Diane Wargnier, Loire Valley

Who are you?

My name is Diane and I’m an American originally from New Jersey now living in France’s Loire Valley with my husband, Tom, and Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Dagny.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I live not far from Angers, France, and moved here about two years ago.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I think the move was the easiest part.The challenge was maintaining a long-distance relationship (me in NYC and him in France) so once we got married, I moved and it wasn’t challenging at all. I bought a one-way ticket, packed two suit cases, and was off!

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How did you find somewhere to live?

When I first arrived, I just moved into my husband’s apartment so it was a seamless transition for me. It’s the same town I’d visited many times on trips and is where my husband works. But five months ago, we bought our first house in the same town to have a space we call our own complete with a little backyard for the dog. We searched for several months and in France, the home buying process is a little different than it is the US. Here, you work with many agents since certain properties are only available with a certain agent. I have to say I’m lucky that my husband is French and could navigate the process with ease. Between the paperwork and cultural differences along the way, I would have been lost otherwise.

Are there many other expats in your area?

In my exact town, I don’t know of many other expats. I’ve heard in passing there’s a Canadian family and a few English women but I’ve never met them. It’s not a touristy area at all or expat saturated.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Everyone has been perfectly nice to me and I’ve never had any issues with people treating me differently because I’m not French. I love the pharmacist who knows us very well and loves the dog and the ladies at the post office do as well. I also have a senior citizen neighbor who enjoys my baked goods and is very sweet and friendly. But besides small talk, I don’t have any deep relationships with locals beyond my husband and his family.

What do you like about life where you are?

I like living in France but don’t feel that a place alone creates happiness. I feel that my happiness here is based on the fact that I am now content with where my life has taken me – I’m married to the love of my life, just bought a house and have my dog who I waited a long time for. I’m at ease with those aspects of my life so being happy with France just kind of comes naturally when other things are going well. Does that make sense?

As for specific things, I have to say I love the quality of food here. Beyond the fact that there are goodies like croissants and wonderful pastries and cheese and wine everywhere, just the quality of meat tends to be better than food in the U.S. GMOs aren’t allowed and it’s very easy to get fresh produce and other foods at the farmers market, which I really enjoy going to. I also like that the French understand what work/life balance means and that French people get a ton of vacation days. It’s not all about work, work, work all the time. My husband can easily take a day or an afternoon here or there if we want to do a long weekend or have an appointment and taking 2-3 weeks off during the summer to really unplug is also the norm.

Also, healthcare in France isn’t connected to one’s job status. It’s provided for all French citizens and legal residents and is extremely affordable (you pay into it but is worth it in my opinion for the level of care). If you lose your job, you don’t have to worry about seeing a doctor or ridiculous hospital bills – you and your family are always covered. That’s the way it should be.

I also like the fact that being an expat challenges me. It puts me out of my comfort zone and forces me to get better in a foreign language, to learn new things every day and get used to a new way of life.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I think it can be very isolating being new to an area, whether it’s in your own country just across the state or overseas. People here tend to keep to themselves and not open up easily so I find the process of making friends very difficult. Many French people have friends that they grew up with or friends through the parents of their children’s friends, so if you’re new to an area, it can be a difficult process and one that I know many expats struggle with.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

One major difference is that shops in France aren’t always open. I was used to being able to get anything at any time of day. Stores in my town often close between 12 and 2 for lunch every day, can be closed all day on Sunday and Monday and often close early in the evening. Banking hours can be even more frustrating. Sundays are often days for the family and you’ll see families dressed up on their afternoon walks on Sundays and nothing is really open. So if you need a cup of sugar for cookies at 7 p.m. on a Sunday night, you’re out of luck! I just plan better now.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

For clothes, I have to say I buy just about everything on trips back to the U.S. Clothes in France tend to be more expensive in general for the same quality as what I’d find in the U.S. and I feel the selection at least in my town is lacking. Or maybe I just feel closer to my American life if I’m outfitted in American brands. I don’t know. But seriously, except during the twice yearly sales (otherwise sales are legally not permitted), you pay full price. I haven’t gotten used to that and live for big sales at department sales in the U.S. and time my trips home accordingly! Food prices tend to be comparable, maybe a bit more expensive. It depends what you buy. Meat from the butcher will be more expensive, of course. I try to buy things on promo because laundry detergent and things like that tend to be pretty expensive. Household items such as appliances are absolutely more expensive in France. First, you have the fact that the Euro is relatively strong at the moment and then the fact that many things are imported (like Kitchenaid mixers) so that adds on a hefty fee. But if you want something bad enough, you just suck it up and pay because that’s how it is. No one is getting a deal! And then I remind myself that cheese and wine are totally affordable. It all evens out. 😉

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

As I said above, I think French food is wonderful. The quality of groceries is excellent (meat and chicken taste great here, really). I’ve tried French specialties like escargot and other French dishes including fondue and tartiflette and love culinary adventures – but nothing too out there. I won’t touch the horse meat you sometimes see in the grocery stores.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

I’d tell anyone looking to move to France to spend as much time in the country as possible before the move so you get the real feel and not the idealized tourist experience. Also, learn French! And talk to as many people as you can including other expats to figure out the ins and outs of a place or what it takes to move. My other piece of advice would be to just go for it if it’s something you want. Don’t put it off month after month. Once you have all your ducks in a row, just move because life is too short to live with regret.

What are your plans for the future?

Well, we just bought a house last year so are probably staying here for the next couple of years, but I’m open to moving somewhere else in France in the future or back to the U.S. at some point. I don’t think we have concrete plans as far as that goes. We’ll see where life takes us!

Diane shares more information about life in France through her blog ouiinfrance.com.

Photo credit: Lindsey Kent of Pictours Paris

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