Living with the Culture Shock of Brexit – Then and Now – A personal piece written by Nadège Welsch

Then and Now…

London Skyline at Dusk with City Hall and Modern Buildings, Rive

Part 1 – THEN – 27th June 2016

“This weekend, with news of the results of Brexit spreading across the world, has been a very challenging time for a lot of People, and I would like to share not only what I went through but what some of my fellow European and pro-Remain British friends may have gone through too.

I am an Intercultural Consultant. I help expatriate and global managers adapt to their new environment. In facilitating their adaptation I always refer to the Culture Shock curve and its five stages: Excitement, Denial & Depression, Culture Shock, Acceptance and Acculturation. The last time I experienced the Culture Shock curve for myself was moving to Singapore 10 years ago!

Over the course of this weekend I moved through the first two phases and am now heading, at some speed, towards culture shock.

The excitement phase was before the Referendum results, I think most of us were positive that the UK would vote remain and thus demonstrate that we are a strong Europe and that Europeans fit naturally along side British folk. When the results came in on Friday morning, as I woke up at 5:30am, I couldn´t believe that Brexit had happened. I was in complete denial, I just couldn´t wrap my head around it although I had an aprehensive feeling that it might happen, but again, my excitement was stronger. I found myself accepting the decision of the British public, as I live in their Country, and I need to accept their wishes but, trust me, I still felt out-of-place especially going heading out for dinner that evening. The atmosphere felt colder than usual, but I put this down to my own projections.

Tears in the morning

The rest of the weekend was set aside for the depression phase – waking up in tears not knowing what the future will bring, especially working as a freelance Consultant and delivering Trainings to, mostly, European expats – teaching them how to integrate into the UK, so that was a big shock ! What will I do? I thought I would spend the rest of my life here, I have friends which are now part of my Family, I have a home that I bought, I have a car, what will that mean? What does the future hold?

I also had a few talks over the weekend with a few Young British People and asked them what they thought of Brexit and a lot were shocked and angry. They said they were “Europeans” and not British citizens, what will happen for their future and their kid´s future? They won´t have the opportunity to have work experience abroad, travel, learn languages and go abroad to train themselves, so, overall, a big shock all round.

When I spoke to European friends and colleagues most felt betrayed, stabbed in the back, not welcomed and also fearful for their future.

We now know that nothing major will happen over the next two years and that, as Europeans, we will be able to stay. What will be the conditions after though? I think the acceptance phase after the shock sounds like, “One way or another if there are no Jobs, I/we will have to move back to Europe”. I think this is what our culture shock is about, leaving a beautiful country, our friends, our lives.

For now, however, we need to wait and see and try to get out of the shock phase to get on and live our lives.

Part 2- NOW

6 Months post Brexit:

Panorama of a big summer field

Six months have passed since the Brexit Referendum vote. What has happened up to now? How do I feel? And, how do we as Europeans feel in the UK?

Since the announcement of the referendum and even after Brexit was voted into reality, many of us, in the intercultural world and in broader Training and Development have noticed a significant slowdown in business. A colleague of mine mentioned that some of his programs had been canceled, another said that some clients were backing out of training committements and that they wanted to wait for the New Year. Why is that so?

Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, Brexit was one major event and shock in 2016. This was closely followed by the election of Mr Donald Trump, and now we can hear, throughout Europe, the loud voice of right wing movements, Austria was close and France will be the next test. What will happen there? At the pace we are going, everything is possible!

What will this mean for the world…for Europe?

What we can see is that there is mistrust of politics in general and a fear of the unknown and its consequences for peace, employment and our way of life. All of those participating in racist actions, protest votes and the results they are generating are people that want CHANGE . They are asking – who else can give them change? Noone but those who run against the existing political system.

We need to bring back trust and respect for one another. It is through cultural consciousness that we may avoid further conflict and make sure that our children grow up in a peaceful world, where citizens are respected, have a job and can practice their religion without challenge.

So, where am I then, after these last 6 months? I think I am still in the shock phase. And there is hope. I am edging toward the acceptance phase. we need to wait and see, and to see past what the press is telling us, go past what politicians are trying to sell us (from their own position of confusion, choas and fear) and make sure that our objective is for harmony and making sure that we engineer the conditions that allow for all of us to live together in peace.

welschAuthor Profile – Nadège Welsch

Nadège is Franco-German starting her career with a major German Telco based in Munich where she worked with Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa.

She expatriated to Singapore for a year and half before immigrated to the UK to pursue her passion for culture. With an MSC in Business Psychology she created Be-a-Chameleon seven years ago, training individuals as well as groups in cultural awareness, working effectively across cultures and working effectively in multicultural teams.

