The dictionary defines ‘culture shock’ as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” (OED). It wasn’t until a Facebook friend remarked that not only was I dealing with my new role as MiL’s temporary carer, but was also dealing with the culture shock of having returned to the UK, that I gave the matter any thought. However, a quick Google revealed that it was, in fact, a real phenomenon, more appropriately named ‘reverse culture shock’, being the effects of returning to your home culture after becoming accustomed to a foreign one. Research even suggests that it is “more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.”
|View from the cafe at Essex Wildlife Trust Abberton Reservoir Centre|
Over the years, I’ve read many social media posts discussing the pros and cons of life in France, comparison of the two countries and reasons why people may or may not yearn to return to the UK. Many folk do seem to have a rose-tinted view of their adopted country (according to Wikipedia this ‘honeymoon period’ generally only lasts three months, though I’ve known people still in this state after several years). Maybe it’s just that they can’t see things on their own doorstep that jump out at us, or the things that bother us are of no consequence to them. I’m reminded of my late mother who could never see the litter piling up in her street, perhaps because, for her, it was still 1952 and she did not wish to acknowledge the change to the area that had come with the passage of time.
There are good things and bad things about both countries and their cultures. Or, as Mr VV likes to say, France and the UK are both bat-shit crazy, but in different ways. Certainly, since we adopted the vegan lifestyle, living in rural France began to throw up many issues. Two things, in particular, stand out. First, the sheer difficulty of obtaining vegan-friendly food, whether it be a trip to the supermarket where the choice was limited, a meal out for which choice of location and menu was limited, or even just going for a simple coffee. Our second issue, and one that hampered our life to an extent that we’ve really only realised since not being there, is the Chasse. Over the years, we have had many run-ins with the chasse and its fraternity. From outright threats to us and one of our dogs from a chasse neighbour, to coming face-to-face with the barrel of a gun on a Sunday afternoon walk along a designated public cycleway. From October to March, in France, we simply stopped walking anywhere.
One remarkable thing we have noticed is how much happier the dogs seem to be here in the UK. In France, Bumble always trailed behind on her walks. She got so bad that we even got her a doggy pushchair for days when she just refused to budge. Here, she is pulling on the lead, charging ahead across the green and enjoying afternoons sitting in the window watching the squirrels. Even old Dylan has a new lease of life, currently on no drugs at all and enjoying two walks a day. Maybe they no longer feel our stress about walking in the countryside, constantly on the lookout for loose chasse hounds and bullets.
So, after eight years away has it been a shock to return? Perhaps a little, but not in a bad way. Maybe it did take a few trips to Sainsburys to get my head around the sheer volume of vegan food available and the choice. The roads are busy, but we can enjoy a Sunday morning walk without encountering anyone dressed in orange brandishing a shotgun. The smallest café serves at least one type of plant milk, there are several dedicated vegan eateries, and virtually all pubs and restaurants have several vegan options. There seems to be no stigma attached to veganism either. Many folk dislike the shopping culture in the UK, where going shopping has become a leisure activity, but, there’s no need to join in. There’s a growing trend of environmental awareness, from recycling to zero waste shops, and a move toward less not more consumption.
Yes, the roads are full of potholes, there is litter on the verges, everyone seems to be in a hurry and driving an enormous four-wheel drive. But, you can actually get things done, people turn up when they say they will, the staff in shops are friendly and helpful. I appreciate that we may be fortunate with our location, in a particularly pleasant village with a shop, two pubs, plenty of walks and not far from the sea (though I still have not been to the coast yet). However, any culture shock was surely short-lived and we seem to have slipped easily into a comfortable routine. Even driving on the 'wrong' side of the road seems normal now. After a month in our ‘Hut’, the next task is to search out our ‘tribe’ and get involved in some local activities.