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settling into france


john

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this is a great site. have been reading many of the posts. have a question.

were (2 of us) considering moving from a consumer paradise(usa) to ?. we have adequate income and will not need a mortgage.

id be interested to know what things people found most difficult in settling into french life.

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I'm not sure what you mean by coming from a "consumer paradise to ?" - you can actually buy everything you need in France (not sure about Hershey bars, though....[;-)]).

The most common obstacle to settling in France is an inability to understand and speak the language.  Contrary to rumour, the French population does not speak English, so if you don't know any French, then sorting out all the administrative necessities like house purchase, inheritance issues, heathcare, tax, etc. will not be straightforward.  An inability to communicate with your French neighbours can make it difficult to integrate into the community and can leave you feeling isolated.

That's a starter - I'm sure others will be along to add their experiences.

   

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I agree 100% with what Sunday Driver said.  Most everything can be found in France.  There are, naturally, some exceptions to the rule.

The language is numero un !  Most important part of feeling comfortable and happy here.  Needing your car repaired when you can't explain what is wrong with it, seeing a Dr. when you can't explain what is wrong with you, going shopping when you can't explain what you need or want or even reply to the nice lady who is trying to speak with you, all can make you feel like an outsider.  It also makes it very hard to make friends.   Learning and adjusting to the huge amount of rules and regulations affecting all residents of France would be numero deux.  Reading as much as you possibly can prior to buying any property, etc.  Some French laws, to Americans, seem absolutely insane, but you need to know the laws of the country in which you live.  Not knowing them can land you in serious trouble.

If you are comfortable with those two things and you do a bit of research on life in the different areas of France, you will most likely be okay.  We are very happy here.

 

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In addition to what has been said by others, I would say you need to learn to be patient, especially if you relocated to the country.  Things don't always get done as quickly as we're used to in the States.  If you can't deal with that, you may feel a bit frustrated.  For example, in our area, just about everything is closed between 12 and 2:00 in the afternoon.  I even have friends in Paris who can't imagine coping with that.  But I don't mind, I consider it a bonus because I don't have to worry about anyone bothering me between those hours either!

No 24 hour supermarkets.  No shopping on Sundays or holidays.  Stores tend to stock what they think they can sell, so may run out of things you want and have to re-order.

Oh, and depending on which state you live in, you may or may not be able to simply exchange your driver's license for a French license.  If you have the time, I would highly recommend trying to exchange your license for one from a state that DOES have a treaty with France.  You'll save yourself the expense and headache of taking the French test.  Believe me, if you can avoid it, you should.  It is much, much more complicated than any driver's test in the U.S.

PG

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If you have a US driving licence, then it is valid for driving within France for one year after taking up permanent residence here. 

If your licence was issued by one of the following states, then under the US/France reciprocity arrangements, it's a straight exchange for a French licence:

- Arkansas
- South Carolina
- Colorado (car licence only)
- Connecticut
- Delaware (car licence only)
- Florida (car and motorcycle licence only)
- Illinois
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Michigan (car licence only)
- New Hampshire
- Ohio
- Virginia (car licence only) - no exchange with West Virginia
- Pennsylvania.

If your licence was issued by any other state, then it will not be valid for exchange and you will have to sit the French driving test first.  
 

 

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Coming from California, mine was not valid. We made our decision to move in November and moved at the end of January.  During that time we had to sell our house, come here, find a new house, go home, get everything packed and moved, deal with the French Consulate for various documents we needed, convince our friends and my family that, "No, we're not crazy," and all the other attendant things of moving from one country to another.  The one thing I did not have time to do was go to another state and trade my license.

Ironically, my first driver's license was from Pennsylvania.  But of all the odd papers we'd saved over the years, that was the one thing for which I had no real record. Someone at the PA DMV was VERY nice and helpful in trying to help me track down my old license so that they could merely re-issue it.  But, I got it pre-computers, so it was just gone.

Mr. P was almost ready to send me back to the States to do this, but I thought, "how hard can the test in France be?" Silly me.  Even my local friends all told me that if THEY had to pass the test today, they weren't sure they could do it.  I met a woman during the Code portion who was on her 12th try! 

I should have passed it the first time, but I let the time to push the button go by, so missed that question by default, and that was enough to fail. The second try I got cocky, thinking I had studied enough the first time and I could remember it all.  Of course, it's not really a question of knowing the Code, but of understanding what answer they want on the slide they are showing you. And, of course, they try to trip you up on a lot of the questions.  The third time, I studied solidly for the entire week before the test, spending at least 4 hours a day doing nothing else.  I passed with flying colors. 

The practical portion isn't that complicated, except that you need to have a car with dual controls. That means that you pretty much have to go to a driving school for a certain number of lessons so that they will take you for the test.  I was able to get away with 5 hours of lessons.  To be honest, it wasn't a waste of time, because the instructor is really there to tell you what the examiner is looking for during the exam.  Just knowing how to drive isn't enough; you have to drive the way the examiner wants you to drive or he'll fail you. 

