When you’re planning a move to a new country, there’s a lot to get your head around, and understanding how things work locally is key to quickly landing on your feet. Today’s guest is Emma Pearson, Editor of The Local France, a website covering French news, culture and practical tips on everyday life in the country.
Emma’s going to walk us through how to move to France. We cover everything from visas, to finding a job, a place to live, getting into the French healthcare system, opening a bank account and schooling options if you have kids. Think of this, as a really useful “pick your brain” session with someone who has been through it all – in Emma’s case, twice in fact.
Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with another episode of the Expat Focus podcast.
When you’re planning a move to a new country, there’s a lot to get your head around, and understanding how things work locally is key to quickly landing on your feet. Today’s guest is Emma Pearson, Editor of The Local France, a website covering French news, culture, and practical tips on everyday life in the country. Emma’s going to walk us through how to move to France.
We cover everything from visas to finding a job, a place to live, getting into the French healthcare system, opening a bank account, and schooling options if you have kids. Think of this as a really useful “pick your brain” session with someone who has been through it all – in Emma’s case, twice, in fact.
So, Emma, I actually subscribed to The Local myself, and, I have to say, I’ve been especially impressed with the COVID-19 updates on The Local France in the past few months. It’s been so reassuring, as someone who’s not fluent in French and can’t go to the usual French news websites, to know that I have an up-to-date resource on the virus and the latest lockdown announcements.
Emma: Oh, that’s great. I’m really pleased that people have found it helpful. It’s certainly been quite complicated. The French rules (as French rules tend to be) have been lengthy and complicated and with lots of sub clauses and whatever. So a lot of people have found it quite difficult.
So we have done a lot of very detailed things on: this is where you can go; and this is where you can shop; and this is where you can drive. So I’m really pleased you have found it helpful in living through this.
Carlie: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so glad that some rules have relaxed now, but there was a point there where things were changing week to week, and it was just so reassuring to have somewhere to go to know exactly what was going on.
But we’re not talking about coronavirus today. We’re actually talking how to move to France and all those essential ‘need-to-knows’. Before we get into it, Emma, I’d like to know: how did you end up living and working in France?
Emma: Well, I’ve actually moved to France twice, because I was living here between 2011 and 2013. I was down in southwest France, working there. I came on a bit of a whim, really, for a job, just to see how it went.
I moved down there, ended up totally falling in love with France, as a lot of people do. I worked down there for a couple of years. My job then came to an end, and so I went back to the UK, but I always knew that at some point I would be coming back.
So, I moved back last year, to Paris, where I am now, under the job at The Local. So I’ve done the move to France twice. So I’ve stupidly done all of the paperwork twice, because I’m an idiot.
Carlie: I was going to say, considering how much work is involved in getting yourself set up in France, clearly you weren’t deterred after the first experience.
Emma: Well, no, it’s not an easy thing. Moving to France is a big thing. But I think most people who’ve done it would say, when they’ve finished, that it was worth the pain. Because France obviously is lovely, and we all really enjoy everything.
Carlie: Now, I’m an EU citizen, so, in my case, I just showed up. And I’m assuming it was probably the same for yourself; you’re sounding English to me.
Emma: Yes, that’s right. I’m from Yorkshire in Northern England. So, yes, it was obviously much easier for me. First time I moved, in 2011, we hadn’t even thought of this Brexit malarkey, so I pretty much just rocked up and then started doing my paperwork to get health insurance and all that kind of thing.
The second time I moved, I actually moved here two weeks before the original Brexit date back in March 2019. So I had a very, very quick move, because at that point we didn’t know what was going to happen. When I moved, we were still on course for a no deal exit in March. So we had no clue what was going to happen to us in terms of citizenship.
So, since then, I’ve been introduced to the world of residency permits, which obviously non-EU citizens have always had to deal with.
Carlie: And so what do non-EU citizens need to understand when it comes to visas and residency permits for France?
Emma: It’s quite complicated, as is everything in France, and there are a lot different categories. But broadly, it’s a two-step process. You need to get a visa before you come. You need to get the visa in your original country, and you can get a visa in various different categories.
