The Ups and Downs of Living in France

Posted on 21. Nov, 2011 by in Europe Travel, expat France, France

While I did notice several French traits over the year, after living here for a few months I think I made up my mind about the country. Things are not always shiny, nor do they always suck - but living in France definitely requires some adjustments.

What I Like About Living in France…

  • The cheap cheese and wine: That’s an easy one, but I will never get tired of paying 2 euros for a huge piece of Reblochon and 1.50 euros for a glass of sweet Riesling.
  • The geographical position: Being in Europe is a little bit overwhelming for a North American like me, who has to travel quite a bit of land before feeling truly away. In France, though, you can get to Morroco, Portugal, Poland and Greece within an hour’s flight. How cool is that?
  • The fashion: Being of a more discreet and classical taste, I enjoy French fashion immensely. Stripes, black sweaters and chunky scarves are all essential items in my wardrobe, and France is the perfect place to put them to use.
  • Watching TV on Tuesday evenings: I really like this program called “Enquêtes d’actions, which cover a different issue every week, from night patrollers in train stations to riots in Paris to the French housing market. I like watching it because it gives a detailed explanation of some French issues, and I truly feel like an expat trying to learn more about her host country.
  • The telecoms: They are so much cheaper than in Canada! For less than 40 euros per month, I have cable TV, unlimited Internet and free overseas calls!
  • The holidays: While my husband is a consultant for a Canadian company that sent him to France, and is thus subject to Canadian vacation policy (plain old 3 weeks). He is, however, also subject to French public holidays. And there are lots of them - 13 to be exact. And if a public holiday happens to fall on a Thursday or a Tuesday, no worries - the Friday or Monday is also off. Perfect for long weekends away!

… And What I Don’t Like About Living in France
  • The rudeness: That is a cliché that happens to be spot on. While it is certainly not the case in every establishment, it is pretty common for me, a friendly Canadian, to be offended by the lack of smile or the harsh words of other French people. Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do or what I say, I am just the biggest nuisance they’ve had to face in their lives. After living in France for 7 months, I still haven’t got used to it. How hard is it to be nice to people?
  • The strikes: They are not a myth either. Just a month ago, public transportation workers went on an unannounced strike that lasted for 6 days - and it’s nothing like in Montreal, where a basic service is obligatory in case of a strike. In France, a strike means 0 service. Living in France means you are often on your toes!
  • My neck of the woods: As much as I like living in Clermont-Ferrand itself, it’s kind of disconnected from the rest of France. No international airport, no TGV-friendly tracks, and expensive tolls. It’s great to get out of the city sometimes (and as a travel blogger, it happens fairly often), but it’s such a hassle!
  • The bureaucracy: Nothing is simple when it comes to French documents. Whether it’s about renting an apartment, getting a cell phone, being hired for a new job, settling your legal status, etc., it’s always so complicated. Anyone a fan of Asterix’s 12 tasks? You know The Place That Sends You Mad? It’s actually not that far-fetched from reality.

As much as I like being an expat for the moment, sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off elsewhere. I think every expat asks himself that question every once in a while, right? In overall I’m a little bit disappointed of my life in France, because I thought that being French Canadian would actually help me fit better within the French society. On the contrary, not only does it not help me at all, I find it actually makes it harder.

Let’s just say it’s a really good thing there are so many flights OUT of France - so I can get a little breathing room! Maybe the next months will be better - we never know what can happen!

What are your thoughts on living in France? Have you ever considering moving to France? Have you ever been or are you an expat?

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55 Responses to “The Ups and Downs of Living in France”

  1. melodie

    21. Nov, 2011

    Je pense que tu résumes bien le problème dans ton dernier paragraphe. On pense que parce qu’on parle français et qu’on connaît déjà la France, ça va mieux aller, mais c’est souvent l’inverse qui se produit. Je pense que les Américains ou autres expats là-bas qui ne comprennent pas tout ce qui se passe ni les subtilités s’en tirent mieux.

