Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Learning French Culture

Our first months in Paris was the "honeymoon" period. As we discovered new and interesting places, foods and met some fascinating people, we were constantly on a "high" and loved every minute.

Reality quickly set in as we went through the motions of completing the kitchen in our apartment. In France, it is not unusual for the previous tenants to strip the kitchen of everything, leaving only a sink -- this includes removing all appliances, all cabinets, window coverings, etc. You are basically given a room with a sink, and hookups for the range, refrigerator, washer and dryer. You are expected to bring all appliances, cabinetry, window coverings, etc. To accomodate this, the French have standardized the widths of all appliances and cabinets at 60cm. This makes it very practical to move your appliances and cabinets from one apartment to another.

However, for a family such as ours that was moving to France from the US, we needed to obtain all appliances and cabinets. This can quickly become a very expensive proposition! We were fortunate to find an appliance outlet store off the Place de la Bastille in Paris which sold new (but slightly dented) appliances which had been floor models at steeply discounted prices and offered free delivery and installation.

We were not so fortunate with the cabinets. We decided to purchase new cabinets from one of the large upscale department stores in Paris just off the Champs Elysees. We worked with the kitchen designer to design a perfect kitchen. However, after placing the order and paying in full, we then discovered that the cabinets would be delivered one or two at a time over a period of 2-3 months! We called them daily and worked our way up the management chain but to no avail. Each call resulted in increasing frustration and confusion. This ordeal soured our first year in Paris.

We later discovered that there is a "code" to communicating in France and we had probably violated every one of the rules in that code in our exchanges with this large upscale department store. As we later learned this code and became adept in it, we found ourselves increasingly effective in negotiating French culture and the French workplace.

For those of you who want to avoid the pitfalls we encountered and learn this "code" early in your transition to France, I highly recommend the books by Polly Platt on the subject of French culture. These were invaluable to us as we transitioned to France.


Blogger Sarah said...

The autobiography by American Suzy Gershman "C'est la Vie" (2004) also offers a perspective on furnishing a completely empty Parisian apartment. She recommends what to bring from home, what to buy where (including flea markets and outlets outside of Paris), and what to expect for details like timelines and delivery expense/processes.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

Best way to learn the French culture is to work with them for a while you french will come on leaps and bounds.

9:40 AM  
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