Food Consumption and the Expatriation Experience: a Study of American Expatriates in France

ABSTRACT - The key tenet of this research is that consumption plays a central role in the adjustment of expatriates. In the host country, expatriates lose the familiar benchmarks related to their native foods and drinks as well as to their native language. It may negatively affect their overall satisfaction with the expatriation experience. This study assesses the negative relationship between the partial loss of familiar oral benchmarks and the expatriate’s personal and family satisfaction. On the other hand, 'positive oral pleasure’, derived from liking the food, drinks, and language of the host country is shown to increase personal and family satisfaction with the expatriation experience as well as the anticipated duration of stay. This study combines (1) a qualitative approach based on in-depth interviews, and (2) a quantitative approach based on a survey of American expatriate managers living in France.


Jean-Claude Usunier (1999) ,"Food Consumption and the Expatriation Experience: a Study of American Expatriates in France", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 352-360.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 352-360


Jean-Claude Usunier, UniversitT Louis-Pasteur, France


The key tenet of this research is that consumption plays a central role in the adjustment of expatriates. In the host country, expatriates lose the familiar benchmarks related to their native foods and drinks as well as to their native language. It may negatively affect their overall satisfaction with the expatriation experience. This study assesses the negative relationship between the partial loss of familiar oral benchmarks and the expatriate’s personal and family satisfaction. On the other hand, 'positive oral pleasure’, derived from liking the food, drinks, and language of the host country is shown to increase personal and family satisfaction with the expatriation experience as well as the anticipated duration of stay. This study combines (1) a qualitative approach based on in-depth interviews, and (2) a quantitative approach based on a survey of American expatriate managers living in France.

Difficulties in expatriate adjustment are related to a diffuse feeling of absence of the familiar home-country habits ('homesickness’) and to culture shock experienced in the new environment (Oberg, 1972; Adler, 1975; Adler, 1986). Expatriates are deprived from the pleasure of consuming their native foods and drinks which often cannot be found in the host country. The pleasure experienced with native foods and drinks is not only related to physical satisfaction (e.g. taste) but also to the whole social context which surrounds them (e.g. socializing with others, in definite places at certain times) and to the psychologicalwell-being tied to such consumption (e.g. reassuring the self through familiar habits). Consumers attribute meaning, especially cultural meaning to consumption in context (McCracken, 1986).

This paper aims to explore two aspects of the expatriation experience: (1) the absence of native food and drinks as well as the discovery of new consumption experiences, and (2) language in as much as eating and drinking are deeply associated with social experiences involving communication, interaction with people, and making friends. Non-directive interviews have been organized with American expatriates in France. This qualitative approach has been complemented by a mail survey of American expatriates in France. Items excerpted from the interview transcripts were used for drafting the questionnaire. This article starts by a review of the literature on expatriates’ adjustment to the host country culture and the role of 'oral pleasure' [The phrase 'oral pleasure' is a direct translation of the German term used by Sigmund Freud, that is, orales Vergnugen. While it translates easily into French as 'plaisir oral', with no negative connotation, it seems that it has an 'inappropriate and unnecessary sexual connotation' in English (according to an American reviewer of this paper). In as many cases as possible, I have changed it into "eating and speech pleasure' which is inadequate but politically correct. Obviously, Europeans and Americans do not share the same view of the relationship between science and sex.] for adjustment. The second part presents study 1 based on in-depth interviews of American expatriates in France. The third part presents study 2, based on the mail survey, which explores the influence of the absence of their familiar foods on expatriates’ satisfaction. It shows also how 'positive oral pleasure’, derived from a favourable attitude towards local food and drinking habits, and ability in speaking the host country language, favourably influences the expatriate’s satisfaction at personal and family levels.


Adjustment to the host country culture

Most of the studies on expatriation have emphasized adjustment difficulties of expatriates (See for instance Mendenhall et al., 1987). Many studies report a high rate of early return among expatriates, estimated between 25% and 40% (Tung, 1981, Tung, 1984) and 70% when the host country is a developing one (Copeland and Griggs, 1985). Those who have described culture shock (Oberg, 1972) from a psychoanalytic perspective, go as far as to mention a 'disintegration of the personality’ (Adler, 1975), following deep-seated anguish caused by the necessary and problematic reorganisation of personal behavior as well as by the feeling of loss of the stable landmarks built within the native culture. Language barriers and communication problems play an important role in the difficulties of personal adjustment.

