Living in France looks wonderful in the movies, and it can be that way in real life as well. The culture, the food, the spectacular natural beauty, the wine — the mere thought of it is enough to make many of us contemplate packing up our lives and moving to France.
But living in France certainly isn’t without its pitfalls. While it’s not a country where you need to be careful about eating the street food or live in fear of being robbed at gunpoint on every corner, there are some common mistakes you need to avoid to help make your French experience a whole lot more enjoyable. To find out what to do and what not to do when living and working in France, check out our list of the top survival tips.
Language is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for foreigners in France. The French are proud of their language — they even have the Académie française in place to ensure its protection — so don’t be surprised if you’re looked at with contempt or even ignored when you ask a question in English. Try speaking in French, no matter how rusty your skills may be, and your efforts will be appreciated. Sure, you may murder the beautiful language, but it’s the thought that counts. Besides, if you’re planning on staying for any length of time, you’ll need to be able to get by in the native tongue.
This might seem like an obvious tip, but try to see as much of France as you can. There are fascinating and diverse experiences waiting for you in every corner of the country, so don’t just get bogged down in Paris, Brittany or any one place. Get out and explore this wonderful country; from sleepy villages to big cities, there’s simply heaps of things to see and do.
Forget fast food
Meals are a hugely important part of French culture. If you’re invited over to someone’s house for dinner, don’t go in expecting a light meal and a quick chat. Instead, prepare yourself for multiple courses, lots of wine and hours of conversation. It’s just the way the French do things, and it’s one aspect of the country’s culture that many foreigners fall in love with.
Don’t worry about it
The French, particularly Parisians, have a reputation for being surly and even downright rude. Unfortunately, there is a good reason this stereotype exists, but it certainly doesn’t apply to all of the locals. In fact, you will find plenty of French people who are polite, friendly and happy to help out a confused Australian. But when you do lock horns with a grumpy waiter or a surly shop owner, don’t worry about it. Learn to master the legendary Gallic shrug and you’ll be one step closer to living happily in France.
If you’re moving to France, you’re going to be immersed in one of the world’s great cuisines, so don’t just stick to steak frites or whatever else you know. Be adventurous, say yes to everything, and sample as much of the menu as you can. Yes to frog’s legs and snails, yes to anything else you can wrap your mouth around. How do you know if you don’t like the local delicacies unless you try them?
To kiss or not to kiss?
When trying to wrap your head around what to do and what not to do when living in France, the age-old question of how to greet people with a kiss springs to mind. You’ll see many of the locals kissing on the cheeks when they meet friends. But how many times do you kiss, and do you actually make contact or do you just blow air kisses? This really can vary wildly depending on where you are and who you’re greeting, so it’s best to simply go with the flow. You typically won’t have to pucker up when you meet someone for the first time, but after that you’ll just have to see what happens.
Many an expat arrives in France bright-eyed and full of hope, only to fall into depression when homesickness sets in or the country doesn’t meet their expectations. Don’t be one of those people. You’re living in France, one of the most fascinating and diverse countries in the world. It’s an opportunity many would kill for, so get out and live it, breathe it in, experience it as many ways as you can. You’ll find yourself smiling again in no time.