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Special Edition: The Dream vs the Reality

Volume XXI, Issue 8

A charming village house in a small French town

Most of our clients come to us relating their dreams to live in France and/or own their own homes. What’s in their minds is not always the reality. In fact, it’s more often than not that their dreams are exactly that—dreams of how they want to see their lives, but not how their future actually will play out.

This is absolutely normal. The future is a completely illusory thing. It never exists, and never will, except for 100 percent in our imaginations. Our imaginations can be quite vivid and creative and can either be negative (leading to fear) or positive (often unreachable).

Black and white photo by Erica Simone depecting a woman staring at a large chateau in France

(Photo by Erica Simone)

For example, when you went to school to learn your trade or craft (doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.), didn’t you have a completely different idea about what your job actually turned out to be? I know mine did. From the age of seven, I wanted to be a fashion designer. It seemed like such a glamorous profession. So, I went to fashion design school and learned the trade. I liked school well enough and did well, but when I got my first job making patterns in a clothing factory, it was so not like what I had in my mind. I quit and never returned to fashion design. (Sad, but true.)

The same happens after people travel around France on vacation, fall in love with France and its indisputable charm and then imagine themselves living in a house in a quaint village, or an apartment in a classic Haussmannian building in Paris or a stone farmhouse in the countryside adorned by beautiful flowers. The picture is perfect…at least in their minds.
What I do during our consultations is bring it down to reality. Very often, and as I wrote, more often that not, the direction they started out in takes a sharp turn and heads in another direction. That’s because they hadn’t necessarily considered the consequences of their ideas. Let me explain.

A house in the French countryside

Photo of a Haussmannian style building in Paris

Yes, there’s a lot of France to love…but you have to determine what location checks off all or most of the boxes. Maybe you hadn’t even thought about those “boxes?” The following are the elements I think are very important to consider when deciding where you want to live in France:

* A thriving American community—ease of making friends

You might not think you want to associate necessarily with other Americans. You have it in your mind that you’ll integrate into French society and make tons of French friends and you don’t really care about being a part of the expatriate community.

Wrong. First of all, integrating into the French community is very difficult. They have their friends and family and aren’t interested in bringing you into their lives. The French friends you will make are more likely going to be those who have lived Stateside for sometime, speak English, or very open to getting to know foreigners. Meanwhile, the Americans you meet in France are not like the Americans you know who stayed in the U.S. and thought you were nuts to leave! The Americans you meet in France are just like you. They share in all of the same trials and tribulations and will be open to commiserating with you as well as assisting you through the tough parts and over the hurdles. It will be very, very easy to make friends and those new friends will be your lifeline in navigating this very different culture. Don’t underestimate the power they hold in making or breaking your experience in France.

* Fast and easy access to transportation—international airport, TGV hub, local transport

The Nice/Cote d'Azur airport main terminal

This is a biggie, along with the next one on the list, the necessity or not of having a car at your disposal. If you intend on coming and staying put in one place with no desire to travel or participate in events, then maybe you don’t need good transport. You can just stay at home all by yourself if that’s what you want, but those who have great transportation cherish having it.

Americans don’t know what life is like without a car, because there are very few places in the U.S. where one can exist without one (New York City and where else, really?). So, we just naturally think that living in our little bubbles is the way life is. But, that’s not true. If you live in a place with good pubic transportation, where owning and operating a car is not necessary, nor desirable, you will 1) save a ton of money (about $10,000 a year), 2) get a lot of good exercise (walking instead of riding), 3) be completely free to go where you want when you want without having to go back to the car, and on top of it all, live a much safer life (driving a car is dangerous!). (Download official information about a driving license here)

Public Tramway in Nice

If you’re near an international airport, then hopping a flight to Venice for the weekend is a piece of cake (I got an airfare of 10.99€ to Venice this month, believe it or not!), making it easy and inexpensive to travel all you want. But, if you are hours away from the airport, then expect to just stay at home and miss out on all of Europe being at your toes! I doubt you moved to France to hibernate!

* Necessity or not of having a car at your disposal (French Driving License)

To obtain a French driving license, you must do so within one year of getting your French visa. It’s difficult and expensive! Some states have a reciprocal agreement with France, making it easier for some: Arkansas, South Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones…and at least you can rent a car and drive around the countryside when it suits you, but not be dependent on it.

Plus, when you and your family don’t need a car, you can all be very independent and go wherever you want when you want, on your own or otherwise. Don’t underestimate the power of public transportation!

* Cost of living—mainly cost of housing, for rent or purchase

The single largest expense that differs from city to city or region to region is housing. Paris is expensive to purchase in, but not to rent, thanks to rent control and other factors that keep the rental rates much lower than they should be. Nice is half as expensive as Paris in which to make a purchase, but rents are not half—about two-thirds to three-quarters of Paris’ rents. Other parts of France can be even much less expensive than these two cities, but you may make up the savings by spending it on a car and gasoline! So, be careful!

* Access to good healthcare and hospitals

Good healthcare and hospitals may be very important to you based on your health status and age. You’ll find the best in the cities, of course.

* Business opportunities or cultural activities

Maybe you don’t care about business, but what about cultural activities? How about dining out? Or even shopping? If you’re in a place where these things don’t actually exist, then what will you do? Twiddle your thumbs? Be bored or lonely? Think about these things when you imagine yourself in the countryside!

* Language level—do you need or want to speak French?

The Alliance Francaise building with banner sign in Paris

When you’re in the cities, you won’t need to worry so much about speaking perfect French. And that can be the most important element of all!

So, think again before you turn that dream into a reality, because it could end up your worst nightmare…if you don’t give it a good reality check. We can help you bring it all into focus!

A bientôt,

Adrian Leeds driving in a carAdrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group®

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P.S. We were among the first expat real estate agencies to provide services for North Americans seeking to move to France or invest in French property. We have years of experience as well as relationships with top industry experts to help you with everything related to French property. Please visit our Services page for the full range of assistance we’re able to provide.


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