Reverse culture shock hits expats returning from France

Published:  1 Jan at 6 PM
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British expats at present living in France and considering returning to the UK because of Brexit should take reverse culture shock into consideration before making up their minds.

The internet holds a huge number of pages describing expats’ experiences of culture shock once they’ve emigrated overseas, but there’s not much outside expat forums on reverse culture shock. Given that the French lifestyle is a major reason for Brits leaving the UK, how will returnees react to the present-day UK, especially if they’ve been away for decades?

One local English language expat newspaper aimed at expats in France recently asked readers who’ve relocated to their home countries which aspects of their lives caused reverse culture shock. Unsurprisingly, replies from former UK expats who’d lived in France’s southern regions focused on the cold, grey, rainy British weather. For most, Southern France’s sunshine was the benefit they missed the most.

The British habit of binge drinking caused reverse culture shock for many respondents, who sadly missed the comparative refinement of French drinkers, One miserable Brit said he’d immediately noticed the atmosphere of violence as well as the noise due to rowdy drunken behaviour in English town centres, something he’d never experienced whilst in France. Others noted Brits are forced to drink standing up in indoor bars, unlike in France where locals sit outside, sip their drinks, talk and relax with friends.

Several ex-expats noted it’s not normal in the UK to go out for a meal and a drink – it’s all about just drinking until you’re drunk. On the subject of food, there’s no comparison, no matter which country you've returned to, with French cuisine just below the weather as the toughest reverse culture shock. One Canadian said her local supermarkets don’t stock any foodstuffs she actually wants to buy.

Still on the subject of French food, repatriated expats don’t like the huge portions of food served in local eateries, saying the French are happy to eat in moderation. Transport costs in London as compared to metro and train fares in Paris are a cause for complaint, with many admitting the Paris Metro wasn’t perfect, but at least it wasn’t expensive. The cost of decent French wine in British supermarkets was a painful experience for many, and the lack of friendliness and even politeness from cashiers and shop workers was a shock to returnees’ systems, as was the lack of small, independent stores, cafes and bars.
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