There’s an online forum that I look at each morning (one of our Favorite Links in the right column) where expats living in or moving to France can pose questions and share their experiences. One of the threads that caught my eye is entitled “Why France? And why not…” which the moderator had hoped would generate a discussion about why people would want to move to this country in particular rather than elsewhere in western Europe, for example, or even just change locations within their homeland. That latter point, she notes, would avoid any dealings with immigration and keep you in familiar surroundings (food, language, culture, friends) that could be especially important for retirees. Since it’s a forum for people who already live in France or are seriously considering moving here, it didn’t surprise me that the conversation went somewhat off-topic pretty quickly. Instead of addressing what other countries did or did not offer, most people wanted to talk about what drew them here and especially explain how they might have better prepared themselves for the leap.
The thread has over 100 comments based on people’s experiences of living here but they all fall within 3 major topics regarding what to know about in advance. As you might guess, the number one concern was language. Apparently about 39% of the French say that they can speak some English which means of course that 61% don’t readily converse in the language you’re now reading. When we applied for our initial visa at the consulate in Miami, the form was in English as was our interview but all other dealings with the government since then have been in French. Our family doctor speaks English which is not the case with our dentist, eye doctor, dermatologist, at the blood testing laboratory, or most recently at the vaccination center. We keep a list of translated emergency medical terms by the phone, just in case. The word “frustration” popped up often on the Forum when describing being unable to get a point across to someone or being unable to understand what the other person was replying. That led to a warning from at least two people that you might end up simply avoiding contact with anyone and therefore totally isolating yourself instead of enjoying your new life.
Finances were next with the possibility of a fluctuating exchange rate being important if your revenue is initially paid in dollars or pounds, for instance. In 2000, you could buy a euro for 82 US cents whereas today it costs $1.13 to buy that same euro. You might be paying taxes on your income, for your national health insurance, and on the value of your home. The cost of living can be high if you want to live in Paris or one of the other big cities.
Culture; not the artsy kind but your day-to-day dealings with a society that’s different from the one to which you are accustomed. On Sundays the only businesses open are often supermarkets and they tend to close by 1:00 PM. On Mondays you might be able to food shop until 8:00 PM but again they could be the only retail stores open that day as well. By the way, those same supermarkets won’t sell you an over-the-counter medication for a headache; you’ll need to go to a separate pharmacy for that. Business or social interactions will almost always start with a greeting and end with a good-bye with neglecting these being seen as rude. Workers sometimes go on strike and groups of people march in the streets to protest situations that they deem unjust. The citizenship preparation booklet that I’ve been studying provides some insight with the statement, “The principles of the Republic are founded on historical conflict.”
Before moving here we’d been visiting France for at least 30 years, often renting a house or an apartment in a village, town, or city in an attempt to see what it was like living here even if for only a week or two at the most. All of those times we were, of course, on vacation. Now that we’ve retired here and actually live in France we still feel as if we’re on vacation. (The featured photo above is Carcassonne’s Place Carnot where we go for a coffee or a glass of wine.) The points raised above by all of the contributors are valid concerns that we too have experienced but as in any new situation where you intend to succeed, you adjust. We’re still learning the language, we’ve set a reasonable budget (tab above) and we plan ahead for shopping or other excursions that might be unexpectedly interrupted. As one Forum member put it, “The French are used to living in France, under French laws and rules. To them, everything in their country is normal,” while another concluded, “Hold on to your sense of humor and accept change.” In our opinion, that’s wise advice.