You say you want to come and live in France? If so, you are both bold... and a bit of a glutton for punishment. I only say that because the French seem to make it as difficult as possible for us non-French folks to come and live here. Not that this is such a bad thing. France has had its fair share of immigration problems over the years due to previously lax immigration policies, and since 2006 (and most recently again in 2012, for those seeking French nationality) has tightened up the rules for people like us who want to come and stay here as more than just another tourist on holiday.
As such, just know this right now: you really have to want it BAD if you plan to stay in France (legally) for any length of time. France is a beautiful, wonderful country with great people (despite what you may have heard to the contrary) and a fascinating, if complex, history, but it's also a difficult place to live sometimes -- even if you were born and raised here. And if you're planning to live here illegally... well, ces sont vos oignons and I don't want to know about it. Either way, prepare yourself for the emotional roller-coaster that is France.
DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a lawyer nor a relocation expert. I do not consult or give individual advice on how to move to France, how to work in France, how to find housing in France or how to obtain a Visa to live in France. The information contained on my site is for your knowledge or entertainment only, and is based solely on my personal experience, which may not apply to other cases. Please do NOT contact me for personalized assistance in moving to France.
I get a lot of email from people who want my advice on moving to France, with questions ranging from handling Visa issues to finding a place to live or a job. I appreciate your confusion as you try to sort things out, and I wish I could help, really I do, but I can no longer reply personally to these queries because they are time-consuming and because I am not an expert in this area; I'm just someone who figured it out on my own. But all is not lost: I have created this permanent page on my blog, in the hopes it might answer at least a few of your questions... after all, I understand how hard it is to relocate abroad and how much it helps when you find someone who might be able to share the benefit of her own experience.
Here's the caveat: I am NOT a relocation expert. I am NOT a lawyer. I am not an immigration specialist. And as such, I can/will not answer any questions pertaining to my own Visa adventures or anything having to do with the legalities of living here (and that includes advice on taxes, banking, and the like) other than the very basic information provided on this page. Your immigration status in France is unique to YOU, and comparing it to another ex-pat's is like comparing les pommes et les oranges. And I am truly not qualified to advise anyone on how to navigate through the complicated process of securing a Visa... trust me, you really don't want my 2 centimes because you need a more authoritative resource (I do try and point you in the right direction as a starting point, however). So if you go ahead and ask me for more details about my immigration experiences anyway? I probably won't answer you. Sorry. Don't take it personally.
So with all of this in mind, here's a list of some of the most Frequently Asked Questions I have received on moving to/living in France, along with my answers and some links to helpful web sites based mostly on my own experience -- which means you shouldn't take any of this as gospel, nor should you limit yourself to the information provided here, because there are certainly many other excellent resources out there to help you. Use this as a starting point, or as a way of taking that next step. Then, do your own homework!
And I truly, from the bottom of my heart, wish you much success and a happy experience in living la vie en rose in la belle France. It won't be easy... but it will never be borning.
P.S. I realize that you may have many questions, but PLEASE READ THIS PAGE FIRST. Then if, after doing so, you still have a good general question about living in/moving to France that is NOT already on the list, AND you think other readers might also benefit from the information, feel free to email it to me and I'll see what I can do about adding it to this page. However, I do not guarantee that I will be able to reply personally to your inquiries about living in France. Hope you understand!
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1) I am just starting the process of researching what it will take for me to move to France. Where should I begin?
For my fellow Americans, I recommend starting with the "Living in France" section at the U.S. Embassy in Paris web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/living_in_france.html. It is up-to-date, and offers an extensive list of documents on all manner of topics relating to living here. (I've used the information on this site on more than one occasion since I've been here, and if you're going to be an American in France, the Embassy should be your new best friend.) Refer to this page on the Embassy web site also if you need to know about marriage in France, tax advice, finding a translator or getting "apostilles" on official documents, U.S. passport renewal while living in France, or even if you are a U.S. citizen just traveling to France on vacation and need help or information. If you are planning to be in France for a month or more, it's also a good idea to register your permanent address and contact info with the Embassy in case of emergency.