Constance Befus (1988) distinguishes four theoretical models for explaining expatriate adjustment. The first one is a psychoanalytical model which suggests that culture shock results from nostalgia and melancholia, and from a mourning of the lost native culture. The second model is behaviorist: culture shock is seen as the consequence of 'punishments’ experienced in the host country because of the lack of knowledge of expatriates as to what is considered locally as appropriate behavior; local people manifest that expatriates’ behavior is inadequate without suggesting them ways and means for improving behavioral adequacy. In the third model, culture shock can be considered as a manifestation of adaptation to stress, expatriates being exposed to 'cognitive overload’ because of the considerable amount of information they have to process and organize. The fourth model considers culture shock as a 'transitional experience’ (Adler, 1975): a learning process starts with the rejection of the host country culture and ends with improved knowledge of and familiarity with the new culture; then the expatriate may integrate the values of home and host cultures.

Things play a central in the rebalancing of selfhood because they are part of the extended-self (Belk, 1988). We tend to regard possessions as part of ourselves, as outer projections of our inner being which belong to the self. By reviewing in particular the case of mourning after the loss or the theft of key objects, Blk highlights the role of possessions in creating and maintaining a sense of selfhood, that precisely which the expatriate must reconstruct in the host country environment. However, the role of pleasure and personal well-being, related to food, drinks, and language in the adjustment process of expatriates to host country culture is but incidentally evoked by the literature. Befus (1988, page 386) for example explains that 'the sojourner’s body must not only adjust to new altitudes, foods, temperatures and pathogens, but also may experience symptoms associated with psychological distress.’

Food, in an American context is mainly viewed as 'fuel’, a merely utilitarian resource. In Freudian terms, the principle of reality is strongly emphasized as a basic drive of human behavior over the principle of pleasure, when explaining the expatriate’s adjustment process. Pleasure appears in a limited manner, as in Feldman and Thompson (1993) who use in their questionnaire an item related to language (satisfaction with conversations with colleagues) among the measures of the expatriate’s satisfaction about the relationships with colleagues. Parker and McEvoy (1993) use Black’s expatriate adjustment scale, composed of 14 items (Black and Stephens, 1989). Only one item out of 7 relates to food in the factor describing the expatriate’s general adjustment. The third factor of this scale ('interaction adjustment’) combines four items which describe speaking, interaction and social relationships with the host country nationals. These four items relate implicitly to pleasure related to easy communication and the sharing of a common native language.

The role of eating and speech pleasure in personal well-being

When arriving in a foreign country, expatriates first lose their familiar benchmarks; they are obliged to live in 'chinks’ not in full. They may easily resent to be deprived from their favourite foods and drinks, and from the full ability to express what they mean, and yet have a vital need to enjoy life in an unknown culture. Staying in a foreign country requires functional adaptation to different behavior involving pleasure or displeasure linked to new and unknown experiences. The disorientation of expatriates is not uniquely explained by the need to cope with the principle of reality (doing one’s job, finding a home, settling in a new environment). It is also governed by the principle of pleasure, another important facet of psychological life, almost completely neglected by marketing and management theorists (see Hofstede, 1980, for a discussion of the neglect of Feudian theory in US management literature). When the deficiency is too important, expatriates cannot adjust to a context which remains basically foreign. Nostalgia is typically experienced because the missing items associated with childhood re-emerge in vivid memories.

According to Freud (1924, 1962), there are three main stages in the formation of the ego which correspond to the progressive passage from the principle of pleasure, which is based on a purely sensorial relation of the child to the outside world, to the principle of reality, the basis for modifying impulses and sublimating the pursuit of immediate satisfactions in order to adapt the self to the outside world. The oral stage, the first phase in child development, is based on vital needs (drinking, eating), the satisfaction of which provides the child with natural pleasure. However, it is progressively disconnected from the physiological function; 'oral pleasure’ (orales Vergnngen in Freud’s terms) is the early stage of organisation of the libido, which will make its mark on subjects for their entire life. Basic traits of the oral stage can be repressed. However, they will never be abolished. They will remain during the whole life as an enduring pattern, an unconscious framework which structures the individual’s search for various types of pleasure. Freud explains that the feeding function is, during early childhood, the center of the relationships with the enturage, in particular with the mother, with an intense affective load on each side.

