Seventeen Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Moved to France
Before leaving for Nice, while cleaning out files, I came across a presentation I had written and given in 2007 to students of the International Affairs and the Public Sphere Program of the University of Florida’s Paris Research Center at Reid Hall in Paris. The title: Seventeen Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Moved to Paris…Now, 12 years later, looking back on those 17 things, gets me to wondering if today those 17 things are the same or has my point of view about France matured? And if so, how?
You may want to read the original article, which is quite in-depth, too, so it’s here in this pdf document.
1. That Maybe I Didn’t Need a Long-Stay Visa
At the time of the article, it was a whole lot easier to get away with not having legal residency in France. They weren’t watching the borders so closely then, so if yo stayed past your 90 days on the visa waiver program, it wasn’t much of a big deal. Things have changed and while at one time I might have suggested being a bit “creative” about your time spent in France, today I wouldn’t take the risk.
So, if you’re thinking of moving to France for more than 90 days. Don’t screw around. We can help you strategize your move over, but for visa purposes, ask the French consulate for advice or hire an immigration attorney.
2. How to Successfully Manage the Bureaucracy at The Préfecture
Boy, can I tell stories of experiences at the Préfecture getting my visa renewed year after year after year (!), for 10 years until they finally granted a 10-year Carte de Résident, that has now been renewed once, too. An application for citizenship sits in my desk drawer just waiting to be completed and turned in to immigration attorneys who I paid dearly for the privilege of doing nothing (since I’ve been so lax on getting this accomplished).
The time it takes to amass the necessary documentation is overwhelming for a full-time working person and so it sits, untouched, getting old and out-of-date while my Carte de Résident just hangs in there and allows me to stay in France.
I don’t really NEED the citizenship to happily residing in France, but when Donald Trump was elected and Marine Le Pen was looking hopeful as President of France, it seemed like the necessary precaution to avoid deportation from France just because Mme. Le Pen didn’t like my religious or ethnic background and neither did Mr. Trump. (BTW, one reason she lost the election in France is thanks to Donald — the French were able to see the folly in electing a populist politician.)
3. How to Embrace Your Native Community
This is very much true today. We all move here thinking we’re going to integrate and make friends with the French and then it hits us in the face that basically they don’t care about getting to know us. They have enough of their own family and friends. Meanwhile, we need “to be birds of a feather” in order to make us feel like a “flock.”
Even with 25 years of speaking French (and still rather pathetically), still mostly my friends are American. It’s not that I try NOT to make French friends. It’s just that they aren’t open to friendships in the same way as Americans and the way the French relate to one another is very different, so naturally we “birds of a feather” form many different “flocks” and create a comfy little “nest” or what one might call “our American or expat community.”
In all honesty, I am personally very comfortable there.
4. How to Make French Friends
The few I have were not made in one day. Long-lasting close relationships with the French must become a part of your life in a slow and sure manner. You have to show them you are worthy of their friendship, over time, but once you do, you’ll have them for life. While my French friends are not abundant, I do treasure them.
5. That I’d Quickly Change My Point of View on Life
When you have the opportunity to see life from a different culture’s point of view, you learn even more about your own in the process. Over time, I have come to accept the best of both and that in itself is very broadening. The way we Americans view money is a very big factor, for example. While the U.S. is all about “the bottom line” and money is the basis for everything (including quality health care), the French don’t even have an expression like that and of course, wealth is seen as something that should be spread to service everyone to make it more affordable so that more people have a higher standard of living, not just the rich.
While in many ways, I am still quite the capitalist, able to see the benefits of the incentives it offers, and how it brings invention to new heights, my political leanings have gone even further left as I’ve enjoyed the benefits of the distribution of social services, such as the health care system, free education, high quality infrastructure and public services. The high taxes I pay I also benefit from and at this stage of living in France, not wanting everyone to prosper just seems downright greedy and inhumaine.
6. How to Ward Off Friends and Relatives I Didn’t Even Know I Had
This is something I still warn all my clients! “Don’t tell anyone you’re moving to Paris and don’t get a spare bedroom in your [Paris] pied-à-terre unless you seriously want to start an unofficial Bed and Breakfast made up of family, friends and long-lost relatives you didn’t even know existed.”
I am a “mi casa es su casa” kind of person and often call my apartments “Hotel Leeds,” but if you’re just beginning a new life in France, don’t interrupt that plan by hosting friends and relatives just because you think you’ll be lonely in the beginning. You won’t be! Let them wait until you’ve had a chance to settle in and then let them know you are not planning on being their tour guide 24/7!
7. What Appliances to Keep and What to Leave Behind
Now that France has everything, leave them ALL behind. You don’t need to schlep anything that is already dual voltage…with the exception of ONE thing: a two-line telephone, that is if you really want one. I found that it was the ONE thing that was impossible to purchase in France. But, now with Amazon and other online merchants, just about anything is possible.
8. What Products to Bring and What to Give Up
It used to be that I brought back American products during my visits to the U.S. Now, I bring over French products to my American friends and family that I’ve discovered are superior: Biafine® for burns and wrinkle-less skin, French parapharmaceutical products that cost a small fortune in the U.S., prescription drugs which are one-tenth the cost in France and some which are not obtainable in the U.S.
What’s still worth schlepping from the States are linens (better and cheaper) and certain office supplies (especially yellow legal pads, file folders, cheap note pads and pens).