Also for Americans, you will need to find out which French consulate/embassy office in the United States will handle your Visa application; there are several around the country, and each one covers different states. I'm a native of New Jersey, so I had to go to the French Embassy in New York City. To find out which French Embassy office you will need to contact, start here: http://www.ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?article359 -- it's the site for the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Keep in mind that the French government web sites are the most correct source of information on immigration rules, so no matter what you may have read on other sites or in books, you should always double-check your information... and even then, you might still find a surprise or two along the way. Get used to it: this is France.
If you are from a non-EU country other than the United States, you will need to find the web site for your country's embassy in France and/or France's embassy in your country, to find similar links that will apply in your own situation. Nationals of some countries need a travel Visa even for a short visit to France, so find out the rules for your country before you buy that plane ticket! And for EU citizens, it is my understanding that you need no special documents, other than your EU passport, in order to live and work legally in France; lucky you!
- French.about.com's "Living and Working in France" pages
- Top 8 Books about Living and Working in France
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2) How hard/easy is it to get a job in France? I want to come there, but I need to find a job in order to support myself, and transferring with my current employer isn't an option. And do I need to speak French in order to work in France?
Oh, la la. I have to be honest, I have no experience in this area, being self-employed when I first came here, and currently I am not working at all (other than writing my book). Unemployment is high in France, so finding a job isn't even easy for French people.
Here's what I do know: your employment status will determine the type of Visa for which you are eligible. There are different Visas for students, au pairs (live-in babysitters), people working in corporations, teaching assistants, independent artists, and people with independent financial means and retirees. See #1 above for the links to the sites where you will find all the information on the different Visas available, so you can decide which category best suits your situation.
Then, if having a steady paycheck is essential while you live here, you need to find a business willing to employ you BEFORE you move here, because you have to get the work Visa in your country of origin FIRST... you can't get the Visa IN France, AFTER you move to France. You could come here for a short time to search in person, but you'll still have to go back to your home country and do the necessary paperwork before coming back to live in France for more than 90 days. And that's the problem: because French employers now have all the other E.U. countries to draw upon for workers, where there are no immigration headaches for the employer, it makes it that much harder for you, the non-EU citizen, to come and get a job in France. Exceptions tend to be if you have some sort of desirable skills, education or training. Many people who move to France take jobs as English-language teaching assistants or tutors because that seems to be one of the simplest options for those who aren't relocating via their existing employer.
And no, unfortunately I can't help you find a job teaching English or becoming a teaching assistant. I have no additional information on that. Sorry.
As to whether or not you need to speak French in order to work here... I say this with love in my heart: Don't be naive. YES, you will need to speak at least intermediate-level French in order to work here. Even if you are seeking a job teaching English, you'll need to be able to master at least basic communication skills in French in order to do your job and deal with your French bosses and colleagues. Learn the language if you're planning to work here (or even to go to school here).
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3) I can't work (or don't want to work) while in France, but what about getting a student visa?
This is frequently the path of least resistance for people who want to come and spend at least six months in France... come as a student. There is no age limit for a student visa. I have friends who have managed to legally stay in France for years as a student (although a student visa won't keep you here forever, if that is your intention).
Of course, certain study programs require an advanced level of French language proficiency since the classes are taught in French (and that includes courses in English literature!) One easy solution might be to enroll in French language studies for foreigners, and once you are pre-registered for one of these programs, you can then go and apply (in your home country) for your student visa. Then, once you are in France with your student visa, I believe you are then eligible to work up to a certain number of hours (maybe 20 or 25, but don't quote me) per week in addition to your studies, so you might be able to score a little part-time job to help out with your expenses... no guarantees, of course. And again, check with official embassy/consultate sources for the specific legalities involved in this type of visa.
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4) How can I find a place to live? Are there student dorms? How did you find your apartment in Paris when you first moved there?
First thing to know about real estate in Paris (especially if you are planning to buy something): there is no such thing as a Multiple Listing Service. Apartments and homes can be (and usually will be) listed with multiple agencies. Some agencies have multiple offices across Paris, and most of them now have web sites, which does make it easier to locate properties for sale or for rent.