So, if you’ve already got a job lined up, you can get a working visa. If you’re married to a French person, you can get a spouse visa. There’re various different options like that, but you get your visa before you come here.
That’s not a simple process, and it’s not a cheap process either, because it’s several hundred euros just to get paperwork. And you may well need the supporting paperwork professionally translated, which is another cost. So, it’s not a cheap process to do.
Once you’re here, you then need to apply for the carte de séjour, the residency card, and when you need to apply for that depends on what type of visa you have, but generally you need to be applying for your carte de séjour about three months before your visa expires.
And then, again, with the carte de séjour, there are lots of different types, and you apply based on whether you’re employed, self-employed, retired, a spouse … There’re various different options, and you apply based on that. And, as ever in France, you supply an enormous amount of supporting paperwork.
Every document that’s ever pertained to your life will probably be needed at some point. And again, some of them may well need to be professionally translated. So there’s a cost attached to that.
Carlie: That’s one thing, actually, that I’ve learned the hard way. Having moved to the UK and then later to France, with most of my documentation being back in Australia, slowly, slowly, every time I’ve gone back to Australia, I’ve made the effort to dig through my files and find my high school diplomas, my university paperwork, [and] every birth and identity form I can find on myself, because inevitably I’ve needed it here in France.
Emma: Totally. Living in France turns you into a hoarder, because you never know what piece of obscure paperwork will be demanded, so you keep absolutely everything. And the other big thing, certainly for Brits, that we’ve found, is that, when you’re asked for birth certificates, the short version of the birth certificate that Brits get is not accepted in France.
So, you have to apply back in your home country for the long version of your birth certificate, which includes all your parents’ details and stuff like that.
So, that’s not difficult, but it’s just something that people need to be aware of, because what you don’t want to do is get together all of your paperwork, send it off to whichever agency you’re dealing with, and then get back the dreaded, dreaded words: ‘Votre dossier n’est pas complet’ (your application is not complete). These are the five words that make everyone’s blood run cold.
Carlie: That bring you back to the start again.
Emma: Because then, yes, you have to start again.
Carlie: Emma, obviously – unless you’re following a spouse, or you’re retired, or you happen to have a very hefty bank account – you’re probably going to need to work when you move to France. And some ways that people look to move to France is to be sponsored by a company. How common is that, and what other things should expats know about looking for a job in France?
Emma: It’s quite an interesting one, that, because certainly among our readership … Of the people who are working – I mean, we do have quite a lot of retired people who read us – but out of the people who are working, I would say it’s about 50/50 among people who are employees and people who are self-employed or who run their own businesses.
A lot of people move to France to run a business. We have lucky people who work in roughly tourist-related businesses, so people who moved to the French countryside and set up their own horse-riding business, because that was their dream. [We have] people who opened a bar. Here in Paris, we have a lot of people who are freelancers. So, I mean, that is possible.
I don’t think people should rule that out and just assume that they have to be here as an employee and have to be sponsored. But it does make your paperwork easier if you’re an employee. If you have a permanent contract, it’s less of a problem. But it’s very feasible to come here and be a freelance writer [or] whatever it is that you want to be. So, I would say, don’t rule that out.
Carlie: And what if you’re coming to France and you need to search for a job? Do the French use sites like Indeed and Monster when they’re job hunting? Or are there specific job sites that are uniquely used in this country?
Emma: Yes, they do use the usual job sites that everybody uses – Indeed, LinkedIn, that kind of thing. On The Local, we have our own job sites, so people advertise there, and because of our readership, we get a lot of adverts for people where speaking English is a requirement. So because they know that they can find English speakers through us. So yeah, there are a lot of websites like that.
I would say, in general, things are less online in France, and a lot of the people that we know who have jobs have got them through personal contacts, through people they’ve known. A lot of people who studied here, or came to France to do a year as part of their course, worked and then ended up getting a job on the back of that.
So, personal connections are, I think, probably more important in France than they would be in the UK or maybe the US. So if you can come over here for a short time, either as part of a course or just to take a couple of months to do an internship or anything like that, I would say that’s invaluable, more so than in other countries, because the personal connection really is quite important.
