After 8 years living across the pond, my tips for new French expats seems to be never-ending. But it’s still a constant learning process and I’ll make sure to keep you updated as I continue to get wiser. For now, you’ll find my top 30 tips waiting for your reading pleasure below. I sincerely hope it saves you a wrinkle or two. I’ve certainly got more than a couple of grey hairs thanks to ING Direct.
DAILY FRENCH INTERACTIONS
- Non, is the French’s favorite word. You must learn to nod your head, smile and then repeat yourself like a parrot. Behind every “non’ is the opportunity to negotiate. Otherwise, your other option is to leave the establishment feeling like a frustrated failure.
- It’s considered really rude to not greet someone with Bonjour. Add this to the beginning of every sentence you utter to a stranger or risk getting hardcore reprimanded in public.
- Unless your droppin’ hundred euro bills at the club, customers are not king. Don’t get too bothered if people aren’t kissing your feet when you walk into their store. They will still happily take your money even if they roll their eyes while they look for a different size in the back.
- Don’t ever wear a beret no matter how much you want the “French” experience. I’ve only ever seen men, aged 65+, in the countryside wearing them. If you choose to ignore this tip and sport one like I did, prepare yourself for the really suspicious looks.
- Brush up on some history, current politics and geography. If you don’t do it before, you’ll certainly be motivated after a couple of bad run-ins. Nothing is more humiliating than a Frenchie explaining your own political system better than you can.
- You will never have the right paperwork for whatever you are applying for. So if you want to be on the safe side, just bring every administrative paper you have in your possession. And of course a copy of each.
- The post office on a Saturday should be avoided at all costs. Not only is every person living in town there, I am convinced La Poste purposely saves their least efficient, rudest workers for Saturdays. It’s a sick form of punishment for all involved to let them deal with that size of a crowd.
- Renew your visa in France. I know, I know. It’s so tempting to do it the US where it’s faster, friendly and means one less trip to the dreaded hell otherwise known as the Prefecture de Police. But, if you take that escape route, you won’t get a 4 year carte de sejour. A long stay visa actually means less time globally in hell, so just suck it up now for the reward later on.
- In order to open a bank account you need an address. In order to rent an apartment so you have this address, you need a bank account. Don’t despair and refer to #1 – Daily French Interactions. You will win.
- Scan and save every piece of paper any administration sends you. You never know when you will need to produce your gas bill from 1975, translated in Chinese, in order to get a drivers license in 2017. And no, they never issue duplicates.
- Declare taxes every year, even if you make absolutely nothing. It takes 5.5 seconds to do and it saves so much hassle later on when you start earning real money in France or want to apply to become a citizen.
- Finding an apartment as a foreigner can potentially be more complicated than solving a rubik’s cube. If you find yourself in this situation, take anything that someone is willing to rent to you as long as it’s not infested with mice. This is really not the time to be choosy people.
- Getting your social security card is a #1 priority. Once you have that baby, you basically get health care for free or for a ridiculously reduced price.
- Doctors practice medicine out of apartments. Yes, I still find this weird, but go with it. Unless you live in a large city, it will be hard to find anything related to the sterile doctor’s offices we know and love in the US.
FOOD AND DRINKS
- Start enjoying yoghurt, the French are oddly obsessed with it and will eat it and serve it to you at every meal.
- Stinky cheese takes some getting used to, but once you’ve acquired a taste for it, it’s addictive. Start forcing yourself now.
- It doesn’t matter how much you walk. If you eat two croissants a day you will absolutely gain weight and you absolutely won’t regret it.
- In smaller towns, almost everything is closed on Sundays and Monday morning. Stock up on groceries Saturday or you will be begging friends to feed you for 24 hours.
- Water glasses in France are the size of US shot glasses. Hydrate before a meal or you will be sure to regret it throughout the entire 3 hour affair.
- Wine is ridiculously cheap in France compared to the US. Do not spend more than 5€ on a bottle of wine for a party. 15€ bottles are for the times when you want to impress someone or your goal isn’t to get wasted.
- Wine is cheaper than soft drinks at café’s and restaurants. Try not to let your lack of money turn you into an accidental alcoholic.
- Don’t enjoy yourself so much in a bar that you catch someone’s eye while sporting a huge Cheshire grin. It’s a total invitation for that person to come and chat you up.
- It’s really hard to make French girlfriends. It takes a lot of time and honestly a lot of rejection. But be persistent. Once you do, you’ve got a friend for life and nothing is better than experiencing France with a local friend.
- Don’t shy away from other English speakers when you first arrive in France in order to live the “French experience.” You’ll just end up making your first couple of months unnecessarily lonely. English speakers can relate to everything you’re going through on a certain level. You won’t regret their company when you’re having a mental breakdown after visiting the bank.
- It’s normal to understand nothing at French dinners and parties for months. It’s normal to feel like a mute loser version of yourself. Keep going even if it feels like a waste of time and you prefer staying at home watching Netflix in English. Every crap party you attend is one step closer to becoming fluent. At some point you will start understanding and enjoying yourself without the extra three glasses of wine.
- French men can absolutely be romantic. French men can also be absolute a-holes. Forget whatever over romanticized stereotypes the movie industry has fed you and make your own judgments.
- It’s really common for children to live at home until their mid 20’s. Don’t write someone off because they still live with mom at 27. You might be passing up a complete catch.
- Public transport is one of the few things highly more efficient in France than back home. So hop aboard, but learn to relax when people invade your personal space. There’s less space in Europe than we are used to. People are always all up in your grill no matter where you are.
- Trains are the coolest in Europe. But just remember they assign seats for a reason. The fast TGV trains can split during the trip with one end of the train going one way and the other end going a completely different direction. So if you don’t look at your ticket, you might just find yourself in Montpelier instead of Marseilles.
- You will walk…. a lot. Like seriously, a shit ton. Ditch the heels for a pair of converse and you will be a much happier camper.
Final très important extra slice of advice. Do your best to not be too judgmental. Yes, France is different. Yes, France is not like home. Yes some things are better and some things just aren’t. But that’s the beauty of the adventure, right?
–> FINAL WARNING Don’t make this move lightly. You have a seriously high risk of falling in love with France and never moving back home 😉