Meet Diane, an American expat in France

Diane - Oui en France - copyright : Lindsey Kent of Pictours ParisI’m in France right now so let’s talk about France! I wanted to introduce you to Diane, an American expat from New Jersey, who’s living now in Maine-et-Loire, a region in the West of France, with her husband – who’s French, and her puppy, Dagny. Son blog Oui in France is a must-read! Witty, funny and with tons of information about how it is to be an American in France.

Hello Diane! Why did you start a blog and what can we read on it?

I started my blog as a way to chronicle my life in France. When I first started writing it about a year and a half ago, I wasn’t sure if we’d be staying in France or moving back to the US, so I wanted a way to keep in contact with people from back home and share photos and stories and glimpses into my life here no matter where life takes. And also, my blog serves as an outlet for me to talk about the things that bug me/fascinate me/surprise me/etc. I like having my personal space on the web.

You can find information about expat life in France from an American perspective, including stories of cultural misunderstandings, language flubs and my travels. I also talk about dog-related topics from time to time and other things going on in my life to keep those at home in the loop.

What do you like the best in your new country, France?

There are so many things that I like about living here. First, the tangible things: good, affordable wine and cheese. Fresh produce at the market. Excellent pastries. Wow, so I guess I like the food here! But more importantly, I like that healthcare is provided for all regardless of work status. Unlike the US, where in most cases if you lose your job, you lose your insurance (or have to pay high premiums for COBRA coverage), healthcare is a right and it’s affordable. I’m never scared of going to the doctor in fear of what the bill will be for tests and medicine. I smile every time I leave the doctor or pharmacy!

I also like that the French appreciate mealtime and take the time to really enjoy what they’re eating instead of rushing through it. While you can get takeout in France, the “to go” mentality isn’t overly popular here (especially outside of Paris). And I love/hate that because sometimes I just want my cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in my hand as I walk my dog. (I make it at home and take a Thermos. Problem solved) Along with that, the French seem to understand the work/life balance better than Americans do in general. My husband gets a ton of vacation that would be only a dream for Americans. Whenever he takes a day off (seems like a lot to me!), I’m always scared he’s going to be fired. But it’s normal!

Also, I take pleasure in the fact that France challenges me all the time. Between the bureaucracy and the hoops you have to jump through with all the documents to renew a carte de sejour to learning new words in French all the time to just everyday things like arriving to the grocery store 5 minutes before closing just to find it’s already locked up for the night, France does push my limits sometimes. But despite this, I enjoy the challenge and feel it only makes me stronger, as cliché as that is. It’s true. I just learn to adapt and laugh at things that would have really annoyed me a few years ago.

Are you still surprised by things that you find unusual here?

Absolutely! Something that always surprises me even though I accept it as “normal” now is the fact that stores close early and aren’t really open on Sundays for the most part. I understand the reasoning behind it, but coming from New York City before I moved (where everything is open 24/7), it was quite a shock. And I’m not shocked anymore, but sometimes it’s an inconvenience if it’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday and I need sugar for a cookie recipe. In the U.S., I’d ask my neighbors but when we moved into our new house here, no one even cared. No welcoming committee! I find that unusual as well. People really keep to themselves!

What was the most difficult part of moving to a new country?

At first I thought the most difficult part of my move would be leaving my family and friends behind, and yes, that’s not easy but it’s not the most difficult part. Many friends and family members had already moved out of my immediate area after college so I was used to calling people up instead of meeting face to face if we wanted to talk.

I’d say the most difficult part of moving to a new country (well there are several) is meeting people and feeling isolated in general. I have tried to meet people here and have taken cooking classes, joined websites and more and have one somewhat new friend that I have a coffee with from time to time. I don’t find the French to be super open to making friends as adults and not overly welcoming in general. I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have kids, so I feel like my social circles are limited despite trying to make friends. I’m also not in a big city, so likeminded people are hard to come by. Also, the language can be really tricky. I had a background in French and consider myself decent enough at French but sometimes I want to express a very specific meaning and I just don’t have the words. But I make it work. Luckily my husband is completely bilingual so that helps if I just want to say something fast in English.

And regardless of the difficulties, coming to France was my choice and I don’t regret it for a minute! I truly believe that life is what we make of it and I wanted a new experience, so I’m very thankful for the path I’ve taken.

What do you miss from home?

I miss stupid things like being able to go to Target at 11 p.m. on a Friday and grabbing a coffee to go at Starbucks and frozen yogurt. And certain food items. I miss the convenience of life in the US. I really miss having awesome gym options including barre, spinning and other specialty workout studios. There’s no real market for that where I live. And of course I miss family and friends.

Do you still celebrate American holidays – like Halloween or Thanksgiving?

Yes! I try to decorate and share American traditions with my in-laws who learn about my culture with open arms. This year we had a Thanksgiving chicken since I couldn’t find a turkey. We really enjoyed the meal! I find that celebrating American holidays and really going all out (baking, decorating, listening to Christmas music, inviting family over, etc.) makes me feel closer to home even though I’m an ocean away.

You talk a lot about your dog on your blog, do you think she likes her new country?

Dagny, my Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is young and was actually born in France, so France is her home. It’s all she knows. And yes, she loves it. She’s very adaptable though and as long as she has my husband and me (and a bunch of treats!), she’d be happy anywhere. She’s been by my side since the beginning here and is my best friend.

