Everything is constantly changing around us, including the people. Our environment factors in to how we adapt and evolve and sometimes it’s for the best. I’ve been in France now for 5 years and it has changed my life for the better in ways big and small.
How living in France has changed my life for the better
Life anywhere can cause introspection and shifts in how we see the world and interact with those around us. You don’t have to move to Europe, or anywhere for that matter, to make changes in your life that are for the better.
Living in France doesn’t mean life will be perfect, though. I’ve said this many times on my blog. France is not a magical paradise that makes all life problems disappear. Many times, aspects of life in France have been more difficult than life in the USA. Just like anywhere, you can experience health scares, job loss, death of a loved one, etc. France isn’t a cure-all for life’s problems.
A quick note: Some of the things I list below aren’t necessary France specific, but living in France has been the catalyst for my personal development, if that makes sense.
Keep in mind this is just my experience as an American woman moving from NYC to be with my French husband. We work, we pay bills, we live life. Your experience as a student, as someone with an expat work contract, as a single man, as a couple of retirement age, as someone moving with children is going to be different. We can all learn from each other. No one’s experience is less valid than anyone else’s. 🙂
How living in France has changed my life for the better
Introduced me to new produce
I had a pretty good handle on fruits and vegetables before moving to France, but I’ve been introduced to new types of produce and gotten reacquainted with foods I didn’t know much about back in the US. Some types of produce here are just more popular than they were in the US, like endives and leeks. I’ve also learned new ways to prepare foods and have become acquainted with the versatility of produce. The market culture here has been eye-opening. Even the strawberries are smaller and more flavorful than ones from back home!
Forced me to slow down
Literally. Many stores and other places of business close earlier than what I was used to in the USA and 24/7 service culture doesn’t exist here. You take things slow, wait in line, and enjoy the experience. The adjustment isn’t always easy, especially if you come from somewhere fast paced, but when most businesses are closed on Sundays and stores’ operating hours are different than what you’re accustomed to, you have no choice but to adapt. A leisurely afternoon stroll in the park is the norm on Sundays because you’re not going to knock out your grocery shopping in the afternoon or run any errands.
Another aspect of slowing down has to do with my speech. I don’t speak as quickly in French as I do in English since it’s my second language and find myself listening and focusing more since I have to. That’s carried over to my English as well and I’ve noticed I’m more patient with people. All around, I’ve slowed down my pace. I notice so much more about the world when I’m not rushing around everywhere.
Allowed me to experience being “other”
This might be the most important item on the list. As a white American living in America, I fit in. People understood me and I always felt I belonged. But here, I may look like everyone else but the minute I open my mouth, they know I’m not from France.
If you watch me, you’ll see I do things differently than the French. I speak differently. Maybe I dress differently. That can be a good thing but it’s also something that marks me as “other.” You don’t always feel like you belong when you’re the foreigner, and while uncomfortable, being out of our element is something we should all experience. It only helps us to be more empathetic, forgiving, and patient as we interact with people at different stages in our lives. Whether we’re talking to family, friends, or complete strangers, we’re only human and not always the most helpful or understanding — I’m speaking from experience. Living here has shown me what it’s like when the situation is reversed, as the foreigner who doesn’t fit in.
My best advice to you is to be an outsider at least once in your life no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. While in the moment, it’s terrifying, but when you look back, you’ll notice positive changes in yourself that spill over into how you go about life and interact with those around you.
Shown me the beauty of small-town life
I wrote all about this here. Going from NYC to a much smaller French town was an adjustment, but one that I’ve welcomed. NYC will always be there for me so it’s been fun experiencing my French life in a much smaller city.
Allowed me to focus on relationships that truly matter
If you never leave your home, you never really know who values your relationship enough to make an effort to keep in touch. Emails, texts, phone calls, and visits are a two-way street. Sometimes people only keep in touch when it’s convenient for them. In some cases, you’ll just lose touch and go in different directions. Other times you’ll realize friends you once knew are more selfish than you originally realized. When you move across the Atlantic, only those who truly matter will keep in touch. Better to know late than never and focus your energy on those who are worth your time and effort.
To experience new cultures and see other ways of life like traveling Europe
This isn’t to say that American culture and landscapes are all the same, but our 50 states are more homogeneous in a lot of ways than the countries of Europe. Living in France has allowed me to travel a bit and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve traveled by boat and train in ways I could not in the USA.
Showed me that a work life balance is possible
The French survive just fine without working 50-hour work weeks. You can have a family and a life and not be consumed by work. Five weeks of paid vacation is the norm — you might even get more — and you’re encouraged to use all of it! That said, there are plenty of people who work long hours in France because their profession demands it, but generally speaking, the French vacation just as hard as they work. Time off is not just a benefit, but a way of life!
No stress about healthcare or vet care
French healthcare will not bankrupt you and vet care for your furry friend is half the cost (or less) than what you’d pay in a major metropolitan area in the USA. I also find veterinarians to be more hands on and patient overall than vets in the USA. About human healthcare, yes you’ll pay high social charges, but the system works and routine medical care and emergency care will never stress you out to the point of going broke.
Taught me a new language
To get by in France and to feel integrated, you have to speak French at an intermediate level or above. There’s no way around that. Living in France won’t automatically make you a master at French, but it will force you to learn the language if you’re willing. Learning a new language can be extremely frustrating, but it can also be a source of laughs and something that will challenge you and help you to integrate. That’s the ultimate reward.
What about you? Has a move abroad enriched your life?