Living in France, some of my challenges

Greetings dear readers and friends! Well, life is ticking along here in France, and the holiday season is right around the corner (shops are already decked-out with holiday decorations galore), and I’ve been thinking a lot about life here in Provence. So much has changed in my life since I moved to France some 7 years ago. As several bloggers have done recently, I’d like today to share some of the challenges I’ve faced while living in France. You’ll notice that there’s nothing terribly “serious” on my list, it’s just more of a window into one expat’s experience of living here. I hope you’ll find it interesting.


I still remember when you could smoke in bars in California, and I also remember going to many smoke-covered lounges in Las Vegas, but goodness that seems like ions ago – like a whole era that slowly faded away. But not entirely so in France… I don’t really go out to bars anymore, but public smoking is rampant here. The idea of outdoor, café-smoking, would seem to be okay, only sometimes it turns out that about 80% of the café is smoking so you’re enveloped in a cloud of second-hand smoke from here to Georgia. But like everything, it’s France! I’m not as bothered with it as when I first got here (I do think it must drive a lot of tourists crazy), and I just take it as part of the culture – warts, cigarette butts, and all.

-Customer Service

Well, let me start this “challenge” on a positive note with the fact that we went to dinner last Saturday night and had the absolute best service –  5-star treatment and delicious food as well (at Le P’tite Cour in Sanary-sur-Mer). That being said, customer service in the South of France is hit or miss. I can count at least 3 times when we’ve walked out of a restaurant because they’ve failed to come to our table, like 30-minutes failed, and / or were just plain rude. And one of those times was in Aix-en-Provence, so nowhere seems to be “immune”. And it’s not just restaurants. Some places seem to have a “take it or leave it” attitude when it comes to their services. My favorite example is when a blog reader emailed me to locate a woman in Toulon who makes custom jewelry. The reader was on a cruise, discovered her stand in the center of the city, and wanted to buy more items… and was willing to pay shipping costs to the States. I knew exactly who she was talking about, but when I approached the jewelry-stand owner with the reader’s email address the only thing she said to me was, “I don’t do email”. What…? I’m still not sure what to make of that. And just last week, a colleague (a French colleague) went to the bakery next door to ask if they might be able to bake a cake for a birthday party she was throwing that weekend. Their gruff response, “The baker’s gone home”. Nothing else – no “leave your number and we’ll get back to you”, nada. Thankfully she went to another bakery down the street whereshe was told that it was a little late notice but offered to make her a raspberry tiramisu “cake”. Hit or miss… The (sometimes) terrible customer service in Provence leaves me shaking my head. Why would anyone ever go back? How do they stay open? Another “mystery” of life in France and a big challenge of living here.

-French. Drivers.

Ok, I hate to make sweeping generalizations as much as the next person, but… French drivers are crazy! I never even attempted to drive when I lived in Italy, because well, it was Italy. Just watching the outlandish maneuvers that went on in the center of Rome was enough to make me want to crawl under a blanket and never come out. But hey, I thought, it’s France… so civilized and cultured, what could possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out, a lot! I won’t give you a case-by-case study because it’s a pretty long list, but let’s just say that the French turn into whole other beings behind the wheel. A few of my biggest pet peeves:  they seem to be allergic to using a turn signal (in the south, I’d say about 2 in 10 people use their signals when making a turn), are passionate fans about tailgating, and often try to break Indy-500 records for speed. To this day, I can’t get my head around how such mild-mannered, polite folks go “cuckoo” on the road. I’m still trying to work it out, but until then, I drive like a French grandma (actually they drive pretty fast too) and try to stay as safe as possible.

-My “over-the-top” American enthusiasm

It goes without saying that the French are different from Americans; very different. For example, Americans tend to be pretty enthusiastic about most things in general. Your friend got a new job. Wow, that’s amazing; I’m so thrilled and happy for you! That same friend baked a cake for a school fundraiser. Wow, that’s so great, have a fantastic time! Or they got a new sofa, redecorated, etc, etc… Amazing, wonderful, fantastic, how exciting! A lot of small and big things in the US are celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm. (I still get the Ellen show on TV and I love when she walks out and the crowd goes absolutely nuts!) There’s a lot less of that kind of enthusiasm in France. Sure, things are celebrated, but with a lot less “bravado”. People either think you’re a bit odd, or are a bit afraid of you, if you “overdo it” here. I remember the first year that I lived here and we found out that a good friend of my husband’s was going to quit her job and go live on a farm. Pretty cool huh? So of course, that’s what I said (in my garbled French), wow, that’s cool, great, fantastic, so amazing of you! I gushed and gushed and even offered to organize a going-away party for her. It was about the 3rd time I’d seen her. She gave me some kind of French side-eye, barely uttered three or four words, and then politely thanked me. At the time I thought she was a bit odd herself, and maybe a bit of a cold fish. Later on I realized she was probably thinking, “Who is this crazy lady and why in the world would she want to throw me a party”? Subtle, the French are very subtle. Now I wait at least a year to offer to throw anyone a party, ha!

