|There may be quite a few things and people Linsey misses from her home in Scotland, but the reality of living her dream in France with the man she loves are among the things that make her happy there. Read about this young Scotswoman's expat life in Versailles and her tips for anyone planning on moving to and living in France.
-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
I now live in France - Versailles to be precise, which isn't quite Paris, but it's still in the surrounding area.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my French boyfriend and our cat (who we had to fly over from Scotland!)
-How long have you been living in France?
I've been living in Versailles for six months now, and I lived in La Rochelle in the West of France for a year in 2006. I've not been an expat for long, but I'm learning that some things are easier than I initially thought, and a lot of things are much more difficult.
-What is your age?
I’m 22 years young.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in France?
There was no light bulb moment where I suddenly realised I wanted to live in France, I think it was always something I wanted to do. My mother lived in France for several years when she was in her teens, working as an English teaching assistant, and then she went on to make a career out of teaching French back in Britain. Thanks to her love of France and its language we spent at least two weeks holidaying there every year when I was a child, which may have helped shape me into the Francophile I am today (although it certainly didn't help me with my knowledge of the language whatsoever, more's the pity!).
And then, in my final year at school, the time had come to make a decision on what I was going to do with my life. I didn't need to think much through; I'd had my heart set on studying French at university and then living abroad for as long as I can remember.
But dreams as a teenager don't always stay the same once we are adults. At university I went through phases of loving my French classes and hating them, making me wonder whether I had actually chosen the right uni course. In the end, I eventually came to live and work in France for two reasons:
- I spent one year living in La Rochelle in the west of France as part of my degree, studying at the local university and realised something; learning to speak French was easiest and most rewarding when living in the country.
- I met a Frenchman and fell madly in love with him.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
As a European Union citizen I am lucky enough to not have to worry about getting a visa or a working permit. I understand that the French administration is … a little complicated, shall we say, but there are plenty of non EU citizens who have obtained their visas and working permits to live and work here, so it can't be that hard … can it?
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Well now! This is a sore point for me at the moment because I'm in the middle of applying for a carte vitale in order to get my medical insurance and it is – admittedly - a tad complicated. I have sent off my papers to the officials several times only to have everything returned to me a couple of weeks later telling me that I need to do this or that before they can give me my carte vitale (If only they could tell me all the papers they want at the same time instead of having me send everything one by one!). I've been told I need to get my birth certificate translated and officially stamped, but all the officials that I get in contact with – the British Embassy in Paris, the British Council, the French Embassy in Britain, the registrar who originally did my birth certificate – keep saying they can't/won't do it and claim it's the responsibility of the others. Frustrating. Very frustrating.
-How do you make your living in France? Do you have any type of income generated?
I have a job in Paris, thanks to my boyfriend's mother. I hate saying that, because it makes me sound lazy, like I didn't try, or as though I'm not worthy of the job, but I did have to go through the interview process and I have had to prove myself since that I can do the job. I think, despite my degree in Foreign Languages and Tourism, that I would have had some difficulty to find a job when I first came here six months ago as my French was nowhere near fluent and I had no job experience behind me whatsoever. Not to mention that a degree that hasn't been achieved in France is often overlooked completely.
The job I currently have has really nothing to do with my degree, and it doesn't interest me in the slightest, but it is on a short term contract which will end in December, and was only ever meant as an experience to improve my French and something to put on my CV to show I have worked in the country.
I have already started searching for my next job here, which I will take on as soon as my current contract has finished in December. There are so many job centres and temping agencies here, but for the moment I have put my CV on Monster.fr and other job search websites. Already I've had some interest and I know that anyone who is bilingual – especially those who are fluent in English – is sought after by employers on these websites. I'd advise anyone who doesn't have contacts in the country to help them find a job to put their CV on these websites and to keep their minds open.
-Do you speak French and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do speak French, although not as fluently as I'd like to. One thing I know for certain though is that every French person I have ever met has always appreciated the fact that I try very hard to speak their language rather than allow them to speak to me in English. Anglophones have such a bad reputation, apparently, for not even trying to speak French and for just expecting the locals to automatically speak English to them. I don't want to be that kind of person, I want to fit in here.