For you students-to-be, student dorms are almost unheard of in France, and the universities don't usually have a "student housing" office. Students in France often live at home with Maman et Papa until their studies are complete (and this can take until the age of 25 or 26 if they are going for advanced degrees). If they don't live at home, they rent (or their parents rent for them) studio apartments, or they find roommates ("co-location" or "co-loc"). Foreign students will have to find their own housing. I have asked my college-age step-kids if there is such a thing as a "roommate finder service" in Paris, and they don't know of one. If they do exist, it is not as a centralized service.
In my situation, I wanted a furnished apartment because I didn't know how long I'd be staying, and didn't want to go to the trouble and expense of shipping my furniture. If you are also someone who is planning to stay in France for two years or less, you might want to consider renting furnished ("meublé") as well as having the appliances provided ("equipé"). Your monthly rent will be a bit higher, but the cost of appliances and furniture (not to mention sheets, towels, dishes, cooking utensils) is very high in France. (Don't forget that European electricity is different than in North America, so shipping over your TV, fridge or washing machine is completely impractical.)
I found a lot of web sites online that listed furnished rentals ("location"), many of which are through agencies who generally charge a fee that is payable by the tenant ("locataire") instead of the owner/landlord ("propriétaire"). But in the end, I went to a site called Vacation Rentals-by-Owner (www.vrbo.com) and clicked on France and then Paris. Although many or most of the listings are for short-term and vacation rentals, some of the owners are open to longer-term arrangements. I found several apartments that looked good, and contacted the owners (you deal with them directly, so no agency fees) to inquire if they'd be willing to rent to me for a year or more. Some said no, but several were quite interested in my proposal, and eventually I decided on the one in the 15th after speaking to the owner (a woman from New York who had lived in Paris over 20 years and had a French husband). It was an ideal arrangement for me, and I even asked for and got a reduction in the rent because I was willing to make the long-term commitment.
If you are staying longer and/or prefer to outfit an apartment from scratch... be forewarned, you'll have your work cut out for you. French apartments (at least those in Paris) tend to be rented stripped to the bone, and that includes kitchen cabinets. You may find that the landlord will not provide anything other than the toilet and basic plumbing (I have even heard of apartments with no showers or bathtubs, although that is rare... however some chambres de bonne/studio apartments, which are located on the top floors of old Parisian buildings, do sometimes come without private toilets because they used to be the servants' rooms, and there will often be communal toilets and showers located on those floors for the tenants. They're dirt cheap, though. I have one friend who rented one of these for about 300€/mo with a communal toilet but NO no communal shower. She bought herself a gym membership and combined her shower with her daily workout. It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but her objective was to save money to buy an apartment, and it worked for her, plus she kept herself in great shape at the same time.)
Things tend to take longer in France, too, so you may need extraordinary patience to get what you want -- or else you'll have to compromise and take something less than your "dream" apartment or house. So while it is possible to find an apartment quickly and move in quickly, it is more likely you'll need several months to find the right place and maybe a few more months before you can actually move in. And that's not counting if you need to do any work on the apartment to make it livable. (Another reason to go with a furnished and equipped space.)
Here are links to a few agency web sites we used when we were apartment-hunting this past winter and spring; most of them list unfurnished apartments for rent (remember, in French, "location" doesn't mean the same thing as in English; it means "rental") but some sites list furnished ones as well:
Most of these agency sites also list apartments for sale ("vente") as well as for rent ("location") but because there is no such thing as a multiple-listing service in France, it means you may have to go individually to different agencies, although some have more than one office around the city which can be helpful. But agents don't really collaborate here (too much competition), so don't be surprised if you call to set up a visite for an apartment and they won't help you because the listing agent isn't working that day!
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5) I'm single and would love to meet that special someone while I'm living abroad. How do I start dating in France?
If you're a long-time reader of the blog (or a recent reader who bothered to read through the archives), you will remember that I did, indeed, kiss a few frogs before I met my "Frog" Prince (and I met him on www.Meetic.fr, in case you were interested in trying this site). The process of dating and falling in love is, in many respects, just as insane, depressing, exciting, degrading, fun, and complicated as it is in other cultures. I mean, men and women are, on some level, the same no matter the cultural differences.
