A Year in France

Apparently, it’s May 14th today.

The calendar tells me I’ve been in France for a year now. Has a full year really gone by since I left Montreal? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been there much shorter than that, sometimes much longer. I’m a bit ambivalent when it comes to picking a side to this expat experience. When people ask me if I like living in France, my answer is almost always the same.

An awkward smile.

It depends“.

I wrote about the ups and down of living in France, and even though that was a few months ago, I still stand behind every word I wrote there. Yes, the French are not the most easygoing people, and yes, the bureaucracy is extremely overwhelming no matter what you want to do.

But is it normal that my favorite thing about living in France is that it’s so close to the UK?

Didn’t think so either.

living in france

I miss so many things. The city, first of all. I’m from Montreal, and I’ve lived in London – there is no doubt that I am a city girl at heart. Bring on the millions of people, the transit commutes and the hustle. Being based in a small city has affected me more than I  thought it would. I feel dejected, and restless, by the tranquility of the place. My recent weekend in Paris was so invigorating – I really feed off the energy of a city, and sadly Clermont-Ferrand just doesn’t cut it.

So that’s part of the problem – living in a small French city as opposed to the metropolises I love and thrive in.

The biggest issue though, and by far, is the French language. One would think that, as a French Canadian whose first language is French, living in France would be quite easy… errr, not quite. I have to completely change the way I would naturally speak to be understood by the locals, which can get really frustrating after a while of question mark faces and arrogant corrections and “oh but your French is awful” comments. But more on that later.

There are some things that I do like – the cold meats and cheeses, the travel, the proximity to other European countries, the highways (if you’re a Montrealer you understand the importance of well-maintained roads), the apéro culture. All things that are easy to get used to, without a doubt.

living in france

But does it make up for the rest? I’ve always been told that the bad things always end up overweighting the good. And so far, I’m inclined to say that sadly, it’s true.

Anyone who’s met me in the last year knows how mixed my feelings are towards my “expat living in France” adventure.

Meh” is probably the best word to describe how I really feel, and for such a small word, it actually says a lot. Sometimes I wonder why I ever made the move at all – but they say that home is where the heart is, and as long as my husband is under contract here, there isn’t much I can do, because living separate lives is not something I plan on doing.

So what do I do now?

I suck it up. And try to focus on the great things coming my way. The many trips I planned across Europe, the few friends I have here, the possibility of a new work contract for my husband in January, and the many blogging opportunities I’ve been working on. In overall, I definitely need to take the focus away from the bad, despite how easy it is to sulk.

living in france

Do I think my life is hard?
No. I know I’m really lucky to be in this situation, despite the daily challenges.

Do I wish I could be somewhere else?
Every day I wish I could be in the UK. But that ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

Do I need to be a big girl and get my head out of my ass?
Probably. Even though sometimes I really don’t want to.

Have you ever lived in France? What were the hardest/best parts of your experience?

39 Comments on A Year in France

  1. Christine
    May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm (3 years ago)

    First, congrats on your 1 year! I know just how important these days can be because they mark how far we’ve come. My life in Spain certainly isn’t idyllic either. I’m living in what’s known as “Spain’s ugliest city” (because of my bf’s work) and wish every day that I could be experiencing a different part of Spain. I’m a big city girl too (from Seattle!) and know exactly what you mean when you say you feed off a city’s energy. Ah, I miss it!

    I know very well all the ups and downs of being an expat, and it took me a good 2 years probably to finally accept that I’m going to be here for awhile and I better make the best of it. Wishing you the best of luck on your journey–keep looking on the bright side!

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Christine! Glad to see I’m not the only city girl stuck in the country, haha!

      Reply
  2. Sandra
    May 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Beautifully written. For what it’s worth, I know how you feel! It’s tough to live as an expat. I will say one thing: it does get easier AFTER a year. That said, I am not sure that you can ever be completely at ease when you live outside your homeland.
    We are fortunate to live abroad, but that in no way means that it’s easy.
    Best of luck with your journey.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:16 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks very much Sandra. I think you do get used to the place you’re in after a while, but some places are harder to get by than others. It took me about 3 seconds to feel at home when I lived in London, and after 365 days in France, it has yet to come!

      Reply
  3. Bret @ Green Global Travel
    May 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm (3 years ago)

    It’s funny, you just summed up in one post the reasons why France has never held much interest for me, despite the fact that my maternal grandfather was French-Canadian and I studied French all through high school. I can imagine being an expat in a lot of places, but not there. Good luck on your husband’s new assignment: Hope it takes you somewhere fabulous!

