Greetings dear readers and friends! I’ve been getting quite a few emails lately from folks thinking of moving to la belle France, and far from being an expert, I thought it was time to share some of my thoughts on what goes into making a successful transtion. I hope this post will be helpful for those considering making the leap!
Ahhhh France… incredible food, breathtaking scenery, and a style of life that’s famous the world over. Sounds great, right? Well, most of the time it is… but getting to a point where you “fit in” and feel comfortable living your life in another culture, let along another language, is a long haul – one filled with ups, downs, and more “faux pas” than I’d care to admit (or remember!).
When it comes down to it, there are 1001 things that need to happen to make any move abroad a successful one, but here are some of the elements that I think are “essential” when contemplating your move.
-Have a burning passion for France
You’ve gotta really love it here to make a long-term stay work! I mean love it like no other place you’ve ever been before. If you are a student or someone planning to make France your home for a few years before posting your tent elsewhere, than this will certainly not apply to you. I’m talking to the long-haulers, folks who can see themselves living here for 5, 10, 20+ years. If you really have a burning passion for France, you can take all of the hurdles you’ll face – setting up house, language foibles, and just general “I’m a foreigner in a foreign land” angst – with a grain of salt. It’s all just part of the long road to getting where you want to be – a bonafide French resident, through and through. If you’re feeling iffy, or a bit lukewarm, about diving into la vie Française, a shorter visit might be just the ticket before you jump right in!
-Research, research, research
I’ve gotten more than a few emails asking where the best place to live in Provence is, and I have to admit, I honestly don’t have a clue! Are you a student on a semester or year-abroad program? Then the university town of Aix-en-Provence might be for you. It’s quite pricey though, so it could be better suited for a well-to-do retired couple. Or perhaps you really need to find a job once you touch down. Than larger cities like Marseille would probably work well. But perhaps Marseille isn’t exactly your vision of what living in Provence would look like… The point being that each person is going to have so many individual needs / wants out of a move to France that it’s important to research each area you’re interested in as much as possible. You’ll need to know housing costs, living expenses, the job market (if applicable), social networking opportunities, and a host of other things that only you can define. The more you research, the more you stack the cards on your side and ensure that you know what you’re getting into!
-Learn French at all costs
Ahhh French… good good goodness if it isn’t one of the hardest languages around! I’ve been here for almost 7 years and I still vividly remember arriving at the Marseille airport with the distinct impression that I was in big, big trouble. Since my move to France was a bit of quick one, I’d studied some French on my own (fervently filling in grammar exercises and listening to podcasts) but I was many moons away from the level I needed in order to make a life here. Dinner parties? Forget it… I’d smile and nod and gobble forkfuls of whatever was being served to avoid speaking. Looking for a job? Nul, nada! Shopping at the store? Everything went okay unless I actually had to ask for something. And then “getting by” wasn’t really what moving to another country was all about for me. I wanted to live every ounce of France, find a job, make (French) friends, and experience the culture. From this experience, I think it’s a good idea to come to France with at least a solid intermediate level of French. As incredible as it sounds, you’ll pick up the language fairly quickly once you live here.
-Have a plan and stick to it
This is a tough one. The first few years of living abroad are a mix of euphoria and homesickness. Either you adapt to the massive change in your lifestyle, or you decide that the way of living “back home” is more your cup of tea. This phase can last months or years, but eventually you get through it and your new home becomes your real home. You new life can even be much more fulfilling than your old one, but there are a lot of struggles (homesickness, language, job prospects, social changes, etc) that you have to overcome to get there. And you will get there. It’s important to remember why you decided to move in the first place and remember that like all good things that are worth waiting for…“Rome wasn’t built in a day”. But if you have a plan and stick to it, you will eventually have the life abroad you always dreamed of.
-Make sure you know where the money’s coming from
If you’re moving to France for retirement, or if you’ve already got a job lined up, then you’re probably all set to go moneywise. If not, then it’s a good idea to make a list of your potential income sources and get really honest about how you’re going to make a living. Make sure that you look at your skill-set and see if it fits in with the French job market and the area where you want to live. For example, if you plan on teaching English, you can make a fairly good living in Paris but outside the capital, hourly rates go down quite considerably. Also, it’s important to understand that jobs, in general, are a lot easier to come by in larger cities and unemployment is high in more rural areas. Unfortunately, that means places like the South of France. Not to be discouraged though! It took me quite awhile to find a job here, but I eventually did with a bit of research and a whole lot of pounding the pavement.
-Fine-tune your sense of humor
I think we can put this one right at the top of the list! Moving abroad takes the expression “Take it all with a grain of salt” to a whole new level. It might look all “roses and rainbows” on many French blogs, but there are a multitude of challenges that expats face during their transition and it’s easy to get down or blame the host culture. For the most part, these are all “normal” bumps in the road, but when you try for the third time to ask for a glass of water in a restaurant (in French of course!) with no success it’s not always easy to keep your “sang-froid”. I try to think of it all as a learning experience and make the best of it… and above all, now I just ask for a bottle of Perrier.
Good luck, bon courage, to all you brave souls thinking of moving abroad!