Teachers’ Lounge December 2010 Lesson Plan French or Foe: A Cross Cultural Comparison of the Americans and the French Marcel LaVergne Ed.D. has prepared a fascinating lesson first and foremost for teachers of French but one that anyone interested in cross cultural comparisons will find absolutely intriguing. Teachers of other languages could adapt this lesson. This lesson is based on French or Foe? Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living, and Working in France. The July 2010 issue of the Culture Club contained a review of Polly Platt’s book French or Foe? Getting the Most out of Visiting, Living and Working in France which contains a multitude of information that satisfies the Cultural Comparisons Strand of the Foreign Language National Standards. Most would agree that the best way to immerse oneself in a foreign culture is to live a while in that culture, but, as ideal as that sounds, most secondary teachers do not have the luxury of sabbaticals and cannot afford to take time off. The next best way is to read, read, and read, which being retired I now have the time to do. I offer, therefore, the following cultural facts from Platt’s book and some suggested comparison activities for you to consider. 1. Americans are friendly. The French are not. a. No matter where they’re from, no matter how powerful or underprivileged, whether strangers or acquaintances, Americans deal with each other and everyone else in the world in a manner known as ‘friendly.’ P. 24 b. For strangers to smile at each other in Paris, there has to be some kind of incident involving them both, and not just stumbling into someone’s stare. P. 25 c. Communication between strangers in France has been honed over the centuries to a system of ratified codes. Foreigners are to be shunned, and as they give themselves away instantly by their ignorance of the codes, nothing is easier. Foreigners who know the codes, however, immediately shed most of their alarming foreignness. P. 31 d. “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, monsieur (or madame)…” is possibly the most important phrase in the whole French language. These words click with Frenchmen like the responding smile with Americans. P. 32 Activities a. How do Americans express their “friendliness” towards strangers? b. Have you ever been treated in an unfriendly manner by an American stranger? By a Frenchman? Explain. 2. In America, the customer is always right. In France, the store is always right. a. Department stores seem to have a special effect on French employees. Their concept of “customer service” is often described as customer disservice. P. 34 b. The problem is that while the French language is richly brocaded with concepts, customer service is not one of them. Work places are about giving employment, not service. P. 72 c. The store director will always back his employees. P. 72 d. The customer is automatically wrong, the store never is. P. 73 Activities a. Can you relate a time when you felt that “the customer is always right” was not practiced by the store employees? b. Which of the two cultures believes in the saying “Let the buyer beware?” Explain. c. Role play: Two American tourists wanting to return a purchase in a French department store. 3. Americans believe that lying is wrong. The French do not. a. In the U.S., admitting error is not only seen as honest, but important. …But in affiliation cultures like France, there is a matter of face involved. P. 83 b. As Anglo-Saxons consider admitting mistakes good form, fair play and good sportsmanship, even taking blame for minor mistakes of other people, this makes for bizarre differences with the French in daily life. P. 84 c. In the U.S. lying is a serious offense. In France you can tell small lies. P. 88 Activities a. In your opinion, is lying ever acceptable? b. Which culture is more realistic in its tolerance of lying? c. Imagine the French reaction to the following scenario: The governor of your state first denies and then finally admits to having an affair with an aide. He is then forced to resign. 4. Parenting goals a. French parents are presenting France with a future citizen who must learn to conform to French society. Their duty is to require a certain behavior and set certain goals so that he will be a credit to France and to them, and be able to survive the system in the pleasantest way for the child—and for them. Their contract is with the state, but the parent-child relationship, and the family fabric in general, is densely interwoven and continues relatively unchanged throughout their lives. P. 126 b. American parents are presenting the world with an entirely new, unknown person, and their parental duty is to help that person develop his/her individual potentialities to the utmost. Their contract is with the child. How the parents train him his no one’s business but their own. Once he’s grown up, he’s no longer part of the family routine. P. 127 Activities a. Conduct a debate where Group A argues for the American point of view and Group B for the French point of view. 5. Secondary education a. Brains are the way to measure worth and education is the way to furnish and train the brain, leading to the power and the pleasures of body and mind that French people find