Kim, Near Chateaubriant (Loire Atlantique)
Friday February 21, 2014 (06:52:38)
Who are you?
Hello! I'm Kim, an American from Massachusetts currently living and working in France with my boyfriend and our smiley dog Jojo.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to France one year ago to be with my boyfriend after several years of long distance. We both work for a French engineering firm based in Chateaubriant, not far from his home town. I'm a commercial export assistant, which has become a crash course in French business culture.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Moving was a whirlwind of emotion and packing. I found someone to sublet my apartment, sold my car and appliances, and stored or gave away anything that didn't fit into three suitcases. It was challenging to consider necessities, like clothing and paperwork, in addition to personal items such as family pictures. Unpacking was a bizarre experience - I managed to bring along a casserole dish and a pineapple plant, but forgot office-appropriate shoes.
Soon after settling in, we adopted a dog from a local shelter. I've found that he's been a great motivator to get out and explore the area.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Our apartment was already set up when I arrived, thanks to my boyfriend and his family. We have since moved again, and the process involved a lot of paperwork but was otherwise pretty straightforward. It helps that we are both employed and can prove citizenship/legal residency.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are very few expats in our area, mostly retirees from England. France has a large expat community is concentrated in the larger cities.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Everyone in our rural town is friendly, polite, and helpful. The neighbors look out for each other, and many families have lived in the area for generations. We spend a lot of time with my boyfriend's family and friends, and we have great colleagues. Overall, I've found it difficult to get beyond acquaintances here, because most people have kept the same friends since childhood.
What do you like about life where you are?
There are so many options for fun weekend trips! Last summer, we visited the Mont Saint Michel, the beach town La Baule, and the historical theme park Puy du Fou. France is also very accessible for traveling throughout Europe.
In addition, I enjoy living in a country that values family and relaxation. Everyone earns several weeks of vacation time per year, lunch breaks are an hour or two, and access to healthcare is universal. Our rural surroundings have also provided a good opportunity to catch up on reading and become more active. In addition, my overall cost of living has significantly reduced since moving to France. I save a lot of money on rent, healthcare, and insurance. I don't currently own a car.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
France is never convenient. Stores and restaurants have bizarre hours, and close super early. Takeout meals are option for us, but never delivery. It's taken almost a year to get my residency paperwork straightened out. I would say that some major drawbacks for me include living far from friends and family, and being removed from the cultural offerings of city life. In addition, I haven't managed to learn to drive a manual car yet, so that has significantly limited my mobility.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
I've struggled to accept that gender roles are more distinct in France. Most French women I've met drink only in moderation, keep their homes impeccably clean, cook almost every meal, and avoid heavy lifting and power tools. Honestly, I've taken a reactionary approach, asserting my enthusiasm for grilling and beer. Also, people dress well, meaning I've had to cut back on public appearances in sweatpants!
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
French food is excellent. Quality food is probably France's largest source of national pride. I've never had a bad meal in a restaurant French home. That being said, I find the food in our region to be heavy on the meat, cheeses, and potatoes. Multicultural food options are limited. But we're surrounded by local farms where we can buy fresh food directly, so it's a decent trade-off.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Before you move, it's important to research the country and save as much money as you can. You will want to hit the ground running, and it may be months before you have a work visa or bank account. In France, there are many (free!) services designed to help foreigners integrate, including language classes, healthcare providers, and employment training. Outside of major cities, it's very important to learn the local language. Do your best to communicate and be polite.
Once you're settled in, find a club or activity to get out and meet people. I joined a Zumba class, and it's been fun to get in shape and feel more connected to the community.
What are your plans for the future?
We're planning to stay for about 2 years before moving back to the US.
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