Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘United States’

Interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde

People back home often ask about my experience transitioning to expat life in France. As promised, here’s an excerpt from my interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde, with some completely honest answers. I’ve translated the text to English, but you can read the original article in French here.

What do you like about your host country?

I love that the French enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. Stores close super early, which means that the evening for relaxatino and appreciating a good meal. Many families here have lived in the same town for generations, and know their neighbors and local businesses. France has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The culture and climate of each region is very distinct, and France is very accessible for trips to other European countries. 

The climate here is also pretty great – it never gets too hot or too cold between seasons, so the view stays green all year round. I’m originally from Boston, where each season is very distinct. It’s easier here, but I miss snow and hot summers!

What do you dislike ?

I grew up in a matriarcal family. Here in our corner of France, the roles of men and women are still pretty rigid. When we are invited to people’s homes, women generally cook and clean, while men generally repair things and drink. Difficult to avoid speaking out and insulting people ! I also miss local beers, and international dining options.

What are some characteristics of your host country ?

  • Food

I can never stop raving about French food! I love the wine, trying meals with rabbit and duck meat, galettes, and plenty of the traditional desserts. There are many farms in the area where we can buy local food directly, which is a great advantage that most people don’t have in the US.
I guess my only complaint would be that people tend to eat a lot of meat and cheese here, without too many vegetables. For example, in the summer, people enjoy grilled meats with potatoes, and in the winter, it’s raclette.

French restaurants are delicious, but there aren’t too many international restaurant options here. I also miss New England specialties like apple cider, pumpkin foods, and seafood (lobster, clam chowder, and fried clams). And iced coffee ! But honestly, I can’t complain here – we eat very well !

  • Vacation

In the US, the standard vacation time offered by employers is two weeks. Here, I have a minimum of 5 weeks! I use them to visit my family and travel. It’s very easy to travel on the weekends here. We’ve already visited the Mont St. Michel, La Baule, and the Puy du Fou. We’re planning to visit Normandie and Paris. It’s also possible to travel by car or train to Belgium, Germany, England, Switzerland, etc.

  • Healthcare

All of my experiences with the French healthcare system have been very good. I don’t have the carte vitale (French social security card) yet,  but a typical consultation with a doctor, dentist, or vet will cost about 25€. There’s no need to make an appointment (except for specialists),  you see the doctor directly (no assistants) and they are very laid-back and attentive.

  • Driving

If I want to drive in France, I will need to re-take a driving exam, because a MA state licence is not accepted here, and learn to drive manual. For now, I’ve been getting around by bike. But I love that most traffic lights here have been replaced with small rotary/roundabout so that traffic moves more fluidly.

  • Living costs

More expensive in France : gas, highway tolls, food, restaurants (but there’s no need to tip), bank fees, taxes, and clothing.

Less expensive in France : healthcare and medication, wine and liquor (especially in restaurants), rent, and insurance rates (car/home/health).

Salaries tend to be lower overall in France than in the US.

Has your integration been easy ?

My boyfriend, my language ability, and my previous experiences in France have really helped me feel at home here. But with my accent and “weird” American habits, I will always be considered a foreigner here! People have made fun of the way I eat pizza and certain clothing choices.

It’s been difficult to meet locals in France. Most people aleady have close friends, and though everyone is very polite, it is difficult to integrate into a new group. So most of the people I hang out with include my boyfriend’s friends/family, colleagues, and other expats.

How often do you visit your home country ?

Over the past year I’ve lived in France, I had the opportunity to return to the US three times. Once for a wedding and my sister’s graduation, once for work, and once for Christmas. Visiting my family is a big priority for me, and I have plenty of vacation time, but the plane tickets are expensive! I use social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, Google chat) to contact family and friends as often as possible. I also have a landline that I can use to call any US number for free.

Do you intend to return to your home country one day ?

My boyfriend and I decided long before the move that we wanted to permanently live in the US one day. We are both very close with our families, but I think we would still prefer to live in a country with more career opportunities for both of us. So we intend to settle down on the East coast of the US within the next couple of years.

Do you want to share an anecdote ?

Last summer, we took a weekend trip to the beach. We visited La Baule, and I remember that we discussed the cultural differences between France and the US, that we never see American women topless on the beach, especially not with their families ! But in France, it’s completely normal. The next day, we decided to visit the medieval village Guerande and the neighboring salt flats. Afterwards, we saw signs for a beach not too far away. We parked the car and followed a long path through a forest. When we finally arrived at the beach, hot and ready to go for a swim, we realized that we were surrounded by naked people !  There had been no sign, no indication that this was a nudist beach! We immedately turned around and headed back to the car.

