“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”
From 2001 to 2009, I lived in Chanay, a small village in France, with my then husband, Jean Luc and his two children, Guillaume and Amandine.
“Living in France is so romantic,” people would say, and I would reply, “Yes, and it’s tough living in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language.” It was wonderful and challenging.
In my speaking and training business, I tackled the issue of diversity and cultural differences. I studied diversity management and had a decent understanding of the theory and the legal implications in the workplace. I included topics related to diversity with my sexual harassment prevention programs. Diversity, harassment, perceptions, culture, behaviors, communication, racism, sexism, discrimination – they all fit under a large umbrella.
After a few years in France, I realized I had no real understanding of cultural differences when I was teaching it. There is a huge difference between theory and practice. Living it versus thinking about it. Experiencing it versus witnessing it. And I was brought to my knees. All the wonder, charm, benefits, love, good food and wine could not make up for the challenges.
To help find connection with English-speaking women, I commuted to Geneva, Switzerland to hang-out at the American International Women’s Club (AIWC). I wrote a column that was published in The Courier – the english speaking magazine of the AIWC, entitled Life in the Village: Reflections of an American Living in a Small French Village. Writing the column was an exercise in making sense of living in a “foreign” culture; they represent a mix of pleasure and pain, discovery and dead-ends. I will share these columns over time as this blog develops.
My intention is to write about the wonder and charm and the challenges of living in France. This was a significant life experience and I have yet to find the pearls. I hope to learn from others who have shared similar experiences.