If the baby is fairly passive when breasted, it needs to adopt a more pro-active attitude when he starts coordinating his muscles. It is then required to do certain activities and not others. It has to eat properly, it should not throw away its spoon, etc. It is precisely through the steps of the feeding and digestive process, thus with food as an object, that the baby has its first experiences of taking, keeping or rejecting, while having to face the reactions of people around him, in particular those of its mother. Self-erotic, 'oral pleasure’ is a central issue in the relationship with the near environment. Eating cannot be reduced to a purely physiological activity. It implies, apart from pleasure, a pattern of relationship to others. Similarly, speaking cannot be reduced to communication, as pure functional exchange. It is a narcissistic pleasure as well, a deficiency of which is likely to question and possibly unbalance the ego.

An individual’s attitude towards food as well as language is constructed in the family, considered by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1984) as a cultural structure: 'Among all human groupings, family plays a fundamental role in the transmission of culture. Whereas other social groups challenge its influence on spiritual traditions, the preservation of rituals and customs, the conservation of techniques and patrimonies, family prevails in basic education, the repression of instincts, the acquisition of language ability, rightly termed motherly. [Whereas English uses the expression "native language" for the language learned in early childhood, French uses the expression "langue maternelle" (motherly language), just as German with Muttersprache.] Doing this, family provides for the basic processes of psychic development, for the categorizing emotions according to types based on atmosphere, which is the base of feelings’ More generally, 'it (the family) transmits patterns of behavior and representation, whose interplay goes beyond the limits of consciousness’ (Lacan, 1984, p. 14, our translation). As emphasized by Falk (1994, p. 13), food choices are shaped by cultural representations largely transmitted by the family: 'A cultural order in which an alimentary code (food taboos, ritual rules) defines that which may be eaten, by whom, how and when, does leave much room for individual matters of taste. The sense of taste is surely there, but the 'judgement’ is located primarily at the boundaries of culture, in the 'mouth’ of the community, as it were.’


In a first study, ten American expatriate managers in France were non-directively interviewed following an interview guide. Appendix 1 indicates the basic profile of the expatriates interviewed. A breadth of lived experiences was searched in terms of: (1) whether they had proficiency in the French language or not; (2) whether their expatriation experience was perceived as successful or not; and (3) length of expatriation. Interviews took place either in French or in English according to the preference and linguistic abilities of the interviewees. [The interviewees all belonged to the same multinational company, whose French subsidiary is located in Grenoble, France. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Francoise Belle (ESA, Universite Pierre-Mendes-France, Grenoble, France) for the interviews.] About 100 pages of interview transcripts have been analysed following a qualitative and exploratory content analysis, in order to generate insights, see how informants saw the research issues in context, and generate items for the next stage of the research. Two readers, the author and one of his colleagues, have analyzed the text and confronted their interpretations. Only interpretations shared by the two readers are reported below.

Pleasure related to food and drinks

Some statements were found in all interviews. They evidence first a dependence to eating pleasure by Americans (e.g. longing for peanut butter) as well as a relative lack of understanding of the high value put on eating pleasure by the French. This suggests that the way eating pleasure is accessed by individuals is sociallyconstructed. Oral functions such as eating to maintain oneself, ingesting drugs to heal oneself, and drinking with friends and relatives obey to cultural codes. Even among those of our interviewees who claimed legitimately to be 'world citizens’ or 'global persons’, orality is implicitly recognized as a strong trait of cultural identification and thus of successful integration within the host country’s society. Interviewee J tells us that: 'The first time I ate an artichoke, I had to look around me.’ She explains about her worries: 'Artichokes are still in my mind . . . I truly did not know how to eat them properly.’ Raised in the United States, J explains about her general attitude towards food preparation: 'Personally, I can cook for survival . . . My mother did not cook; thus, in the U.S., I have eaten a lot of sandwiches and hamburgers.’

Interviewee C, who has lived in Thailand, compares European (French), Asian and North American attitudes towards food. When recounting his travel back to the United States after two years spent in Asia, he explains: 'There were people as big as this (gesture) in the airport at Chicago, eating an ice-cream; I had never noticed that previously. I came back from Asia where everybody is thin like that (gesture) . . . they eat healthily. They eat rice. There are no ice-creams.’ Interviewee C has had a rejection syndrome toward his native country when back in the U.S. He was sick during several days: 'I believe it was due to the high (caloric) content of (American) food. It was fatty. And there (in Asia) you eat tiny bits of meat, you eat vegetables, you eat . . . delicious, absolutely delicious.’

Interviewee I, a Chinese American, states sharply that food is not an issue for her, as do some other interviewees (D and J). However, later in the interview process, she asserts her preference for Chinese food: 'I prefer to eat Chinese. I do not like a lot of French food. I usually go to Chinese restaurants, or once in a while to a Mexican restaurant...’ Thus, even for people who self-report low interest as concerns food in general, cultural identification with food remains quite strong.