Carlie: It’s really about who you know.
Emma: Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately so. I think, for us foreigners, it’s actually easier in a way, because for French employees, their education is very important. So if you don’t get into one of the grande écoles. Or journalists, for example, if you don’t go to one of the journalism schools, it becomes very, very hard for you to get a job.
So, in some ways, it’s actually easier for us that it’s less dependent on our education and more dependent on our experience. But yes, certainly professional connections, personal connections like that, are a big thing in finding a job.
Carlie: One thing I found quite intimidating, actually, when I first moved to France and was looking around job sites, was the requirement to have a master’s degree. And I was speaking to my French partner about this, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s quite common for people to not only get their undergraduate when they’re studying at university but their masters too.’
So, it’s quite the norm. And here I am, barely finishing my bachelor’s degree in Australia, thinking I’m already at a disadvantage, because everybody else has studied more than myself.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. And of course, you also get, for the really high-level French jobs … They tend to be people who’ve gone to ENA, école nationale d’administration. And they’re quite often people who will work for a few years and then will study in their own time to get this qualification that can then propel people into higher level jobs – top level civil service, government, stuff like that.
I think the last five presidents have all been ENA graduates. So, where you went to school and your level of education in France is important. Very important.
And it’s interesting for me, here in Paris. I live in the outskirts of Paris, where sometimes education levels are not so high, and you get people who’ve not finished high schools. They’ve not got their baccalaureate, and they find it very, very hard to get any kind of jobs.
So we’re seeing more and more people setting up their own businesses. A lot of start-ups are people who never finished school or never did well in school. And that’s really because the French job market is still very focused on your education and what you did in your school.
I think in a lot of other countries, you realise that some people are just bad in school but are really good in life when they get to work and they get to jobs. So, I think, again, that’s why you’re seeing more and more self-employed people who just think, ‘Education is not important. I’m just going to strike out on my own.’
Carlie: And another aspect that’s, of course, very important when you’re moving to France, is learning the language. I think I’ve just accepted at this point that it’s going to be a lifelong learning for myself. And I may never be fluent, but I will always have a go.
Emma: Absolutely. I mean, yes, obviously speaking French is important. But we find that a lot of [people], our readers particularly, have moved to France with a quite low level of French that they maybe studied in school but have forgotten. And then they learn it when they come here.
And generally people do learn it reasonably quickly. Within two or three years, if you’re speaking it every day, you’re at an okay level. And I know the French have a bit of a reputation for being snooty about their language and unhelpful. But, I have to say, I really have not found that.
Almost everyone I’ve come across has been genuinely wanting to help me with language and getting better and are pleased that I’m trying. So I would also say, don’t be frightened of French people. A lot of people are too intimidated to roll out their French, because they’ve got the accent wrong and all that kind of thing. But try not to be scared. It’s not as bad as you think it is.
Carlie: That’s definitely myself with my very broad Australian accent and not being able to make certain sounds in French, and my boyfriend would just be staring at me, going, ‘Why can’t you say it properly?’
Emma: A lot of French people find an English accent quite sexy, the same as we find a French accent is quite an attractive one. The English accent for the French is quite sexy. So that’s also a confidence boost when you’re speaking it. You might think you sound like an idiot, but the person you’re talking to …’
Carlie: … is probably slowly falling in love with me. And that’s perfect. I do see, sometimes, in our Expat Focus forums and Facebook groups, people asking how much of a selling point it is that you can speak English, for example, in looking for a job. Is that advantageous in France or not really?
Emma: It very much depends on the field you’re working in really. I mean, yes, English is useful. If you’re doing anything with any kind of international focus, then it is the case that English is the lingua franca, the common language that people use.
So, if a French person is having a business deal with a German person, it’s likely they’ll be speaking in English, because that’s the common language that they both know best. So, yeah, if you’re doing anything international, then being able to speak English is helpful.
But it really depends on your business and the type of business that you’re in. Obviously, for my job, I write in English, so it’s pretty much crucial. But for other jobs … maybe.
