“How well do the French speak English?”
I recently heard an intercultural trainer complain that Chinese business people often decline repatriation training because they just don’t see the need for it. I wonder if these expats abroad feel sufficiently disconnected from their extended communities in the first place to actually experience what Westerners used to call “culture shock”. In fact, this term does not even translate correctly or effectively into Chinese.
As enamoured as most Chinese people are with French culture, few actually bother to try and learn about it, even if they know they will be sent to France for a couple of years.
One of the first questions, a new client Mike Zhang asked me over the phone was “How well do the French speak English?” A difficult question because there are so many variables.
Parisians obviously do better than most French people, but then the liklihood of finding an English-speaking shopkeeper depends on how many tourists or expats live or work nearby. Mike Zhang’s second question also had no easy answer: “So what’s the Chinese community like over there?” The short answer? Diverse. In fact, Paris has 3 Chinatown’s with very distinct communities. I would never recommend, for example, that a Chinese expat try to find a flat near Belleville (in the 20th district) because the majority of Chinese people living there come from Wenzhou province and speak in a dialect incomprehensible to a businesswoman from Beijing.
Additionally, the terrorist attacks of November 13th have made all expats give more thought to their personal safety (always a major priority with the Chinese). Just how long the city will suffer from the shockwaves of that dreadful day remains to be seen.
To finish, as a coach I have the pleasure of dealing with more and more Chinese people who are increasingly autonomous, bilingual and sincere in their efforts to adapt to both the Parisian work environment and the unique local lifestyle.
Author profile Denis Niedringhaus is a trilingual (English/French/Mandarin Chinese) intercultural trainer and expatriation coach based in Paris. With over 4 years experience in the Far East, he takes a special interest in Chinese culture and its continuing influence in the corporate world.