I have either been blessed or cursed as a lateral thinker. I don’t know the definition but basically it means that I don’t necessarily think the supposedly ‘common sense’ way, instead if I am presented with a proposition, theory, idea or problem for some reason which I don’t understand, I see multiple perspectives of this one phenomena. This drives me nuts. It makes me feel conflicted.
Despite the obvious problems this provides me, I am proud to think like this. It allows me to consider a diverse number of views and in turn, build a rapport with people who may hold different perspectives as I’m able to validate their thoughts, feelings or experiences, even if I don’t personally agree. The one exception is when people knowingly abuse their position of power to manipulate, bully or abuse others. In my books there is no amount of reason or empathy that can excuse that behaviour and I will gladly admonish someone for doing so.
The problem with this way of thinking is that I often feel misunderstood. I might unconsciously play the Devil’s advocate in a conversation of competing viewpoints and this can result in people believing that I actually possess the viewpoint I am trying to demonstrate. In the case of moving to France, I might spend a fair amount of time declaring my fears and anxieties which gives people the impression that I’m scared or that I’m sabotaging myself. So finally, we get to the point of today’s blog.
For the umpteenth thousand time, yes, I recognise the challenges that living in France will provide for me but I would also like to be successful at integrating into French society. And for that reason, I will try hard to make it work. Yesterday I spoke with my senior lecturer and head of the international languages department at uni to express my frustration at the lack of validity that I’ve felt when expressing these sentiments. I came away feeling extremely validated, relieved and prepared for my move.
The reality is that cultural differences DO exist in this world and they shape the way people communicate and interact with one another. Cultural differences are not simply generalisations, they are a fact of life which are also backed up by academic research. Anyone well travelled, or who has worked across different cultures, studied sociology, linguistics or intercultural communication will attest to this. Furthermore, a predominant school of thought throughout the field of international relations purports that cultural and ethnic conflicts will be one of the biggest issues of our globalised world. And because I have a good understanding of these facts, I have been asked to share this blog with the intercultural communications class and to discuss my experiences in France. BOOM!
In any case, lets do a 180* turn. Lets have a look at some of the reasons I am actually looking forward to life in France.
1) Family. Family is so so important to me, so I am truly looking forward to building relationships with my husband’s family.
2) Culture. I have spent the last couple of years learning as much as I can about French culture in order to prepare myself. I am intrigued and fascinated by the history and how it has shaped each of the country’s regions. One common theme I have come across, however, is this idea that France is a western country, therefore it isn’t too different from the rest of us. In many respects, this can be true. But France has its own particular history which has shaped the land, it’s people and politics in a way that is completely different to that of, say, England, the USA or Australia. One cannot expect to go to France without recognising that fact.
3) Politics. I have only ever known New Zealand under neo-liberalism. We are said to be a neo-liberal paradise. This is an embarassment, particularly as the rest of the world has woken up from this myth and trying to figure out a way out of this mess. So I am absoloutly bloody sick of this right wing bull**** and our current government and its numerous screw ups and undemocratic moves (there’s no way the French would put up with Hekia Parata’s antics!). I am looking forward to living in a socialist country with a long history of people power. Where people understand the role of government is to protect the rights of people, not business! Where the government values the health and education of their populace. Where democracy is much much more visible than in New Zealand. Where the wrong decision by government has the power to mobilise people. Where the people will stand up and fight for their rights without being made a pariah (like we did to our wharfies).
4) heathy conversation and debate. It can be difficult to have a conversation, let alone have a healthy debate about topics far beyondour shores and not represented in mainstream media. As for conflicting viewpoints, here we tend to get our backs up and argue in anger. We prove our point by getting personal rather than focusing on the facts. We’re just not good at accepting that people might not agree with us and it pisses us off.
5) work/life balance. Here, we work our butts off just to get by. In France they work 35 hour weeks OR they work 40 hours a week with a 3 day weekend once a month. That, to me, is a healthy work life balance.
So you see, I have the ability to hold contradictory views. Yes, I know there will be challenges but seriously, I am quietly excited about the opportunities that France will provide me. And if I am to be completely truthful, one of the saddest things is to see New Zealand regarded as a neo-liberal haven and there is nothing I can do about it (I talk politics and people switch off). We had one of the lowest voter turn outs EVER and there is nothing I can do about it. Being a politics buff, I am seriously curious to experience life in a socialist country where EVERYONE has had a civic education and understands the basics of civil society and the purpose of government.
I guess it must be confusing for people if I contradict myself all the time but all I can say to that is try living in my head for a while!