I think if you are going to move to a foreign country for any length of time, you have to do it 100%. You have to respect that you are living in a foreign country and embrace everything that that means. Language, culture, everything. So even if you only know a few words of the French language it never hurts to use it. At least when you say 'bonjour,' 'merci' and 'au revoir,' to a local they know that you are trying, even if the rest is in broken French and extravagant arm gestures.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss home and my family a lot but I have only been here six months and luckily I have a really busy life that keeps me from moping about and getting too down about things. The other day I was feeling nostalgic and realised that I actually miss the smell of cow poo. Yes, the smell of cow poo. Coming from a tiny little farming village in Scotland filled with fields of cows and moving to Versailles where there are no fields and no farmyard animals might do that to you, I suppose.
But more than cow poo - more than anything - I miss my friends and family. Here I have a boyfriend and my colleagues and that's about it. At home I have my family, my friends, the friends of my friends, old friends and new friends. I have an entire support network. Here I have one person.
It seems to me that at home it's so much easier to make friends, no matter what age you are. But here people seem to make their friends in school when they are young and they stay friends for life, making it much more difficult to let anyone new into a group of friends. I have tried oh-so-hard at work to be friendly and to make friends with my colleagues but it hasn't worked.
So what I really miss is my favourite people. I wish I could bundle them all on a plane and fly them out here and force them all to live with me, but life isn't as ideal as that. I miss having a laugh with girlfriends, sharing secrets, knowing that I've always got someone to lean on, but in reality, I don't think I will ever find that kind of friendship here in France. It's maybe just something I will have to deal with.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I don't really have solid plans for the future as of yet, but I do have dreams that I'd like to pursue. One of them is to become an English teacher here in France, and the other is to improve my French so that I can really begin to feel more like myself here. Apart from that, I have no idea where my life is heading and I can't make up my mind whether this is a good thing or a bad thing!
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I'm renting an apartment (60m²) in the centre of Versailles (which is said to be a rich and expensive town but in actual fact there is not much of a difference between here and the surrounding towns of Paris) which consists of 2 bedrooms, a living room, a dressing room (I love it!), a kitchen, a shower room, a WC and a cellar for roughly 920€, some charges included. We pay the electricity separately.
-What is the cost of living in France?
I find that anywhere I go in France I seem to spend a lot of money just trying to live. I've never actually sat down and noted the difference between prices of food or clothes in France and Britain but I just have the impression that there are less bargains to be found here.
Each week, despite the fact we try hard to find the cheapest brands, my boyfriend and I spend at least 100€ on our supermarket shopping to feed ourselves and the cat (also on toiletries and household cleaning products, etc.). And I'm sorry girls, but shoes sold here just seem to be quality, not quantity. In my quest to find a shoe shop selling fashionable shoes at reasonable prices I have been rather disappointed. I once asked a French girl for advice and she told me that the French buy their shoes in extremely good quality so that they last up to ten years. Ten years?! But no shoe stays in fashion for ten years!
-What do you think about the French?
Like everywhere on this planet you get goodies and baddies here. I have come across a lot of very pleasant Parisians and Versaillais, and I have also come across the odd French stereotype – an arrogant b*****d. I suppose a lot of it is to do with me and the way I approach them, so my only advice here is to be polite and respectful and friendly. Of course, when someone is mean to you (as they can be as soon as they hear your accent) you have the right to be mean back. I just don't have the guts to do that.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in France?
Positives : living with my Frenchman, the joie de vivre, the food, the wine, the beautiful language, the culture, living the dream!
Negatives : being far from friends and family, the French administration!
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in France?
The best thing would be to take language lessons before you even arrive in the country because that in itself is going to help everything a billion times more than anything else. Also to really read up on France and its culture and to know for certain that this is a step you want to make. There is nothing more ridiculous than packing up your life and moving to a foreign country on a whim. Really think it through, do your homework and ask yourself if it's really what you want.
Remind yourself it's France. Don't expect to come across the same culture as you are used to in your native country, there will be a lot of things that will shock and surprise you, and don't forget that just because France does things differently from your native country doesn't mean it's wrong. Expect a culture difference. Prepare yourself for the shock and don't get hung up on it when you come across a difficulty.
Also, buy as many cheap and fashionable shoes as you can before you come to France so that you don't have to go out and buy an extortionate pair that are made to last ten years.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about France?
I write my own blog about my life as an expat in France which you can find here http://www.princesseecossaise.com but there are many interesting and insightful websites out there that could be of help to potential expats in France. A few of my favourites are:
http://french.about.com: A great resource for those of you who want to brush up on your French or to learn new French vocabulary and grammar.
http://www.parisdailyphoto.com: A lovely photo blog filled with photos of Paris and its surroundings, posted daily. Watch out, it's addictive!