Since food is strongly identified with culture, it may be associated with partial rejection of the host country and increased feelings of homesickness. B, for instance, explains that: 'There is a lot of things here that we don’t eat in the U.S. like duck, horse, rabbits. They are pets to us.’ That French people eat what is considered in the United States almost as family members is seen as rather barbarian. The same interviewee says: 'When I first arrived, I felt homesick and (questioned myself) am I doing the right thing? It was culture shock I think.’ and B adds at the end of the interview: 'We plan to go back with luck to Washington.’

Peanut butter and American ethnic products

Peanut butter is a central item in American food culture. The lack of genuine US peanut butter in France is a problem for almost all interviewees. H emphasizes: 'At the beginning we had twenty pounds of peanut butter. Now we have stopped eating it’, thus highlighting progressive adaptation. However, H explains later that he has now been successful in establishing a procurement channel: 'Now we have got our peanut butter. We are OK.’ On the other hand, G frankly recognizes his lack of adjustment, saying: 'When I go to the US, I bring back peanut butter . . . I haven’t adjusted.’

Some other products appear as stars among the American cultural identifiers which are in great shortage in France: maple syrup and a number of spices. Interviewee A explains that she does not find dill in France. She does not know that dill is called in French aneth and can be found in all supermarkets in dried form; fresh dill (aneth frais) is quite rare. Even J who depicts herself as fairly uninterested in food describes with much emotion the baggles she ate when she came back to the United States: 'It is a round piece of bread with a hol in the middle ('C’est un pain rond avec un trou au milieu’) . . . it is cooked with water apparently ('c’est cuit a l’eau apparemment’) . . . with smoked salmon and cream cheese . . . it is a great pleasure to have them again ('ta fait plaisir de les retrouver’). In the United States I have eaten like a pig; I gained 4 kilos.’ The exception proves the rule: only one expatriate (F, very integrated) has reversedBin imaginationBthe relationship of the absence of the favourite food to the longing of the preferred culture: 'On the other hand, there are more and more things that I would be in need of in the United States. Cheese for instance, something which before I could easily live without; and moreover, there was [in the United States] a very small number of cheeses which we ate and liked. Now it is no more the case, no.’

Words as food: The mix of foods and drinks with words in social interactions

American expatriates do not easily understand the argumentative style of the French and their liking for words and speech (govt de la parole). This is probably due to the Anglo-Saxon perception that the French speak for the pleasure of speaking, wallow in words (se repaetre de mots), and enjoy discourse per se ('govter le verbe en soi). The French style of debate, with loud voice and conversational overlap, may be wrongly interpreted as a sign of harsh conflict and experienced by expatriates as disquieting. Interviewee I explains that: 'The French like to argue for nothing. At the beginning I took it personally. I thought it was because I was a foreigner, they didn’t like foreigners. I knew that some people were anti-Americans and I thought that was it. I noticed later that they argued a lot among themselves and I then said to myself it is their nature and its very frustrating for me.’ Interviewee I resents conflictive argumentation a la Frantaise because of her combined Asian (conflict is a threat to interpersonal harmony) and American background (chatting is a waste of time).

Social occasions where people drink and talk together in a relaxed and friendly manner is also cited as a cultural identifier based on the combination of orality and sociability. C, well adjusted to France, recounts his discovery of the cafT-bar: 'The first impression, for me, was the bar. It was, how to phrase it, le zinc (the bar counter). I was impressed . . . over there [in the United States] the bar was just for drinking alcohol, it was just for getting drunk, it was ugly . . . Here you enter in a bar for cigarettes, for a telephone call, for drinking a beer, or to have a meal. I don’t know why, but it was truly a first image of life.’