make life worthwhile. P. 135 b. At school, the competition is such that you can’t expect a schoolmate to show you the material you missed during your absence. P. 137 c. French secondary education is about the transfer of knowledge, not, as in the U.S., about awakening the slumbering mind to the excitement of learning and the possibilities of how and where the child himself can get the information. P. 141 d. Knowing the child—having any sort of relationship with him or awareness of his individual skills and quirks and needs—is not part of the deal. P.141 e. In France the only time your boss calls you is when you’ve done something wrong. It’s the same in education—your teacher never gives you any praise. When a French mother leaves her child at school, she says, “Work hard.” The American mother says “Enjoy yourself.” P. 246 Activities a. Create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the French and the American system of education. b. Conduct a debate where Group A argues that the purpose of school is the transfer of knowledge and Group B argues that the goal is to create the excitement for knowledge. 6. Etiquette a. When she steps out in the street, (a Frenchwoman) looks her best. Always. This astonishes American women, who “dress up” only in the evening or for a party. P. 166 b. Never bring a bottle of wine (unless agreed ahead of time). It’s an insult to your host, implying 1) that he won’t provide any or 2) that any old wine goes with the undistinguished fare you expect him to be serving. On the contrary, he will have gone to great lengths to select each wine as the perfect complement to that evening’s particular menu. Now he will feel obliged to serve your wine, good or bad, out of courtesy. P. 181 c. No matter how delicious, don’t, whatever you do, ask her for her recipe. You might as well ask her to hand over her bank account. P. 188 Activity a. Google French etiquette practices and list 10 that differ from those of the U.S.A. 7. Business a. Selling is not one of the respected professions in France, a country where respect is more important than money. P. 72 b. Firing people is difficult and expensive. P. 72 c. In the U.S., business comes first. In France, the person comes first, then the business. P. 101 d. French people look for solutions which are the most brilliant and the most elegant, not the most pragmatic or efficient. P. 212 e. In business, it is the word of two men of good faith that matters, not the written contract drawn up by a team of lawyers, as in the U.S. We have a quite different view of the law, more philosophical, more about what the spirit of the law is. Breaking the law is not a terrible sin, as in the U.S. P. 213 f. French executives have a long-term view. They think in terms of 10 years, while Americans, mindful of their quarterly statements, think in terms of about two years. P. 212 g. In the U.S., if someone makes a mistake, he is thrown out. Here, we don’t throw out the people we work with, we try to keep them. If someone makes a mistake, we pardon him. …In the U.S., American employees don’t put their heart in their companies; they have a contract. In France, an employee marries his company, his heart is in it. P. 212 h. In France, it’s rare that formal decisions are reached in meetings. Meetings are to poll opinions and to inform or warn of something. P. 2 Activity a. You have been given the task of setting up a branch office of your company in Paris. What changes will you need to make from the American business model to be accepted by the French employees that you will hire. 8. Success a. While the American father says to his son, “You too can grow up to be President of the United States”, the French father says, ”You too can master the secrets of the universe, and become an ingénieur.” P. 144 b. In a survey, only one percent of the French consider that celebrity is the way to happiness or to a successful life. Even fewer consider it to be money. They said that the secret to a successful life is just this: how you live. P.288 Activity a. As a class, brainstorm what constitutes success. Then form small groups whose task is to rate the list from most important to least important. Post the results on a whiteboard. Then, as a class, trim the list to the 5 most important ingredients that make up success. Summarizing Activity: Give one, get one. Using the information in this unit, have each student write down two cultural facts, one in each of the boxes so labeled. The students then go around the room, giving one of their facts away and receiving one fact which they write in the box provided. They cannot get more than one fact from anyone. The completed chart will contain seven facts from seven different people. At the completion of this activity, the students share their results with the class. Give one, Get one Write your idea here. Write someone else’s idea here Write someone else’s idea here and his/her name. and his/her name. Write your idea here. Write someone else’s idea here Write someone else’s idea here and his/her name. and his/her name. Write someone else’s idea here Write someone else’s idea here Write someone else’s idea here and his/her name. and his/her name. and his/her name.
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