No one ever said moving to France would be easy and I’m reminded of that all the time. Is it more difficult than my life back in New York City? I wouldn’t say that either — it’s, well, different. Life isn’t easy for anyone, but if you keep a level head and can laugh at yourself, the everyday stresses seem to roll off your back that much more easily. Here are 7 things that are personally more difficult in France than they were in the USA.
Everyday things that I find more difficult in France (than the USA)
Am I just bad at life or are certain things more difficult to do in France? Ha, maybe I shouldn’t answer that.
A new culture means new ways of doing things complete with new rules and norms, so even if you were a master at something at home, you may feel like a total beginner abroad.
Here we go, my list of things I find more difficult in France:
1. Anything dealing with customer service/returns
French companies seem to think the customer is always wrong because trying to return or exchange something tends to be a trying endeavor. You have to jump through so many hoops to get what you want and even then, sometimes you’re told “ce n’est pas possible” anyway. Sometimes going into detail about your personal life or crying actually makes people take pity on you and give in to your totally reasonable demands… which is so insane. I wrote a whole post on how difficult I find simple customer service tasks in France. And it pisses off French people too!
2. Giving someone directions
I don’t know what it is about French streets and city layouts, but I find them really confusing. Forget about Pine Street or Main Street. The street names are in French so that’s one little hurdle — and always seem to be 5 words long around here.
Apart from the names sounding, well, foreign to me, the layouts of places seem illogical. With traffic circles everywhere and streets that don’t follow any sort of system (1st Ave, 2nd Ave, etc.), it can be difficult to give someone clear and concise directions. I rarely know names of streets in my own town and tend to tell people to “go to the 2nd light” or “pass the red building” instead of telling them street names. I also walk everywhere and rarely drive in France so maybe that has something to do with it. Strangely enough, as I was typing this, Tom just admitted he doesn’t know the name of the street just perpendicular to our street. Like a 30-second walk from our house. Maybe it’s not just me?
3. Tu or vous confusion
In English, this was a problem I never had to deal with because we don’t have to choose between which form of “you” we use — it’s always just “you.” In French, you have the formal “vous” and informal “tu.” Tom wrote a whole post on the differences between the two if you’d like more info.
You might think that it’s best to err on the side of caution and go with the formal “vous” when in doubt. Normally that’s a good rule of thumb but sometimes it can offend someone. Let’s take for example a guy I know from the gym. His name is Patrick and he’s in his mid-70s. When I first met him, I used vous out of respect because he was someone I didn’t know and was significantly older than me. We shortly switched over to tu at his request. Then summer came and I hadn’t seen him for a while. Out of habit, I said vous and he made a joke scolding me for forgetting we used tu with each other. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who you tutoyer vs. vuvoyer.
Beyond a tu or vous, life in general is infinitely more difficult in a second language. Sometimes a detailed conversation or stressful task in your mother tongue is difficult enough, so to do it in your second language adds an entirely new level of frustration.
4. Finding decent clothes/shoes at an affordable price
Les soldes are popular for a reason and that’s because good deals are like unicorns around here. You could easily spend your entire paycheck on good-quality items that you’d be able to snag at a fraction of the price on sale in the USA. Yes, you can shop at cheaper stores but I’m not into fast fashion. But if you want high-quality items at a decent price? Good luck. Beyond maybe one or two necessities a year, I don’t think I’ve bought any clothes in France in over 4 years. Good thing the exchange rate is in my favor right now. I tend to shop at stores that I know from the USA that either deliver to France for a reasonable fee or wait to shop until I’m home.
5. Making friends
Making friends as an adult anywhere is hard but it’s been so difficult in France. People who move to a new place within their own country don’t have it easy either. But there’s something about trying to make friends — I mean real, genuine connections — as an outsider that seems to make the whole friends process even more difficult. I’m not the only one, as many of my readers echoed the same sentiments in this post on the lonely expat problem. But don’t despair. I also wrote a post on ways to make friends as an expat. Sometimes luck has a lot to do with it as well. But one thing is for sure, if you don’t try and put yourself out there, friends won’t magically appear on your doorstep. You have to do the legwork, and in my experience, it usually pays off. Even if you have to wait awhile… also, there are some social differences that can complicate things.
6. Paying with credit cards
It’s important to live within your means and not overspend, but sometimes it’s necessary to buy something on credit. Maybe you had a few unexpected expenses come up one month and you just don’t have enough cash to cover a new dishwasher after yours broke and pay for a car repair at the same time. In France, credit cards aren’t as commonplace as they are in the USA. While some banks offer credit cards, they aren’t mainstream and most people use their debit cards to make purchases. If you don’t have cash in your account, you wait to make a purchase. Some companies do allow you to pay for something in installments and will extend a store credit, but overall, France isn’t as credit card-focused as the USA.
7. Getting things done on Sundays
Sunday is a day for rest and family time. Many stores, businesses, and services will be closed on Sundays (and sometimes Mondays as well). Forget about doing your weekly grocery haul on a Sunday afternoon. France isn’t a 24/7 society and taking time to unwind and enjoy life is important in French culture. In bigger cities, some supermarkets will be open on Sunday mornings, but as a whole, France shuts down on Sundays and businesses tend to close earlier than those in the USA.
What has been harder for you abroad? Tell me below about things you’ve found more difficult in France!