    Reply to this comment
  2. The World of Deej

    21. Nov, 2011

    I’m pretty sure #1 on both of my lists would also have been the same. Cheap wine & cheese, and rudeness. Thankfully, one can help deal with the other:)

    Reply to this comment
  3. Christine

    21. Nov, 2011

    As soon as I read your one about the French being rude, one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite professors popped into my mind: “it’s not wrong, it’s not right, it just is.” The French aren’t being rude to you because you’re Canadian or even because they want to be mean: they just have a different way of acting and a different standard of “niceness” in their culture. It can definitely be a bit difficult to adjust to at times, but once I just decided to accept that it was a difference that wasn’t going anywhere-and something that I could actually chuckle at because their approach was just so different to mine-it was much easier to live in France! Totally miss the cheap wine and cheese, public holidays (“les ponts!”) and European location though :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      21. Nov, 2011

      Thank you so much for your comment, Christine! I know I should have gotten used to it and just gotten it over with by now, but somehow it always gets me whenever they act rude - or what I consider to be rude. It might not be targeted at my French-Canadian accent but sometimes I can’t help but take it personal :-) Might have to follow your suggestions, though!

      Reply to this comment
    • Ross Corbett

      29. Nov, 2011

      Being friendly is a universal thing and should be expected.

      There is no excuse for being rude and you should never just brush it off as being a ‘French’ thing.

      It is because of this that they have such a terrible reputation.

      I do like France very much indeed but I’m not so keen on the French people :)

      Reply to this comment
      • Antoine

        29. Nov, 2011

        Ohhhh I feel so sorry when I hear this. I always think “why do tourists never bump into me for help, I love to help” ! But I must agree, especially in Paris, my fellow Frenchmen are arrogant and rude. Some of it can be explained by the poor level of english, a defense mecanism tells them to be rude in order not to look weak. Then again, I’ve lived in Japan, nobody spoke english but they were all trying to help. Cultures !

        Outside of Paris, in small villages, the French people are nice though, I guarantee it ! :)

        sorry again !

        Reply to this comment
        • Marie

          29. Nov, 2011

          Why haven’t I never bumped into you? You might have made my stays in Paris much more enjoyable :-P It seems that destiny has something against me, because all my friends have had great experiences in France… but somehow I always seem to bump into the angry/pissed people.

          I never thought about the defense mechanism though - might be a good explanation! Merci pour le commentaire.

          Reply to this comment
      • Marie

        29. Nov, 2011

        My point exactly - I don’t understand how it HAS to be an effort for them to be nice! It should be natural to be kind to people. But hey, at the end of the day, it’s nothing a glass of wine can’t help ;-)

        Reply to this comment
      • lula12

        24. Sep, 2014

        Thank you !!

        Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Yes, even though it’s not always easy on a daily basis, les ponts, the wine and the cheeses totally make up for everything, including the bad TV and the rudeness! ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  4. Annie

    22. Nov, 2011

    A lot of these are similar greats and gripes when it comes to living in Italy. And I think that you are absolutely right that every expat questions their choices. Some time you just have those days.

    i remember when I was in Italy, I always thought, “things will be so much easier when we move to Sydney” because of language and a general understanding of how the country runs. Now there are days when I think, it was so much easier living in Italy! Life gets comfortable in different places and sometimes you need to be far away to reflect on it.

    As for you, I think you are right, you just never know! In the meantime try not to let the rude people get to you (trust me, I STRUGGLE with rude people) because you’re living and amazing life!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      That’s what I keep telling myself - I have an amazing life and I should just be thankful for the chance I have. But some days… argh! :-P

      Reply to this comment
  5. Linda Jenkins

    22. Nov, 2011

    Hi, I havent lived in France, but have visited the Languedoc region. I found the people friendly. Not all of them, there was a very rude wine merchant, and his wine was not even that good. Arrogant shall I say. Most of the people I met were in the tourism industry so they are required to be friendly. I did live in Mont Tremblant Quebec and found the people there very friendly… It was a beautiful place.

    Reply to this comment
  6. We only spent a couple weeks in France, but we were quite startled by the rudeness. I know there are different standards of niceness, but I was so surprised when my smile would be met with a glare.

    There’s a lot I would forgive for cheap wine and cheese, though!

    Reply to this comment
  7. I definitely have some opinions after living in Buenos Aires for 5 months. I was happy to take the good with the bad.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Definitely happy to take the good with the bad too - but some days are just harder to get through.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Ah, the wine and the cheese…they almost makes up for everything. The rudeness does take some getting used to. I haven’t lived there but France keeps me coming back time and again.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Anthony

    27. Nov, 2011

    Thanks for this. I’m looking to learn a language next year (Hate being THAT British guy, who only knows his mother tongue) and I am considering French, or Spanish.