The thing is... many French men may not be comfortable communicating in English, and as some of my ex-pat gal pals can testify, dating with a language barrier presents some unique challenges. Like, how are you supposed to find out if your French date has a bad history or is gainfully employed, or what they like to eat or if they have any food allergies, if you can't ask questions and understand the answers? (More reasons to improve your skills in the French language!)
That's not to say you can't leap those communications hurdles and have a good relationship with a Frenchman (or French woman). You might luck out and find one who is confident enough with his/her English skills that you, the Anglophone, won't have to worry about your lousy French. (I was extremely lucky that my now-husband was quite proficient in English, even though there was room for improvement and his accent, to this day, is quite strong at times.) Or maybe your French is much better than mine was when I got here, which is a plus for you. And then, of course, there are those who believe it's easiest to learn a foreign language "between the sheets" (wink, wink), and 80% of communication is non-verbal anyway. So the language barrier doesn't have to be a deal breaker. I'm just saying.
The French typically don't "date" in the way we North Americans tend to think of it. I mean, sure, they go out for drinks or dinner or a walk, or any of the usual things like movies and concerts, with someone they are interested in. But culturally, it seems to me that if you spend a lot of time with a particular French person, the assumption (on the French person's part) will often be that you ARE a couple. They meet through friends or at the office or at school, they spend some time together socially, and if they like each other, they seem to just be IN the relationship.
Whereas at least in America, people seem to have more "rules" about dating that dictate how fast or slow the relationship is "supposed to" move. It doesn't seem to work that way here in France, at least from my own observations, experiences, and discussions with friends. So, the best advice I can offer anyone who wants to "hook up" in France, is be open-minded about your expectations because some things will just not be what you're used to. And that doesn't mean it's a bad thing... it's just different.
Of course, as with meeting new people anywhere, you should be SAFE: until you get to know the person, meet them on neutral turf (when my husband asked me out the first time, after a few days of online chat, he said "Would you like to meet me for lunch one day next week, in a public place?", and although that made me giggle, I was also relieved that he said that). Don't give out your home address to anyone you're meeting on the internet, EVER, until you get to know them better in person. Nine times out of 10 you won't have any problems, but why take a chance? It's just common sense. And (playing the mother figure now) don't forget to pack your own condoms -- and ladies, I'm talking to YOU. Just in case.
By the way, just to cross the line into the explicit for a moment, and this is mainly for my American sisters: FYI, most French men are NOT circumcised, unless they are either Jewish or Muslim. I just didn't want you to be surprised. (And for you non-Americans who are wondering why on earth I would even write such a thing? The vast majority of American men ARE circumcised; in America, it's not a religious thing so much as just how it is in our culture. A girl could easily go her whole dating life in the U.S. and never encounter an uncircumcised penis, up close and personal so to speak, unless the man in question was born in another country.) The same is true with many nationals of other countries in Europe and around the world; circumcision isn't a given. So ladies... get over it.
Anyway, back on topic... about Meetic. This was just the site I found that had members in France (there is a Meetic.com as well, the English version of the site). I happened to meet Georges there, but wasn't having much luck before I met him. However, I have two friends here in Paris who also met their French husbands via Meetic. There are also other internet dating sites that cover cities in France. It's not a bad way to meet someone. Voila... you just never know.
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6) Never mind dating: how can I just make some new friends in Paris and create a social life? I won't know anyone once I get there!
Moving abroad forces you to go the extra distance to make new friends and have social contacts. Yes, you can certainly enjoy life in France (especially in Paris) solo, and although people associate Paris with romance, it is actually a very easy city in which to be single because there are so many things you can do on your own - including eating out in restaurants - and no one will bat an eyelash. But things will certainly be much nicer if you have friends as well.
I made friends in Paris primarily through two methods. The first was via other Paris ex-pat bloggers, several of whom have become my very dear friends. My blog friendships didn't happen overnight -- you can't just start chatting up bloggers hoping they'll be your new best friends when you arrive in your new French town; those bloggers already have lives of their own, and over-eager blog readers can come off more like stalkers than potential new BFFs. For me, it was a gradual and natural process, as with any new friendship: I started reading other ex-pat blogs. Some of them them stood out for the quality of writing or for the character or interests of the particular blogger. I started leaving comments. Some of those comments led to dialogues and emails being exchanged between me and the blogger in question. And when I was finally ready to come to France, I contacted some of these bloggers about meeting for coffee. Some of them accepted (some didn't), and a real-life friendship developed.
