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Don’t Let Your Dream Turn into Your Nightmare

At the Musée de l'Orangerie
At the Musée de l'Orangerie

Have you seen this article in the New York Post? How an American couple’s dream of ex-pat Paris life became a grande nightmare.

First off, let me tell you that this couple, KJ and Tony, were NOT our clients! This is not to say that it doesn’t happen that newcomers to France can become disillusioned. They can and they do. The toughest things to overcome when moving to France are not the administrative hurdles, but the cultural crossings for which an American might not be prepared.

KJ and Tony from the New York Post article

French of Foe/ by Polly PlattI moved here myself unprepared for what we were to experience. There wasn’t a “me” at the time to help us through the transition or warn us of the vast cultural divide between the French and us North Americans. All we had at the time was Polly Platt’s French or Foe at our side and the other Americans we met at Anglophone organizations, such as WICE. We had to figure it all out for ourselves, and it took years—not days or weeks or even months—years.

I speak to people wishing to move to France every single day. After more than 28 years I now know what it takes to go from a North American “default mode” to understanding French culture and fitting into it comfortably. With every consultation, not only do we talk about the practical aspects of making the move, but the emotional challenges one is going to face.

KJ and Tony set themselves up for failure, not only because they didn’t do their homework to prepare themselves for the challenges of fitting into French life, but mainly because they came to France with “expectations.” They had an idyllic, rose-colored glasses view on what life was going to be like in Paris…a kind of “Emily in Paris“…as if Emily’s beautiful wardrobe is what everyone on the streets of the City of Light is wearing (ha, ha, ha—doesn’t everyone wear designer clothing and mile-high heels on the cobblestones?), or that “chambre de bonne” apartment she lives in is for real (a real servant’s quarter is only about eight square meters in size!). This is what they expected, but that’s not what happened, so they ended up disappointed.

Promotional shot of Emily in Paris

Okay, Lesson Number One is to take the word “expectations” out of your vocabulary and replace it with the word “hopes.” This way, you will never be disappointed. I know it’s hard, but it’s absolutely possible. I have done this myself and can attest to being a much happier person in general by doing a lot less “judging” and a lot more “accepting” of things as just what they are, rather than what I expected them to be.

Lesson Number Two is to do your homework. Read as much as you can, and watch videos, or participate in Webinars—the ones that talk about French culture so you can be as prepared as possible.

Some of the best books about crossing the cultural divide were written by Polly Platt (may she rest in peace), Harriet Welty Rochefort, Janet Hulstrand and a Canadian couple, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. There are tons, but these are a good start.

Demystifying the French, a Webinar sponsored by the Fédération des Alliances Françaises USA

Demystifying the French, a Webinar sponsored by the Fédération des Alliances Françaises USA

For videos, you might want to check our own YouTube channel! We have dozens of videos that can enlighten you, especially the ones dealing specifically with the cultural divide, but others that inform you on what it takes to make the move.

And if you participate in our events, live or on Zoom, you’ll learn even more.

We’ve had a handful of clients over the years give up on their move to France. Some gave up before they even got on the flight to France. Others left like KJ and Tony because, for one reason or another, life in France didn’t suit them. But it’s rare…very rare for our clients to not be prepared for what’s in store for them. If you read our Nouvellettres®, then you know I tell it like it is and don’t mince my words during our client consultations, either. But, at the same time, I will encourage those who are stricken with anxiety about the move to release their fears by living more in the present moment (i.e. Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now).

Whatever you do, don’t do what KJ and Tony did. Do your homework. And while you’re at it, take “expectations” out of your vocabulary. Read The Power of Now and then, make a date with me because I’ll give you the down-and-dirty truth about life in France…the plusses, the minuses, and how much better your life can and will be by embracing it fully…here in France!


Henri Matisse is one of my favorite artists. I designed my Nice apartment in “Matissian” style. I named it “Le Matisse,” the cactus which grows tall there is named “Henri-le-Cactus” and his works (in poster form, of course) adorn the walls.