-Thinking in French

Well, speaking in French is difficult enough, and when I started my job (in a language school) I had the biggest headaches just trying to make it through the day in a French-speaking environment. But, in this way, you’re forced to progress quite quickly and then you really have to start “thinking” like a French person to be able to understand and navigate work meetings, discussions, etc. Let’s just say that my “French self” is a far cry from my American personality and I quite often find myself having a hard time reconciling the two.  I feel a lot more “easy-going” and “funnier” in English and more “reserved” and “aloof” in French – I guess it just goes with the territory. Also, the French do a lot of ironic humor, so it’s only in the last 2 years that I’ve been “good enough” in the language to participate. My “two selves” feel a bit closer together, but there are some days when thinking in French, living in French, still makes my head hurt.


I don’t talk about it often, but I do get homesick. I’m just rolling along in my daily life and then something will trigger a feeling, a memory, and I’ll be overwhelmed by how much I miss life “back home”. This feeling can last a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. All I want to do is hop on a plane and feel that feeling of comfortableness, love, and familiarity of everything that I left behind. Sure, living in France is great, but it doesn’t replace a whole 30+ years of relationships and experiences I built with my loved ones in the US. Some times are harder than others, but thankfully I still have people who have hung with me through thick and thin.


I hope you enjoyed this look into “another side” of living in France and wishing you a very bon-weekend!

18 thoughts on “Living in France, some of my challenges”

  1. Great post, Tuula, I can relate!

    Here’s the flip side to “American enthusiasm.” I have French friends in California and one of them told me about his first job in the US. He had completed an assignment and his boss told him it was “great.” An American would see that as nothing more than “good job.” But for a French person, being told “great” (just not done in France) means you did possibly the greatest job in the history of the world. My friend was extremely proud of himself and told everyone he was going to be a huge success in America. Only later did he sadly learn what an American “great” really means. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is too funny Keith, I can totally see that happening! We do have vastly different ideas of “good” and “great” in the US… and also about giving “compliments” at work. I rarely hear “good job” from my boss here, but it’s not a slight, just the way things are done. The other day I got a message to say “thank you” for something I’d done and I nearly fell off my chair – about the first time in 5-6 years! Cheers from Provence. 🙂


  2. I love this post! It’s true French people do not get very excited the way we Americans do. And I can relate with the customer service. When I was there, I was always afraid of the servers because they never smile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, some of the French servers are so silly! A smile or 2 wouldn’t hurt… but then again we get great service at some places and just keeping going back year after year. Thanks for your comment and “salut” from Provence!


  3. Tuula, nice roundup!! Here’s one: I was leaving Arles just before lunchtime and heading home to St. Remy. I saw something pretty in a jewelry shop window, rang the bell and popped in. The wife peered out at me from the back but the husband greeted me from behind the counter. “Bonjour, I’d like to see that necklace in the window, please,” I told him. “Come back after lunch,” was his less-than-friendly reply. “I won’t be here after lunch,” said, “I’m heading home to St. Remy.” His response was to buzz the door to let me out. I thought he was kidding! I said, “Seriously?” He said “Good day Madame.” And the moment I stepped through the door and onto the sidewalk, still somewhat incredulous, he was behind me, pulling the metal security gate down, sealing the whole place up tight. Mon Dieu! Rather than sell me a necklace, these folks really really wanted that soup…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man Julie, that’s a good one! Think it goes almost right to the top of the list for “bad service” – these funny French! Thank goodness they’ve got great wine and cheese to keep us going… I’ll be sharing this one for years to come, many thanks for your comment. Tuula


    1. Thanks for your comment June. I know, I can’t get away from being so “excited” about everything, it’s just a part of who I am… just learning how to use it in different ways here. I guess it helps to have a few expat friends, then I can be my “crazy” enthusiastic self! Looking forward to your blog, bon courage! 🙂


  4. We all feel it differently when we ex-patriate, I think. My husband is British, moved to France for 10 years and then took up a post at Harvard where he has been for nearly 30 years. I live in France. It is, as your husband is apt to say, compliqué 😉 I spend time in New England from time to time (in fact I was there the whole of last year) but mostly I live in France and have done for several years. We will retire here in the next 1-2 years. Maybe it is because I am European but I found France easy to fit into (I, too had lived in Italy and thought that was where I would end up before meeting my Francophile husband) and it is much more of a strain and a struggle to fit in the US. As my daughter said to me ‘what do you expect mum – it’s a whole nother continent’. I found this to be a rewarding and interesting read and the comments make for some entertainment too! Thank you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! I think living abroad is a different experience for everyone. I do believe I have more “difficulty” adapting to the differences here because I grew up in the USA, whereas moving from Italy to France was not a huge change, the cultures are much more similar. And you do have one interesting life for sure! France is really a perfect place to retire, even if I didn’t live here already, I’d want to spend the rest of my days exactly where we are right now – can’t beat the lifestyle, food, and the natural beauty. Thank you for your kind comment, wishing you all the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And I wish you the best too Tuula …. definitely a kindred spirit, you are! Happy Thanksgiving to you, by the way … may it be filled with joy and laughter today

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So glad to have stumbled onto your blog. I’ve lived this life – having a French Mother in law for the last 30 plus years has been interesting to say the least. I adore and miss France and her very much – so glad to read your posts!



    1. Thanks so much for your comment, and glad to see there’s someone out there who can understand! It’s one big, crazy adventure, isn’t it? But I wouldn’t change it for the world…
      All the best,

      Liked by 1 person

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