A Year in France

Posted on 14. May, 2012 by in Europe Travel, expat France, France

living in france

© catsper

Apparently, it’s May 14th today.

The calendar tells me I’ve been in France for a year now. Has a full year really gone by since I left Montreal? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been there much shorter than that, sometimes much longer. I’m a bit ambivalent when it comes to picking a side to this expat experience. When people ask me if I like living in France, my answer is almost always the same.

An awkward smile.

It depends“.

I wrote about the ups and down of living in France, and even though that was a few months ago, I still stand behind every word I wrote there. Yes, the French are not the most easygoing people, and yes, the bureaucracy is extremely overwhelming no matter what you want to do.

But is it normal that my favorite thing about living in France is that it’s so close to the UK?

Didn’t think so either.

I miss so many things. The city, first of all. I’m from Montreal, and I’ve lived in London – there is no doubt that I am a city girl at heart. Bring on the millions of people, the transit commutes and the hustle. Being based in a small city has affected me more than I  thought it would. I feel dejected, and restless, by the tranquility of the place. My recent weekend in Paris was so invigorating – I really feed off the energy of a city, and sadly Clermont-Ferrand just doesn’t cut it.

living in france

© sneequaye

So that’s part of the problem – living in a small French city as opposed to the metropolises I love and thrive in.

The biggest issue though, and by far, is the French language. One would think that, as a French Canadian whose first language is French, living in France would be quite easy… errr, not quite. I have to completely change the way I would naturally speak to be understood by the locals, which can get really frustrating after a while of question mark faces and arrogant corrections and “oh but your French is awful” comments. But more on that later.

There are some things that I do like – the cold meats and cheeses, the travels, the proximity to other European countries, the highways (if you’re a Montrealer you understand the importance of well-maintained roads), the apéro culture. All things that are easy to get used to, without a doubt.

But does it make up for the rest? I’ve always been told that the bad things always end up overweighting the good. And so far, I’m inclined to say that sadly, it’s true.

photos of bordeaux

Anyone who’s met me in the last year knows how mixed my feelings are towards my “expat living in France” adventure.

Meh” is probably the best word to describe how I really feel, and for such a small word, it actually says a lot. Sometimes I wonder why I ever made the move at all – but they say that home is where the heart is, and as long as my husband is under contract here, there isn’t much I can do, because living separate lives is not something I plan on doing.

So what do I do now?

I suck it up. And try to focus on the great things coming my way. The many tips I have planned all over Europe until Christmas, the few friends I have here, the possibility of a new work contract for my husband in January, and the many blogging opportunities I’ve been working on. In overall, I definitely need to take the focus away from the bad, despite how easy it is to sulk.

living in france

Do I think my life is hard?
No. I know I’m really lucky to be in this situation, despite the daily challenges.

Do I wish I could be somewhere else?
Every day I wish I could be in the UK. But that ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

Do I need to be a big girl and get my head out of my ass?
Probably. Even though sometimes I really don’t want to.

Have you ever lived in France? What were the hardest/best parts of your experience?

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33 Responses to “A Year in France”

  1. Christine

    14. May, 2012

    First, congrats on your 1 year! I know just how important these days can be because they mark how far we’ve come. My life in Spain certainly isn’t idyllic either. I’m living in what’s known as “Spain’s ugliest city” (because of my bf’s work) and wish every day that I could be experiencing a different part of Spain. I’m a big city girl too (from Seattle!) and know exactly what you mean when you say you feed off a city’s energy. Ah, I miss it!

    I know very well all the ups and downs of being an expat, and it took me a good 2 years probably to finally accept that I’m going to be here for awhile and I better make the best of it. Wishing you the best of luck on your journey–keep looking on the bright side!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Thanks Christine! Glad to see I’m not the only city girl stuck in the country, haha!

      Reply to this comment
  2. Sandra

    14. May, 2012

    Beautifully written. For what it’s worth, I know how you feel! It’s tough to live as an expat. I will say one thing: it does get easier AFTER a year. That said, I am not sure that you can ever be completely at ease when you live outside your homeland.
    We are fortunate to live abroad, but that in no way means that it’s easy.
    Best of luck with your journey.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Thanks very much Sandra. I think you do get used to the place you’re in after a while, but some places are harder to get by than others. It took me about 3 seconds to feel at home when I lived in London, and after 365 days in France, it has yet to come!

      Reply to this comment
  3. It’s funny, you just summed up in one post the reasons why France has never held much interest for me, despite the fact that my maternal grandfather was French-Canadian and I studied French all through high school. I can imagine being an expat in a lot of places, but not there. Good luck on your husband’s new assignment: Hope it takes you somewhere fabulous!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Even if you have the slightest notion of French, it’s never going to be good enough for them until you speak exactly the same way. Fingers crossed we can move soon!

      Reply to this comment
  4. Appreciate the honesty. I’m sure a lot of other people feel the same way about their expat life but feel they have to pretend it is all just as fabulous as it sounds.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      I think so too- on the other hand, I don’t have such a thing as a mouth/brain filter, so I can’t help being honest!

      Reply to this comment
  5. Cole @ Four Jandals

    14. May, 2012

    Haven’t lived there but have visited for a trip to Paris and a snowboarding week in the 3 Valleys. From a tourist perspective; LOVED IT! But we saw all the best parts. Would love to try living there.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      As I often say to my friends, visiting France is amazing – living there, not so much!

      Reply to this comment
  6. Alexa Meisler

    14. May, 2012

    It doesn’t sound like your homesick or anything so I think it’s just those little things like the accents that’s bothering you and that’s totally fine! So take it one day at a time I guess? I love your photos though!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      No, homesickness is not the problem. I do miss home but I’m not longing to go back ASAP. It’s really living in France that’s the problem!