The thing to remember, if you feel like you want to become friends with some of your favorite bloggers, is that you can't force the issue. Remember that you may FEEL like you really "know" that blogger from their writing -- but you don't really know them. You may feel like someone could be a great friend for you, but you don't know everything about them, and they know nothing whatsoever about you. So don't count on this method as a means of making friends. It will either happen organically... or it won't.
And the other method was a site called Meetup.com, where you can find common interest/social groups in cities all around the world. This was one of my favorites and I would highly recommend it. Just go there and plug in "Paris" in your search, and you'll get dozens of groups to choose from. Some are special interest groups, such as for knitting, sports, and photography, while others are organized around language and culture. My favorites here in Paris were Expats Paris (the largest group in our city), and the Expat groups for Americans, Brits, Canadians and Australians (we Anglos stick together). I also enjoyed the New in Town meetup group here in Paris which organized events like walking tours, where I met a lot of very nice people (some of them were even French, as these groups are not only for us foreigners) and I have several close friends as a result.
So, explore some of what Meetup.com has to offer, based on whatever most interests you, and before you know it you'll have friends and a real social life.
Other suggestions for meeting people: take a photography course or an art course; join a gym, a pool or find a yoga class; check the Mairie in your town or arrondissement to see if there are any local/community events taking place where you can attend or get involved; check the bulletin boards at the American Church in Paris to see what's going on there (a good resource for Anglophones in Paris, even if religion isn't your thing). The American Church also has a program called "Bloom Where You're Planted" which can be extremely helpful to newcomers, and if you can't attend the seminars, they also sell a guide by the same title.
And just a note on making friends with the French: they tend to be reserved, so don't expect that they will reach out and welcome you with open arms. They will be pleasant and friend-LY as neighbors and colleagues when you meet them... but that won't necessarily translate into invitations to dinner, lunch, drinks, girls/guys-nights-out, sporting events and concerts, or weekend holidays to the country. I met an American lawyer here a few years back, and one of the reasons he started his own social group for expats (the Meeting.com Expats Paris group) was because when he arrived in Paris, he had expected his work colleagues to invite him and his wife out for drinks after work, the way he would have done for a foreign colleague back in the States... and those invitations just never happened. His colleagues were nice enough to work with, but after hours they had their own lives, and it never occurred to them to help the foreigners "integrate". So he learned that he had to find other ways of making his own social network.
You will, too.
It can literally take YEARS to be accepted into a community of French nationals, and if you're living in a smaller town or village, you might always be "the foreigner" even once you've made some friends and acquaintances, and even if you eventually take French nationality. Don't be discouraged. Just be creative and get out there. Eventually, the real friendships will come.
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7) A word or two about the stereotype of French rudeness to foreigners: is it true, or not? In my experience, no, it's not true. Having said that, I'm sure you may know people (or may be someone) who have experienced someone in France being less than polite. So, let's look at this more closely.
Here is my take on this: you get what you expect. If you come to France expecting people to treat you rudely, I think you are bound to then attract some rude behavior. Maybe you are walking around with a chip on your shoulder, a sense of entitlement, that the French "should" treat you like you're someone special merely because you decided to show up and spend your money here? (Yes, I have actually MET tourists like this, and they make me sick. Please leave this entitlement mentality at home if you plan to LIVE here.) So perhaps the best place to start is with examining your own preconceived ideas about the French, and about your role as a visitor to France.
Do you, if you're honest, have negative ideas about the French, despite perhaps never having encountered (m)any French people? Have you embraced the stereotypes as "true", or listened to your Aunt Millie who was here in '73 and who met a rude waiter and who decided that all the French were just dreadfully rude? And to my fellow Americans: have you also embraced that perspective of American being the biggest and the best and therefore everywhere you go, the "locals" ought to be GRATEFUL that you're there, spending your money? If so, then I hate to point this out, but YOU might be the problem if you encounter rudeness in France; it's not them, it IS you.
