As I’m learning, there are many differences when you will be living permanently in France. The first is that you have to change many things over – your cell phone, all of your addresses & phone numbers (some of which require you to keep a US address and phone number), utilities, bank accounts, etc. I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned in a bonus Tuesday edition (Thursday will be full of photos of life in my new village!)
Once I arrived, the first issue is filling out the paperwork and supplying the required documents to be issued a French social insurance number. Since I have a permanent French position as a financial Controller, I am paid through French payroll and contribute to French social security taxes (which are, by the way, crazy high). The upside is that I am also eligible for French social benefits, assuming I ever need them.
I’d heard that customer service isn’t as big of a thing in France as the US, so I wasn’t that surprised when Orange sent the wrong SIM card for my phone, then somehow sent one on Oct 3 that arrived on the same day as the one sent on Oct 6 (although, this was perhaps the fault of the mail system?); however, by October 7, I had a functional French cell phone. TIP #1 for US Ex-Pats: I installed Sideline on my phone before I left the US and picked a number. I now have a local US number that my friends can text or call; however, it does not work for things like bank confirmations nor security confirmations from websites. I’ve listed this as my “home” number (with no cell number). So far, this setup is going well.
I’m fortunate that a large British ex-pat community has settled in this area because it means that bilingual services are much more common than might otherwise be the case. TIP #2 for US Ex-Pats: Credit Agricole is a French bank that has a special English-speaking team to assist you, which is fantastic when you’re still trying to learn the language! They do require proof that you’re employed and either a utility bill or French housing contract to prove you also have a home (UPDATE: my French rental contract wasn’t sufficient, but a letter of attestation that I had rental insurance was). Of course, this could be a bit tricky given you need to pay someone to get a home – again, having a British owner helped because I just wired them cash from my US account in advance (after signing a contract, of course).
There’s also the issue of obtaining mandatory rental insurance, which also includes a special social insurance in case you accidentally hurt someone or their property. This is apparently the French way of avoiding American-style lawsuits over everything!
While everything required to integrate into French society is a little cumbersome, I am quite happy to be back eating French food! It really is just a whole different way of eating and I haven’t missed my protein breakfasts at all – just a lovely pain au chocolat avec du café (with espresso) does the trick for me!
One of the things that I missed the most in the US is the sheer variety of foods that are available here when eating out. The restaurants serve a revolving menu of whatever is fresh from the market, so I’m currently seeing vegetables, such as eggplant, that vary from what was more common in the spring. I also enjoy the fact that virtually every starter and main dish comes with a tiny salad (like 5 bites) of mixed greens with a light dressing that is a sort of vinaigrette, but very mild on the vinegar. I have no idea what is in it, but it seems like essentially the same salad dressing is used at every French restaurant I’ve been to and it is 10x better (to me) than any salad dressing I’ve ever had in the US (where I typically avoid ordering any sort of salad because I don’t like the way they taste). It has just enough oil, just enough kick and is so lightly applied that it is perfect. Of course, my first indicator at a couple of restaurants that the food wasn’t going to be the best was that the salad dressing was heavily applied – this is truly a warning sign in France!
I also believe that I have eaten chèvre every day since I returned to France – chèvre and bacon baguette, chèvre and ham baguette, chèvre with a veggie crumble, hot chèvre salad . . . it is truly one of my favorite things about French cuisine! Chèvre is equally good in a salad of pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes as it is in a salad with fruit and pumpkin bread slices. The different variations of hot chèvre salad in France are truly spectacular – in fact, I’ve decided to photograph all of the types of hot chèvre salad that I come across this time to demonstrate how incredibly diverse this ONE (very, very super delicious) dish can be!