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I’m sharing my expat relocation experience in France as an American when I felt the shock of my first winter.

Il fait fraud!  She does not have any interest in being my friend.

Il fait fraud! The employees at the grocery store have no patience for me and my broken French but I just want to know where the soup is.

Il fait fraud! Did he really just say that to me?

Il fait fraud!

Cold was a common theme when I first moved to France. I was on a short expat relocation assignment.  The French phrase for it’s cold “Il fait fraud” was referring to more than just the weather. Coming from sunny southern California, and an overall open and welcoming culture, I felt the cold immediately after arriving in France. I was experiencing one of the coldest winters in Lyon and I was experiencing a culture that initially came across as cold. It was cold because of winter, it was cold because people were not as welcoming as I wanted, it was cold because I did not have anyone to talk to with my broken French, and it was cold because their initial kindness did not reflect their true intentions of forming a friendship.

My experience in France as an American

There were times when I went to a very bad place feeling isolated in my temporary home. I did not understand why I had to actively join Meetup groups to meet people rather than becoming friends with people who were part of my daily life. I did not understand why I sometimes experienced first interactions with people as direct and obvious they had no interest in even continuing the conversation, yet other times I had very lovely conversations that opened possibilities to new friendships yet  the person’s true intention was not anything more than having a pleasant conversation. A woman I had just met even invited me to Christmas dinner with her whole family ten minutes after we met, before even asking her name yet left without asking for any of my contact information to follow through with her plan. Another time I showed up three minutes late when meeting a new friend because I missed the first metro and that friend thinking my lateness meant I changed my mind on meeting with them.

Finally, I started catching on to the patterns of the cultural norms. I acknowledged that some accepted traits of a culture may be very offensive in another and my duty as an expat was to adapt to their norm. I learned that no culture is bad for its norms, I just simply have to adapt.

My Reflections of my Expat Relocation Experience

Now that I am back in southern California I reflect on my time in France and it turned into one of the best periods of my life. France may have some serious winters, and less small talk, but with the help of cultural coaching I adapted well to my surroundings and made lifelong memories.  Here are a few tips to adjust as an expat:

Adjusting to an unfriendly different country can be a challenging experience for expats, but there are several strategies they can use to make the transition smoother. Here are some tips for adjusting to an unfriendly different country:

Seek out support

One of the most important things an expat can do when adjusting to a new country is to seek out support from other expats or local friends who can offer guidance and advice. Joining expat groups, clubs, or online forums can be a good way to connect with others who have had similar experiences.  An expat relocation can be isolating.

Learn the language

Learning the local language can be a valuable tool for expats who want to connect with the local community and understand their culture better. Even learning a few key phrases can go a long way in building relationships with locals.

Be open-minded

It’s important for expats to approach their new environment with an open mind and a willingness to learn and adapt. This may involve letting go of preconceived notions or expectations and embracing new ways of thinking and doing things.

Take care of yourself

Adjusting to a new culture can be stressful, so it’s important for expats to take care of their physical and emotional well-being. This might involve practicing self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or journaling.

Find familiar activities

Engaging in familiar activities or hobbies can be a helpful way for expats to feel more comfortable and connected in their new environment. Whether it’s finding a local gym, joining a sports team, or cooking familiar foods, finding ways to maintain a connection to one’s home culture can be a valuable coping mechanism.

By following these tips and being patient and persistent, expat relocation can be navigated successfully to overcome the challenges of adjusting to a new country..  Expat will ultimately thrive in their new environment.

Written by Cultural Business Consulting in collaboration with Madison Blaylock.

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