However, I do think most people visiting France are here because there is something about France that interests them, that genuinely attracts them, and they come here expecting to have a great time! And then, perhaps, something happens and they have a disappointing encounter with someone French, and they might not understand that it's probably not even personal. It's CULTURAL.
I think it's important, before we judge the French, to remember something important about traveling to other countries: they ARE going to be different than your country. The French have their own history and culture. This means they have their own way of seeing the world, their own standards of what is "polite" or not, their own ways of behaving when they encounter people they don't know. This is also true of Americans, Japanese, Russians, Norwegians, South Africans, Brazilians, and people all over the world of all cultures: EVERYONE is different than you. If you travel to another country and expect it to be just like YOUR country, then it is YOU who are making an error, because it will NEVER be just like "home". So part of what needs to happen when you become a world traveler, is that you must open your mind, learn something about the place you're visiting and its people and traditions, and leave your judgments where they belong: back at home! The whole point to traveling is that you get to have new experiences, and even if you don't love every place you visit (because you won't) you can still find something of value to enjoy and appreciate about it. You might like the people in one country but not the food; in the next country you visit, the food is great but the people aren't warm and friendly. That's all part of traveling. And if nothing else, you can return home even more appreciative of what you prefer about your own country, right?
The French are actually EXTREMELY polite in their dealings with others on a social basis. I have seen my husband go to great lengths to word a business letter "correctly", even when it involves making a complaint or delivering bad news, because it's important in his culture to be polite and he knows you get much further doing so. Whereas if I were writing the same letter to another American in a business setting? I might actually not care two figs about being polite, if it means getting my point across and getting what I want in a timely fashion. I would be very direct and explicit, whereas the French tend to write in a more formal, almost "flowery" (to my thinking) style. So who would be considered the less polite person in a situation like that? (Ahem.) I have also been in French homes and met people for the first time and I couldn't believe how they went out of their way to try and make me feel comfortable, ESPECIALLY because they knew my French might not be strong or that I might not understand what was being said in the general conversation.
I have encountered strangers on the street who have gone out of their way to be helpful, whether I was a bit lost in a neighborhood, or on the more than one occasion where I have tripped and fallen over these damn cobblestones, and people rushed to help me. I was nearly mugged at a cash machine in my own neighborhood (hey, this is a big city and it happens) and two men nearby ran over to chase the thieves away! I have seen something amusing while out walking, caught the eye of a French person passing by and shared a good laugh or a few words of witty banter.
I almost never encounter anyone being truly rude, however.
The French, as a cultural group, DO tend to be a bit reserved when they don't know someone. This is nothing personal, and should never be mistaken for RUDENESS. Just because they don't want to hug you and smile at you for no reason and invite you home to dinner, doesn't mean they're being rude; they're just reserved until they get to know you better, that's all. And "getting to know you" could actually take months, if not years, in some parts of France (especially in small towns, as I understand it).
I met an American man here during my first year in Paris; he had relocated here with his wife and kids. He was a corporate attorney who had started a social network group for ex-pats living here, and he told me the reason he started it in the first place was that when he arrived, he had expected his work colleagues would invite him out for drinks after work, or over to their homes for dinner, because that is what HE would have done with a foreign colleague who had moved to the U.S. But the French aren't necessarily like that; they come in to work, kiss or shake hands with all their colleagues in the mornings as a politeness, do their work, have lunch with their colleagues, work some more, and then they want to go home to their own lives and families and do their own thing. They don't see it as their responsibility to introduce newcomers around and help them feel at home; they assume the newcomer is perfectly capable of forming his or her own social life. It's nothing personal (keep repeating that), it's just how they see it. To judge them as "rude" because of that is simply incorrect.
The standards of what's polite and what's not are sometimes simply DIFFERENT here. My French sister-in-law sets her table differently than I do, fork tines facing downward rather than upward, napkin on the plate rather than to the left side. French people put their bread ON the table next to their plate, rather than ON the plate itself (I have had to explain to my American family, when we're visiting, that this is NOT considered bad table manners in France, even in the best restaurants!)
