Expatriate’s story from Sue, living in France.
My Life In France
Myself and my family have lived in France for three years now and enjoy our life here. We had often talked about retiring to France and were tentatively looking for another home to purchase across the English Channel. We did not have any plans to re-locate the family at that time. However, due to certain circumstances, we had the opportunity to move ourselves to France permanently and experience a new way of life. So we did!.
When we were considering the move here, I wrote a list of advantages and disadvantages in moving to France. If you love France as we do, then obviously being able to stay for more than just a holiday was a huge benefit. Other advantages for us being that France has a very good educational system and excellent health care too. The only real disadvantage was the language barrier. Most of the family had a little holiday French but this was not sufficient when trying to communicate with Insurance Companies, Banks, etc. In this situation, you will perhaps hear french vocabulary which you have never heard before.
Our move to France happened very quickly and unfortunately we did not have time to learn the language properly before the move. Because of this, we struggled in many situations, such as dealing with local tradesmen etc.
Having said that, often you will find that professional people, can speak a little English. In our experience, only some were willing to speak English and who can blame them, after all, we are in their country and should learn the language. The French are patient, kind people generally and will not snigger at your strange grammar or funny accent. They really just appreciate you making an effort. Many of the challenges we faced on arriving here, choosing suitable schools, sorting out car registrations, opening bank accounts, etc., would have been made easier if we had learnt the language beforehand.
After settling into our new home, making friends was another challenge and we decided to hold a house warming party and invite some of the locals. Nothing formal, just aperitifs and a few snacks. Out of that little gathering, we made some close friends and socialise with them regularly. We have found the people to be very welcoming and always offering help where they can.
When it came to choosing suitable schools, we visited the local schools first. One of our children is special needs and this was going to prove to be more difficult as more concentrated one-to-one support was needed. Back in England we had fought for extra support and help from the local authorities and we were prepared for yet another difficult time here. However, to our delight and amazement, things went very differently.
At the first meeting with the Head Teacher she was happy to speak English and was more than helpful. She listened to our concerns and immediately got the ball rolling to help our child. Extra tuition was given several times a week after school in order for our special needs child to grasp the language. It worked and with a lot of focused effort she too has settled in to school and is doing very well.
Back to the excellent health care, coming here has literally improved my health. For many years, I was mis-diagnosed and was beginning to believe I would have to get used to feeling unwell all of the time. This all changed on just a routine visit to a local Doctor here. The correct blood tests were taken, a diagnosis followed immediately and I commenced medication that I should have had years ago. I hear similar stories to this one all the time.
Anyway, to sum up, we got through the first months of doubt which can happen when you are away from everything that seems familiar and family and friends you have left behind. It can be very daunting to start all over again. But we did and we took time to settle in and adjust to this new way of life. I remember how frustrating we would get to find that most shops and La Poste (Post Office) close for a two hour or so lunch. But, now we look forward to this special time to really enjoy eating together and catch up on the day. We now find ourselves eagerly checking our watches for midday.
If you are intending to move to France and have enough time, learn as much of the language as you can before you leave. It will save you being too stressed at a later date. Don’t forget to visit the local Mairie (Town Hall). to meet the local Mayor. He is an important and influential person in the community. The Mairie will also be a useful source for local information. And a place where social events are held, great for meeting the locals and making some friends.
The bureaucracy in France is much worse than in England. So take many copies of all legal documents and if you send anything official in the post, it’s a good idea to send it recommondee, (recorded delivery) to ensure it has been received at the other end. If you are having renovation work done on your new home, do shop around for quotes, perhaps more than you would in England. We noticed that we were being charged more for renovation works and repairs than our french friends were. When we questioned this, we were told that the some of the French tradesmen think we have more money to spend. This myth originating from the fact that the English pay much less for properties out in France. Who knows the real reason!.
For our first years here, I tried to learn the language through books and through my children. Who now could chatter away in French very easily. But, realistically, at the end of a school day, they were not willing to try to teach me French. So I decided to learn properly through a French Teacher at home over the telephone.
I have been leaning French for some months now with my Teacher Celine and I have found it enjoyable and interesting. I look forward to her regular phone calls and although she makes me work, we also have a laugh too and she makes the lessons fun. I am most grateful to her and feel more confident to use the language I have learnt.