However, this encounter between drinks and social life also has its American version which may be preferred by the expatriate. D explains (my emphasis): 'In the US, in my age group, say people like me from 20 to 30, 35, a lot of times after work, instead of going to people’s house, we go out to a bar, and there we have happy hours and specials and beer . . . '

Food versus Fuel: enjoyment versus nourishment

Interviewee B clearly highlights the different role of food in France and the United States: 'I think Americans, in general, look at food as fuel and in France it is food.’ Expatriate A makes a similar statement when she says: 'In France, you spend much time on things related to dining or situations where people eat. In the United States it is more that you eat because you need to.’ The complex combination of food, time, and pleasure is experienced in a different way in France and the United States. According to several interviewees, time spent preparing a meal (that is, consuming scarce time to prepare food) is considered as legitimate and pleasurable by the French, while the Americans have a liking for fast food. Preparing a meal may be perceived by Americans as a aste of time, a scarce resource in their perspective. Spending much time eating (one hour and a half is standard for lunch in the France) is perceived by Americans as wasted time causing anxiety because of the breach of deeply ingrained behavioral standards. F well phrases the American view that eating is a 'necessary evil’: 'I like much more dinners because eating is no more simply a necessary evil . . . fairly often [in the United States] to eat is to nourish oneself improperly . . . people who gobble up sandwiches in their office, it is unbelievable how badly they eat [bouffent] . . . a dinner, it is almost a social occasion . . . people are there only for eating . . . Customarily, in the U.S., if people come to have dinner, they sit together, take their meal and leave the table to watch sports on television or go to a movie theatre . . . once eating is finished, the dinner is over . . . there is much less attention to presentation, to the rituals of the dinner [than in France].’

Mealtime: the rhythms of orality

Meals can be considered to a large extent as consumption rituals, occurring in a fixed sequence and periodically repeated (Solomon, 1994). Several interviewees maintain a rhythm based on American standards. As underlined by H: 'we have kept our tradition’. However, the two 'traditions’ partly conflict: if expatriates combine the substantial French lunch with the large American breakfast they risk gaining weight. Most of them, therefore, try to avoid having lunch at work. The French subsidiary has a very good canteen, offering a wide choice of foods. This high-quality canteen is considered by the local personnel as a standard benefit while the expatriates see it as somewhat oversized. Some expatriates (A, F) have adapted to the French pace inventing rather original mixes of the two eating rhythms: family F, for example, has a French dinner, but keeps the traditional American brunch on week-ends.

The French concept of 'family meal’ (repas de famille), based on the pleasure of eating and talking together, is explicitly emphasized by C as a key difference between France and the United States: 'There are other aspects which are engaging here. It is why I adjusted so well. I believe that one of the key reasons is the deep attachment for the family. The concept of family is utmostly important here [in France]; it is much less so in the United States.’

Wine: the American oenologists and those on an alcohol-free diet

Several interviewees display a strong interest in wine and oenology (A,C,D,H). It seems to be a form of integrative adjustment (in the sense of Adler, 1975), which combines French (the dyonisiac pleasure of drinking) and Anglo-Saxon values (being an expert, a connoisseur, enjoying wine while remaining sober and self-controlled). D explains that he has spent many week-ends in Burgundy since the beginning of his sojourn in France, visiting wine cellars; he likes the Mercurey, but prefers the MTdoc to any other wine ('le vin ici c’est super’). C describes his way of seeing wine as follows: 'wine is something living, something which changes over time, which has a character of its own . . . it has a life just like me . . . it is splendid, it is special, it must be cared for . . . I know somebody for instance, the stepfather of my third child, who is a wine grower in the Bordeaux region. . . [when together] we spend our time in the vineyards to taste, possibly to buy. And when you show to the other guy that you have some knowledge, it is not only about his wine, it is also about his life. Because wine is really his life. Thus you are concerned with his life at that moment. And people open like flowers. He spends sometimes the whole day talking with us.’ As emphasized by Barthes (1957, p. 85): 'Wine is socialised because it is the basement not only of a morale but also of a whole scenery; it ornaments the pettiest rituals of French everyday life, from the casse-crovtegros rouge, camembert), to the feast, from the conversation in the bistro to the speech in the banquet.’

It should, however, not be forgotten that there exists also a wine culture in the United States. A (relatively the least adjusted of the four 'oenologists’), born and raised in California, reminds us of this, emphasizing her preference for Californian wines. She insists on the necessity to keep consumption under due control: 'He [A’s husband] is now very interested in wine . . . He has not much interest in drinking, but he is much excited by studying wine. Consequently he has a lot of books; we travel to Bordeaux, etc.’

Two of our interviewees (E and G) are on a strict alcohol-free diet, one for religious reasons, and the other for personal reasons explained later. They speak only English and do not speak even basic French. E, among the things he really missed, cited on top of the list a typical American soda drink, rootbeer. He admits that 'people say it tastes like a crank from a doctor’ (from a French perspective, this beverage which has a distinctive taste of drug and artificial flavour, is undrinkable) but he adds: 'Rootbeer is my favourite.’