All in all, I got away with only spending about 300€ to get my license.  The annoying part is that because it is considered a "new" license, you still wind up with the 3 year  "permis probitoire" and have only 6 points instead of 12. Ironically, if you came from one of the states that do exchange, you would not know the Code and therefore probably be a less safe driver because of that, but you would have a regular license.

PG

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I've only ever come across one American in continental Europe.

A few years ago, we were staying in a small Gasthaus in the Black Forest.  After checking in and spending a few days of ordering meals and politely passing the time of day with our female host (all in German), she asked us how we'd enjoyed our meal - in English!  I came up with the usual "You speak English very well".  She replied, "I should do, I'm from Chicago!". 

After that, we got on famously....[:)]

 

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[quote user="Sunday Driver"]

I've only ever come across one American in continental Europe.

A few years ago, we were staying in a small Gasthaus in the Black Forest.  After checking in and spending a few days of ordering meals and politely passing the time of day with our female host (all in German), she asked us how we'd enjoyed our meal - in English!  I came up with the usual "You speak English very well".  She replied, "I should do, I'm from Chicago!". 

After that, we got on famously....[:)]

 

[/quote]

 

And my husband was told he spoke good english by an american who was on a ski chair lift with him.

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[quote user="Sunday Driver"]

If you have a US driving licence, then it is valid for driving within France for one year after taking up permanent residence here. 

If your licence was issued by one of the following states, then under the US/France reciprocity arrangements, it's a straight exchange for a French licence:

- Arkansas
- South Carolina
- Colorado (car licence only)
- Connecticut
- Delaware (car licence only)
- Florida (car and motorcycle licence only)
- Illinois
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Michigan (car licence only)
- New Hampshire
- Ohio
- Virginia (car licence only) - no exchange with West Virginia
- Pennsylvania.

If your licence was issued by any other state, then it will not be valid for exchange and you will have to sit the French driving test first.  
 

 

[/quote]I knew about this but it seems completely bizarre to me. What is the rationale for it, perhaps the OP can shed some light ?

Do the US not have a national driving test so it's different in each state ?

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having lived in usa for 25 yrs i was amused by yr ?  very little in the usa is "nationalised" unless it comes under a fed law which much of ones life does not. each state has its own driv licence, driv test, tax forms, benefit forms and indeed laws. you could "marry " as 2 gays in one state and be illegal in the next! the country is misnamed...should be dsa....disunited staes of america. dont get me wrong i love living ere but the lack of centralisation is maddening and os wasteful.
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[quote user="ErnieY"]

I knew about this but it seems completely bizarre to me. What is the rationale for it, perhaps the OP can shed some light ?

Do the US not have a national driving test so it's different in each state ?

[/quote]

One of the very important issues in the U.S. is States' rights.  The Federal Government is responsible for certan things (armed forces, immigration, banking laws, etc.) but each individual State has always had its own laws.  For example, a crime committed within one state is treated differently than one which goes across state boundaries (such as kidnapping).

Each State has its own tax policies (no State income or sales tax in Nevada, for example), laws governing driving, etc.  Certain things, such as speed limits on Highways, tend to go with Federal policy if there is Federal funding involved.

And, beyond States all having their own laws, there are many individual laws and taxes that are determined by counties and cities.  It's all really quite a patchwork.  Drinking is an interesting thing, for example. I grew up in Pennsylvania.  You can only buy bottled liquor in State owned and operated stores; with the exception of beer, which I think you could buy in limited quantities (a six-pack) in a delicatessan or similar.  When I moved to California and found  you could buy all kinds of alcoholic drinks pretty much anywhere, including drug stores, I was quite shocked.

This is one of the reasons that I often tell people you can't really say you know the United States if you've only been to New York or Calilfornia.  You know those States, but they are just one small portion of a whole.

PG

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Great Britain is composed of England, Scotland and Wales and if you add Northern Ireland you get the United Kingdom.  Some laws differ from country to country.  When I lived in Wales some years ago, we were in a 'dry' county so you could not get alcohol on a Sunday, so everyone poured over the border to England on a Sunday night.  Scotland now has its own 'assembly' which can pass laws but, like the USA, such mattes as security, defence and immigration are dealt with by the British Parliament in LOndon. What annoys some English people is that Scottish MP's sitting in the English parliament can have an influence on laws that effect the English but not the Scots, but English MP's have no say in laws passed by the Scottish Assembly.  This is known as the 'Midloathian Question'.  Most French people assume that all Brits are English.  The odd things is that I have met very few British people who could describe the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom or the British Isles (a geographical entity, of Britain and the whole of Ireland.  As far as I know, French law is national!

As has been said, you will be very welcome in France if you make the effort to speak French - there is a feeling throughout Europe that Americans expect everyone to speak English , so you can help to correct this stereotype.

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I have to say that I'm impressed by the extraordinary swerve of direction in the opening paragraph of the last post. [:D]

Possible difficulties settling in, in no particular order:

  • language
  • possible feelings of isolation (if you're not in a busy village or town)
  • getting to grips with 'the systems', not knowing how to get things done

  • getting a grasp of French history/culture
  • knowing what do do with your time
  • missing the familiar things that you used to take for granted

None of these apply personally and they may not apply to you, but they occasionally [Www] come up on the forum. 

