An ex-pat's account about what it's like living in France - what is missed and what isn't
When I finally moved and began living full-time in France, after years of talking about it and dreaming about it, there was something of a shocked silence from friends and relatives in the UK for quite some time. Presumably, they didn't think it would ever actually happen, or else they were waiting for me to return, tail between my legs, crying that I couldn't possibly live without fish and chips, or that I didn't like the hot weather (Weather in France)… fat chance of that last one! Gradually, however, they began to realise that living in France wasn't a fad, I was here to stay, and the questioning began. Inevitably, it would go something like this…
"So, what's it really like then, living in France?" Just one simple question, but one that covers just about everything. I thought about it long and hard before I began to answer. What did these people really want to know about living in France? It seems that high on the agenda was the need to know what they would miss if they too made the move and began living in France. What is it, exactly, that Brits find it hardest to be parted from, that they had in abundance back in good old Blighty? There are numerous possible answers, and some of them are deeply personal and therefore not appropriate here.
However, I think number one on the list has to be how difficult it is to be parted from friends and relatives when you're living in France. It is difficult, of course it is. When you are living in France away from your loved ones, you cease to be a part of each other's everyday lives, no matter how diligently you call each other on the telephone, or chat on the internet, or write long letters. If there is a crisis, by living in France you cannot instantly be at each other's side, and it can be painful to know that others are taking your place to provide comfort and support. I left behind two grown up sons, and there can be no denying that I do miss being geographically close to them.
There is an upside though to living in France. They come to visit probably more than they would have had I lived in England, as the south of France is quite a good place to take a little holiday, especially when the food and accommodation (not to mention the taxi from the airport) is free! Air travel is becoming so cheap and easy with the advent and rapid growth of budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, that living in France is becoming an easy option. France is also well known for its high speed train network, the TGV system, which makes travel by rail from England a realistic option to flying. (French Connections.)
Telephone calls are getting cheaper all the time for those living in France, with excellent deals offered by many companies operating in France on calls to and even from the UK. (Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France.) Then there is Skype, which offers free calls over an internet connection, and there are web cams, speakerphones and all sorts of hi-tech ways of keeping in touch. So, yes, you will miss friends and family living in France, but I haven't found it to be the problem that people think it may be. When the first grandchildren arrive I may feel differently, of course, but my husband sweetly remarks that at least our children won't be able to dump the grandchildren on us every weekend, as we did to his parents!
What else then can the question of what it's really like mean? What else do I miss living here? After people would normally come animals, but as my friends and family well know I took all mine with me, so that's not the case. It's quite straightforward transporting animals to France; I brought horses, dogs, cats, guinea pigs and a rabbit! (Travelling to France with Pets.)
Foodstuffs which aren't available in France, perhaps? Apart from the occasional time when I have been caught out trying to follow a recipe from an English cookbook, there is very little that isn't available here, at least at a price. Even Marmite, that last bastion of English taste, is commonly available on the "produits etrangères" shelves of many French supermarkets, and certainly can be found in the "English Shops" which are mushrooming all over France in the areas such as the Dordogne (Dordogne Property Guide) or anywhere the English congregate.
Even supposing you are unable to locate the product you need in French shops, chances are someone you know will be travelling to France from the UK shortly, who can be persuaded to find room in their luggage for a jar or two! In general, the quality of the food in France is so good anyway that you will soon forget that there ever was another way of eating. (Buying and cooking French food.)
Fish and chips? Friday night take away curry? Fish and chips taste wonderful if you only eat them on your occasional trips back to the UK, and it's much better for your health and waistline that way too! As for the curry… all the major towns and cities in France seem to have a pretty eclectic assortment of restaurants and cuisines now, so chances are you will find somewhere to eat that Friday night curry, even if you can't have it delivered to your door.
The question of culture shock gives rise to much speculation. How different is the lifestyle here in France? Of course, the lifestyle to which you are accustomed can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the area you lived in the UK, your wealth and social status, your age and probably many others too. However, these variables notwithstanding, the culture and lifestyle is likely to be quite different in France.
Speaking from personal experience, I have found that my social life is based on family activities living in France, whereas in the UK my husband and I tended to go out as a couple leaving the teenagers at home to do whatever teenagers do. (Put like that, at least if they are with me I know what they are up to!) Here, on a typical weekend I will relax at home with a barbecue or family meal on Friday evening; take a trip to a nearby town for a shopping spree with my daughter on a Saturday morning; ride my horse with a friend on Saturday afternoon while my husband and son or daughter go out on their motorbikes; meet friends with their families at a local restaurant on Saturday evening; then spend Sunday at a nearby lake with the family, dogs and friends learning to windsurf, or sail. (French Properties with Lakes.) On Sunday evening, if feeling energetic, we may attend a local fête, or perhaps potter around a night market in the summer season.
In England I would probably have spent Friday night watching TV while my husband was at the pub, Saturday shopping and cooking for the week ahead, then going to a pub for a bar meal with my husband, and Sunday preparing and cooking a roast dinner.
Do I miss the life in England? Truthfully, not a lot… I love the outdoorsy way of living in France, even in the winter we are more likely to be skiing (Ski Chalets for Sale in France) than sitting in the house. I also like the family-based lifestyle in France; it seems to foster healthier relationships and habits among teenagers and certainly encourages sporting excellence (Sport in France) and personal development. Occasionally I miss a good old English pub, with a big log fire and Cumberland sausage on the menu… but then, I go back to England from time to time and can indulge myself on holiday!
In the interests of research, I put the question to friends here. "What do you miss about living in England?" I collated the answers and discovered three recurring themes, which are documented below.
Number one was indisputably Marks and Spencer… and to be specific, from the women, we miss Marks and Spencer's undies! France may be the home of sexy lingerie, but Marks and Spencer reigns supreme with the… how shall I put it... more generously built English ladies!
Next, we miss being able to go to a disco that begins at 10 pm… the nightclubs and discos here only seem to get going around two am, when most of us "over thirties" want to be going home to bed!
At number three came the more serious issue of being able to explain ourselves properly and clearly to the doctor, dentist or chemist. This is, of course, a language issue, and doesn't apply to those whose French is up to the job. There is usually some degree of translation help available, but it's not quite the same when you are upset, frightened or in pain. (Learning to speak French - Misadventures in a Foreign Tongue.)
Some of the issues raised give pause for thought, but in general we are all agreed, it isn't too difficult. There are things we miss, there are things that take a little adjustment before they feel comfortable, but what's it really like living in France? Pretty damn good, that's what.
Other articles you may like to read:
Life in France
Introduction to France
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc region of southern France in 2004, dragging with her two teenagers, a husband and a large assortment of animals. Most of the aforementioned are still surviving.
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