Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 22, 2009

you have now entered….the Negotiation Phase

A few days ago I attended a seminar for partners of INSEAD students on how to adjust to a high mobility lifestyle (one that we’re in now as ex-patriates in France who will travel a lot). The psychologist who gave the presentation spoke to us about how difficult the adjustment can be, how we need to acknowledge what we have lost (such as foods we like, hobbies we used to have, etc.), how to maintain our marriages, and how to raise children in a “high mobility” situation. Overall, I found her presentation to be quite interesting and convincing, but one thing she told us didn’t really register with me. She explained that there are three distinct phases of adjustment that ex-patriates go through when they get to their new country. Thanks to wikipedia, I have copied and pasted them below: 


  • Honeymoon Phase – During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people’s habits, the buildings and so on.
  • Negotiation Phase – After some time (usually weeks), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one’s native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people’s habits annoying, disgusting, and irritating etc. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason. Depression is not uncommon.
  • Adjustment Phase – Again, after some time (usually 6 – 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more “normal”

    She told us that every ex-patriate goes through each of these stages, no matter what….but I wasn’t buying it! Heck, I’ve been loving it here! What’s not to love about Frace? The wine is cheap, the towns and cities are charming, and they live on pastries and bread! This is my kind of place!!! Clearly, I was in the honeymoon stage.
    But today, I clearly moved from the honeymoon stage into the negotiation stage…or as I like to call it, the “get me out of this friggin country and into a place where people are normal” stage. 
    I had to go into Paris today to register for my French language and civilization courses at the Sorbonne. For some reason, in this country, you cannot register for courses online. Instead, you have to appear at the school on the assigned registration days, pay your tuiton, and register for classes. It seems so archaic to me. Isn’t that what my parents had to do to register for classes? Hasn’t France caught up with the digital age? What’s the deal?
    But, no matter how much I didn’t understand it, I had to comply with the crazy French registration system so I headed into Paris. Here is a breakdown of my day:
    8:30 am — I boarded the bus across the street from my apartment which meant I had to wake up at 7:30 am (the earliest I’ve woken up since I’ve been here…I know, I shouldn’t complain). Of course, the bus I had to take was late, and to make matters worse, it was rainy, windy, and downright cold outside (by the way, if you’re not in the mood to hear me complain, I’d stop reading here…but the psychologist who gave the high mobility presentation says it’s good to complain so as to share your feelings with others….so here I go!).
    9:00 am — I got to the train station with only a few minutes to spare, bought my ticket, and headed to Paris. Since it was rush hour, I had to crowd myself into one of the only empty seats on the train, but at least I was able to sit (notice, I’m still in the “glass half full” part of my day…it is only 9 am, you realize).
    9:40 — Once I arrived, and after I purchased my passe Navigo (monthly train pass) which I’ll use to get back and forth to school for the next four months (if not more since I somehow bought a pass that is valid for a year without realizing it…lost in translation, I guess), I got on the subway headed toward the Sorbonne. Luckily, I had a friend who is also studying at the Sorbonne with me, so she and I navigated the metro system without a hitch, but to be honest, the Paris metro is quite easy  to navigate (it was a small accomplishment on my part though). 
    10:30 — The trouble started. We got out of the subway station and had NO IDEA where to go. The maps we had didn’t have the streets we needed to go down on them, and we walked in circles for what seemed like forever before we actually found where we were supposed to go.
    11:00 — We arrived at some indescriminate building, got a number, and sat down. Once my number was called, I had to sit with a representative of the school who told me all the things I already knew about my program from reading the website—I’d be taking 2 hours of grammar each day, 1 hour of conversation, and 1 hour of civilization lecture. Then, she handed me a piece of paper and shooshed me away. Still shocked by my whirlwind “conversation” with the school representative, I casually looked down at the paper and saw that it was a pass for me to actually register at 3:00 at another building. So basically I just went to this building to be told what I already know and get a ticket to come back later. What was I going to do for 4 hours! 
    img_192311:30-3:00 — My friend and I tried to make the most of our brush with ridiculous French bureaucracy by keeping ourselves busy. We had lunch at a creperie near the school, did some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, walked past the Pantheon (see photo to the right—notice the rain!), got lost (yet again!) in the Latin Quarter—-pretty much anything to take up the four hours until our appointment.
    3:00 — After getting lost for the upteenth time (as most of you know, I have absolutely NO sense of direction so you can imagine how today was torturous for me), my friend and I arrived at the actual registration location. We had to show our registration time tickets to the guard at the entrance (where am I studying? Fort Knox?) and then had to walk down a narrow corridor to the registration room. Upon turning a corner, however, we realized that about what seemed like 100 other students were registering at the same time as us. 
    4:00 — Get to the front of the line only to realize that there is a new line once I am inside the room.
    4:45 — Finally speak to a schol representative who will not speak any English with me, although I know she can. So, in French, she asks me for a check, quickly snaps my photo, gives me a student ID card, gives me two slips of paper, and rigidly looks past me to say “Next!”
    4:46 — I look down at the two slips of paper the woman has given to me and realize that I have to come back TOMORROW to take my language placement exam. I try to speak to the woman again to see if I can take the test today or any other day than tomorrow, and she promptly responds, “No. That is your time. Merci.” (if I could have punched her there without making a scene or having the guards arrest me, I would have, I know it.)
    I didn’t arrive home until 6:30, fighting back tears the entire train ride. But I think that getting lost more times than is humanly possible in one day, getting treated like a second class citizen, slushing through the rain all day, and having to do the whole thing again tomorrow would make anyone cry. Yep, I’m definitely in the Negotiation Phase….crap!


    1. Val, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog entries! Don’t stress about registration…one day you’ll look back fondly on the incident and laugh.

      I can’t wait to see you! We’ll be there so soon!


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