    Which ever language I choose I’ll move to the country for a bit, this has given me food for thought. Cheap wine Vs rude people - quite a tough paradox!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      I strongly encurage you to learn another language - being bilingual (French/English for me), or even trilingual (Spanish in the process), is incredibly useful abroad. And it allows me to understand parts of Italian and Portuguese even though I don’t speak it!

      Worst case, you just drink your sorrow off at night with cheap wine… ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  10. Julie P

    28. Nov, 2011

    Having lived in France myself, I wouldn’t have said it better. Being an expat anywhere in the world brings ups and downs experience, but France is kind of unique in lots of ways, good AND bad :) It’s also true that, as French Canadians, we sometimes make the huge mistake of thinking it’s going to be easy to adjust to French lifestyle. Oh no. But that’s the beauty of it, right? That’s what we call experiencing something. Wine is always good to cure bad days and rude people.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Liv

    29. Nov, 2011

    Great post - I love hearing both the good and the bad about different places. Expats definitely have interesting views on such things. I wrote something similar about expat life in general: Expat life - the good, the bad and the ugly http://www.theworldswaiting.com/2011/08/expat-life-good-bad-and-ugly.html

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Good points in your post! It’s not always easy to be an expat, the roallercoaster feeling is definitely there!

      Reply to this comment
  12. Lily

    29. Nov, 2011

    Very interesting post and I know what you mean! I considered France a long time ago and every time I thought about the rudeness or the way they respond if you will, it would cancel out the other positives. I think it’s okay to have these moments of doubt. It could be the universe’s way of telling you something is off balance! :-)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Yes I think it’s sane, as an expat, to wonder about that particular life-choice from time to time, including the location. I think what helps me deal with everything on a daily basis, is that I know there’s an expiry date in 2012. I’m not going to be in France forever! (and I’m sure I’ll miss it when I get back to my hometown…oh the irony!)

      Reply to this comment
  13. Ross Corbett

    29. Nov, 2011

    I love travelling around Europe and France has so much to offer but if there is one country that does worry me a little then it is France.

    Mainly because my French is terrible so it is a really hard work when having to ask for help as people are so unfriendly.

    In Germany I find people will go out of there way to help you which makes it such a nice place to visit.

    France is still wonderful though :)

    Reply to this comment
  14. Shane

    29. Nov, 2011

    I’m an American living in Russia. I feel your pain, but I also wouldn’t trade this for the world. Loving it here and learning to accept the down sides

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      I undestand your point - nothing can’t be perfect, eh? ;-) It’s just that somedays, the downsides are harder to deal with.

      Reply to this comment
  15. James Cook

    03. Dec, 2011

    I think that France is one of the counties I could live in quite easily I love it there.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Laurence

    02. Jan, 2012

    Having just moved to France, I can definitely agree on the bureaucracy point. They love their paperwork here!

    Reply to this comment
  17. Katy

    10. Jan, 2012

    I love this post - it completely rings true for me. I spent a semester studying abroad in France and while I loved the cheese, wine and fabulous landscapes, the bureacracy reduced me to tears and as a Brit, I always felt like I wasn’t really welcome there. I was lucky to leave just before a huge strike started, meaning that the university was closed for much of the second semester. I spent the next five months in Spain and had a truly wonderful time - with great food and drink, great landscapes AND warm and friendly people.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      25. Jan, 2012

      Same here - it’s the unwelcoming feeling that’s worst. They’re so scared to be invaded by the rest of the world that they’d rather shut down completely! Which is ironic considering the number of countries colonised by France!

      Reply to this comment
  18. Liz

    14. Jan, 2012

    I’m an expat in Spain, and a lot of your likes and dislikes are very similar to mine. It’s nice to know that the bureaucracy thing is stressing someone else out as well. But that’s what we have the cheap wine for!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      25. Jan, 2012

      Thank God for the cheap wine, it makes me forget all about the bad stuff ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  19. Edward Pascoe