Carlie: I’d like to move on to healthcare. The French healthcare system is pretty renowned for being very good and free. But what’s important for foreigners to know about getting into the French healthcare system and other health insurance that they might need.
Emma: Yes, the French healthcare system is great, basically, once you’re in it. But getting into it, as with all French bureaucratic tasks, is not simple. You need to apply for your carte vitlae, which is the card that entitles you to your healthcare, and that, actually, is a process that has become much simpler.
First time I moved to France, in 2011, this process was all on paper. It was filling in a million forms. It was posting everything. It was sending it back when it wasn’t right. It took forever. They’ve now moved that process online, so when I did it for the second time, it was considerably simpler.
And as with most French things, you have to provide a certain amount of paperwork. So your passport or your birth certificate, proof of your address, your employment status or retired status, depending on your situation … And you basically just fill in all of these, send them to the local health office, and they come back to you.
It does take quite a long time. Probably the average is about six months between first registering and actually getting the card. You are entitled to healthcare in that time. You’ll be given a temporary number, so you can still use the system.
Broadly, the French health system works by you paying the doctor upfront, and then, once you get the monthly card, the doctor swipes the card, and the government reimburses you into your bank account. So that bit is all fairly straightforward, and you don’t really need to do anything.
The only thing that’s complicated about it is that there are different levels of reimbursement. So a doctor’s appointment, for example, typically costs about 25 euros. You pay the doctor, and that’s reimbursed at around 80%. So, you get 22 euros back in your bank account, and you pay the other three. When it’s something small, like a GP appointment, that’s not really a big deal.
But if you’re having something big – like an operation, lots of scans, all that kind of thing – that extra percentage that isn’t reimbursed can mount up to be quite a lot. And that’s where most people have top-up insurance as well. And that’s called a mutuelle, which just pays the extra for that.
It’s a private business. It’s a health insurance business. But they’re generally not for profits, so they’re much less expensive than the health insurance would be in the UK, or particularly in the US. People who come here from America are usually bowled over by how cheap everything is in healthcare compared to in the States.
I would say it’s wise to get a mutuelle as a top-up, just in case you end up, I don’t know, being involved in a road accident and coming up with big medical bills. Because then, even if most of it’s reimbursed, you might still be facing a 400- or 500-euro a bill, which is quite painful.
So I would say to get that as a top-up if you can. It’s not very expensive. My mutuelle costs me, I think, 20 euros a month, something like that. So it’s really not a lot. And once you’re in the system, you’re entitled to quite a lot on French healthcare. Things that, for example, we in the UK would not be entitled to on the NHS, you can get reimbursed for in France.
I had to get antimalarials a couple years ago to go on holiday, and they were covered, and that kind of thing would not be [covered] in the UK. There are all sorts of great things that are covered on French healthcare. You can get some spa days if you have the kind of condition that might benefit from a day in hot water, like sciatica or something.
Carlie: I need to look into this. I did hear, actually … I think it was Australia’s singing treasure, Tina Arena, talking about how the French actually provide women with free exercise classes after you’ve had a baby to help you get your figure back. But I’m not actually sure if that’s true. It does sound like something France would do.
Emma: You can get exercise classes prescribed in quite a lot of different areas, so it wouldn’t surprise me. But they do do a lot of work with your pelvic floor after you’ve had a baby. Everybody gets automatic treatments to get your pelvic floor tightened up and back into shape, so that’s all good. So you get all sorts of random extras in France that you don’t get in the UK.
Carlie: Now, one of the things about moving to France, which I think is similar to pretty much every other country, is the necessity to open a bank account and that chicken and egg situation that you can have when trying to do that. In order to get a phone plan or to sign a lease, you need a bank account, but in order to get a bank account, you usually need a proof of address and other things like that. It’s pretty much the same merry-go-round in France, isn’t it?
Emma: Yes, absolutely. The bank account thing is the number one thing that people find really frustrating, and there isn’t really a simple answer to that one. Some banks have special services for internationals, which kind of waive that requirement. So they’re always worth looking out for.
Also, if you use a sort of a concierge service when you move, they will introduce you to a banker, who will allow you to set up a bank account before having an address. Or, sometimes, you can get people to act as your guarantor, if you have a friend or a relative in France.
