Communication Beyond Words

You can spend hours, days and weeks on end studying verb tables, revising nuanced uses of the subjunctive and rifling through vocabulary flash cards, but there is a kind of cultural language that you simply cannot learn through traditional book learning. This is the system of gestures, formalities and behaviours unique to each individual culture. How are you to know, for example, that in China a bow is a much more accepted form of greeting than a handshake without interacting with Chinese people? Admittedly you can learn the simpler aspects through reading about them, but to develop a true ‘cultural fluency’ direct experience is necessary. Here are some interesting, funny and sometimes baffling customs from across the globe:

  • Les bises

Although a kiss on the cheek as a greeting is fairly common in many cultures, this is a prospect that terrifies Brits and other Northern Europeans venturing south, who would much sooner settle for the safe distance of a handshake. The situation is particularly complicated in France, where the number of kisses you give depends on which region you find yourself in – just take a look at this map:

  • The Italian ‘squillo’

Imagine yourself in Italy and you receive a one ring phone call from an Italian friend. The natural reaction of most would be to call this person back, which is in fact the entirely wrong thing to do, and will leave your Italian friend slightly taken aback. What you just received was a squillo, Italian for ring, and a new cultural phenomenon whereby you are expected interpret the meaning of the call from the context rather than answering. This could be “I’m running a bit late” or “I got your message” or perhaps simply “I miss you”.

  • Exchanging business cards in Asia

In many East Asian cultures the business card holds an almost spiritual significance. Your card should be printed in both English and the relevant Asian language, with the host country language side presented face up. Remember to accept business cards with both hands and to spend an inordinate amount of time examining it as if you suspect it may contain explosives – proper consideration of a business card is a sign of respect.

  • Gestures

Gestures are a complete minefield when travelling internationally, so be very careful. The widely accepted ‘ok’ symbol (thumb and index finger together) is considered rude in Brazil, and curling your index finger towards you in a ‘come here’ gesture can be mistaken for a goodbye in Southern Europe. For those travelling to Bulgaria, take note that to the Bulgarians a head nod confusingly means ‘no’ and shaking the head side to side means ‘yes’.

  • English apologies

Perhaps the most vexing of all these international customs is the British tendency to apologise for absolutely everything, also shared by their Canadian cousins. Perhaps it’s just reflex, but the English will even apologise when you step on their feet on a crowded tube, leaving foreigners utterly perplexed. This apology should not be taken entirely seriously and is simply a way of diffusing an otherwise awkward situation.

As you can see, sometimes vocabulary and grammar is not enough, and some of these customs can be the hardest part of living abroad to master, given that our own are so ingrained in our psyche. Don’t worry about slipping up though, people understand that you’re a foreigner and that these things can take time, and misunderstandings like this always make for funny stories! If you enjoyed reading this, you can find more of the same here, and don’t forget to take a look at our job offers for bilingual assistants in Paris.


Pourquoi, et comment, travailler à l’étranger ?

L’idée de travailler à l’étranger est assez effrayante,  vu qu’il faut laisser son pays, sa culture et sa famille derrière et se mettre en route pour une destination inconnue. Pourtant, les avantages l’emportent sans doute sur les peurs, et dès que vous partirez à l’étranger vous commencerez à voir à quel point cette expérience peut vous bénéficier, d’une façon personnelle et également quant à votre carrière. Voici des conseils et des raisons pour lesquelles vous devez faire vos valises maintenant !

Alors, vous avez choisi votre pays d’accueil, vous connaissez peut-être un peu de la langue locale, et si vous avez la chance vous avez même trouvé un travail. Premier conseil : savoir auparavant les possibles difficultés que vous pourriez rencontrer (désolé, il y aura surement des difficultés où que vous alliez !), ainsi elles ne vous embêteront pas autant. Que ce soit une gaffe linguistique ou des difficultés à trouver un logement, vous allez franchir les obstacles avec une mentalité positive, sachant que tout fait partie de l’expérience.

