Now, this is a tricky article to write. I genuinely LOVE France, and I hate to criticise, but nothing is perfect, right? So difficult was this task that I had to canvass opinions from those on the ground, and it appears the top ten complaints, in no particular order, are the following:
1. The French love of PAPERWORK!
The French do love a form or two, and this is a common gripe whatever your nationality – including French! I remember reregistering our UK car in France and the lady judiciously completing forms in triplicate by hand. Now this was 2018, and I had not seen that since the late 1970s in the UK. The top copy was for us, the next copy filed, the next copy to someone else… and on it goes!
2. Cheques still in use
Many find this a little quirky that cheques are still a thing. My UK bank had stopped issuing chequebooks years before we moved to France in 2017. My bank adviser here insisted I would need one after I politely refused. And she was right – I go through one a year as for some things, there simply is no other way of paying. Yes, seriously!
3. Handling racism in a foreign language
A hot potato, I know, but if we don’t speak about it, it doesn’t mean it goes away. It can be argued that it does you good to walk in the shoes of others, to really make you think and reflect. I thought I understood how racism must impact an individual and how utterly terrible it is, but by talking to others I realised that I didn’t even come close.
Racism, sadly, exists everywhere, and is not exclusive to France by any means. However, many expats I spoke to expressed their experiences of feeling uncomfortable when confronted with the different cultural ‘norms’ in France, especially surrounding the treatment and language used towards different races.
In particular, it was generally felt by those that I spoke to that it can be more difficult to speak out in a different language that you are not utterly confident in. When encountering any form of prejudice directly or indirectly, people felt they probably respond slightly differently here than in their home country, but that this was linked to language proficiency.
4. Watch out for snakes!
As beautiful and important to our ecosystems as they are, many of us, it seems, don’t want them nearby, thank you! Most of us try to avoid them at all costs. And although people would never seek to harm a snake (moreover, it is against the law to do so and carries a hefty fine), it’s prudent to give them a wide berth.
5. Finding a good macon
A common appeal for more builders and tradespeople, please! A reputable macon is normally booked up for maybe a year in advance – it’s a long time to wait for a builder if you are renovating. It seems that a few more highly skilled artisans would be welcomed.
6. France’s approach to health and safety issues
There are times when it is utterly refreshing not to be bound by the ties of a nanny state, and France is certainly more relaxed about many things when compared to the UK or US. But sheer drops at public monuments with just a minimal sign, workmen not tied on while working on the roof, cyclists without helmets – it can all be a little disconcerting to some expats.
7. French websites
If you are a website builder, please come to France and help! This is a really common frustration for many. Even larger companies often do not have websites that accurately reflect current stock! The amount of times people have told me that they have reserved an item online to drive 40 minutes to collect in-store to be told it is, in fact, NOT IN STOCK. Your website says it is. “Yes, Monsieur, but you must not pay attention to that.” Ah, right???!!
8. Lunchtime closures
This seems to be a common whinge, but personally, I think it’s only an adjustment. Shops closing between 12 and 2pm can be quite a big shock after living elsewhere, but for me, it’s part of what slows down the pace of life here, and that is something most people appreciate after a while. The less-stressed, slower life is a big draw for many coming to France, and in my mind, a long lunch is part of that.
9. Finding your favourite international foods
People love French food – its reputation is unquestionable, and the quality of produce here is truly notable. It is undeniably a HUGE draw for people relocating to this amazing country.
However, after a while, it seems that in the countryside and in the more remote locations especially, many people start to crave the world foods that were once commonplace in their diets.
Although things are slowly changing, “exotic” ingredients can be hard to come by. Many turn to home cooking, which, again, is not a bad thing. I would hazard a guess that a home-cooked Chinese meal is way better health-wise than a calorific takeaway meal! Nevertheless, food for thought.
10. Finding clothes that fit (and fit your budget!)
Another common gripe is that either clothes are eye-wateringly expensive for that French fashion-chic look or that they are a little on the petite side!
Again, that all depends on your shopping habits, your size, and your preferences. In the short time we have lived here, plus sizes have appeared in certain shops, whereas before, they weren’t as prevalent. Many more people are opting to buy from thrift shops too, which should only be encouraged!
All in all, whenever you move country and cultures, life is never going to be plain sailing. Little gripes and differences are to be expected and surely are part of life’s broad tapestry! My advice is to embrace them and go with the flow as much as possible. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, my friends!
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