But it is a difficult one, and it sometimes just involves ringing round lots of different banks and being told ‘no’ five times before you find someone who will say ‘yes’. It’s frustrating that there isn’t really a simple answer to give, but, unfortunately, it’s a bit of trial and error.
Ask for personal recommendations from people, and look out for any bank that will take you on as an international customer. That’s usually the easiest way to do it to get around it.
Carlie: Hmm. It’s actually how I ended up getting my first bank account in France. It was through a girl I met who happened to work at a bank, and they had a section catering to expats and were able to get me in that way. But I think I got two or three rejection letters before I happened to meet her and was saved. So definitely a case of ‘who you know’ can help in that situation too.
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s easier in the big cities. In Paris, for example, there’s a lot of foreigners. So most of the banks have an international section. So that’s easier to do as well.
If you’re out in a small town or in the country, it can be more difficult. So, in that case, it’s sometimes worth driving a bit further, to the nearest big city, to try and open up your bank account there, because they will have more divisions in their bank, which will probably be quite helpful to you.
Carlie: Now, you mentioned the guarantor for banks, and that’s definitely something that a lot of foreigners in France find they need when they’re looking to rent a place to live. And from what I recall, it’s that somebody needs to co-sign on your lease in order to pay. And they need to be earning a certain amount of money and guarantee that they’ll pay the rent if you can’t. Right?
Emma: Yes, that’s right. And being a guarantor is not just a simple question of putting a signature on a document. Your guarantor also has to provide an entire dossier of their documents. So they also need to provide their proof of identity, proof of address, proof of earnings, all that kind of thing, as well as you. And, yes, you need to find somebody who can do that.
There are some quite strict rules as to who can do it. So, it has to be somebody who is living in France and who is working in France as well. So if you know a lovely French pensioner, they usually can’t be your guarantor, because they’ve not got an income. They need to have an income of a certain level.
So it’s really quite tough when you move, because obviously when you first move to a country you don’t know anyone, because you’re new. So that is a tricky thing. And again, that’s kind of more of a thing in the cities, where housing is more scarce, particularly in Paris, which is just a ridiculous housing situation. I’m trying to find a flat in Paris. It’s so hard. But yes, keep that in mind.
When I first moved to Paris, I was kind of thinking, well, obviously, I won’t need a guarantor; I’m 40; I’ve got a good job; I’ve got a permanent contract. Clearly, they will be fine with me as a tenant. I was swiftly disabused of that notion. I was told that I absolutely would need to find a guarantor.
Carlie: So how do expats usually find their first rental in France?
Emma: I would say it very much depends on where you’re living. In most of the provinces and the places outside of the big cities, it’s fairly simple. There’s a fair amount of housing stock. When I first lived in France, I lived in Castaway, which is a small town in the southwest, near Toulouse. And it was so simple.
I just strolled into the only estate agent on the high street, said, ‘This is how much money I have.’ And they showed me five lovely apartments, and I picked one. It could not have been more simple. And I think that’s quite common for people who are in smaller towns. There’s plenty of housing; stock is not a problem.
The cities are more of a problem. And Paris in particular is well known as a nightmare. It’s very expensive, and there are just more people who want apartments than there are apartments. So landlords can afford to be very picky with who they select.
The good news is that once you have a tenancy in France, you have quite a lot of protection. Your landlord can’t just kick you out. They can’t increase the rent above a certain amount. The law is very much on your side.
But the flip side of that is that when landlords are looking at tenants, they do a lot of very careful checks, because they want to be sure that they’re not being lumped with a bad tenant, who’s then hard to get rid of. So you will need to do a lot of looking around. Again, there isn’t really one answer.
A lot of people you speak to in Paris will have found places to live through personal connections – somebody they knew sublets, that kind of thing – which is not super helpful for expats really, because, again, you don’t know anyone.
When I moved here, I actually used a concierge agency, because I had three weeks in order to pack up my life in the UK and move to Paris, because I was very much on a clock, and it was really hard. So I used concierge agency, which is not cheap at all, but if you can afford it, it’s great, because it just takes so much of the stress away.