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm (3 years ago)

      Even if you have the slightest notion of French, it’s never going to be good enough for them until you speak exactly the same way. Fingers crossed we can move soon!

      Reply
  4. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    May 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Appreciate the honesty. I’m sure a lot of other people feel the same way about their expat life but feel they have to pretend it is all just as fabulous as it sounds.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm (3 years ago)

      I think so too- on the other hand, I don’t have such a thing as a mouth/brain filter, so I can’t help being honest!

      Reply
  5. Cole @ Four Jandals
    May 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm (3 years ago)

    Haven’t lived there but have visited for a trip to Paris and a snowboarding week in the 3 Valleys. From a tourist perspective; LOVED IT! But we saw all the best parts. Would love to try living there.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm (3 years ago)

      As I often say to my friends, visiting France is amazing – living there, not so much!

      Reply
  6. Alexa Meisler
    May 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm (3 years ago)

    It doesn’t sound like your homesick or anything so I think it’s just those little things like the accents that’s bothering you and that’s totally fine! So take it one day at a time I guess? I love your photos though!

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm (3 years ago)

      No, homesickness is not the problem. I do miss home but I’m not longing to go back ASAP. It’s really living in France that’s the problem!

      Reply
  7. Edna
    May 15, 2012 at 11:49 am (3 years ago)

    I feel the same way and I live in Paris! I love cities, but I’m not a Francophile and Paris is just ‘meh’ to me. I’m not homesick for the States, but I do miss the cities in Asia I lived in before moving to Europe. Some places resonate with people; some don’t. It’s easy to feel guilty as well when you know so many others would give their left arm to be in your position. But I like to compare it to the big picture — at the end of the day, we’re talking about first world problems, and life isn’t too bad. Hope things pick up for you!

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:45 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks! I think what makes it even harder is that I loved the UK so much and that now I can’t live there again. I know I’m not unlucky and that in the end I have nothing to whine about but every once in a while I just want to curl up in bed and go home!

      Reply
  8. Andrea
    May 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm (3 years ago)

    Congrats on your milestone! Sometimes I think some places are better than others depending on the time we are at in our lives. I’m sure that’s why I’m loving Norway at the moment…in the long run, maybe not…

    Reply
  9. Laurence
    May 19, 2012 at 11:52 am (3 years ago)

    I’ve been living in France for around six months now, and have to say I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m a lot more rural than you (there’s our house.. and the castle over the road.. and that’s it).. but I’ve found that the locals have been very friendly and even put up with my awful attempts at learning the language. I’ll see how I feel in another six months :D

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm (3 years ago)

      I think it might be easier for you since you’re not a native French speaker – I noticed that the French people tend to close off when they realize I’m from Quebec, and they simply start judging the way I speak. Not sure why though.

      Reply
  10. Erin
    May 20, 2012 at 11:53 am (3 years ago)

    It’s really interesting to hear such an honest opinion of your life in France. Although as a Brit I’m quite astounded you’d rather like in the UK :)

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm (3 years ago)

      I think it’s because of my Canadian heritage – most Canadians are much more British than they realize, including Quebeckers. I felt immediately at home in London.

      Reply
  11. Nancie
    May 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve never lived in France, but I worked in Montreal for many years and it will always be one of my fav cities. Could also be that I was conceived in Montreal:) I’ve lived the expat life in Korea for the past 11 years and 3 months. I no longer cringe when people ask me what I think of Korea. I think my answer surprises them….”I like the lifestyle.” I had a good life in Canada, but Korea has given me the opportunities to travel, see, and experience so many things. That’s what it’s all about for me. I can’t pretend to have a love affair with Korea, but I can tolerate and accept the things I don’t like if it means traveling.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm (3 years ago)

      You are barking up the right tree! Being a Montrealer myself I can’t help but compare life in Montreal to life in France, and honestly, the choice is soooo easy.

      Reply
  12. Denise
    May 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi there,

    Let me first start by saying that you should never, EVER feel bad because you do not like the country which you decided, for one reason or another, to move to. We are human beings, and it is only natural for us to have opinions, rather than going around the world with rose coloured glasses and love everything and everywhere. No one does.

