Living in France: An Expat’s Guidebook

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I’ve been a bit absent from my blog recently. This is in partly due to preparing to move in with my boyfriend at the end of the month. We’ve finally fixed the place up with a splash of paint, some done-up vintage furniture and a hell-of-a-lot of cleaning. I was originally waiting to find my next job before moving in. However, being unemployed has actually been a blessing in disguise due to the sheer amount of paperwork, contacting and re-contacting companies and organisations that comes hand in hand with changing apartments.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this move is a walk in the park compared to when I first moved to Paris over three years ago. I was reminiscing with a couple of my expat friends, Lauren W and Lauren B, and inspired by my recent moving dramas, decided there are a few things you should be prepared for before taking the leap into the land of baguettes, cheese and wine connaisseurs.

  • You’ll learn the true meaning of bureaucracy: Be prepared for a stack of paperwork. Since the French administrative system hasn’t yet made it into the digital era, most contact should be sent by post. And on this note, don’t expect this to suffice. My motto is it’s not a done deed in France until you have received written confirmation – signed, stamped, dated, handed over in person after presenting your passport… the list is endless. Let me tell you that the day you receive your carte vitale, allowing you to access French healthcare, will be even greater than the birth of your first-born.
  • You’ll become an expert at planning in advance: The French are sticklers for the rules and the art of dining is no exception. Whether this be strict lunch service times between 12 and 2 or supermarket opening hours, be prepared to plan your meals in advance. The latter is not so much of an issue in Paris these days, except larger supermarkets, you should be able to find a local small shop open to grab those things you forgot in the week. This was however a massive culture shock when, on my first week in Angers during my Erasmus year, we had to head into town for a McDonald’s to not die from starvation, after finding every supermarket was closed on a Sunday.
  • You’ll grow accustomed to chasing down waiting staff for a drink: Speaking of restaurants, you’ll soon learn that if you want to order a drink, you better be ready to hunt down that waiter who you know has seen you and is resolutely ignoring your attempts to get his attention. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, with spots that offer great customer service. If you find one, keep it a closely guarded secret, as it is unfortunately a rarity on the Parisian dining out scene.
  • Your sense of style and appropriate attire will dramatically change: For me this was a positive change, as I inwardly cringe at some of the outfits I used to wear back in the UK. Going out in France is a much more casual affair than a night out clubbing in Newcastle. Less is more as far as style goes in France, so you shouldn’t have too much skin on show, unless you want to be cat-called in the street. My go-to is a good pair of skinny jeans, heeled boots and my beige trench coat – a stark contrast to my 18-year-old self who wouldn’t be caught dead with a coat, tights and anything other than 6-inch heels on a night out.
  • You’ll turn into a self-diagnosing hypochondriac: With a pharmacy on every street corner and doctors prescribing antibiotics and medication at the drop of a hat, it’d be hard not to. The French healthcare system is amazing once you have obtained the elusive carte vitale (see above) and the doctors are very rigorous. However, I’ve learnt to take medical advice for non-threatening ailments with a pinch of salt; for a simple cold I know I can still do without a trip to the doctor for a prescription for a million different tablets.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this way of life is just something that you will adapt to, given time. Born and bred Frenchies will not think twice about sending a million letters, forms and documents just to achieve a simple task, as they are used to this way of life. If you take that chance and emigrate here, you too will adapt and normalise these parts of everyday life.

It will become so engrained in you, that when you return home or holiday in another country, you will experience, as Lauren B described it, a reverse culture shock – you’ll find yourself irritated by the waiter who pops up every five minutes with a fake smile plastered over their face, or find it preposterous that you should have to wait months to get an appointment with anybody other than your regular GP. In spite of the inconveniences or surprises that you may experience upon arrival in France, these will seem like minor bumps in the road with time, as you get used to the French way of life. Believe me when I say, it is all worth it to be living in such a wonderful, beautiful place and quite frankly, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.

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