9. What Area of the City to Live In
This hasn’t changed for me over the years, either, because I still believe in living dead center of anywhere, even if it’s a village, but in the heart of the town. However, Paris is not the only place to live in France! Nice is giving Paris a serious run for its money and at the end of August when I must return to Paris after having been here six weeks, I am sure to be very sad indeed. I never thought I’d feel that way about the City of Light, but the light and climate next to the Mediterranean Sea is addictive and has become my new “maladie.”
10. How to Lose Puritanical Ideas
When the young, handsome “kinésithérapeute” (physical therapist) said “Take off your top,” I didn’t think twice and did. Then I flashed back to when baring my body was something I wouldn’t have done in front of a doctor or a physical therapist when alone in the room with him…or at least not so easily. The public beaches are rampant with nudity, and it isn’t all pretty! If you’re stuck in puritanical modesty, best get over it, as it won’t last long in France.
11. How to Understand the Metric System
I’ve gotten really good at square meters, kilos and cooking temperatures, clothing sizes, etc., but even after 25 years in France, I still prefer Fahrenheit to Celsius! When they report that Paris will hit 42°C tomorrow, I have to go see what that really means in a temperature that makes sense to me…108°F! Yikes! I am so glad I’m not there in my un-air-conditioned apartment, while I’m enjoying the sea breezes and the constant cool air in Le Matisse (my Nice abode)!
12. How Much I’d Enjoy Not Owning a Car and Saving the Money, Too
I don’t have a car or a French driving license and it’s a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. I can go from Point A to Point B to Point C without having to go back to Point A to retrieve a vehicle that needs to be gassed up and maintained. If I don’t want to take public transportation (which is amazingly efficient in France), I can conjure up a taxi or an Uber in a matter of minutes. All this costs a whole lot less, too.
“AAA has been tracking vehicle ownership costs for decades, and motorists are often surprised when they learn the full scope of the costs involved. In 2016, owning and operating an average sedan costs $8,558 per year, which is equal to $713 per month or 57 cents per mile. If these numbers shock you, then consider that they represent a six-year low and a 1.6 percent drop compared to 2015 – mainly because of lower gasoline prices.” (Source: aaa.com/)
By comparison, a Navigo transportation pass in Paris costs 75.20€ per month or 902.40€ per year, or about 12 percent of the cost of owning and operating a car!
13. How to Survive the Long Dreary Winters
I figured it out: I go to Nice. It’s no joke that “Nice is Nice.” The number of days of sunshine outperforms Paris by three times: 147 days of strong sun in Nice every year compared to 51 days in Paris. The buildings are lower, too, so more sun hits your skin. The skies are bluer since they reflect the sea, not the gray stone of Paris buildings. So, if you want to survive the long, dreary winters, go south!
14. That I’ll Never Change the Frenchman’s Idea of Customer Service But Would Get Used to It and Understand How to Get What I Want In Spite of It
I finally learned that this has to do with the way the French see money. Money is evil, dirty, disgusting and only a useful tool. So, the people who deal with money lack a certain level of self-respect and therefore don’t really want to show you that they care about money, hence the crummy customer service. In addition, the government sees getting their share of it as more important than anything a merchant might do to earn more of it, so administrative requirements make it near to impossible to put the customer first, or ahead of the Fisc (the French IRS).
Next time you collide with poor customer service, consider that it might not be their fault! And if you approach it that way, by understanding what a sales person might have to go through to make you happy, you may end up getting treated much better than you imagined!
15. How Much I’d Appreciate QUALITY of Life vs. QUANTITY of Life
You can have your big elaborate houses filled with stuff you don’t need or use, your big fancy cars that make it hard to park, your flashy expensive jewelry designed to show off your wealth, your overflowing closets of clothing because you couldn’t resist the sales, your modern conveniences that use too much electricity and break down often, etc., etc., etc., while you think you have it all! NOT.
We have a quality of life (especially for the price) that is tough to have in the U.S…like tasty fresh home-grown produce and culinary products, beautiful roads and great public transportation, abundance of free cultural public events, inexpensive and easy access to all of Europe, not to mention free high quality health care and education. Ask anyone who has moved here in the last couple of years just why they aren’t coming back! Why give this up for “quantity” when you can have “quality?”
16. That I Could Become So Passionate About Something
It never ceases to amaze me how the French can be so passionate about something that might seem to simple and silly to us. There is a clothing shop on rue Charlot in Paris that sells only blue denim clothing. ONLY. On rue de Sevigné, a tiny shop sells only honey. ONLY. Now, that’s what I call passion. They don’t seem to care that there’s no way to make a living selling ONLY blue denim or honey, but that’s what they care about. And aren’t we glad to see so much emotion about enjoying life not devoted to money?
17. That I’d Never Want to Leave
I came for one year 25 years ago and just stayed. In fact, when I had the opportunity to return to the States, the very thought of it became my nightmare. I don’t see any reason to ever go in reverse, do you?
As I noted in the beginning, you may want to read the entire original article, so do it now.
A la prochaine…
Editor of Parler Nice
(on the beach in Nice)
P.S. A new House Hunters International show is airing THIS FRIDAY! (They just let us know)
“From Vancouver to the Vineyards of Epernay, France,” Details on our HHI page. Don’t miss it, set your DVRs NOW!
And don’t forget another brand new episode, “The Good Life in Paris,” airs Tuesday, August 6th!