Updated: Mar 25, 2020
By Rafia Jan
My experience as a Third-Cultured Kid isn’t a new one. I’m a Pakistani-Turkic girl who immigrated to the United States at two years old. Although my home was a safe place to be Pakistani, it was necessary to appear All-American as a student in a Northern Virginia public school. Not only that, but I wasn’t entirely aware that I was Turkic until I was twelve, but that’s a story for another time. The point is: culture shock is just as constant in my life as being asked where I come from. Culture shock is a key factor in anyone’s endeavors in becoming fully-fledged TCK. In order to gain comfort, one must venture out into a zone of discomfort. For me, that experience involved living in Paris for a month, and with very little French.
It was evident upon arrival that I did not blend in. Shopkeepers and waiters commenced transactions with me in English. Locals in my neighborhood grocery store leered at my ensemble as I shopped in the produce aisle wearing sweatpants. Retail employees replied with a tense “bonjour” if I began with “excusez-moi”. Tipping was another disaster. In short, my first week in Paris resulted in a series of chaotic mistakes that involved buying a six-euro cup of coffee, forgetting a tote bag whenever I went shopping, and being late to class due to taking the wrong bus (more than once) or getting off at the wrong metro stop. There were less dramatic stumbles in speech that involved saying the wrong things in French, just blurting out sentences in English when my frustration took over, or responding with “English” when given the option of “French or English”. The good thing about mistakes or embarrassments, is that with each new encounter, you learn how to avoid them the next time.
With chaos comes a desire for organization. Amusingly, Paris embodies both terms with exceptional balance.
My method was to simply absorb everything French around me, rather than to tune it out with a pair of headphones and a smartphone. I’d start off conversations with strangers using a confident “bonjour” and it made all the difference in the world. They’d become more eager to help me improve my French, rather than accommodate to my lingual needs based on convenience. The simple act of dressing up, not only helped me feel more confident and ready for the day, but it also established a sense of respect when entering a public space, and in return I’d receive, significantly more, pleasant service from staff.
After constant displays of selfless assistance and kindness from strangers, I came to the conclusion that the myth about rude Europeans began with a foreigner’s disinterest in learning. If you show the effort that you’re trying to understand a different culture, no matter how embarrassing your attempt may feel, it will attract kindness and consideration.
"Don't Hesitate to Create"