It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in France for over a year now. Given that I just passed the one year mark, it seems like a good time to reflect on my top 5 favorite things about France and the top 5 challenges of living here.
My Top 5 Favorite Things About France (in no particular order)
- French Food
- French food is really incredible! When I return to the US now, by the second or third day, I don’t feel well. I know this is because I am not eating as healthy as I do in France . . . but in France, it is easy! I could eat out every day and still eat a well-balanced meal. In the US, you have to really work at eating healthy and getting a good mix of fruits and veggies – it’s almost impossible if you’re eating out every meal.
- The French Healthcare System
- It’s remarkable how inexpensive healthcare is in France, even before insurance. And I don’t feel that the quality of care is worse than the US; in fact, in many ways it’s better. I can see my doctor for a routine appointment within 48 hours. They seem to really care about helping you get or stay healthy. The only drawback is that they are really stingy with painkillers. While I’m sure it helps prevent abuse, I’ve had an injury where I was barely sleeping for several weeks and the docs seem to think that a little Tylenol or Advil will do the trick. In the US, we generally don’t show up at a doctor’s office unless we’ve already tried those and they didn’t cut it! Otherwise, the level of care has been remarkably good, especially for the price.
- My French Friends
- Ironically, this will be on my top 5 challenges list as well. I don’t have many French friends, but once you become friends with a French person, they feel like the best friends you’ll ever have – almost like family. It seems to take longer to become friends, but once you are friends, it’s a short time until you feel like you’re BFFs.
- English Bars with Live Music
- I’ve recently found an English bar that frequently hosts live music. It’s a great place to listen to music or sit outside and have a conversation. Going out for a “night on the town” and listening to live bands are two things that I’ve missed, but it just hadn’t been a priority in the first year. It’s a bonus that the people are really friendly and good company.
- My French Colleagues
- I work with an incredible team in France. It’s like working with your family, meaning we like each other most of the time . . . and occasionally don’t, but we still have each other’s backs. The longer that I’m over here, the easier it has become. A couple of them have even suggested having drinks outside of work recently. When I was in the US, I saw a few of them on our video conference and said happily, “Oh! It’s my people!” Some of the Americans had a good chuckle about it, but they truly feel like my team.
The Top 5 Biggest Challenges
- French Friends
- It’s not only a challenge to meet French people, but when you do, it can be difficult to get to know them. While Americans seem pretty quick to invite colleagues they like out for a drink, it took a year in France. This means that the first year or so can be pretty lonely, unless you get lucky or really work at meeting people. Even then, if circumstances change and people move away, it can take time to expand your social group again. As mentioned above though, the good news is that your few friends will be particularly devoted.
- Learning French
- When other Americans indicate an interest in moving here, the first thing I tell them is to start learning French. If I’d ever really thought I’d move here (rather than it being a pipe dream), I would have started to learn French earlier. I’ve always learned new things rather quickly, so I did not anticipate how difficult it can be to become fluent in another language. I really cannot overemphasize how challenging it is to live in a country where you can’t do simple, everyday things without difficulty. Need a doctor’s appointment? Even if the doctor speaks English, the receptionist probably doesn’t . . . good luck! While I can make a reservation, trying to change one still makes me cringe. And don’t even get me started on the voicemails left at warp speed that always sound important, but lead to PB laughing after he listens to it because it’s just a telemarketer. NOTE: If I can ever figure out how to change my greeting, it will be in English so they know to just hang up.
- French Parking
- Seriously, even a subcompact can be difficult to park here (and I know how to parallel park AND reverse in). The spots are wide enough for my car, but not if a large vehicle parks next to you. Check out the photo at the top of this section to see what I mean! Navigating the ramps in most train station parking garages is a special level of hell as well.
- French Protests
- I’d like to start a protest against the protests. A French friend joked that protesting is their national hobby and I’m beginning to think it wasn’t a joke. There are many French stereotypes that aren’t actually true, but this is NOT one of them. If you plan any sort of vacation in advance, be aware that a protest by the folks operating planes, trains and automobiles (taxis) is completely possible and has happened multiple times during my year here. Additionally, you may find roads blocked by middle aged farmers, store parking lots full of animal poo, major Parisien streets filled with hay or any number of other “interesting” demonstrations taking place.
- French Culture
- Note that this section is about challenges, not things I dislike. There are many things that I like about the French culture and there are similarities to the American culture, but MANY differences. Things that sound rude aren’t actually rude; their sense of humor can be a little perplexing; they behave in ways that would be considered flirting in the US, but isn’t here. You can have a friendship-ending argument (by US standards) with a French person and everything is fine shortly after – in fact, they’ll tell you that it’s healthy for you to express your emotions. People who look like they’re about to have a fist fight will turn and walk inside for a beer together. As the Senior VP of my plant said, “It’s like you’re living in a whole different country.” Indeed.
At the one year mark, I can certainly say that it has not been what I expected when I moved here! There have been both unexpectedly good and unexpectedly bad aspects. In total, the positive aspects of living in France outweigh the negative and I still enjoy living here. I still believe that it is important to integrate and learn the language, but there are also benefits that come from finding people who speak (almost) the same language as you and with cultural norms that are more similar. Whether you accomplish this by staying in close contact with friends and family back home or having other ex-pat/immigrant friends from your native country (or one with a shared history and language), I feel like it provides a good balance to “all different, all the time.”