Notes From A Big Country. FRANCE. An Experiential Action Research Story By Interculturalist & Observer Daphne Laing

How did this wild adventure start?

The context

Having talked about a more authentic, shared life together during holidays walking the grand randonnees, in September 2017 we finally realised our dream, upped sticks and moved to Brittany, Western France to start a new adventure. The first thing to say is obvious: when dreams become reality they are no longer dreams; and this is where our story begins.

Watermill of Huelgoat, Brittany

 

The project: to set up and launch a residential centre for training courses, workshops and retreats in the peaceful and inspiring surroundings of rural France.

Daphne 1

Part 1 of the Story – Months 1 – 4

Starting as we meant to go on, and in my case with 30 years’ experience of giving intercultural integration advice, we were determined not to fall into the trap of relying on a support network offered by other Britanniques….no! We were going to integrate right from the beginning!!!! We set about asking for advice where the French go: at the mairie, the CCI (Chamber of Commerce) and of course in the bakery and tabac.

Observation 1: the advice and insights given by others who have done the same thing is invaluable, but especially in the form of person-to-person contact. There is very useful objective advice online, but internet forums are generally to be avoided!

Step 1: moving in….

Early indications: deliveries have to be guided in by phone. Mostly they have satnav but this is not to be trusted. We found that about 3 conversations were necessary for every delivery. Where does that figure on Hofstede?? Problem: I thought I spoke French, mais non! The phone was impossible. Every response was met with what seemed like a whole life story while I was still deconstructing the first greeting. I was also frankly out of the habit of answering the phone and talking to a person rather than a robot…

Daphne 2

“Please, what is the context??” I plead, trying to figure out yet again who this was and, even more challenging, where they were – since we didn’t know the geography any better than them!! In our area houses do not have names, so nobody knows where to direct a delivery if you have just moved here, because they don’t know you… Oh and dont’ worry about why that package arrives and leaves not from the post office but the coin fumeur (…..smokers’ corner) tabac in the next village….

Observation 2: so we need to be known!!!! …Start with the “weak ties”…neighbours, baker, newsagent…..

Step 2 Get registeredGrappling with bureaucracy, processes and “the system.” As we intend to be fully integrated into the community, working and living for the majority of the year in our little village, we need to set up our official support network. The problem is that when we ask the locals, they give us the answer but they don’t realise that we are the equivalent of David Bowie in the Man Who Fell to Earth…We don’t know the background, we haven’t grown up with the way the system is organised; so each meeting is positive, friendly and helpful, but we still come away with a feeling of mild panic that we still don’t really understand what is going on because we can’t put the “whys” with the “whats”. We feel as if we are getting almost nowhere fairly slowly, but I still have total faith that suddenly, like climbing a mountain, we will reach the top, having matriculated and received notification of our taxable status.

The result is that we go to all the offices we are directed to but often in the wrong order. After every meeting with another very helpful civil servant we come out encouraged and optimistic, but still not quite sure if anything has moved on. Problem: if you don’t know the system you can’t tell if we are progressing. Observation: wow it cannot be exaggerated how disorientating it feels to arrive in the new system. After 4 months we’re not yet registered with health and social care but we think we have managed to register the business and we have definitely managed to register the car…born in Italy, raised in UK and naturalised in Franc.

Daphne 3

We meet the mayor and get to know the staff at the mairie, which has lists and records of everything and everyone in the commune and is the go-to place for everything: getting planning permission; inviting international visitors who need visas; forming a club; contributing to the newsletter; picking up bin bags. Here you can’t be invisible and you are instantly accountable. Next, off to the bank to open an account – armed for the second meeting (the first meeting appeared to be relationship building) with proofs of address/ residence/birth/ proof of income. The application process is personal: “Madam has travelled a lot” and is all done with the utmost courtesy and friendliness despite the fact that our financial investment is minimal to tiny.

What a huge learning curve – fascinating, mentally tiring and baffling… but soooo interesting, frustrating – and sometimes bizarre. As an intercultural professional I am genuinely interested in the underlying, the abstract, the philosophy… how come everything is so different?….

What do I love about France so far?…the focus on people; the fact that you can be neither unaccountable nor invisible – the close relationship with the commune . our mayor sees to that – you are acknowledged (“weak ties”) everywhere you go, and after around 4 months we are starting to get more than a “bonjour”……petit a petit…… I love the fact that everything is discussed before anything is done – then it is done with absolutely no nonsense, and the person who has done whatever it is, is automatically accountable for their actions… and there is a kindness and a sensitivity both to the human condition and to beauty and art.  Oh yes and although we are STILL finding the 2 hour lunch break annoying because for 30 years we have been programmed that that is when you pop out to get things…… I really appreciate that all working people have 2 hours a day where they mostly eat together, talk together and bond…….. And the space around us, and the lack of M6 motorway (or any) traffic.

What I don’t like? Probably all of the above on a bad day!!!!