    18. Feb, 2012

    Marie, You are not wrong, your problems pale into insignificance compared to ours - basically after we agreed to by the house and went back to England a local blacksmiths built illegally some new units which totally change the character of our house and we would not have bought it like this. They are now 10 metres away the prevailing wind brings all smoke, paint, acetone and toluene onto our house. Impossible to rent, sell live we have had to abandon it. It was obviously a set up with the previous seller not to do anything to degenerate the quarter. Needless to say we have been covered in paint and noise and both our cars paint has dissolved. Naturally when we complained it went down like a ton of balloons although the court of Nice has found in our favour, they just won’t knock the place down. I have been beaten up on several occasions and someone has ruined the house drainiage ( video on site) Being a foreigner hasn’t got me anywhere inspite of my degree level French. Due to the hiuge amounts of coughing, I developed a slipped disc due the exertions involved, and am awaiting an operation I can no longer swim and my left arm and hand is numb /tingling, with jaw problems aswell. The sites dontmovetoFrance.co.uk exhibit many of your fears and our own site hideousfrance.com is designed to put people off coming to France. The French are lawless, uncivilised, (rude as you say) and think the world revolves around themselves. It is a great shame many sare sitting on goldmines as a result of property increases brought about as a result of us paying their prices. I have already put several people off buying in France, and latest figures suggest 100,000 people coming back every year, whilst only 30,000 go out. This has meant a dearth of properties on the market.

    Reply to this comment
    • coco13

      24. Sep, 2014

      “The French are lawless, uncivilised, (rude as you say) and think the world revolves around themselves.” I’m french and I’m not like that sorry…. Yeah some french are really rude that’s true, but not all french people..

      When I go to an other country I meet a lot of rude people too, it’s not something that all french people have inside them

      To say “The french are..” is rascist

      Reply to this comment
  20. I hear you on the bureaucracy! It seems like quite the nightmare! It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl to move to France but I may have to settle for a country home when I’m older ; ) P.S: Will check out Enquêtes d’actions!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      When you’re expecting the long and complicated paperwork, maybe it makes the whole process easier to digest? I don’t know. But for us Canadians, it’s worth doing it - after 5 years you can get a French passport!

      Reply to this comment
      • Paperotta

        21. Nov, 2012

        The REASON employers in the UK are now eclasieply leery of foreigners is precisely because of the change in govt policy. The last decade eclasieply saw a huge rise in the number of foreigners getting employment in the UK. So I wouldn’t characterize UK employers as less keen on foreigners than US ones.Besides, most of the UK nationals I know trying to get jobs are having no lucks. I think it’s the economy stupid

        Reply to this comment
  21. Diane

    22. May, 2012

    Great post! I agree and can sympathize. I’ve been waiting months for my carte vitale and keep getting the run around. Sigh….gotta love the bureaucracy!

    Reply to this comment
  22. Albert Toledo

    06. Nov, 2012

    I*’m a Spaniard who has lived in New York and Paris, due to professional matters. I’m a chameleon, when it refers to interactions with other cultures, and have never experienced much rudeness by the French or even the famed “New Yorkian”. Quite honestly, my first trip to France was fun, I learned to apologize for my “funny” French, from the onset, and Parisians were amused and even helpful with my serious intent to make myself understood. I never compared life in Spain to life in their countries, and always told them, truthfully, I absolutely loved their culture.
    Funny thing is: I was told, by several Parisians, French Canadians had a chip on their shoulders and thought life in Canada was the “center of the universe”. Goes to show you how touchy different cultures are with each other’s customs.

    Reply to this comment
  23. AATravel

    25. Jan, 2014

    All countries have good and bad parts, but when you live in a place with 400 types of cheese and some incredible wine…who cares about anything else :).

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      27. Jan, 2014

      I agree, sometimes the wine and cheese make up for the bureaucracy ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  24. James

    03. Apr, 2014

    So funny, because I live in France I thought all French people were rude and I started to think all American’s are friendly. Just spent 10 days in the States and was AMAZED that their are actually quite a few of my own countrypeople who are RUDE! Funny how we tend to exaggerate our own positives and forget our own negatives.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      04. Apr, 2014

      I think think misunderstand European friendliness. It’s not the same type that we find in the US or in Canada, it takes a little longer for people to be extra nice to strangers in Europe. But what doesn’t change, though, is that there are rude people and assholes everywhere! They truly know no border.

      Reply to this comment
  25. Philip

    11. May, 2014

    You can always try living as an expat in Germany, and learn things like having an irrational dislike of everything in the former DDR, and how having someone in an Audi 10 cm from your rear bumper adds excitement to driving on the autobahn.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      12. May, 2014

      I feel like there’s irony to this comment, am I right? :-)

      Reply to this comment

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