And whenever you're in the toilet, FOR GOD'S SAKE LOCK THE DOOR because 99.9% of the time, THE FRENCH WILL NOT KNOCK FIRST BEFORE TRYING TO OPEN THE DOOR TO THE W.C. I asked my husband WHY they won't knock, and he just shrugged and said, "We assume it's up to the person in the toilet to lock the door, and if they forget and are embarrassed when someone else walks in, that's THEIR fault." To the French, this isn't rude at all -- it's just how things ARE. (And believe me, when you've been walked in on? You remember to lock the damn door!)
What about rude waiters or sales clerks in stores? Well, you've got me there. This is one area where the French could improve a bit: customer service and customer relationships. I have had great waiters, friendly ones even, and I've had horrible service in restaurants. And I can count the number of times I have truly had fabulous help from sales clerks in stores on two hands. Many shops and restaurants now realize this is a deficiency and are taking steps to improve, but overall this is also related to the culture gap in the French workforce, where traditionally "customer service" has been a lower priority, and this is true of the commercial sector as well as with many of France's government workers you will encounter: they simply do NOT see it as their "job" to make things easier for YOU or for ME.
But you know what? The vast majority of the time, people like that aren't just behaving badly to foreigners; they're treating other French people just as badly. A bad-tempered worker is likely that way pretty much all of the time, to everyone. The French themselves will grumble about the fonctionnaires being difficult or about how long they have to wait in lines in shops or about how they have to deal with idiots in stores or restaurants. This is just part of the culture here, and if you plan to live in France, you'd be well advised to take the less judgmental perspective of: "It's not good, it's not bad, it's not better or worse than where I'm from: it's just DIFFERENT".
Meanwhile, you WILL make friends, whether they're French or whether they are ex-pats from other countries like yourself. You WILL find nice French people: a super-helpful pharmacist, a friendly baker, an extra-helpful colleague or fellow student, or even your French romantic partner's family members (where I personally have been very blessed -- my French inlaws have been wonderful to me and now they are MY family, too!) Just enjoy all the new relationships you are able to make here, and on those odd occasions where something unpleasant happens, you will be able to chalk it up to another eye-opening travel experience.
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8) Is speaking fluent French really necessary to live in France? How can I improve my French? Won't my high school or college French be good enough?
To answer that last question first... uh, non. Although I do believe you need good French to WORK in France, you don't necessarily need to know much French to LIVE here (although it will sure make your life much easier if you learn the language). However, your school French alone probably won't take you very far. A lot of us learned French in school but never really had a chance to "road test" it in a real-life setting, and then when we get here, we have a rude awakening... and that doesn't mean the French are rude, so forget the stereotypes.
The fact is, the French speak their language quickly -- especially the Parisians -- and there is a lot of idiomatic stuff (or regional accents) thrown in that you never learned in school or in books or even in your "French in Action" videos (I did learn "mystère et boules de gomme" that way, though!) So dealing with the French in French will be challenging for a long time, no matter what your current level of proficiency.
Do you absolutely need to speak French to live here? Mmm... perhaps not, if you are living in Paris, but speaking NO French will prove very difficult if you are anywhere in France for more than a few weeks, so it helps if you can at least master some basics... especially proper pronunciation, which is VERY important in French. But once you get down some key phrases to get you through common daily situations, it is possible to go through much of your time in France without speaking a lot of French, assuming you have Anglophone friends or colleagues to talk to. My first year here, I don't think my French improved very much at all, because my social life mainly included Americans, Brits and Australians. So, there you go. (Note: I'm in Paris where more people, even the French, can speak at least a little English, but if you find yourself living in a small town in France, I think you WILL need to know more French to get along and keep your sanity intact.) Once I was more immersed in the language, by virtue of falling in love with my husband and being around his kids, friends and neighbors (few of whom spoke much English), my own skills progressed considerably.
I also think that if you are going to live in another country, it's important to learn the culture AND language for many reasons, including showing respect for that country's way of life, expanding your opportunities to enjoy your life more fully, and of course to make things a bit easier on yourself. If you want to get the most of living in France, make the effort to learn at least SOME French - and watch your pronunciation; it matters in France (as my French family reminds me daily). It is part of integrating into the country and the society. Let me also say that, for those who are considering applying for French citizenship some day, as of January 2012 there is now a language-competency requirement; see notes below on that.