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[quote user="Cassis"]I have to say that I'm impressed by the extraordinary swerve of direction in the opening paragraph of the last post. [:D]

[/quote]

We need more members capable of swings of this quality. Monaco... welcome. [:D] Are you a woman? [6]

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From an English point of view, my kids were immersed   absolutely scared stiff, I had GCSE French (Basic). My husband had none! Sadly we were in France for only two and a half years, but in that time we amazed ourselves! My son is still mistaken for FRENCH! Two years later. My husband had two years of business to distribute when we left. Our neighbours cried as we did. We just went in and let it happen(LONG STORY) But just be yourselves try to speak french and be welcoming to everyone. Good Luck wish I were you again! ...........Hay

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Thank you, Cassis!  Yes, I am a 66- year old English woman, living alone, very happily, in deepest rural Lot.  I retired to France five years ago, firstly buying a small house high in the Pyrenees Orientales and renovating it using local workmen.  I was very satisfied with their workmanship and thought their prices were very fair.   I think some immigrants make a mistake in importing workmen from the UK - it is not fair to the local people, there are big differences in regulations in building and electricity, and it makes you unpopular with your French neighbours.  Unfortunately, I had to sell the house after three years to pay my daughter's debts - she had a flourishing business but was disabled by a botched operation in the UK and we have been fighting a legal battle for compensation ever since.  The case is now nearing the end and she will be able to repay me most of the debt, but it won't be enough to buy a similar property outright.  I am now too old to get a mortgage as French lenders will not grant a loan that takes you past 70 years.   MY options seem to be to carry on renting indefinitely or to buy a mobile home on a residential park. 

I have used this opportunity of being free to travel to spend one year in Limousin and 18 months in Lot.  This gives me the chance to explore all the historic towns, villages and countryside within a day's travel from home.  I am tempted to carry on renting and moving every couple of years as I have a huge wanderlust and it would not be possible to keep selling a depreciating asset like a mobile home.  The big argument against renting seems to be that I would have nothing to leave my daughters, but I bought them their first homes after my divorce and so far they have had, literally, every penny of my capital.  Am I being selfish?

(By the way, my diversion was simply to illustrate that the UK also has regional/national laws!)

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[quote user="monaco"]I retired to France five years ago, firstly buying a small house high in the Pyrenees Orientales and renovating it using local workmen.  I was very satisfied with their workmanship and thought their prices were very fair.   I think some immigrants make a mistake in importing workmen from the UK - it is not fair to the local people, there are big differences in regulations in building and electricity, and it makes you unpopular with your French neighbours. 

[/quote]

Fair point - it reminds me that our neighbours asked at the time, and many French guests ask when they stay, whether we used local builders. 

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[quote user="Sunday Driver"]

If you have a US driving licence, then it is valid for driving within France for one year after taking up permanent residence here. 

If your licence was issued by one of the following states, then under the US/France reciprocity arrangements, it's a straight exchange for a French licence:

- Arkansas
- South Carolina
- Colorado (car licence only)
- Connecticut
- Delaware (car licence only)
- Florida (car and motorcycle licence only)
- Illinois
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Michigan (car licence only)
- New Hampshire
- Ohio
- Virginia (car licence only) - no exchange with West Virginia
- Pennsylvania.

If your licence was issued by any other state, then it will not be valid for exchange and you will have to sit the French driving test first.  
 

 

[/quote]

Thanks for posting that very useful list.  

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[quote user="john"]having lived in usa for 25 yrs i was amused by yr ?  very little in the usa is "nationalised" unless it comes under a fed law which much of ones life does not. each state has its own driv licence, driv test, tax forms, benefit forms and indeed laws. you could "marry " as 2 gays in one state and be illegal in the next! the country is misnamed...should be dsa....disunited staes of america. dont get me wrong i love living ere but the lack of centralisation is maddening and os wasteful.[/quote]

We Americans can't understand why the English and French have become interested in de-centralization (of schools, for example) and privatization of government services.  We'd be glad to tell them how badly that works in the US. 

Has no one heard the old (American) saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

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Far from decentralising schools, the British government have imposed a strait-jacket curriculum on all state schools and are now introducing targets of attainment for three years olds in nursery schools or creches.  Under Thatcher, many services were contracted out to private firms with disastrous consequences, for example in hospitals cleaning contracts went to the cheapest bidders and standards have declined to the point where it is positively dangerous to enter a UK hospital.  There is a strong whiff of corruption in the air, with people moving seamlessly from government posts to jobs in private companies.  No one can understand why the UK government  is encouraging gambling by the introduction of super casinos and allowing them to advertise but we have our suspicions.  Similarly, the drinks industry is very powerful and in spite of UK youngsters having the worst alcohol problems in Europe licensing hours were extended  and local opposition to 24 hour licences is ruthlessly overcome.

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