Matisse print hanging in Adrian Leeds' apartment in nice

Exhibitions on Matisse are abundant and I try to attend every single one. Among those that have dealt with the different periods of his career, very few have focused specifically on the 1930s like this one: “Matisse. Cahiers d’art, le tournant des années 1930” currently at the Musée de l’Orangerie, on until May 29th.

Poster for the Matisse exhibit at the Orangerie

Matisse intentionally took a break from creating in 1930 and left France to travel to Tahiti, marking a turning point in his career. The exhibition revisits this pivotal decade through the lens of “Cahiers d’Art,” a prominent avant-garde magazine at the time. As a mouthpiece for international modernism and contemporary aesthetic trends, the magazine featured Matisse’s production during the interwar period, highlighting his pre-1916 paintings, including the most radical ones, and reporting on his ongoing work. Articles and reproductions of Matisse’s art helped reignite his rivalry with Picasso.

The moment we entered the exhibition, I was struck by a series of paintings of women as “odalisques”—a word meaning a female slave or concubine in a harem, and also, an exotic, sexually attractive woman. They were signature subjects of Matisse, and one of them hangs over my dining room table at Le Matisse.

Matisse's Odalisque at Le Matisse

Matisse’s Odalisque at Le Matisse

Don’t miss this exhibition if you can help it! You’ll fall even more in love with Matisse than you were…like I did.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds at the Orangerie, next to Matisse, wearing Matissian colors!Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian at the Orangerie, next to Matisse, wearing Matissian colors!

P.S. Are you considering retirement in France? Don’t do it lightly. Let us help you make the smartest decisions to ensure you create the best retirement plan you can. We can expertly advise you on a variety of topics you’ll need to consider. Contact us to learn more.



  1. Anna Sweeney Crockett on April 17, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    Love your Novellettres!
    Just saw the Elliot Erwitt exhibit today. Fantastic! I was smiling and laughing throughout! Dior Musee also wonderful!
    Here for two more days, L’Orangerie is my favorite, since I was a little girl and it was in the old building. I love Tahiti and Matisse so added bonus. Thanks again for keeping us all in the know!

    • Adrian Leeds Group on May 3, 2023 at 11:46 am

      Thank so much!

  2. Phyllis on April 17, 2023 at 1:46 pm

    I did read the article on the American couple’s grande nightmare and then looked at a few of their youtube videos. They were incredibly naive. Didn’t even think of asking if their apartment building had an elevator and just “assumed” that it did. Really? That alone told me they didn’t do their homework. I found their videos boring. Don’t know what warrants all this attention and the article in the Post.

  3. Julie W. on April 19, 2023 at 10:35 am

    I’d like to clarify that the article in the Post was written as click bait by the author, and not representative of their true thoughts and experiences in France, based on KJ and Tony’s own YouTube blog ‘KJ and Tony Move to France’, and their disclaimer of the article’s slant, per the blog. In contrast, they loved, loved, loved Paris, and did not have a bad experience with French people. In fact, they still plan to move to France now that KJ has had her knee surgery.

    I had been following their blog before we went to visit our new Nice apartment in February (purchased and renovated with the help of the amazing Adrian Leeds team!), and had arranged to meet KJ and Tony in Nice since their visit coincided with ours. Alas, it was not to be as KJ had already returned to the US.

    Could they have planned for their move better? Yes, as they themselves admit. But they did not have the stereotypical bad French experience depicted in the article, and fully plan to continue working on a future move to France. Perhaps they will reach out to Adrian for guidance this time!

    • Adrian Leeds Group on May 3, 2023 at 11:45 am

      As you may have read, we’re in touch with them!

  4. Craig Ziegler on April 20, 2023 at 8:44 am

    Thanks for your description of this ill-fated move, Adrian. It is inconceivable to me how someone could make the decision to pick up and move to another country with only the information these people had. It would take me years of study to determine if such a move would be feasible (and I speak French!). They could have lived on a tourist visa for 90 days or even a 180-day visa to help them make their decision, but I guess they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Dommage…

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