Today, for my American Expats series, I’m chatting with Diane, a New Jersey native who has been living in France since 2012. Here, she shares about French style, cheek kisses, and the honest ups and downs of living in France as an expat.
I’ve followed Diane since 2012, and highly recommend her blog for advice on living in France and learning French. I especially recommend her article on what we can learn from Bradly Cooper about speaking French, ahem.
Without further ado…
Bonjour! I’m Diane, an American originally from New Jersey. I moved to France in 2012 shortly after marrying my French husband, Tom. We live in the Maine-et-Loire region, outside Angers, with our dog, Dagny. I work in marketing and communications and also have a blog and YouTube channel called Oui In France. It’s a living abroad lifestyle blog where I share about my experience living in France (and not in Paris!)
On culture shock: Little things that have surprised me like long Sunday lunches with the family, seeing horse meat at the grocery store, stores closing for lunch and not being open on Sundays, etc. But I think it’s important to keep an open mind and to not view things as automatically wrong. Life abroad will be different but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
On learning French: I think it’s a necessity to learn French if you plan on living here, both out of respect for the French and to make your life easier. In a small town, it would be nearly impossible to get by without French. I had a low to intermediate level of French when I first arrived, and the hardest thing was understanding actual people speaking real-life French. It’s nothing like what we learn in school and hear in exercises or basic conversations. The speed, the slang, the vocab; it was so overwhelming at first.
But it got easier and now I can hold my own no problem. With mistakes, of course, since I’m always learning.
On the cost of living in France: Certain things in France are more expensive, like gas and tolls, but other things make up for it, such as affordable healthcare, bread, cheese, and wine. You can get a 1BR apartment, maybe 700 sq. ft., in a nice building where I live for 450 euros/month. But keep in mind I’m not in a big city.
On the weather: There are four distinct seasons where I live in western France. The summer temperatures are similar to New York City temperatures but it feels hotter in France because air conditioning isn’t as commonplace. The winter, though, tends to be warmer. There’s lots of rain and temperatures hover around the forties.
On cheek kisses: Instead of a hug or a “Hey!” with a wave, the French greet each other with a kiss on each side of the cheek, which is called the bise. The bise still doesn’t feel natural to me — it’s excessive! — but you just have to roll with it. I wear glasses so it’s always a pain when you encounter someone else with glasses.
On French style: Overall, French women tend to be a little more dressy than Americans I’d say — tailored jeans, a button-down shirt, and dressy shoes instead of a tee, destroyed jeans and flip flops — but it really depends on the person. Anything goes. I find that French women seem to be confident in their style choices which is nice to see. I regularly see women over 50 in mini skirts and heels, just rocking their own style.
On healthcare: As a permanent resident of France, I get French healthcare like any citizen would, and a portion of my earnings go toward the universal system. Medical fees are very reasonable: visiting a General Practioner costs 25 euros or so, and then 70% is automatically reimbursed through French social security. Beyond that, you can opt for supplementary insurance called a “mutuelle” that will give you even more coverage.
Basically, French healthcare won’t bankrupt you in the event of an accident and it’s not tied to your job status. So if you or a family member has a serious health condition and you lose your job, you’ll still be insured.
On feeling safe: I feel safe here, but I’m always vigilant and aware of my surroundings just like when I lived in New York City. There have been a few break-ins on my street over the past couple of years, and just recently, someone attempted to rob a few stores in my neighborhood with a knife.
On making friends: Making friends has been the hardest part of living abroad for me. I don’t really have a social network where I live — French or any other nationality — and I’ve kind of accepted that. It’s not for a lack of trying! I’m not religious but I’ve gone to church in hopes of meeting people and signed up on meet-up sites, but it’s difficult to make friends as an adult anywhere. It’s definitely not a France problem.
On the real France: I feel like foreigners have very romantic, idealized notions of France and the French. They seem to think that everyone is thin and beautiful and fashionable and they all just sit around at cafes drinking coffee and wine and eating baguettes. While France is beautiful and charming, it’s also a real place with real people and their problems. But all in all, France truly is gorgeous and I find the people to be generous and kind.
On living in France long-term: I could see myself moving back to the USA at some point and I know my husband would like to have that experience as well. But in the near future? I don’t think so. We’d lose a bit of money on our house and right now France is home.
There are a lot of positives to life here like the work/life balance (five weeks of paid vacation per year and healthcare that won’t bankrupt you). But sometimes you never know and life can change in an instant. I’ll never say that France is my forever home or that the US is either. We always have options and sometimes life takes an unexpected path.
Thank you so much, Diane!
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