Paris Week 4: Cultural Challenges

One aspects of culture that I mention frequently in the blogs is the culture of taking time. In social situations, the French take the amount of time necessary to have a meal, to socialize, and to have discussions with friends and family. In social situations, there is a tendency to have long and heated discussions and debates about company issues without making final decisions or reaching a conclusion. This is certainly a different culture than the United States because the culture of being concise and straight to the point naturally leads us to making quick and effective decisions. However, these tendencies that to lead to quick decisions makings can sometimes lack a foundation of reasoning. In French culture, instead of trying to reach a conclusion, the values rest on the pillar of reasoning, or in other words to demonstrate their intellectual agility by providing a detailed explanation or justification of their ideas. In the work place and in general, this has been difficult to assimilate to because it requires me to think deeply and have reasonable justifications to support my point of view. At my workplace, there is a meeting at the end of each week where we primarily discuss, critique, and analyze our previous week. Positive and negative comments are laid out on the table and the discussion centers around the why and the how of certain perspectives. If polar views are presented, those perspectives will be throughly discussed without reaching a well defined decision at the end. When discussing politics and current affairs with my host family, the conversation can take ages without coming to an agreement. Even when we are in agreement, the act of explaining the ‘why’ is constantly stressed so that everyone knows where your logic lies. It has been difficult to assimilate to situations like these personally because it forces you to rethink about your reasoning and logic deeply before pitching an idea or perspective. In the United States, I am more used to an environment where we pitch in ideas as it flows into the mind, without having second thoughts about them. However, this cultural difference on emphasizing the ‘why’ has forced me to think thrice before I say anything. It takes a couple of minutes to get my thoughts together let alone in English, but doing so in my thoughts in another language has been a challenge but a great intellectual experience overall. 

To add on, even though there is greater emphasis on logic and reasoning, there is a duality in French culture in that indirectness and ambiguity exists as opposed to the directness of logic. Explaining the reasoning behind their logic can be interpreted as direct but can be done in an implicit manner. It is direct in that they are honest and not afraid to share their opinions but at times their communication style is indirect and ambiguous through their use of witty humor. This type of communication style has been difficult to interpret because it is confusing to figure out in a different language how the implicit humor relates to the explicit reasoning. This does not necessarily only apply during discussions and debates but during simple exchanges at work. For example, it is less clear when you are given a task without given clear procedure on how to approach them or not having a concrete deadline. Being able to clearly see the objective and having a path to the goal is both important and are complementary to one another. For example, in the United States, we are used to receiving concrete information and procedures immediately to finish the task as fast and effectively as we can. We are sometimes too consumed by achieving to outrun our competitors. However, in the French workspace and in the social sphere, the idea of taking the time and discussing, supporting your logic with reason, and the conversation being open to interpretation places the importance on taking the necessary time to enjoy the process. As mentioned, it is not possible to reach a goal without taking the time to pave a path towards that goal. These cultural challenges, both the explicit and the implicit aspects of French culture is what allows us to take our time and appreciate the process more. This has been the harder cultural challenges to get accustomed to, yet it is one of the most applicable and important lessons that I have learned and will carry on for the rest of my life.