Until the next time,

Daphne

About the Author – Daphne Laing is a language and intercultural training specialist now based in France with a long career in training and academia. During the 1990s she worked in Executive training at Regent Executive and Lydbury English Centre before joining Higher Education where she headed up the Centre for Language and Communication Training during the halcyon years of Internationalisation in UK. During that time she was involved in several EC funded projects to that end as well as partnership development activity in places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Burma and China. Her practice is deeply rooted in observation and discovery and on encouraging personal reflection and growth. She is now working as an independent consultant and trainer and is setting up an inspirational residential centre for education and personal development events and courses in Pen Ar Bed (top/head/centre of the world in Breton) in Western France.

 

Time Management – Are You Just Too Busy To Start? And, is it Good Busy or Bad Busy?

When would NOW be a good time to start your Personal Time & Work Quality Revolution?

  1. The Good Busy test. How much of the following (honestly) applies to you?

“I am Good Busy. My schedule is packed with exciting trips and assignments taking place in desirable locations, working with and for kind, progressive and generous clients who seem to understand me, appreciate me and, specifically, understand my worth to them.

Effective Time Management

They provide me with a stimulating brief that I am excited to get my teeth into. The work has plenty of variety, suits my strengths and allows me to be fully expressed, in the zone and at my best as I execute the work that I love.”

Have we described your life perfectly? Or, does this seem like a fantasy as you reflect on your work, your life and your lack of balance?

  1. The Bad Busy test. When I am not filling in or scanning endless administrative forms, I seem to be trapped in other types of unpaid, repetitive and unrewarding chores. Either that or I feel duty bound to travel and fulfil my Mephistophelean contract of vast acres of underpaid, boiler plate assignments in grubby locations with cheap accommodation, working with an unappreciative audience that would far rather be anywhere else than there. My clients are, under the surface, monolith factory sweatshops that employ above average people to perform stressful, complicated and disjointed work for little psychological  reward beyond beyond task completion, urgency and the avoidance of an escalation sparking the harsh tongue of a similarly stressed supervisor, hovering above them, micromanaging the process. I work in the cruel environment of complain scarcity. And I see now way out.

Both 1. & 2. are, of course, extreme exaggerations. The point of showing the contrasting stories above is to get you to feel something and recognise elements of WHAT YOU WANT and what you are stuck with and wish to ESCAPE.

The Symptoms –

*Does your heart race or sink when a new work order comes in?

*Do you ever feel ill or experience a mild panic attack on the way to work?

*Do you feel low on Sunday or drink too much on a Friday evening alongside your equally disenchanted colleagues?

*When you are asked, has your description of what you do become more cynical and dark?

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What needs to change after summer?

  1. Audit. I am often asked what is the key to happiness when in the middle of the upheaval of changing country or job, and, one thing I learnt years ago is that externally enforced relocation, reassignment or revolution (or some thinking time in summer) is the perfect time to take stock of your situation and ask some profound questions of yourself…

*Who were you when you set out in the world of work?

*Are you still that person?

*What do you want from your day job in 5 year’s time?

*What do you want your legacy / eulogy to be?

*What do you enjoy most in your work?

*What work based activity fills you with dread?

*Are you healthy / happy / fulfilled?

*Are you EARNING what you are worth?

*Is the output of your work good, neutral or evil?

And

*Are you giving something via your job that is adding value to the broader human experience?

What can you Do?

  • Say “No!” – The breakthrough moment came for me working as a freelance trainer and coach many years ago. When I started saying no to discounted work, unfulfilling assignments, crappy locations, helping unprofessional or unprepared clients. When I rejected work that was meaningless, harmful or just a tick box exercise for a corporate customer, something shifted for me.

    Better fees

    “No!”

Instantly my life improved. I felt rebellious, free and more in control of my content, my audience and my outcomes. My income went up, my spare time went up. And, my boredom, stress and frustration levels went down.

My question became, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”

Upgrade Everything – If you increase the quality of every little thing you work on and create something whole that is exceptional, people will notice – Your brand will become REMARKABLE and your place in the world will change.

+How can you turbo charge your next product?

+What will take your service levels to a place that commands and deserves a premium price?

+How can you find the courage to ask for an OUTRAGEOUS fee and keep a straight face?

+How can you create a niche that you will own, dominate and FILL with value?

+How can you spend your time being fully expressed utilising your value and being totally connected to your client, their objectives and your transformational talents?

Excited woman working at desk in office. Using antistress ball.

Conclusion – You get the life you tolerate, so maybe it is time to take action and raise your standards.

Action

If you have been affected by this blog post and want to start work this year with a bang – Do feel free to telephone 07540 65 9995 and leave your details including a preferred time to call you back.  We can have a 15-minute conversation and maybe demonstrate some time management gold to your team. Thanks. I would love to hear your story.

Matthew Hill culture trainer 07540659995

Call Matthew

And, Please do forward this post your friends and colleagues if they are drowning in miserable busy-ness. Thanks and “bon chance” for autumn. Do E Mail Matthew  matthew.hill@hillnetworks.com

Coaching Chinese Expats in Paris by trainer and coach Denis Niedringhaus

“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.

Paris  l'heure bleueOne 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.

Denis Niedringhaus   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.