Carlie: It does all the hard work for you.
Emma: Exactly. And you just feel like there’s someone on your side as well, which is quite good when you’re new in a city, not really knowing who to talk to and what to do. Some people kind of think that they haven’t done it properly if they use help, but I would say, if there’s help out there, just use it.
Moving countries is really hard. If you can find someone who can help you, do it, and don’t be embarrassed about it.
Carlie: You’re definitely not cheating the process if you find ways to make your life easier.
Emma: Yes. But I’d say, if that’s not an option for you, because they are expensive, then what a lot of people do in Paris is: just find any old place to move into, just for a few months, because it’s always easier getting your second place in Paris. Because then you’ve got proof of an address, and all that kind of thing, and you’re less of a foreigner.
So you might just have to lower your expectations, find some grim tiny studio, campout there for six months, and then look for something that’s a bit more permanent and a bit more what you want. That’s the other thing that a lot of people do.
Carlie: One thing that surprised me when my boyfriend and I started actually looking for a property to buy was how common it was for the French to use ‘buy, swap and sell’ sites to not only list rooms for rent but whole apartments for rent and for sale.
So leboncoin is such a popular site, and people absolutely avoid using real estate agents and will list privately on that site directly. And for me, from somewhere like Australia, if you’re listing your house for sale on Gumtree, that’s, like, so many red flags. But here in France, it’s quite accepted as the thing to do.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, leboncoin is good, and there’s also a site, called PAP, which is a direct tenant to landlord site, and it’s whole purpose is cutting out agents. So that’s quite a useful site too. It means that you need to make contact with lots of people. And the other thing I found using that site, is that you need to really sell yourself as to why you would be a great tenant for them.
It’s not enough to just contact people and go, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen your seen your apartment rental. It looks nice. Can I come and have a look around?’ You have to pitch yourself as to why you would be a great tenant, because they will have a lot of applications.
It’s almost like a cross between a job interview and a date, where you’re trying to present why you’re an excellent candidate to rent their flat. But it is a useful one. And SeLoger is another very popular French rental website, where you’ll find a lot of places for rental.
Carlie: And that’s not to say that people don’t use real estate agents when they’re looking for a property to buy or rent. I guess people are just really conscious of the fees and that they can do it themselves if they want to. Right?
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I mean, yes, obviously, there’re loads of real estate agents in France, and I think the websites are probably more common in cities than they are in smaller places. I think in smaller towns and in the countryside, estate agents are still probably the way to go.
Carlie: This is a good part where I should mention that Expat Focus actually has a whole podcast episode on buying a property in France. We chat with real estate agent Mark Sayers from Artaxa, and he covers everything from the best approach to house hunting in France, to making an offer, knowing if there’s room to negotiate, and what agency and notary fees to expect.
So if you are looking to buy a property in France, I can absolutely recommend searching our podcasts for that episode. I think you’ll find it very useful.
Emma, the last question I wanted to ask you about was education and schooling, and I’m not sure if you have a lot of direct experience with this. But for people moving to France with children, what do they need to know about the French school system?
Emma: Yeah, it’s quite a big decision for parents, this one. Particularly if you live in the cities, there are lots of international school options, or you can go into the French system and put your kids in French school. It’s quite a big decision for parents, because the French school system is quite different to in a lot of other countries.
Obviously, it’s a completely different language. So it depends a little bit on how well your children speak French. But that is the decision that people need to make. I think a lot of people have this idea that they just pick up language like a sponge. So they just throw their kids in French school and think they’ll learn French just like that. And yeah, the kids do learn French pretty quickly.
Carlie: I think that’s how it works, right? It’s only us adults that can’t absorb like a sponge anymore.
Emma: Kids certainly learn quicker for sure. And they spend a lot less time sweating over verb tables than adults do, but it’s not an easy process. I mean, for kids, it’s very disruptive, suddenly being thrown into a school where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know how the system works, and you don’t speak the language.
