FrenchEntrée contributor Carol Paylor moved to France with her family in 2017 and now runs La Grue Gites in Charente in South-West France. Here, she shares some of the biggest surprises she found when they first moved and some tips for how to best embrace your new life in France.
1. Lunchtime is sacred!
Lunch in France is seriously important. Famed for their love of food, I have no idea how I underestimated this passion and how it now permeates everyday life. Everything stops for lunch in the countryside for at least two hours on average. Our first year was spent constantly frustrated turning up at shops without thinking that they may be closed for lunch.
Things are beginning to change, but now we don’t want them to! Those initial frustrations are actually part of the reason we came to France. The importance of lunch and those shop closures are actually what contributes to our slower, less stressful pace of life here. People take time to eat and enjoy their food. Family time is sacred. Vive la France!
2. Paperwork is king
“The French love their paperwork,”… never a truer word was spoken! Even the French joke about it. Invest in a scanner/copier, some envelopes and some first-class stamps (timbres rouges). Never assume you will be able to send documents electronically (although post-Covid this is improving). Some Government departments are still using triplicate so be prepared to send multiple copies of your documents virtually everywhere and learn how to ask for recorded delivery postage in the Poste Office (avis recommande, s’il vous plait!).
3. You will still need your chequebook
Most UK banks had stopped issuing cheque books many years before our arrival in France. So, when asked if a cheque book would be needed on opening the French bank account, of course, we declined. Big mistake!
Some administrative bodies will only accept a cheque. For example, to pay for refuse collection biannually and to pay for school meals on a monthly basis, the administration here will only accept payment by cheque – other examples may differ across France and things are changing however, a cheque book is still advisable.
4. You have to pay for doctor’s appointments
Once your Carte Vitale is in place, reimbursements for healthcare payments are established. Despite this, you will still need to have a means of paying your medecin traitant when you go in for an appointment. To complicate matters further, some still only accept cash, so make sure you check whether yours accept card payments before you go.
5. Facebook groups can be a great source of advice
There are now many online groups offering advice and support to those living in France who were not born and raised there. Don’t forget that most people on these groups are not expert advisers, so always double-check official information. However, they can be invaluable for sharing anecdotal experience, tips, and advice, and this can be a source of reassurance and invaluable information for newcomers to France.
Some recommended groups to follow are Strictly Santé France and Strictly Fiscal France, as well as following the British Embassy Paris page. You can also search for expat groups in your local city or region.
6. We probably didn’t need to bring our English furniture
If you would like to save yourselves a fortune on removal costs, consider selling your UK furniture before your big move and buying some beautiful brocante pieces here in France for a fraction of the price. What looks good in a 1960s detached UK property does not necessarily fit the bill in a lofty French ‘Maison de Maitre’. Food for thought!
7. Food prices were higher than expected
At first, the difference in prices (and the lack of 2-for-1 deals and the like!) was a bit of a surprise to us, but back then, we were shopping with an English mindset and to English tastes. Similarly, it’s often not possible to find fresh produce that is out of season, unless you live in a large city.
Now, we buy seasonal food from local producers, grow our own and eat as the French do. There is a saying, ‘You get what you pay for’ and the French are so proud of their cuisine. Produce here is of an incredibly high standard.
8. Registered artisans and businesses can typically be trusted…
Trades and professions are highly regulated in France, and while that doesn’t mean problems never occur, it does mean that you can typically trust that a registered artisan or business knows how to do their job.
These registered tradespeople are your friend! Just be sure to look up the SIRET number (formal business registration number), check they are qualified for the job in hand, and get an official ‘devis’ (quote) before starting any work. Often, building and renovation work is accompanied with a ten-year insurance-backed guarantee, which is arguably well worth it for peace of mind.
9. Professional advice is worth paying for
A reputable, experienced handholder may be just what you need to help you navigate all the paperwork and to alleviate that particular initial stress – especially if you are still getting-to grips with the French language too. However, beware that some people set themselves up to offer ‘handholding’ services without having formal qualifications. Therefore their ‘advice’ may cost you dearly with little or no legal recourse. Research thoroughly the credentials of those you entrust with your personal affairs. (Better yet, get in touch with FrenchEntrée and let us recommend a qualified bilingual professional to provide whatever service you need! – Ed)
10. There’s always time for an aperitif!
‘Aperos’ are such a lovely thing and an ideal relaxed opportunity to invite your new neighbours around and chat amongst friends. It is commonly understood that ‘aperos’ take place between the hours of 5 and 7pm. Guests will usually not outstay their welcome unless you have invited them for an ‘apero dinatoire’, which is a buffet – normally a longer affair.
Here in the beautiful Charente, ‘aperos’ could be anything from crisps, nuts and an informal artisan beer or glass of local wine to home-made bite-size nibbles made with local produce (snail pate being a favourite) and a beautifully chilled good ‘Pineau des Charentes’ or a young V.S.O.P Cognac cocktail. Santé! What better way to toast the start of your new life in France!
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