My wife and I moved to Paris, France on March 1st of 2005 and we quickly learned the many things we did not know about what we did not know. In some ways, ignorance of cultural rules was a disadvantage but it also presented a wonderful benefit: We had no fear of breaking rules we didn’t know existed.
Here’s a sampling of rules we learned in Paris:
1. Special order food at a restaurant.
2. Make eye contact with others on the street.
3. Laugh in public.
4. Eat cheeseburgers with your hands.
5. Invite relative strangers into your home.
6. Bring unnecessary attention to oneself.
When we first arrived in Paris, we were blind to these rules (as well as many others) and we broke them all the time. Sometimes on accident, but sometimes on purpose.*
Not knowing the rules brings a freedom to find solutions ‘rule-followers’ can’t or won’t.
Like the time I used my passport as collateral to borrow a hand-truck from an electronic store to avoid paying a delivery fee…If you could only see the looks I got as I carted a massive tube TV by cafes filled with Parisians! While they looked on in disdain for my cost and time saving actions, I carried a sense of pride knowing I just saved 60€!
As time went on, I became more and more ‘Parisian’ and smarter about the right and wrong rules to break. I had the advantage of knowing there was more than one way to get a job done and could choose the best way. I had the advantage of knowing which rules needed to be broken in order to bring about change. I learned creative thinking as a survival tactic, not just a strategy.
I’ve broken 1000’s of rules in nearly a decade of life abroad. I no longer believe there is a ‘right way’ of doing things. What matters is embracing the ‘right process’ of seeing things differently.
How have you broken rules to get things done? Do you ever feel stuck in a rut and need help figuring out which rules to break to grow? I’d love to help you figure these things out.
*Intentionally breaking cultural rules carries risks and consequences, it is not always advisable. Like the time Jen confronted taggers on our street who followed us home and proceeded to tag our building doors with both paint and urine.