There are many options for learning and improving your French once you get here though. There are free language exchange groups: see Meetup.com, check the FUSAC magazine (www.fusac.fr/en/) or check the bulletin boards at the American Church in Paris to find one. There are many schools teaching French for a fee, but the two most well known are the Alliance Française and the programs at the Sorbonne (this is the one I completed, starting October 2010 and finishing in March 2011). Both of those are a bit pricey but considered very good, the Sorbonne's program being a bit more structured. In Paris, you can also check with the Red Cross (Croix Rouge) and the local Mairie in your arrondissement, which offer free or very cheap French classes for immigrants in France.
(Sidebar about FUSAC: great resource for classified ads in English in Paris. You can find job listing, apartment listings, furniture, and much more. The magazine is free, comes out monthly, and can be found around Paris at places where Anglophones might hang out, like Shakespeare & Company or W.H. Smith bookstores, for example. You can also look at the ads online. www.fusac.fr/en/)
***UPDATE: January 2012. The French government now REQUIRES that applicants for French nationality (dual nationality if you plan on keeping your original nationality) have a certified, tested comprehension level in French of "Niveau B1" or higher (B1 is considered lower intermediate, meaning you can function well in French even if you are not wholly fluent). There is both a written and oral comprehension test required. Taking a class in French here in France is no longer sufficient (as I learned the hard way), unless you take a course where you will also sit for a TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français) or DELF (Diplôme d'Etudes en Langue Française) examination at the end that will qualify you as level B1 or higher. If you already have a DELF diploma, I believe this is sufficient proof and you would not need to sit another exam for the TCF, but check with the local préfecture about the requirements in case the rules have changed.
If you are planning to come and study in France on a student Visa, you may also need to take the TCF exam to prove your level of French is sufficient to allow you to succeed in your classes, which will likely be conducted in French (yes, even classes in English literature are often given entirely in French!)
For information on being tested via the TCF test (which will give you an official attestation on your competency level ranging from A1 to C2) go here. Or see where you can take the test and get additional information at www.ciep.fr.
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9) If I want to ship my furniture and other belongings to France, can you recommend a good international shipper?
Unfortunately, no. I have not had to ship any big items to France, having carefully thought about it and deciding that as much as I might like to ship certain pieces of furniture, it wasn't worth the expense. I did ship some boxes via UPS and the US Postal Service during my first year, and both were expensive. UPS ships fastest and you can track packages, but the items will still get hung up in customs so "2-day delivery" is a bit of a misnomer. The US Postal Service was cheaper but I couldn't track the packages and it took something like 6 weeks, so don't ship anything that way if it's anything you can't live without if it gets delayed or even lost. If I had to ship any other items that were valuable, I would probably choose to use UPS because of the package tracking and shorter time frame.
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10) What if I eventually want to seek French nationality? How does that work? Can I do that and still keep my original nationality?
Starting in the summer of 2012, after my husband and I were married for 4 years, I became eligible under current French law to apply for nationality through marriage (the other option is becoming naturalized, and for that you have to have lived in France at least five full years plus there are other requirements). Whether or not you can have dual citizenship with France and your country of origin is really up to the two countries involved; some countries permit it, others do not. In my case, I can keep my US citizenship and have French citizenship as well.
I started documenting my Naturalisation Saga in October of 2012, the month when I formally submitted my dossier; you can read Parts One, Two and Three. For the grand finale, you'll have to wait until at least October 2013 as it takes a minimum of one full year to get the approval (or rejection). So stay tuned to find out if I will actually become French!
***Update August 2013: Well, it's official and the news came MUCH earlier than expected: I'm French! Citizenship ceremony and receipt of documents in September, but it's already on the books. Read this blog post if you want to know more or if you are considering this path for yourself. Your situation may be much different from mine, so I can't tell you any more than is included in that post, but it will give you a place to start.
Page last updated in September 2013.
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Caveat Emptor - Let the Francophile Buyer Beware.