So I think it depends a lot on the age. Younger children are a lot less phased by it and pick it up, but kids who are 9, 10, 11 + will find it a lot more difficult. So, it depends a lot on the language level. They will, in the end, pick up French. But I think, as a parent, don’t expect it to be a completely trouble-free process. You might have a fair few upsets and tantrums along the way, because this is not going to be easy for your kids.
The other option is that you can put them in international schools, especially in Paris – we’ve got the American School of Paris, that kind of thing – where they’ll be taught in English at least part of the day, which will probably be easier for them. But it depends what your long-term plans are.
If your plan very much is to stay in France forever, your kids will obviously be much more integrated if they go to a French school, rather than if they’re in this little international bubble at an international school. So there are pluses and minuses on both sides. It’s not an easy decision.
The other thing about French schools is that the schooling system is very different, even apart from the language. French schools are a lot more formal. They’re quite strict. The teachers are quite tough on the kids. That’s not to say it’s better or worse. It’s just different.
And I think a lot of parents who’ve got more used to the system that we have in the UK – where it’s all about encouraging children and telling them they’re doing very well at everything – can find French teachers quite off putting, because their system is very much that they’ll tell you what you’ve done wrong and that’s it.
Because their view is that with the stuff you’ve done right, you’re fine, you don’t need help with it. But some people can find it quite negative; they feel like they’re always picking on the kids. ‘That’s not right. That’s not right. That’s not right.’ And they never tell little Johnny that his pastel drawing is brilliant, or whatever, because it’s just not their style.
So, again, it’s not wrong; it’s just different. And I think a lot of parents find that quite a jolt when they first come over.
Carlie: The other thing that blows my tiny mind about French school is that children spend so many hours at school. When I’m catching public transport into downtown Strasburg, for example, kids are heading to school at 7:30 in the morning for 8:00 AM or 8:30 AM starts. And they’re not leaving until 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM, which to me is a very long day. But they do get a pretty solid break in the middle there, don’t they?
Emma: They get a solid break in the middle, and they also get an excellent lunch. The menus for French school lunches are quite something to behold. They’re usually published in the local authority in the prefecture magazine or whatever. And the kids get a three-course lunch every day.
It’s very healthy, but they properly sit down, and they have a little starter. They have a main course, and then they have either cheese or pudding afterwards. And this is one of the things we found during the lockdown, when parents were having to homeschool their kids. A lot of anglophone parents were getting complaints from their children about the quality of the lunches that were just not as good.
Carlie: Yeah, I can imagine why you’d feel a bit jipped about that. Emma, just to end, I’d like to know, if you could do your two moves to France again, what would be the key thing that you would do differently?
Emma: I don’t think it’s necessarily about doing things differently, but I think it’s more about the attitude. When people ask about what they should do about moving to France, I point them in the direction of: this is how to do this, this is how to do this, etc. On our site, we’ve got step by step guides to doing all of this.
So, it’s not so much the practicality; it’s the mindset that you need to get into. You will cry at some point during this. It’s really hard. It’s really complicated. It’s really stressful. At some point, you will be in tears over a form, and you just need to know that it’s okay. Everybody’s been through this. Everybody finds it hard. You will get through it in the end. Just take a deep breath and carry on.
And the other thing, I think, is that the bureaucracy is complicated. It’s frustrating. The French find it frustrating as well. It’s not just us. But it’s very different to what we expect. The rules are very strict, and I think some anglophones get quite frustrated about that.
The other thing I would say is that these rules are not the fault of whatever functionnaire you’re talking to in the office. And shouting at them will get you absolutely nowhere. In fact, they’ll probably just shred your form and make you start again. So, keep calm; don’t shout; don’t be rude. This is the system. You are the foreigner. You just need to go with the system.
If you’re being asked for the same form again three times, just take a deep breath, get the same form handed in, keep going, and eventually you will get to the end of this process.
Carlie: That’s it for today. If you have any questions about how to move to France, or want to share your own experience to help other expats, head over to expatfocus.com, and join the conversation in our France forum or Facebook group.
Be sure to check out our previous episodes. You’ll find interviews that dive into buying property in France, applying for the right visa, running a business, and even opening a B&B in the French countryside.
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