WELCOME TO MY EXPAT INTERVIEW SERIES!
I’m about to give you an insider’s sneak peek to the truths and realities of expat life. Not just from my point of view. From expats around the world. I’ll be sharing their stories with the dreamers, the movers, the curious. You!
The idea behind this series is to share other expat stories because:
- You are probably bored to tears with me.
- There is a world of opportunities out there. Maybe reading these interviews will inspire you to follow a dream that is more attainable than you ever thought.
- I’m selfish. And totally nosy. I want to learn about how other expats live around the world. As much as I love Malaysia, I’m still a Sagittarius (read feisty, independent, traveler) who’s always ready for the next adventure.
So, without further ado… Let’s Dive into my Expat Interviews Series!
Meet Diane, a blogger extraordinaire who has blended her American ways with the French attitude to life. She’s a long term expat who shares the realities of pushing her boundaries and living in a small town in France.
1. Tell me about yourself.
Bonjour! I’m Diane, an American in her 30s originally from New Jersey, USA. I moved to France in 2012 shortly after getting married. I live outside Angers in the Maine-et-Loire region with my French husband, Tom, and my dog, Dagny.
My blog is called Oui In France. It’s a living abroad lifestyle blog that I started shortly after arriving in France, and it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about. I share my experiences as a foreigner abroad — the good and the bad — in the hopes it’ll help others.
I focus on French lifestyle, culture, language, and living abroad topics, but I mix in travel and just regular life topics too. It’s been amazing to connect with others all over the world.
I also have a YouTube channel where I talk about the everyday French lifestyle and beyond.
2. Why did you decide to move to France?
The short answer is because after getting married, it was logistically easier for me to move to France than for my husband to move to the USA. I could pretty much get my residency card immediately (unlike the Green Card process in the USA). Then we just decided to stay in France and have been here ever since.
3. Do you need a visa to live in France?
Yes, for the long-term, you do. Otherwise, Americans can come as tourists for 90 days with just their passport.
4. What is the cost of living like?
The euro has always been a stronger currency than the US dollar, but that said, it really depends on your lifestyle and what you spend money on.
You can find ways to eat cheaply or spend a ton of money on food.
Certain things are expensive in comparison to the USA, such as gas, cars, clothes, and specific food items. But at the same time, it balances out.
Everyone pays into the healthcare system, so no one is going bankrupt from medical debt. Health insurance isn’t linked to one’s job status, so if you are in between jobs, you and your family will still have the same medical coverage.
In terms of housing, you can get a 700 sq ft, 1BR apartment, in a nice building in my town for 450 euros/month. Remember though, I’m not in a big city. Houses run the gamut in terms of pricing too.
5. What is your favorite part of the French lifestyle?
So many things! First, about France, I love the food and the marche culture and the fact that wine and cheese are so affordable. It’s easy to get great quality food. I love discovering all the local products and learning about the French way of life.
I also love that healthcare here is a human right, not a privilege, and is affordable. Coming from the US, the prices here make me smile every time I go to the doctor or the pharmacy. Recently I picked up a prescription at the pharmacy, and the pharmacist warned me before that it was expensive and asked if I wanted the generic. I said, “Ooh no, it’s like 100 euros?” He replied that the meds were somewhere around 13, and I happily laughed and paid.
I think what I love the most is the fact that I’m living in my husband’s country and get to discover it with him. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around France, and it’s gorgeous. I’ve seen more of France than my home country.
Also, my move to France is what led me to start Oui In France, which has taught me so much, introduced me to people I consider friends, and so much more.
6. Are there any negatives about living in France?
Of course. Some things annoy me and frustrate me like when stores close early or aren’t open on Sunday, but things would frustrate me at home too. No place is perfect.
Also, being away from my family and friends is hard sometimes, but that’s not specific to France. I think everyone faces that, whether they live across the state or the ocean.
All of the surface-level annoyances at this point are just annoyances. None of them really get me down. In the moment, they are frustrating, but the most important things like having a roof over my head, food to eat, a loving spouse, and a good support system remind me that all the challenges are worth it. I’ve accepted France as my home and not a temporary detour.
7. What’s the best part of being an expat?
The best thing about living abroad is the personal growth that’s come from it. I’ve experienced so many highs and lows while living in France, and they’ve taught me about the French, Americans, and ultimately myself.
Life abroad is challenging, and I love how much it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone. The language, the culture, and just experiencing life far from home gets tough sometimes, but you come out stronger on the other side, and I’ll be forever grateful to France for this experience.
8. What’s the hardest part of being an expat?
What’s really hard is not about France specifically, but it’s just dealing with life problems when you have to do so in a foreign culture and language and so far away from the comforts of home and with friends and family by your side. So, when times get tough due to death, illness, financial troubles, job loss, etc., there’s an added layer of stress because you are abroad.
I think it’s easy for people looking at my life (or anyone’s life abroad) to think it’s some kind of fairytale life or a 24/7 vacation, and that’s not the case at all. I work, pay a mortgage, have bills to pay, and have the same life struggles as everyone else. Life in France isn’t a magical place where everything is perfect. Life abroad is a trade-off and doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges.
Moving to France was the right choice for me, and I thoroughly enjoy the French lifestyle. I’ve never regretted it, but it’s not a dream life!
9. What do you miss most about your home country?
I miss friends and family, just like everyone, but make it a priority to stay in touch with people on FaceTime and Whatsapp, and I think that’s really helped. They never seem that far away.
I miss how easy it is to do things in the US — stores have longer hours, are open on Sundays, customer service is aimed at the customer, and it’s all in my native language, so it seems easier.