Business meals (repas d’affaires): food and work in France

American expatriates find it difficult to adjust to the rhythm and the abundance of French meals. As noted earlier, the relatively heavy and long ('time-consuming’) lunch, served in the canteen is 'too much’ if still on an American breakfast diet. Many expatriates do not like the quasi-obligation to discuss business deals with partners in other companies in business lunches (repas d’affaires), most often with wine at noon, although this practice is decreasing due to the legislation on drinking and driving in France. This may be a problem for Americans because they are not generally used to mix business negotiations, dealing with hard facts and bottom line issues, with the enjoyment of a banquet. Additionally, they are not used to drinking wine at noon and the consequent afternoon sleepiness is perceived as an obstacle to efficient work.

One of our interviewees, G, is in a situation of early return. His return to the United States with his family is planned before the date previously assigned for the end of their stay. However, this is not due to his job performance since he has adequately fulfilled the assigned tasks. G, explains with much modesty and realism, the kind of problems he has been confronted with: 'The first day I arrived, my (French) boss took me to dinner with the two other people I would be working with, as kind of a team. What I really do is negotiate (as a marketing manager) and get the best prices for the company and that is really my strength. We ordered dinner and he said 'what would you like for wine ?’, and I said 'no thanks’. And in the end I knew it was going to be a problem . . . he said 'You’ll never be able to negotiate and never be able to work in France if you don’t drink wine’’. G is a sensitive person; he has really tough times having people accept the fact that his turning down any wine or aperitifs is not a refusal of the French lifestyle and culture. G whose refusal of wine may appear as a lack of sociability in the French context, very frankly avows why he is deeply involved in the decision not to drink alcoholic beverages: 'Now, I don’t drink. It’s not religious, it’s personal. I’m an Irish catholic from Boston and we have a tendency to like our drink and I used to drink in excess. So I made a decision a few years ago not to drink, and it was the right thing for me.’

'Medicine-food’: drugs and worries about health

Expatriates are fairly concerned with the absence of familiar drugs (ingested in a sort of oral 'healing ritual’) which may cause adjustment problems. Several interviewees mention the dificulty to find Advil in France. D cites Advil as the drug which must absolutely be brought back from the United States: 'Advil here is only on prescription and in the U.S. you can get it in any place; but it’s very good and very strong; it’s not even aspirin, but it’s like aspirin.’ The anguish related to this kind of missing 'healing’ items is reinforced by the difficulty of talking in French to French medical doctors. On the other hand, American expatriates are generally quite positive on the French diet and its impact on health. They acknowledge French food and diet as being fresher and healthier than U.S. ones. E, who likes fresh vegetables and fruits, especially freshly pressed apple juice, explains: 'Most of the French are not overweight. . .I think it has to do with the eating habits. . . the French culture might be a little better than the American culture as far as the eating habits go.’


Study 1 has illustrated the issue of 'oral benchmarks’ related to the native eating and speaking habits. 'Oral benchmarks’ make meaning in each of the four theoretical models of adaptation to culture shock cited above: as a way to reassure oneself deeply, in a revitalizing regression (in the psychoanalytic perspective), as a way to learn new behavioral norms, to start obeying to positive stimuli in the host culture and avoid the 'punishments’ which follow inadequate behavior (behaviorist paradigm), as a way to face stress by relieving oneself of stressful pressures, and, finally, as a transitional experience, where the expatriate combines values and norms of the home country with those of the host country in a personal melting pot.

Study 2 aims to verify the existence of a link between eating and speech pleasure and satisfaction with the expatriation experience at personal and family levels. This is achieved by a mail survey. A positive attitude towards the host country’s oral culture appeared in our interviews as an essential element of integration, in the sense of Adler (1975). Individuals in transition between home and host country cultures, simultaneously experience (1) a frustration of eating and speech pleasure related to the partial loss of the home country’s oral 'benchmarks’, a variable labelled hereafter 'oral pleasure deficiency’; and (2) pleasure related to the discovery of new foods and drinks in the host culture, labelled 'positive oral pleasure’. Based on the literature as well as the findings of study 1, we hypothesize that:

(1) 'oral pleasure deficiency’ has a negative influence on personal satisfaction with the expatriation experience (H1);

(2) 'positive oral pleasure’ related to host country food and drinking habits has a positive influence on personal satisfaction (H2) and family satisfaction (H3).

