-Where were you born?
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
Mauves sur Loire, France
The Loire from our town
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my French husband, two Franco-American kids and two rabbits
-How long have you been living there?
5 years in January, 2009
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in France?
My husband and I met in Paris when I was studying there. But we've spent most of our time together in San Francisco. We'd always thought we might come back someday but the combination of the dot-com market implosion, post-2001 politics and our son being ready for elementary school convinced us five years ago that it was time.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No, as I'm married to a French citizen. It was actually easier for me here than for him there.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, we joined the French health system immediately. In fact, you have no choice if you're to be a legal resident. After I got my first French job contract, I received my own French Social Security number and health care card.
-How do you make your living in France? Do you have any type of income generated?
Well…this is the tricky part. I'm a journalist and I've freelanced regularly since I got here; I've also had a couple of short-term contracts doing a bit of this, a bit of that. But I can't say as I've really "made a living here" yet. This is mostly because we chose, for our children, to not live in Paris. As an American journalist, all professional roads lead to Paris. Now my kids are older, however, and I'm actively job-hunting, including in Paris.
The Deux Chevaux I rented on Belle Ile, right off the coast of Brittany
-Do you speak French and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I speak French well. But I have an accent and, unlike some of my friends, I don't think I'll ever reach the day when I "pass" for a French person. In my experience writing for the expat press and interviewing other expats, it is possible to get by in Paris without much French. But it's not possible to really settle here happily unless you do. But as long as you're trying really hard, the French will make more linguistic allowances for you than their reputation would imply.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (the French hate peanut butter) and real Mexican food including a real margarita. There are other guilty pleasures I use to miss that have faded with time, like US Magazine and the Oscars. But I miss how Americans chat with people they don't know in public. I miss "shooting the breeze" in a way I may never be able to do in French. I miss the excitement of having just elected Barack Obama to be our President. But mostly now, I just miss my family. The hardest part of all this is having my mother get old and my children's cousins grow without really knowing who we are. These are the only things that sometimes make me doubt our choice to come here.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Yep: get a job! I really want to stay in France, but not if it means radically downsizing my professional expectations. Provided I can fix this problem, I still don't know if I'll be here forever but I don't feel like I've finished with my adventure yet.
Nantes Château de Ducs de Bretagne
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We bought a house; we paid just under EUR300,000 for a four-bedroom house with a big yard 30 minutes out of Nantes. Unfortunately, we probably bought at the peak of the market; I fear we're going to lose some money if I find a job elsewhere and we are forced to sell next year.
-What is the cost of living in France?
Higher than we thought! Schooling, housing and insurance are still all much cheaper than in San Francisco, but transportation, food, clothing, gas, heating, and other household expenses are about the same. And salaries are fully half of what we could command in California. Plus the cost of airline tickets has gone up by fully a third since we moved here and the exchange rate has gone from bad to worse. If the dollar were to stabilize against the euro, it would help us a lot.
-What do you think about the French?
It is said that the "failure rate" for expats assignments to France is among the highest in the world and it is true that the French take an effort to get to know. They are never going to be what Americans consider as "friendly" and moving here requires that you try to understand them on their terms. On the other hand, I've received a lot of support for my efforts to do that and I can count on one hand the number of encounters that have been truly hostile. So, as long as you don't arrive expecting less culture shock than if you were going to, let's say, China, you can find your place here, even in a small town like where I live.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in France?
For us, the most important part of being here is that our children are bilingual and bicultural. And we like having our own sub-culture just for our family. Never having to worry about healthcare coverage is a huge comfort for us. And I also really like being able to travel to other parts of France and Europe.
Dealing with French bureaucracy, including the education system, however, is a constant frustration for me and my husband and he's French! Also, see above, I'm having trouble reconciling our choice of where to live with my desire/need to earn a living, but I hope to solve this problem by being more creative about defining what I do.
Super Duponts at Nantes Carnaval
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in France?
Americans tend to think they know more about France than other countries, like Kuwait or Thailand. You don't: expect culture shock. But don't get wrapped up into trying to be more French than thou: the French love eccentrics! If you're going to be here longer than a year and you think you'll want to drive here, try to get a driver's license before you come from one of the 14 states that let you trade it for a French license. This sounds like an unnecessary hassle, but passing the French driver's test is crazy hard and expensive. Lots of French people never pass it. Also think hard before sending your kids to public school and not just because of the strikes; French teachers tend to have rigid ideas about how to do things and throwing your kids into the middle of your culture shock can make it harder for all of you. If you have a special-needs kids, research carefully and in advance how to get what they need. And…never, never, never take Non for an answer. The French always say Non first; they don't always mean it.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about France?
Let's start with mine: Francey Pants, www.franceypants.com
It's a collection of my writing for the culturally confused English-speaker living in France. Plus the Francey Pants Bookstore and a full collection of ALL my favorite sites!
My other favorites:
Bonjour America, http://www.bonjour-america.com
Gender-bender humor that pokes fun at both sides of the Atlantic. Genuinely funny but good-hearted.
Insider Paris Guides, http://www.insiderparisguides.com/index.htm
Where to download the best practical guide on moving to France.
Writing Letters in French, http://www.askoxford.com/languages/fr/french_letters/?view=uk
Helps you with all those pesky formulae for all kind of French letters…so much more formal than in English!
Mostly only in French…but the absolute best view online of the labyrinth of French administration. If your French is up to it, it will really help you get the paperwork out of the way.