I miss people’s friendliness. I miss the fitness scene and boutique fitness studios. I miss Whole Foods. Silly stuff, I know. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t dealt with too much homesickness beyond the first year here. I try to get back to the US every year.
10. Was it easy to make friends?
I don’t live in a big city, and making friends has been one of the hardest parts of living abroad for me.
To this day, I don’t really have a social network of people where I live — French or any other nationality — and I’ve kind of accepted that and just take whatever comes as a pleasant surprise.
I lean on my family and friends I had before I moved and don’t have any close friends locally.
And it’s not for a lack of trying!
I’ve even gone to church in hopes of meeting people, and I’m not religious. I’ve signed up on meet up sites and all the regular stuff one would do to meet people, but it’s difficult to make friends as an adult anywhere, I think.
It’s definitely not a France problem.
I’ve written about making friends on my blog, and so many people can relate, which I’ve found comforting but also sad as well.
On the plus side, I’ve met people at my gym, and that’s been my saving grace, so it’s nice to chit chat and have acquaintances, but close friends are harder to come by.
11. When people come to visit you in France, what is the one thing you always take them to see or do?
I usually take them to the Saturday farmers’ market because it gives you a real taste of French life. It’s so fun to meet all the vendors who are so passionate about what they do.
I also like taking people to the biggest city nearby, which is Angers. The medieval castle from the 9th century, the Château d’Angers, is along the Maine River, and it’s really quite a sight to see.
12. What is your best insider tip about where you live?
The Loire Valley is worth a visit any time of year, but it’s particularly gorgeous in the spring when everything is in full bloom and so colorful. There’s a huge Japanese garden called Le Parc Oriental de Maulévrier that is stunning in the spring.
13. What does home mean to you?
Home is where you feel comfortable and at ease not only with your physical surroundings but with the people in your life. France feels like home now, although I’m sure if I moved back to the USA with my husband and dog at my side, I’d quickly fall back into my old routine, and it would feel like home too.
14. What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?
In the beginning, just reminding myself to take things one day at a time and knowing tomorrow is a new day helped with my mindset and made sure I didn’t get too overwhelmed.
Also, my husband is French, so having a native partner was crucial to understanding everything around me.
Something else I did when I first moved was to make sure I had pieces of my old life and the USA all around me in our home. That way, when I was out and about, I always had something familiar to come home to. I’m talking about silly things like Crest toothpaste, some favorite clothes items, a bathmat from Homegoods, and peanut butter.
Little comforts at home made me feel at ease and more able to tackle French everything head-on when I was out in the world.
15. How is the quality of life there? How does it compare to the US?
Overall, for the normal person, the quality of life is better in France. The French work to live and not the other way around.
All full-time employees get a mandatory 5 weeks of paid vacation per year. Healthcare is not connected to your job status, and restaurant waiters and waitresses make a livable wage. There are many things about daily life in France that seem to make more sense than life in the USA. But salaries are lower overall.
I feel safe where I live, but I think there’s crime everywhere, and France is no exception.
16. Do you feel like you fit in culturally?
Sometimes, yes. I go through all the motions and try to do and say the right things. But at my core, I’m still me, and I don’t think I’ll ever fit in 100%, but that’s part of the package, and it’s OK.
I’ve adapted my own behaviors a little bit. I have added in regular French lifestyle habits like picking up things at the market and visiting wine producers to buy wine directly, grabbing a baguette from the boulangerie, etc.
I’ve traveled extensively around France and learned all about the places and people that make France the remarkable place it is. I’d like to think I’ve taken on some of the positive aspects of French culture and meshed them with who I already was.
17. Is France like you thought it would be?
I think yes and no.
Before getting to see France first-hand, foreigners have very romanticized notions of the French and France. That everyone is beautiful and thin and fashionable. That they all just sit around in cafes eating baguettes and drinking wine and coffee. Or that real life is a 24/7 vacation. We’re shown the pretty side of France in films and books, and tourists rave about the best France has to offer.
France is lovely and charming and has so many positives. However, it’s a real place with real people and their problems, like anywhere. I have all the real-life stresses that people have anywhere; I work, I have a mortgage, I run errands, just like everyone else.
France truly is gorgeous, and I find the people to be generous and kind. I think sometimes people move to France with rose-colored glasses on not realizing that life as a tourist and actually living here are two different things.
Little things have surprised me here as well. Like seeing horse meat in the grocery store right next to regular old beef, stores closing on Sundays and even Mondays in many cases, and long Sunday lunches with the family, etc.
It is so important to keep an open mind and to not view things as automatically wrong. Life will be different abroad, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
18. If you could give one piece of advice to people moving to France, what would it be?
I’d tell people to just do it. Take that risk and don’t sit on the fence until it’s too late or make excuses for yourself. Don’t wait until you feel ready.
Of course, have a plan and make sure you have money saved and all that — being responsible is important. Have a backup plan.
I’d also tell people to keep an open mind and do their research. Once the novelty of living in France wears off, it’s only normal to have good and bad days — we’re human after all.
I try to keep a balanced perspective. Once here, I’d also recommend that people get out there and talk to others and try things in their new home, even things they normally wouldn’t do. Staying inside and keeping to yourself won’t help improve your French or social circle, so even if it’s uncomfortable, go out and attempt to speak French and integrate. You have to learn the local language!
19. Do you see yourself ever leaving France?
I don’t know! I could see myself living back in the USA at some point. I know my husband would like to experience living in the US as well. But is it in the near future? Don’t think so. It’s nice to have options, and sometimes life takes an unexpected path.
If we sold our home, we’d lose a bit of money. There are a lot of positives to life here. But sometimes life can change in an instant. I’ll never say that France or the US is my forever home.
And right now, France is home.