Do you have any advice for future expats ?

Thoroughly research your new life before you leave ! Expatriation is a fantastic experience, but there are many challenges. It is difficult to integrate without some knowledge of the language and culture of your host country, and it is often difficult to obtain visas and employment. Best of luck!

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I’d like to thank Sara from Aux Cinq Coins du Monde for reaching out! For other expats who may be interested, the site is always looking for more francophones to share their experiences.

We’re moving!

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To another rental property in the same tiny town. We’re pretty excited about the move, which is scheduled for the end of the month. Let me know if you’d like me to email our updated address! We’ve enjoyed 11 months in our current apartment, but our new place has a garage, guest room, and much better garden. I’ll post more pictures once we’re moved in!

What happened in 2013?

I’ve never been good at making (or keeping) New Years resolutions, so where’s some stuff that happened in 2013:

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Dogsledding!

Started to work at a desk job in France.

Adopted a dog.

Adjusted to rural life and learned to bake.

Took my first business trip.

Visited San Francisco.

Ran my first 5k (for a pie).

Started reading more… and finished Game of Thrones.

New Years and cake!

As an étrangère, an outsider/foreigner, it’s often difficult to distinguish French cultural traditions from those specific to Max’s family or life in the campagne. This was my  fourth New Years Eve spent in France, and it’s honestly one of my favorite holidays here. In my experience, it all boils down to fruits de mer (seafood), friends, family, and alcohol-fueled bétises (shenanigans).

This year, we spent the evening with close friends of Max’s family, Max’s brothers, and a bunch of goofy little kids. Dinner started around 8:30 pm with the apéritif, and ended around 4:30 am with dessert. WAIT… EIGHT HOURS?

If you’re thinking that it sounds excessive and terrible: What are you doing reading this blog?

If you’re thinking that it sounds delicious and fun, but exhausting: Exactly.

So after a few rounds of drinks and appetizers, we broke out the crustaceans. Shellfish in France is a holiday tradition, but with mayonnaise instead of cocktail sauce. But they do order these crazy delicious platters with all kinds of periwinkles, oysters, crayfish, and shrimp… that still have faces.

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In the US, most people leave the TV on to watch the ball drop in Times Square as the clock hits midnight. In France, party hats and favors are distributed, everyone counts down to midnight, and then the party becomes a battle zone. This year, everyone got a paper ball shooter and unleashed tiny paper bullets without mercy for about half an hour. Which, surrounded by small children, alcohol, and glassware, is about as destructive as you can imagine.

Note the blurry pictures. Nothing is simple when you’re being pelted from all directions. Shrimp everywhere.

Around 1:30 am, dinner was still being prepared, and most of us were starting to get pretty tired. We turned to music to get everyone moving again. Like this song about a crazy cow.

This year, the hosts asked me to bring dessert. Specifically, American desserts. Somehow I ended up making 70 tiny cheesecakes, cupcakes, and brownies. Everyone went to bed shortly thereafter, but we were up again the next day for leftovers lunch and another big family dinner.

New Years also kicks off Epiphany season (January 6). Which means that people wish everyone they see bonne année and bonne santé (to the new year and your health) during the entire month. It also means that the galette des rois (kings cake) is served for dessert. Each flaky cake, sprinkled with sugar crystals, comes with a cardboard crown and a fève (small porcelain trinket) cooked inside the cake. The the youngest child present sits under the table and decides who gets each piece of cake. The person who finds the fève in their slice is the king/queen for the day, and needs to buy the next cake. The fève is usually a religious icon or TV character (baby Jesus, a smurf, etc.) My guess is that this cake will never catch on in America, because each cake would need to be covered in warning labels to avoid choking lawsuits. France is a far less litigious nation.

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Joyeuse année!

Well what do you know – it’s 2014! The past several months have been a whirlwind of business trips and vacation in the US, seasonal changes, and holiday festivities on both sides of the Atlantic. Calls and emails with friends usually begin with… “Wait where are you now?”

The region suddenly drifted from crisp sunny autumn to chilly and damp winter. We’re greeted by thick frost and fog on the way to work each morning, and rain almost every afternoon. Our village has been transformed by a massive overhaul of the roads and the addition of new sidewalks on several streets. Without a single blog post since August, I’ve got some serious catching up to do!

Some highlights from upcoming posts:

Business conferences in Boston and Houston
Sightseeing in San Francisco and Washington, DC
American Thanksgiving and Christmas
French marchée de Noel and New Years

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