Bien installé dans votre nouveau pays, vous pouvez commencer à profiter des nouvelles expériences qui vous sont désormais disponibles. Si vous visez apprendre la langue ou pas, c’est le moment de connaître les gens du coin et en leur parlent vous allez vraiment  découvrir la culture du pays. Certes, ils font les choses d’une manière un peu différente, ce qui peut vous paraître bizarre, mais ces différences font intéressante la vie. Vous deviendrez beaucoup plus ouvert d’esprit en adoptant quelques coutumes locales, tout comme la sieste en Espagne ou prendre du thé en Angleterre, et en plus ça pourrait vous plaire –  qui n’aimerait pas passer une heure en dormant chaque après-midi ? S’il  s’agit d’un séjour linguistique, insistez pour parler le plus que possible, sans avoir recours à votre langue maternelle… Oui, je parle à vous les anglophones ! Vous allez découvrir que, bien qu’on ait des petites particularités, les personnes ne sont pas si différentes.

Du point du vue du travail, la barrière linguistique peut provoquer des soucis . Si vous ne vous sentez pas confiant en parlant la langue, le conseil le plus important est de restez calme – n’oubliez pas que votre patron vous a embauché en raison de vos compétences et parce que vous êtes capable d’effectuer l’emploi. Ce n’est pas grave s’il faut demander à quelqu’un de répéter 4 ou 5 fois, mieux vaut faire ainsi que mal comprendre une instruction. Peu à peu, vous trouverez que vous êtes capable de parler, et que vous apprenez le vocabulaire spécifique à votre poste. Finalement, venir travailler à l’étranger vous rend attractif auprès des recruteurs, témoignant votre détermination ainsi que votre capacité d’adaptation.

Voilà pourquoi vous devez partir à l’étranger dès que vous avez l’opportunité. Vous n’avez rien à perdre, parce que votre pays vous attendra toujours si la vie à l’étranger ne vous plait plus et qui sait, il se peut que votre pays d’accueil vous plaise encore plus que votre pays d’origine !  Si vous avez aimé ce blog, vous pouvez lire plus ici, et n’hésitez pas à consulter nos offres d’emploi.

Things You Should Know Before Moving to France

France is undoubtedly an excellent place to live, blessed with a rich cultural heritage, a beautiful language, varied and interesting landscapes and of course a world famous cuisine. What else would inspire so many Amelie-esque dreams of a new life in Paris or perhaps Provence amongst Francophiles worldwide? The romantic image of hopping on your vintage bike to a local boulangerie to pick up a fresh baguette, all the while clad in Breton stripes, is fairly prevalent. But inevitably there are hurdles to overcome when moving to any foreign country, be they cultural, linguistic or simply practical. Here are some things we think you should know so that you can truly make the most of your time in France!

  1. Don’t expect much to work on a Sunday. This naturally depends on where you live, as you probably won’t face much difficulty in Paris, but in more rural areas you may find yourself unable to buy food on a Sunday, as most shops will shut down for the entire day. Take a little time to plan ahead, buy your groceries on Saturday and see this as a blessing – in France, Sunday truly is a day of relaxation.
  2. Cast off your prejudices about French rudeness before arriving. This can actually be a self fulfilling prophecy: if you’re defensive around the French from day one then you’re unlikely to find them to be warm and fuzzy. Admittedly you’re likely to come across a few stony faced individuals behind guichets, but don’t let this get to you. The vast majority of French people are polite and accommodating in everyday situations, provided you greet them with a smile and a bonjour!
  3. This is perhaps only applicable to Paris, but if you’re coming to improve your language skills, make sure you are absolutely insistent on speaking French. Parisians, particularly in more touristic areas, will readily switch to English as soon as they spot an error in your French. The simple fact is that it’s usually a lot easier to communicate with tourists of whatever origin in English, and many will jump on an opportunity to practise English. Persist in French and most of the time they will quickly swap back.
  4. Be aware that making friends is a little different in France, and can take longer. You might find the French to be a little overly formal with their acquaintances at first; you just have to have a little patience. Once a French person has warmed to you, you will struggle to find a more loyal friend.
  5. Prepare yourself for French bureaucracy. This one is unavoidable, and there’s no sugar coating the fact that French paperwork is a bit of a nightmare, with what feels like endless signatures and attestations to provide. Remember that France also offers some of the world’s best social care, and that jumping through these loops is simply part and parcel of that. Take a deep breath and laisse tomber!