Nadège speaks English, French, German and Spanish and is a passionate advocate for cultural consciousness.

sky and hands

Advertisements

The French Paradox, Part I: “Oui…mais…”, By Anke Middelmann

“Oui…mais…”, or,”Finding the Perfect Solution”

In the early years of my teaching and training career in France, I was often confronted with comments from such as: “All the French do is talk—but there’s no action” (Anglo-Saxon, North European, Indian, Chinese); “they’ve agreed to something and then change their mind at the last minute” (German managers), “they overcomplicate everything” (British), and more general remarks that “they contradict everything”, “always disagree and complain”, “are disorganized” and “cannot be relied upon”.

Man drawing a picture of Paris

Determined to find satisfactory answers, I had to look no further than the French Enlightenment philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). And was delighted that all the above could, in some way, be linked to his theories, specifically his anti-thèse. Eureka!

Just how does it work? One of René (“I think, therefore I am”) Descartes’ main premise is that thinking should be driven by logic and rationality. His argued that “doubt is the origin of wisdom”, and that, in seeking the Truth, “it is necessary… to doubt, as far as possible, all things”. Moreover, to find this Truth (i.e., the perfect solution), “it is important to have a Method“—known as the thèse – antithèse – synthèse.

Still today, this Cartesian “method” is applied in all situations. The starting point (thèse) is straightforward—it’s the problématique, or proposition, situation, problem, or project to be dealt with. It’s the second stage, the anti-thèse, the process of figuring out the solution, that is tricky and that confounds non-French counterparts. While the British generally come up with an objective, devise a way forward, and change course if necessary, and the Germans develop, and follow, a structured approach, the French do something entirely different.

This is where Descartes’ “doubt”, or “scepticism”, comes in. Since the anti-thèse requires that everything be questioned, the French consider all aspects of an issue by “dividing each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it” (Descartes). It means dissecting, questioning, and possibly rejecting, all angles, knowledge and facts; it is important to decide not necessarily how or whether something will work, but rather why it might not, and if an existing or initial approach is indeed best. It leads to: “Yes, this might work, but…”; “What happens if we do/don’t do it this way?”; “How about this instead of that—or something else entirely?” In working through the anti-thèse, one may retain some initial elements, but discard others, inject new facts, develop new possible approaches, and subsequently review everything (thereby repeating the whole process!) to ultimately agree (often at the last minute) on the solution—the synthèse!

To onlookers, this contradictory back-and-forth thinking process, changing minds and plans, especially at the last minute, the lack of action until a solution is considered finite, the seemingly critical oui…mais, is time-wasting, exhausting and unnecessary intellectual acrobatics. However, to the French, not leaving any stone unturned implies doing a sloppy job. As one Frenchman observed: “We cannot work otherwise, even if, in the end, we go back to our first idea.” Although complex, complicated, contradictory and seemingly disorganised, the “Cartesian Method” can be highly creative and has made France a technologically and scientifically innovative power house: the high-speed TGV train, the Ariane space rocket, Minitel (a Videotex online system that predated the internet by several decades), the Eiffel Tower, the morning-after pill, to name just a few, are all innovations achieved through the Cartesian approach.

How to practically deal with the anti-thèse on a daily basis? Understanding goes a long way: international students and managers say that just knowing that everything will take longer, involve discussion and difference of opinion, makes things less frustrating; a German manager said he now sits back, patiently observing the commotion of the anti-thèse, and reorganising his time accordingly. Non-French university teachers adjust class content to give students more time to discuss their ideas. Others are delighted that their French counterparts’ frequent oui…mais is nothing personal. And yet others see the process as a worthwhile exercise to hone their own observational and thinking skills, and to develop new ways of seeing the same issue.

I’m not saying it’s easy to adapt; just like the process itself, it takes time, patience, and mental agility. Personally, I’ve learned to listen for the oui—without the mais—to know we’re ready to go.

Anke Middelmann was born and raised in Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium. She spent most of her working life in Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States, before moving to France in 2004.

anke middlemann Anke Middelmann – intercultural trainer and coach

She is Lecturer in Multicultural Management at Skema Business School, and Director of two of Skema’s International MSc Programmes.

As an intercultural trainer and coach, she provides training and coaching on a range of multicultural and intercultural issues. She regularly provides training on “Living and Working in France” and the complexities of Franco-German working for Air Liquide, Eurosport, AXA, Valéo, Bayer, Areva, Thales, Adeo Services, Dassault, among others.