    I spent 2 and a half years living in Switzerland, and I never fell in love. In the end, it was just essential for me to leave, or I would have stopped respecting myself. I give it a chance, a very good chance, but the country is not for me. YOU have to find the country which makes YOU happy.
    I moved to Switzerland to be with my Swiss boyfriend, but in the end, he understood I’d never be happy, and decided to move where I wanted to, and try to be happy there instead.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:39 pm (3 years ago)

      It’s a great story you have there. I love hearing about other expat stories! At least you can say that you honestly, sincerely tried to love Switzerland but it just never worked out. I don’t think I’ve been in France long enough to say that I will never love it, but it’s not looking good though.

      Reply
  13. Diane
    May 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I think all your feelings are normal and it’s just a matter of what you do with your time here. No place is perfect… People actually told you that your French was awful? I would have slapped them. Old, young, doesn’t matter. That’s plain rude!

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:37 pm (3 years ago)

      Sometimes I wish I had slapped them! But it was always in a situation where I needed their collaboration, so I figured keeping my mouth shut would be best :-P

      Reply
  14. Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com
    May 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm (3 years ago)

    It can be soooo hard being an expat!! I definitely had some moments like this when I was in a small city in Belgium away from my friend group. I think it helps to have a project that you are passionate about, and blogging is a good way to fill the time.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm (3 years ago)

      Blogging and traveling are the only things that have made my expat experience bearable!

      Reply
  15. Andrew
    May 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm (3 years ago)

    Sounds like a tough year. It does get better if you can feel at home in a place. I noticed in one of your comments that you felt at home in London instantly and not yet in France after a year. As much as I am one of the biggest proponents for Expat living, if you are really not feeling a place at all, it is time to think about moving. Which it sounds like you are also doing.
    The point is that, although I think it is really good for people to live abroad, not every place fits with every person and if you are truly miserable figure out a way out of it.

    Reply
    • Marie
      May 27, 2012 at 6:33 pm (3 years ago)

      That’s what makes it so hard in France, I think – the fact that I instantly felt at home in London and that after a year here, I still feel like an outsider. Doesn’t help my situation at all. I just hope we have the possibility of moving soon!

      Reply
  16. Simon
    April 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm (2 years ago)

    Your comments are interesting. I have lived in France for over 12 years now, and I regret to say that each year has got worse! I am finally cutting the ties that keep me here (business) and returning to the UK. For me, the racism and xenophobia of the culture, combined with the joyless, mean, dishonest, miserable and selfish streak that is ‘normal’ behaviour in one’s personal and professional life here has become too much to take. The negative traits of the culture, politics and administration have given us some truly horrific experiences that simply don’t happen elsewhere. Like you, I knew I did’nt like it after a year and have wished every day since that I had had the courage to run while I could. Keep your eyes and options open, and good luck.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      April 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm (2 years ago)

      Sorry to hear that. 12 years is a long time to be in a place you don’t like! Hoping your future holds better days :-)

      Reply
  17. Mark
    November 3, 2014 at 1:47 am (10 months ago)

    I love your post. As another Canadian living in France (I moved here in 2012, it’s been a little over 2 years here, and I’m beginning to have thoughts of moving back for many of the same reasons you mentioned here. I come from the anglophone side of Canada, but yeah, for me the negative attitudes of people is really making it hard for me to be anywhere…work, just in plain public, etc. I’ve settled in a small town northwest of Lyon with my French wife, and work in Lyon. I also sometimes work in Paris some days of the week. Comments about my French language skills haven’t been so rude. I learned French early as a kid in Canada with the basics, lost it in my university days in the states, and had to re-learn here, so I don’t have the French Canadian accent like I did before….virtually gone. Clermont Fd too small for you? I’ll continue to follow, keep up the great posts :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      November 3, 2014 at 9:49 pm (10 months ago)

      Thanks for your comment, Mark! Indeed clermont-Ferrand is a bit too small for me. I thrive for big cities, and find that there isn’t enough to do or see. Mind you it’s a wonderful place to live! I hope you will keep a positive memory of your expat years in France. Lyon is quite nice :-)

      Reply
  18. Tara
    February 9, 2015 at 4:46 pm (7 months ago)

    I love this amd it is interesting for me that you say about speaking the language correctly and exactly the way they speak it. I am from England and came out here nearly a year ago now to work. I didn’t speak any french (i am a dancer so in my contract it was stated that it wasn’t required) but obviously I want to maoe the effort being in their country as a foreigner to try amd learn and speak it as much as I can. I get so fruatrated when I ask for something im French and they keep either asking what or repeating it wirh a questioning face and then finally say ‘ah….’ repeating the thing I have asked for but maybe with a slightly thicker accent! I may as well just go up and say it in english sometimes! It takes just as long! I very much miss the simple things of home, queuing politely for things, no smoking everywhere and blowing it into my face, not having someone full on gob on the floor in front of you every 5 minutes, being able to get off a train before everyone barges on…! The list could go on!

