Les français aussi ont un accent.

I wanted to read Les français aussi ont un accent by Jean-Benoît Nadeau, the same author of 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, because I thought I would enjoy a Quebecker’s take on expat life in France. This book is in French, which is half of the reason why I wanted to read it, but I found myself more and more homesick with each chapter. Nadeau’s frustrations with France are the same as mine – being corrected for using the “wrong” word or accent in French (European snobs want you to believe that Quebecois French is not proper French just as American English is not proper English), all the ridiculous paperwork needed just to do the simplest things, and even the showerheads that are not attached to the wall (douches-téléphones-sans-fixation-au-mur), for example. Quebec and the US are very different in many ways, but they are both in North America and that culture is what I miss.

En plus, the fact that a native speaker of French has the same problems with France that I do makes me realize that I was partly wrong about culture shock. Before I moved here, I always thought not being able to speak French well would be my biggest obstacle. It was hard in the beginning, but now that I can understand 99% of what people say and can carry on conversations easily, I’m realizing that it has little to do with the language. It’s simply the little things that are different that you never anticipated would be different. Why would stores, banks and the post office close for lunch? Why is absolutely nothing open on Sundays? Why does the whole country shut down for 6 weeks during the summer? Why can’t I choose my own PIN number?  Why can’t I find cheddar cheese? An why oh why is the showerhead not attached to the wall???

I had heard about culture shock being worse for those who move to countries where the same language is spoken (i.e. Americans who move to the UK) because you just expect everything to be the same as well. But I guess I never thought about someone from Quebec adjusting to life in France. Quebec may speak French, but it is not France. It is North America. So even though we’re separated by a native language, I feel much closer to les québécois than I ever will to les français.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.