So now you’re prepared to live out your Francophile dreams! France is a wonderful country that, like any other, presents a unique set of challenges. An awareness of the challenges you may face will allow you to better enjoy those moments sipping a café au lait en terrasse. If you enjoyed this blog, you can see more of the same here, and don’t forget to consult our job offers for bilingual assistants in Paris.

Where Could French Take You?

You might be tempted to believe that French is just spoken dans l’Hexagone, but in fact French is your passport to some of the world’s most exciting and interesting locations. Second only to English as the world’s most widely spoken language, French is an official language in 29 countries as diverse as Canada and the Seychelles. So with that in mind let us give you a tour of some of our top Francophone destinations:

Montreal, Canada

Canada’s second city is an eclectic mix of old meets new, where a flourishing arts and restaurant scene buzzes against a backdrop of charming colonial architecture and soaring skyscrapers. Whilst this is a truly bilingual city, French is generally the preferred language and speaking it will go a long way towards winning the locals’ favour.

Top three:

  • Stroll through Old Montreal’s quaint cobbled streets, soak up the colonial atmosphere and visit Montreal’s very own Notre Dame!

  • Montreal has everything you could possibly want in terms of restaurants, but perhaps the most emblematic dish is poutine. This slightly questionable sounding dish of chips with cheese and gravy is so popular that it has sparked its own festival in February, where restaurants each provide their own spin on the classic dish. Trust us, it’s delicious.
  • Montréal’s music scene is unrivalled in Canada, and in particular you should take a look at the International Jazz Festival which takes place place from the 26th June to 5th July in 2015.

Speak the local lingo:

To speak true québécois you must learn to scatter your French with anglicisms; which should be ‘pas de troubles’ for our largely bilingual readership! On top of that there is a wealth of idiomatic phrases, here are just a few:

Ca a pas d’allure : Meaning something makes no sense at all, or that it’s crazy. Ironically this one makes no sense to metropolitan French speakers.

J’suis tanné : I’m fed up, I’ve had enough. (NB This has nothing to do with leatherwork!)

Chum/Blonde : Boyfriend/girlfriend, regardless of hair colour!

Nosy Be Island, Madagascar

This island, whose slightly unimaginative name (literally translated from Malagasy as ‘big island’) does little justice to its beauty, is Madagascar’s number one tourist destination and the perfect excuse for you to go and practise your French. Think rustic, unspoiled beaches, beautiful sunsets and an atmosphere so laid back that you’ll never want to be vertical again. Add this to the fact that the Madagascans are renowned for their smiles and friendly disposition and you have an ideal holiday destination.


Top three:

  • Every year, Nosy Be hosts the Donia Music Festival, where you can enjoy parades, music and immerse yourself in the fascinating and beautiful Malagasy culture.
  • Take the time to explore the local flora and fauna. Just off the island is Nosy Tanikely, a stunning marine reserve where you can snorkel with sea turtles, or alternatively you can visit the Lokobe nature reserve, where you’re likely to bump into lemurs and colourful reptiles.

  • In terms of culinary offerings, you would be mad to miss the fresh fruit in Madagascar, and it all tastes so much better whilst sitting on the pristine beaches of Nosy Be.

Marrakech, Morocco

Enchanting and bewildering in equal measure, Marrakech is brimming with life and boasts some of the world’s most beautiful Islamic architecture. The labyrinthine souks that run through the heart of the city offer an ideal opportunity to barter for anything from jewellery to spices, en français, bien sûr! Although the locals are generally native Arabic or Berber language speakers, colonial influence means that French is preferred as a lingua franca over English.

