After more than two years of us facing a pandemic, I finally got Covid for the first time last week. I had two coworkers that went to the office while being sick in the beginning of the week that later tested positive. After a couple of days, all of us who were still working in the office got tested, but I was the only one who got back a positive result. Luckily, I have no other symptoms besides a little fatigue, so the French policy is that if you get a negative test on the 5th day after two days without a fever, you can leave the quarantine period. While stating home and resting for all these days has not been as bad as I thought it would be, today is my 5th day and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to go back to the real world!
Since my first week in France, the difference in communication styles has been one of my major challenges. In the beginning, the low-context culture combined with a low level of casual French comprehension made me feel as if all I learned in French classes over these past couple years was not enough. The lack of details when explaining something or giving directions is very different from what I am used and it can all get a little confusing. At moments, it was very discouraging, but as time went on, I realized that there’s little that can be done about it besides putting myself out there and keep trying to get better. Today, even if the low-context communication style is still a little tricky, I feel much more confident asking for people to clarify or further explain what they said.
My first time experiencing a hybrid work environment was this week. At the office, no one works from home except in the case of illness or another major emergency. While the work itself has been going smoothly, I noticed a difference on “email” communication style when comparing it to the US. My supervisor’s instructions tend to be much more vague, as if I am already supposed to know what is said in between the lines. This low context style is quite different, but all I have to do is reply to her with a couple clarifying questions to make sure I understood her instructions.
As I am working with translation, research, and writing, I heavily depend on my coworkers’ feedback to make sure what I am doing falls within the NGO’s standards. Particularly, there is one coworker that checks my work every couple of days in order to fix any French grammar mistakes or fact-check the content of my writing. Initially, I interpreted her communication style as being very direct and without any of the “sugar coating” that we’re used to seeing it more in the U.S. It could very much come out as being rude sometimes, but I constantly had to remind myself that it is simply a difference in communication style. Over the weeks, not only did my comprehension get better, but I also started to better understand her style and feel more comfortable with it.
Another challenge was understanding the more casual conversations that happen at work. Not only had I never been exposed to native people that talk fast and use a much more casual vocab that is not taught in school, but understanding the language nuances and humor is also not easy. It took me a couple of weeks to notice that I was understanding things better, but even then, it was hard to get the details of conversations because a lot of things are simply implied. It was surely intimidating at times, but nothing too bad that would stop me from wanting to really focus and understand what my coworkers are talking about during lunch break.
While I haven’t had a specific situation where a miscommunication disaster occurred, I would say that it is still my biggest fear. In the US, we are taught to always be on our best game when it comes to communicating, and while I am sure the same happens in France, the difference in styles always makes me doubt myself. However, I am sure this is also just a part of the process and, in a way, I already expected it. As I am entering the second to last internship week, hopefully everything will keep going smoothly and no miscommunication situations will come up!