Data collection

The hypotheses are tested on a sample of American expatriate managers in France through a short questionnaire centered on the research issues. For reasons of cost and simplicity the mail survey technique was chosen (Houston and Ford, 1976). The questionnaire comprised a series of demographics: sex, age, marital status, American or foreign spouse, date of arrival in France, anticipated duration of stay, number of children and their ages. Then followed a list of 26 items relating to the expatriation experience with a seven-post Likert scale. 8 food and drinks-related items and 9 language-related items were mixed with 9 items related to the general expatriation eperience. The questionnaire investigated four additional issues: expatriate’s personal satisfaction, family satisfaction (on a seven posts Likert scale), the self-assessment by the expatriate’s of his/her language abilities in French, a variable referred to later as 'Language’ (on a scale comprising 7 levels of linguistic ability elicited by full sentences), and the fourth question related to how much they liked French food and drinking habits (with a seven posts semantic differential scale). American expatriates in France checked that the questionnaire was both formally correct and colloquially adequate.

The sampling frame representing the base population was drawn from two sources: (1) The directory of the 'American Chamber of Commerce in France’, and (2) American expatriates belonging to the 'American Club in Paris’. The questionnaire explicitly stated that: 'To fill out this questionnaire you must be an American expatriate living in France.’

600 questionnaires were sent and 109 usable questionnaires were sent back. This convenience sample represents the basic traits of the surveyed population (American managers living as expatriates in France) and fits with the research objectives (Calder et al., 1981).

The sample was composed of 74 men and 35 women. The average age was 46, with a standard deviation of 11 years. 69 were expatriated with their family, and 74 were married (47 to an American spouse). The average duration of their expatriation at survey date was 81 months, with a standard deviation of 99 months.

Pleasure related to oral benchmarks and expatriate’s satisfaction: preliminary findings

Table 1 shows the correlation between the main demographic variables, the anticipated duration of stay (Stay) [The "Stay" variable has been coded according to the number of months reported by the respondent. It was coded 399 (a little more than 30 years) when the respondent mentioned "indefinite". This value is based on the approximate difference between the respondents' mean age and an average life expenctancy.] personal satisfaction (SatP), family satisfaction (SatF), the level of command of host country’s language (Language) and the preference for host country’s food and drinking habits (Food). Personal and family satisfactions, language abilities and preference for host country drinking and eating habits are not correlated with demographic variables, neither to age and sex, nor to marital status (Marfor: married to a non-American spouse) or family situation (Family: expatriated with family).

The German proverb 'Glncklich wie Gott in Frankreich’ ('Happy as God in France’) seems to be confirmed. On the 7-posts likert scale, where 7 is 'excellent’, the average score of personal satisfaction is 6.114. The average score of family satisfaction (as self-reported by respondents and not by their families) is 5.744.

In order to summarize the attitudes of American expatriates we have factor analyzed items describing attitudes to language and food/drinks. Table 2 presents a three-dimension scale, obtained by removing items with low communality, then by a varimax rotation. Correlation coefficients below .4 are not presented.

The first factor features the level of oral frustration derived from poor ability in the host country language; its eigenvalue is 2.752; it explains 30.6% of the variance. The signs of items are consistent: positive coefficient for L1 and L4 indicate frustration, whereas L2 and L3 indicate how to avoid frustration with negative signs. Alpha reliability coefficient reaches .85 showing a high level of reliability in the measure of the construct (Peter and Churchill, 1986).

The second factorial dimension signals the level of attachment to home country food and drinking habits; its eigenvalue is 1.444; it explains 16 % of the variance; that is 46.6 % with the first factor. Item signs are consistent with the meaning covered by this dimension: they are all positive, evidencing the frustration not to find in France the expatriate’s favorite foods. Coefficient alpha is .582 indicating satisfactory reliability in an exploratory perspective (Nunnally, 1967).





The third factor corresponds to belief that food is not only fuel and that eating habits matter; its eigenvalue is 1.121; i explains 12.5% of the variance and, in combination with the first two factors, 59.1 %. The signs of correlation of items with the factor are consistent: respondents with a high score on this factor do not agree that food is only fuel and think that it is important to be an expert in French wines and cooking. Coefficient alpha is only .27, which shows a lack of reliability in measuring this construct. However, a factor with only two items generally has low Cronbach alphas. These three factors, (Plo1, Plo2, Plo3) describe in a meaningful way the attitudes of American expatriates towards eating and speech pleasure. However, in a further step it would be necessary to purify the scale and withdraw the third factor (Churchill, 1979).