      Reply to this comment
  7. Edna

    15. May, 2012

    I feel the same way and I live in Paris! I love cities, but I’m not a Francophile and Paris is just ‘meh’ to me. I’m not homesick for the States, but I do miss the cities in Asia I lived in before moving to Europe. Some places resonate with people; some don’t. It’s easy to feel guilty as well when you know so many others would give their left arm to be in your position. But I like to compare it to the big picture — at the end of the day, we’re talking about first world problems, and life isn’t too bad. Hope things pick up for you!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      Thanks! I think what makes it even harder is that I loved the UK so much and that now I can’t live there again. I know I’m not unlucky and that in the end I have nothing to whine about but every once in a while I just want to curl up in bed and go home!

      Reply to this comment
  8. Andrea

    16. May, 2012

    Congrats on your milestone! Sometimes I think some places are better than others depending on the time we are at in our lives. I’m sure that’s why I’m loving Norway at the moment…in the long run, maybe not…

    Reply to this comment
  9. Laurence

    19. May, 2012

    I’ve been living in France for around six months now, and have to say I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m a lot more rural than you (there’s our house.. and the castle over the road.. and that’s it).. but I’ve found that the locals have been very friendly and even put up with my awful attempts at learning the language. I’ll see how I feel in another six months :D

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      I think it might be easier for you since you’re not a native French speaker – I noticed that the French people tend to close off when they realize I’m from Quebec, and they simply start judging the way I speak. Not sure why though.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Erin

    20. May, 2012

    It’s really interesting to hear such an honest opinion of your life in France. Although as a Brit I’m quite astounded you’d rather like in the UK :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      I think it’s because of my Canadian heritage – most Canadians are much more British than they realize, including Quebeckers. I felt immediately at home in London.

      Reply to this comment
  11. Nancie

    21. May, 2012

    I’ve never lived in France, but I worked in Montreal for many years and it will always be one of my fav cities. Could also be that I was conceived in Montreal:) I’ve lived the expat life in Korea for the past 11 years and 3 months. I no longer cringe when people ask me what I think of Korea. I think my answer surprises them….”I like the lifestyle.” I had a good life in Canada, but Korea has given me the opportunities to travel, see, and experience so many things. That’s what it’s all about for me. I can’t pretend to have a love affair with Korea, but I can tolerate and accept the things I don’t like if it means traveling.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      You are barking up the right tree! Being a Montrealer myself I can’t help but compare life in Montreal to life in France, and honestly, the choice is soooo easy.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Denise

    21. May, 2012

    Hi there,

    Let me first start by saying that you should never, EVER feel bad because you do not like the country which you decided, for one reason or another, to move to. We are human beings, and it is only natural for us to have opinions, rather than going around the world with rose coloured glasses and love everything and everywhere. No one does.

    I spent 2 and a half years living in Switzerland, and I never fell in love. In the end, it was just essential for me to leave, or I would have stopped respecting myself. I give it a chance, a very good chance, but the country is not for me. YOU have to find the country which makes YOU happy.
    I moved to Switzerland to be with my Swiss boyfriend, but in the end, he understood I’d never be happy, and decided to move where I wanted to, and try to be happy there instead.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      It’s a great story you have there. I love hearing about other expat stories! At least you can say that you honestly, sincerely tried to love Switzerland but it just never worked out. I don’t think I’ve been in France long enough to say that I will never love it, but it’s not looking good though.

      Reply to this comment
  13. Diane

    22. May, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I think all your feelings are normal and it’s just a matter of what you do with your time here. No place is perfect… People actually told you that your French was awful? I would have slapped them. Old, young, doesn’t matter. That’s plain rude!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      Sometimes I wish I had slapped them! But it was always in a situation where I needed their collaboration, so I figured keeping my mouth shut would be best :-P

      Reply to this comment
  14. It can be soooo hard being an expat!! I definitely had some moments like this when I was in a small city in Belgium away from my friend group. I think it helps to have a project that you are passionate about, and blogging is a good way to fill the time.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      Blogging and traveling are the only things that have made my expat experience bearable!

      Reply to this comment
  15. Andrew

    23. May, 2012

    Sounds like a tough year. It does get better if you can feel at home in a place. I noticed in one of your comments that you felt at home in London instantly and not yet in France after a year. As much as I am one of the biggest proponents for Expat living, if you are really not feeling a place at all, it is time to think about moving. Which it sounds like you are also doing.
    The point is that, although I think it is really good for people to live abroad, not every place fits with every person and if you are truly miserable figure out a way out of it.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. May, 2012

      That’s what makes it so hard in France, I think – the fact that I instantly felt at home in London and that after a year here, I still feel like an outsider. Doesn’t help my situation at all. I just hope we have the possibility of moving soon!

      Reply to this comment
  16. Simon

    13. Apr, 2013

    Your comments are interesting. I have lived in France for over 12 years now, and I regret to say that each year has got worse! I am finally cutting the ties that keep me here (business) and returning to the UK. For me, the racism and xenophobia of the culture, combined with the joyless, mean, dishonest, miserable and selfish streak that is ‘normal’ behaviour in one’s personal and professional life here has become too much to take. The negative traits of the culture, politics and administration have given us some truly horrific experiences that simply don’t happen elsewhere. Like you, I knew I did’nt like it after a year and have wished every day since that I had had the courage to run while I could. Keep your eyes and options open, and good luck.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      15. Apr, 2013

      Sorry to hear that. 12 years is a long time to be in a place you don’t like! Hoping your future holds better days :-)

      Reply to this comment

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