I’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
Thanks 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!