Today marks 5 years in France

5 years ago today we arrived in Paris. It was the night of the US election. The city was going through a spell of Obama-mania.

Mannequin wearing "I <heart> Obama" t-shirt

I was ThRilLed to be here, HerrKaa, merely lukewarm.

In years 1 and 2 I never wrote an anniversary post, because we were feeling pretty Meh about the challenges of Parisian daily life.

In years 3 and 4, I didn’t post for a different reason: my brain was simply too exhausted from all the learning for my new job (the technology, the work culture, and so many French expressions)  to have energy to email friends, never mind blog. And HerrKaa was preoccupied with training for the Étape du Tour bike race.

5 years after his election, Parisians, along with the rest of Europe, have very different feelings towards Obama.

recent headlines about US spying in Europe, particularly France - Nov 2013

And we have very different feelings about being in France.

Obvious revelation #1: Don’t sweat the small stuff

My initial euphoria has been tempered by a lot of hard knocks to the ego, but nowadays I can relish what we came here for: the food and wine and travel and beauty and incredible art literally, like, everywhere you freakin’ look, and no longer panic over Paperwork Problems. It helped learning from coworkers that the bureaucracy is a real struggle for the French too.

Also, now that I realize how rare it is for expats like me to land a full-time job in their industry at a French company (not a US multinational), I no longer feel so much like the total incompetent that I felt like for the first 2.5 years.

Obvious revelation #2: Learning the local lingo really does help

Meanwhile HerrKaa, initially reluctant to learn French, now is able to do things like comparison shop for new insurance policies, go to all-French bike races in the countryside, and enjoy watching M6’s non-stop apartment search/home staging shows, tout en français.  

Not only does that make HerrKaa feel way more comfortable here, it took a huge weight off me. Now someone else can understand what comes in the mail, or pick up the cat from the vet and discuss when to do the next contrôle du sang (blood test)! Because we do know of couples, who even have kids in the French school system, where only one spouse can communicate in French. When that spouse also has a full-time job, that becomes a serious burden.

(It also makes me wonder….would those Frenchophobes, the ones who only frequent English language libraries, churches, book stores, and live in anglo-heavy neighbourhoods be the same people who complain back home about immigrants who never assimilate? I’m not saying that it’s right, but if an immigrant community already exists it is so much easier to just stay there. Not too long ago I interviewed an American, who has lived here for 14 years and is married to a French woman, but literally couldn’t even handle bonjour.)

Obvious revelation #3: Travel is soooo much easier here

The other major improvement is we eventually found our travel groove, mastering the art of multi-modal travel, usually a combo of train, rental-car and bike. But since I do want to post this today instead of two weeks from now, I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post about visiting Slovenia and the South of France this past summer.

What about you? What milestones have you reached in the past 5 years?


6 thoughts on “Today marks 5 years in France

  1. I have been in a small village in the Languedoc for 4.5 years now, having come from San Diego. I am retired so I do not have all the problems with working in France. My French staggers along but I can communicate with my French neighbors and friends, likewise the German, Dutch, English, and Scottish ones (who all speak very good English). There are, however, numerous English residents here who have been here many years and can barely speak French, and their accents are truly painful. There are also ones who speak good French. I think it depends on the personality, and how much you want to socialize with people from your own country. Not an option for me, there is only one other American here, and we see each other only occasionally. I certainly didn’t come here to hang around with Americans and English! I am starting French lessons this week, long overdue. I have my French driving license, having had to take both the Code de la Route and driving tests in French. That was a huge milestone, as I drove illegally for about 3 years. I still dread telephone conversations in French, always wondering if I got it right. Very delighted to be here regardless of any language or cultural stumbling blocks.

  2. Hi Bonnie. Congrats with getting a French drivers license – that’s a milestone I’m still working up the courage for: the pass rate is 50% in Paris! I still struggle with phone French, I find so much depends on the speaker. Glad to hear you are enjoying your retirement down in the south.

    • Fear not the dreaded French driving license! I am almost 70 and had no trouble. In Paris there is a school, Fehrenbach, that does it in English and has a very good pass rate. It is pricey but perhaps your employer would contribute. Not that you want a car in Paris, as there is no place to park and rented spaces can run 400 euros a month! The French used for all of it is very straightforward, or I could not have done it. There are also on line sites where you can study. It is all visual, the written test provides you with a situation on the screen as if you were looking through the windshield, then asks you a question about what to do. It was not hard, but the practice tests were *very* hard. If you have a driving instructor they will not take uou for the driving test until they believe you will pass, as it reflects badly on them if you do not. Also all of these people know each other, and I think there is “nod nod wink wink” going on. I also think they give you a break when driving because you are already a driver. I thought I drove rather badly for the test, but got 27 points out of a possible 31, so it can’t have been too bad. Only need 20 to pass …. Go on then …..


      • Thanks for the encouragement Bonnie.:) It’s not the language, it’s the time & expense vs. low pass ratio that I’m leery about. Many coworkers (who are all native French) had a tough time and warn me they test you on stuff you’d never actually do in real life. I know another expat, an experienced driver, who shelled out for the English lessons and failed 3 times before giving up. Fortunately, we only drive on vacations so it isn’t really an issue most of the year.

  3. Unlike your other commenters, my milestones aren’t as a French resident, but the past five years have brought my first ever trip to France, with my husband, on bikes, and after that, 4 solo cycling trips. Can’t wait to get back!

    • Not to mention, creating a gripping blog of these trips that has me hankering to get back on the bike and hill train, so I too can discover the Basque region and the Pyrennees.

      Any idea which part of France you’ll bike through this year?

      BTW, while this blog barely talks about biking, I did post about a bike trip we did in the Czech Republic in 2012. We were completely blown away by how bike-friendly everything was:

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