    Reply
  19. Louise
    June 3, 2015 at 9:01 am (3 months ago)

    I’ve found it really helpful reading your comments as I lived in France for 20 years on and off. There are things I miss now I’ve been back in the UK for 5 years like the warmer, longer summers and especially the space. I have made some really good friends in France over the years and do think about going back but your post and the comments have reminded me of many of the reasons I left so that’s been a great help in bringing me back to reality. One of the places I would have loved to live is Canada as it’s vast, beautiful and I found the people very open and really nice.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      June 3, 2015 at 6:45 pm (3 months ago)

      Happy to help, Louise! The grass is always greener until we go to the greener grass… and it starts all over again. Perfection simply doesn’t exist! And yes, you should definitely visit Canada soon!

      Reply
  20. Richard White
    July 1, 2015 at 7:17 am (2 months ago)

    I have a tale to tell! Hope you have the patience to wade through my utter frustrations and Victor Meldrew whingings about living in France!

    My wife and I made the decision to move to France nearly 3 years ago, largely encouraged by some friends who had moved to the Dordogne 8 years previously! As a photographer and artist, I was looking forward to teaching digital photography, running my own art gallery and framing pictures. Our friends even kindly accommodated us and helped us in the early days so we could take a look around. Eventually we took on a new build project after acquiring 3 acres of hilly land near Aubeterre sur Dronne in the Charente. During those early months, the quite daunting tasks facing us were smoothed over to a large extend because our friends were fully supportive and gave us much needed advice. However, it soon became apparent that their love of everything French was very unrealistic and seemed to come from a holiday promotion script. We had to find out for ourselves that the ‘reality’ is unbelievable bureaucracy, administration, and quite extraordinary complications where non should exist. We discovered that the Brit ex-pat community is mostly made up of ‘failed’ professionals now taking on quite bizarre jobs with little experience, old age pensioners, and families who believe France will give them what they don’t have in the UK. Yes, there’s the sunshine, the markets, the wine and the wonderful cheeses and the quiet roads but little else. Teenagers looking for life with a pulse will not find it out in rural areas…and these are the areas favoured by their parents who want to get away from a stressful life in the UK. Fortunately, I can speak fluent French since some of my early childhood was spent with my Belgian grandparents and I went to school there. Nevertheless, my Belgian French here in the South West of France might as well be a foreign language!. My wife who is part Italian and speaks Italian also finds the locals less than friendly when she tries her best with their hard to follow French. We have tried our best and now after 3 years living in a beautiful dream house that we built…we have sold up and are going back to the UK. Why? Well I have given you some reasons but here are some others a) WE are both very worried about the state of the EU and the effects of monetary swinging policies now that Greece has caused a huge problem…maybe others will follow? Are we seeing the disintegration of the EU? There is a strong right wing sympathy in France for the NF of Marine La Penne who wants to take France out of the EU. And, what happens to us and other ex-pats if the UK also says NO to Europe. b) The French and English still bear grudges!!..Listen to some conversations in cafe’s to realise that we are here under sufferance because we help the economy but really, if given options, the French would love the same spending power as the Brits, the Germans, Dutch and Russians….but it is a poor nation! c) The cost of living is marginally more expensive….try buying 2nd hand cars, white goods or all things electrical, or try to afford a plumber, a builder, and the all important Health care supplementary insurance (mutuelle) to see what I mean. Yes, the French Health care system is very very good but it is virtually bankrupt so how long will it last!

    OK! I’ve almost done with all this whining! I will miss France because of its wide open beautiful countryside, it’s cafes, restaurants and history…BUT…the towns and villages are mostly dirty, scruffy, and need lots of TLC. And….is it not about time that many French people stopped taking 2 hours off every day between 12.00hrs and 14.00 hrs? If it was 1 hour only, France’s economy would recover overnight!!!

    No offense meant…just personal reflections of a 3 year adventure !!!

    Reply

2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on A Year in France

  1. […] FavoritesPosted on 16. May, 2012 by Marie in Destinations, Europe Travel, expat France, FranceAfter a year living as an expat in Clermont-Ferrand, and despite the daily challenges it implies, I find myself loving the feeling of having a […]

  2. […] doubt in my mind that I am a city girl at heart.I’ve talked about this a little bit on my French anniversary. The problem with my current predicament in France is not so much about France itself  – although […]

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