Tuesday, 24 May 2011

French participation theory (or lack there of)

The past week has been a difficult one for this Franco-American expat mommy. And I've been asking myself : is lack of participation cultural?

Storytime last week was truly awesome. Really. The format worked perfectly, the books were well chosen, and we had a good audience. Although I was happy that my American friend J brought some of her friends, and I was equally happy to have my almost cousins there with their 3 bilingual kids for the first time in addition to my faithful English speaking friends, I have to admit that I was really disappointed....why so disappointed when everything went so well? Because there was no one from outside my entourage. "Storytime" was published in the Lille library agenda for the entire city; I sent an email to Suzanne's entire school; the local library has an entire storytime corner packed with English and bilingual books; I talked to people in the park. So where's the audience? I just don't understand how no one from my diverse, multi-cultural, gentrified, bobo* neighborhood wouldn't want to come to a FREE english activity! It just escapes me...My almost cousin told me that it probably just needs time to pick up. In the meantime, I plan on continuing and am already planning next month's reading.

This got me thinking about the school system here and how there is no interaction with the teachers. At university here, the classes are called cours magistral (you see the word magi ie king in there?). And that's exactly what they are. The teacher comes to class, talks, and leaves. There are no questions from students; there are no questions from the teacher; There is no interaction. (PERIOD).

This type of behavior carries into the professional sphere. Yesterday, I was part of a team of people who gave a presentation (admittedly extremely boring) to a French audience. In my profession, it is rare to have a mono-lingual audience; I am used to not only giving presentations in English, but also giving them to a multi-lingual audience. Yesterday, despite saying before, after and during, that they could stop us to ask questions, no one did. Compared to the 2 day marathon seminar I led 2 months ago, this was a shock. Two months ago, there were questions for me, for other participants, interaction...but yesterday, you wondered if the people's brains were even functioning.

To me, all three situations - storytime, the university and presentations - go back to the same thing. And I know this is going to be a huge steroetype, but from what I've seen, many French people are so held back by norms and strict lines of hierarchy, that they don't dare speak up for fear of being different.

So is lack of participation cultural?

* bobo = bohemian bourgeous = kind of like a grungy, crunchy person with money.


Sarah said...

Verrrrry interesting. I remember how shocked I was that the literature classes I took during my junior year abroad at the Universite de Savoie consisted solely of the prof lecturing to 200 students. I mean, how can you learn about books without reading and discussing and analyzing them?!

Sorry to hear that your very well-organized storytimes aren't attracting the general public (yet). I know how disappointing that can feel after you put so much effort into planning and publicizing them! But I think you'll gradually draw in more participants.

Anonymous said...

But have you noticed that they chat amongst themselevs way more than Americans? During monthly staff meetings where I work I'm always blown away by the disrespect for whomever is speaking...

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