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Minor Differences…Don’t Call it Culture Shock

During my pre-departure orientation, I didn’t pay too much attention to the part on culture shock. I figured I’ve traveled to Europe enough times – I even went to Dubai last summer. If I didn’t get culture shock in a place where they speak Arabic, it’s 100+ degrees everyday and Islam is infused in the culture and everyday life, I would be FINE in France! After all, it IS a western country.

Image found on Google

Image found on Google

What had not dawned on me was the fact that going to Dubai for vacation for five days and living in Marseille for five months are two different games.

Now I wouldn’t exactly call what I’m going through “culture shock”. It’s really just a list of differences I’ve noticed, some good, some bad. Moreover, I don’t think it’s culture shock because I skipped the honeymoon stage and went straight to the distress stage. Today marks a month of my arrival and I would say I’m somewhere between distress and re-integration stage taking the first step towards emergence.

Stages of culture shock as explained by Erin O'Leary

Stages of culture shock as explained by Erin O’Leary

Minor Differences:

Calendar starts on Monday and not Sunday

Bank Holidays every Monday so the bank is closed Sunday – Monday

Speaking of closings, nothing is open on Sunday. So you know how most people do grocery shopping on Sunday for the week? Yea, well you have to do that on another day here!

Everywhere in Marseille shuts down from 12-2pm. It’s rather annoying because…

Everything closes early. By 5 pm all offices are closed and by 8 pm stores are closed. Literally, midtown is done by 8 pm and downtown at 10 pm. There’s no “24hrs” anything here. Talk about work-life balance.

Business is casual. A woman in jeans and boots approached me at the bank and it threw me off cause I didn’t realize she worked there. Additionally, there’s no rush for anything. Don’t have your rent by the 15th? Cool! No problem! He’s not worried.

Cigarette smoke & cigarette butts everywhere. If someone asks you for a lighter and you say you don’t have one, it’s almost an abomination. I’m almost a second-hand smoker now -_-

Which baffles me because they run so much. Marseille is runner’s city! The streets are bike and running friendly (more on that later). The park is full of runners and people walking their dogs. It actually was quite refreshing.

What’s not refreshing is the possibility of stepping in dog poop at any given moment. In Marseille, no one picks up after their dogs. There are no signs asking you to do so, it’s just the norm to leave your dog’s poop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK.

Pharmacy is a Pharmacy. You can’t get anything else but medication at the pharmacy. And they have them EVERYwhere. Literally, there can 3 pharmacies in 1 block (not an exaggeration, I’ve witnessed this)

No Pandora or Netflix

This doesn’t really have to do with Marseille but it never occurred to me that South Americans sometimes identify as American too. So now when people ask me where I’m from, I say the United States.

Instructions for medicine only comes in one language. I supposed I’m so used to everything being in English and Spanish. The fact that medication (of all things) would only be in one language was a real shock to me. And get this – no English or Spanish-speaking doctor in the Emergency Room! Don’t get sick in France.


Moreover, you know how in America most people know a decent amount of Spanish, at least in a business it’s almost standard for there to be at least one bi-lingual person, well the French don’t really believe in that. I think the language barrier has been the biggest thing for me. As a fellow exchange student stated: “I underestimated how much not speaking French fluently [or at all in my case] would affect my experience. It actually sucks because it restricts your ability to express yourself. The disconnect can be very frustrating.”

Fear not, Google Translate has come to my rescue.

& I can’t seem to find:

  • Plantains
  • Oatmeal
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Peanuts (but peanut butter is in the USA part of the international aisle at grocery stories)
  • Spinach – I’ve been told I have to go to the market to get it
  • Solid deodorant (only spray and roll-ons)

That’s all for now. Have you studied abroad, or abroad now? What differences have you noticed?

3 thoughts on “Minor Differences…Don’t Call it Culture Shock

  1. Hey Bee, sounds about right for France! I hate the term “Culture Shock” too, because it doesn’t feel quite right to me. I would say not having Netflix may be a good thing, but they have Deezer, which is a lot like Pandora. Also, I have always found oatmeal in France, so keep looking! It’s usually plain, old-fashioned oats in a relatively small canister or box. Check out Carrefour or Monoprix or Géant. Peanuts are in the snack or ‘aperitif’ aisles of super markets, but there aren’t many choices and they’re suprisingly expensive to an American. Absolutely hit up the markets, for other veggies as well as spinach! And deodorant… is a problem in France. I swear our sticks are so much better than their sprays and rolls that no wonder Americans have the stereotype that French people don’t shower. Stick it out, keep it up, and find things you enjoy!

    • Hey SmithBeth Thanks for the feedback much appreciated! I actually I’m not huge on Netflix, I would just like to watch some shows every now and then. lol
      I JUST found some oatmeal. It was just as you described in a box though…& i will check out Deezer. OMG I went to the market the other day as well and it was AMAZING. I’ll probably dedicate an entire post to that.
      the spray deo wasnt too bad. smelled good at least lol.
      Thanks again for the feedback! 😀

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