I also really love how small dogs are accepted in stores and restaurants in France! Dagny is small and doesn’t make any noise so in most places like the pharmacy, cafes and even the post office, she accompanies me and no one cares. That is definitely not the case in the US
Dagny the Cavalier King Charles spanielThanks Diane for your answers! I’ve answered to her own questions on her blog in a post called Expat Chitchat. I really encourage you to read Oui in France!

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Writer, organizer and social media-ter for my own blog. When I'm not in front of my laptop, I'm organizing guided tours of Boston with my own company "Boston le nez en l'air". It's in French!

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  • Reply Dec 19 2013


    Très intéressant ! Merci pour le partage !
    Toujours intéressant d’avoir le point de vue de l’extérieur. J’aurais aimé qu’elle développe le système relationnel en France. C’est vrai que les anglo saxons ont l’air si facile d’accès.

  • Reply Dec 19 2013


    Sympathique de voir l’autre coté du décors ^^ Après je suis d’accord avec elle sur le fait que faire des connaissances en france n’est pas simple ou juste connaitre ses voisins ! Moi qui suis de toulouse et qui suis venue vivre a paris j’ai sente cette différence et pourtant c’est le meme pays ! ais je pense qu’il faut du temps !! En tout cas erci pour la découverte de ce blog que je vais m’atteer a suivre meme si mon anglais n’est pas parfait ^^

    • Reply Dec 20 2013


      Je pense que c’est un problème plus général de se faire des amis quand on est adulte et qu’on déménage souvent. On m’avait dit que je n’aurais aucun ami Américain, et finalement je n’ai que des amis Américains. Ca a pris du temps. Mais Boston est aussi une grosse ville universitaire… Diane habite dans un tout petit endroit comme elle le précise bien.

  • Oui très sympa cet article. Par retour d’expérience, certains m’ont dit qu’au US il y a moins de vacances, mais que le travail est parfois moins soutenu qu’en France. Mais j’imagine que ça dépend des boites, comme partout…

    • Reply Dec 19 2013


      Oui mais quand même, aux US, les horaires de travail sont plus longs ! Tous ceux que je connais (et moi-même) font en moyenne 40h de travail /semaine (svt plus) … et les 2 semaines de vacs annuelles ne sont pas un mythe, ni la pause déjeuner devant son ordi :S (enfin moi je ne me plains pas, car j’ai mes 5 semaines et une VRAIE pause déj, à la française :) )

      • Reply Dec 20 2013


        Pas la même expérience, je connais surtout les 35 heures aux Etats-Unis (oui, oui, ça existe).

      • Reply Aug 14 2014


        Tout dépend ce que l’on fait. Moi les 40h c’est un minimum. Vive les cadres…

  • Reply Dec 20 2013


    Etant une francaise expatriee en Australie (et pensant serieusement a rentrer au bercail apres 5 annees la tete en bas), cet article me parle beaucoup. Diane a mis le doigt sur mon angoisse numero 1, a savoir : les Francais !! J’ai peur de ne pas me faire aux manques de sourires, aux jugements, reflexions… Dans mon pays d’adoption, on papote avec son voisin en attendant le bus, on se sourit tout le temps et surtout on prend toujours soin de son interlocuteur : il ne faut pas le mettre mal a l’aise. A part ca qu’il est agreable de lire les impressions d’un etranger immerge dans la vie francaise. Ah, la culture du bien manger… Merci pour ce partage :)

    • Reply Dec 20 2013


      Il faut le voir du bon côté des choses :) Moi j’apprécie la discrétion des Français !
      Mais j’aime aussi la chaleur et la facilité des discussions des Américains… quand je suis aux Etats-Unis, parler facilement aux inconnus, etc. (enfin, les discussions ne vont pas très loin, “bonjour, comment ça va, j’aime bien ton vernis à ongles, etc.”). Chaque pays ses façons de faire et tu pourras essayer d’être un rayon de soleil quand tu rentreras 😉

  • Reply Dec 20 2013


    Belle interview, merci ! :)
    Je confirme pour le côté relationnel qui n’est pas évident en France. Même en tant que Français, il suffit de déménager, de partir à l’étranger et revenir pour le constater. On ne connaît pas nos voisins ici alors, qu’en une semaine, je les connaissais dans d’autres pays !

  • Reply Dec 20 2013


    Oh qu’il est mignon le piti chien !!! <3
    Je comprends la solitude qu'on peut ressentir en arrivant en France, car il est vrai que nous ne sommes pas des plus accueillants… Moi-même, au bout d'un an et demie dans mon appart, j'ai à peine croiser mes voisins…
    Enfin, quand on a toujours vécu ici, ça ne nous choque pas. Mais ça fait du bien d'avoir un point de vue extérieur pour s'en rendre compte…

  • Reply Dec 23 2013


    C’est super d’avoir un point de vu opposé au tiens. Ça permet de relativiser sur ma vie Parisienne et de me dire que la France à aussi des bons côtés 😉

  • Reply Aug 14 2014


    C’est vrai qu’en France on a tendance à se lier d’amitié avec des gens qu’on rencontre jeune (école, premier boulot, passion commune) et on les garde tout le reste de sa vie même si on part vivre à l’autre bout du monde.
    Donc quand on s’installe en France passé 25/30 ans, on rencontre des gens qui ont déjà un cercle d’ami “complet” et il devient difficile de se faire une place quelque part…

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