Top three:

  • The striking Jardin Majorelle was gifted to Marrakech by Yves Saint Laurent in 1964 and is not to be missed. Take a relaxed afternoon to escape from the heat and explore this leafy oasis in the middle of bustling Marrakech, and whilst you’re there enjoy a traditional mint tea in the charming café. For the culturally inclined there is also a museum showcasing Berber art.

  • In the centre of Marrakech’s old quarter (or medina) is the impressive Jemaa el-Fna square where you can sample the local delicacies against the backdrop of the towering Koutoubia mosque. Try a lamb tagine with cous-cous, or if you’re feeling a little more daring many places serve a delicious spiced snail soup.
  • The star feature of Marrakech is, without a doubt, its maze of covered markets (souks). You can quite literally lose yourself for hours browsing this Aladdin’s cave, and haggling with the vendors is all part of the experience! Set yourself a challenge and see what you can buy with 50 dirham (approximately 5 euros)

So there you have it! French can take you to places far beyond Europe. Which of these destinations would you most like to visit? Let us know in the comments below, and if you enjoyed this post look out for more here. For those searching for jobs in the Paris area, consult our offers here.

Des particularités très anglaises

Toutes les langues du monde possèdent leurs particularités bien distinctives, et entre ces particularités les plus amusantes sont peut-être les phrases idiomatiques. Avez-vous déjà réfléchi au sens littéral de l’expression bien bizarre « avoir un chat dans la gorge », par exemple ? C’est parfois difficile de reconnaître ces excentricités dans sa langue maternelle, alors voici

  • It’s raining cats and dogs

Une phrase assez célèbre qui veut simplement dire qu’il pleut beaucoup. Ne vous inquiétez pas, vos animaux ne tombent pas du ciel.

  • To be under the weather

En parlant du temps qu’il fait (le sujet préféré des anglais), cette expression explique que l’on est un peu malade et non mouillé par la pluie.

  • Pardon my French

Curieusement, les anglais s’excusent de dire des gros mots en disant cette phrase. Il paraît que le français est quelque chose de vulgaire pour les anglais !

une liste d’expressions anglaises qui vous seront à la fois drôles et utiles :

  • To cost an arm and a leg

Pourquoi en français quelque chose peut coûter les yeux de la tête, alors qu’en anglais ça va vous coûte un bras et une jambe ? Peu importe, mais n’oubliez pas cette expression pour éviter une situation inconfortable où un anglophone croit que vous voulez lui arracher les yeux de la tête !

  • To split hairs

C’est à dire « chercher la petite bête », être maniaque quant aux petits détails sans importance.

  • When pigs fly

Cette phrase se dit pour décrire quelque chose d’impossible. Une autre différence culturelle à noter : en anglais le plus improbable serait qu’un cochon vole, alors qu’en français on dirait « quand les poules auront des dents ». C’est peut-être lié au fait que les anglais sont obsédés par le bacon…

  • To drink like a fish

Cela s’explique assez facilement, non ? Pendant qu’un français boit comme un trou, un anglais boit comme un poisson. La vraie question : entre un trou et un poisson, qui boit le plus ?!

  • Cat got your tongue ?

Aux pays anglophones, il existe des chats fantômes qui vous volent la langue et qui vous empêchent de parler.  Cette question se pose si votre interlocuteur trouve difficilement la réponse à votre question.

  • The world is your oyster

Une bien jolie phrase formulée originellement par Shakespeare. Si le monde est votre huître, il vous est totalement ouvert, tout est possible et votre perle vous attend !

  • Chin wag

Cette expression britannique, littéralement ‘frétillement de menton’  est une façon informelle de désigner une conversation. Cela vous paraît bizarre ? Regardez comment vous bougez la bouche en parlant !

Et voilà ! Maintenant vous êtes capables de parler anglais comme un fou, comme les anglophones !

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