable high chair as restaurants just don't have them.  (As a side note, EVERY SINGLE restaurant in Turkey had highchairs, even the coffee shops!).  But I expected that,  but then the other shoe dropped.  I am not sure why I didn't bring my camera last night, because Sabine's "meal" is almost indescribable.

I wouldn't feed that shit to a dog, let alone a growing child.  For 14 dollars, she got ONE repulsive frozen greasy breaded fish stick and a cup of slimy old french fries.  She of course devoured the fries because she had not ever had the option at so much grease in her life.   Now you are thinking to yourself, why didn't I just send it back?  The truth is, I don't have an answer to that.  I was just trying to be positive.  See what happens???  I ended up giving her vegetables from my plate and bread from the bread bowl.  

Therefore, we don't often go out to eat because it just isn't enjoyable.  I can do dessert and I can do coffee, and happy hour is always fun. But restaurants, just no.  It is fine because I like cooking and knowing what I am eating anyway.  We both like eating healthy, that includes both physical and financial health! 

So to that end, I think the issue of living specifically in France (or anywhere) and the rage that can build up when dealing with a different culture  is often related to expectations.  This is especially true when it comes to Western countries that are still traditional (like France and Italy).  It may look like what you know, it smell like what you know - but believe me, a foreign country is still foreign even if it doesn't seem like it.

As a side note, one book that helped me immensely with understanding some of the French ways and the why's behind them was Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.  Absolutely engaging and entertaining.  

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