Oral pleasure deficiencies and personal/family satisfaction

For testing H1, personal satisfaction and family satisfaction, as independent variables have been regressed against the three factors Plo1, Plo2 and Plo3, as dependent variables. In order to control for the effect of other dependent variables which may influence satisfaction they have been entered in the following regression equation:

SatP=f (Stay, Marfor, SatF, Language, Food, Plo1, Plo2, Plo3)

The SPSS regression procedure leads to the progressive elimination of variables whose 't’ student ratio are below significance threshold, by the backwards selection method. Successive refining steps led to the estimates presented in Table 3.

These findings very clearly confirm hypothesis H1. The eating pleasure deficiency linked to language (Plo1) and to the loss of native food habits (Plo2) are negatively correlated, i.e. reduce personal satisfaction. To be married with a foreign spouse (generally French) has a negative influence on personal satisfaction: some American expatriates have probably been attracted by marriage to France, a country which they appreciate less than the spouse who brought them there.

Positive eating pleasure and expatriate satisfaction

Does enjoyment of the host country’s foods, drinks and language bear a favorable influence on expatriate satisfaction? In order to test this we have combined in a simultaneous equations model three dependent variables (Language, Food and Marfor) and three independent variables (SatF, SatP, Stay). The model (Figure 1) was estimated with the Lisrel VII software (J÷reskog and S÷rbom, 1989). H2 is validated at .01 level (t ratio: 2.83), showing a positive influence of preference for host country foods and drinks (Food) on personal satisfaction (SatP) and also a positive influence of host country language ability on personal satisfaction (t ratio: 2.08, significant at .05 level). H3 is validated at .001 level, confirming a positive influence of preference for host country eating habits on family satisfaction (t ratio: 3.68). Other significant relationships can be observed such as the strong link between expatriate and family satisfaction (t ratio 4.54; significant at .001 level). Marfor appears as negatively influencing personal satisfaction (t ratio: -2.52; significant at .02 level) and positively influencing the anticipated duration of stay (Student ratio: 2.66; significant at .02 level); As noted above, these figures describe a situation where expatriates stay because of marriage with a local spouse in a host country which, on other aspects, does not satisfy them fully.

The Lisrel statistics indicate that the general adjustment of the model is satisfactory. The Chi-square with four degrees of freedom is 5.82 (with a probability level of .21). A low chi-square value corresponds to a good level of adjustment (J÷reskog and S÷rbom, 1989; the associated probability must be higher than .10 (Bagozzi, 1980) what is largely the case in the estimated model. The root mean square residual, a measure of the average of the fitted residuals, is .056, what is satisfactory, the taget level being .05. The GFI (goodness of fit index) reaches .98, and the adjusted GFI reaches .91, values in excess of .9 being considered as showing a good fit between model and data (Bagozzi, 1980).








Consumption of food items typical of the home country plays a key role in the adjustment process of expatriates as eating habits are closely associated with the native culture. Even those expatriates who define themselves has having 'global shoes’ still experience some adjustment difficulties. As a consequence, there is a relative incompatibility of cultural codes even within a common cultural grouping that of Western cultures. Accepting the 'oral consumption culture’ of the host country is a key factor of personal integration, especially when expatriated in a country like France, which highly values food and speech.

In a psychoanalytic perspective, consumption of native items plays a reassuring role, that of a reconstructing regression (as the little child who sucks his thumb). However, consumption of foreign foods is also a way to explore behavioural codes in the host culture, to learn to follow positive stimuli and to avoid the 'punishments’ linked to inadequate behavior (behaviorist paradigm). Consumption and consumer culture are key inputs in the transitional experience of expatriates whereby they accept, reject, or combine cultural patterns of home and host countries. This personal melting pot generates adjustment, this being particularly true of meal times, wine consumption, and family meals. Companies sending expatriates abroad should be more careful about their consumption environment: mail-order sales and internet sales may help overcome the procurement problems experienced by expatriates as concerns the consumption items that are cultural markers of the home country.

The first limitation of this study is that it would be better to rely on data directly collected from the family members themselves, and not only on a self-report about family satisfaction by the expatriate. Secondly, 'oral pleasure deficiencies’ must be set in context: while they clearly persist over time, they are most often overcome by 'positive oral’ pleasure. Thirdly, the external validity of this study is limited to France as host and to the US as home country. Replications in other contexts would be needed to extend these findings to more countries since contextual factors have to be taken into account, such as the cultural and linguistic proximity of host and home countries, the emphasis put on orality in both contexts, and the similarity of eating habits.


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Jean-Claude Usunier, UniversitT Louis-Pasteur, France


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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