I wanted to hear from other foreigners in France about what they’ve found to be the easiest and hardest parts of living in France long term. Here are the responses I got from the Oui In France community on social media.
Foreigners in France reveal the easiest and hardest parts of life abroad
“Adapting to the slower rhythm of life. Ok, maybe it hasn’t been easy, but it was one adjustment that I identified as manageable and ultimately necessary in order to avoid frustration! You see, I miss the convenience of America, where the post office opens at 8AM, Walmart is accessible 24/7, and the banks would never dream of closing for a 2-hour lunch break. Those conveniences don’t exist here, so you either have to be grumpy about the fact that the store you need to go to isn’t going to open until 11AM, even in Paris, or bypass the grumpiness by sleeping in. I advise the latter.
Along these same lines, I avoid calling anyone between the sacred hours of 12PM and 2PM, I incorporate a 4PM snack time every day to ward off my ‘hanger’ while I wait for my new dinnertime which is now closer to 8PM, and I sprinkle a few smoke breaks throughout my newly Frenchified day. It’s a classic case of, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’ (I’m just kidding about the smoking, though!)
For me, the most difficult part about living in France isn’t necessarily France-related. Something that’s been hitting me hard lately is the transient nature of the expat. I’ve been living in Paris for just over a year now, and I’ve already had to say goodbye to a few friends that I only recently met. I recognize that this problem might also be linked to city life and specifically to Paris.
While I’m lucky that Paris is a destination and dream for many, the flipside of the coin is that there is a constant flow of people coming and going. As a consequence, whenever I meet someone new, I of course ask the usual questions about what brought them to France, but what I’m really wondering is how long they’re planning on staying. Is there anything keeping them here? I want to know upfront how long I have with them so that I can prepare myself for the goodbye. It’s a sad realization.” –Ellen of Américaine in France
“The easiest part about living in France for me has to do with my children. Although there are certain aspects of the French education system I don’t like, there are more positives than negatives. Knowing that my sons can finish university without racking up any financial debt is a huge relief. University in France is almost free. We pay a relatively small tuition of fewer than 300 euros per year.
Also, not worrying about how much it’s going to cost to send my children to the dentist or to see a doctor gives me peace of mind. As for me and my husband, making friends has been easier for us here in France. We really made an effort to make French friends who have welcomed us with open arms and shown us so many aspects of French life and French culture.
I think the hardest part about living in France is letting go of that romantic, picture-perfect image of France that most people fall in love with. When people think of France they think French cafés, baguettes, wine, cheese, and high fashion. These things, although great, aren’t the end all be all to happiness in France or anywhere in the world. I have bills, I have to deal with too much bureaucracy, and I don’t have one of those homes that are modeled after the Parisian apartments everyone gushes over. None of my French friends do.
Life is just life in France. We struggle here too. It’s just a different set of problems living in France.” –Annie Andre of AnnieAndre.com
“I really appreciated how easy it was to be eco-conscious in France. In grocery stores, single-use bags (paper or plastic) aren’t offered for free, so you have to bring your own bags. If you forget, you can buy a reusable bag for a euro or two, or buy a sturdy plastic bag for 10-15 centimes that is made for reuse. Produce bags are also all compostable, and it’s easier to find places to drop compost off. In Dijon, I actually lived in an ‘écoquartier,’ where there was composting right in our neighborhood.
Beyond that, zero waste stores were also more plentiful. These stores often collect old jars and containers, clean them, and weigh them. They’re then set out for customers to use for free. I loved being able to get my brown rice, oatmeal, pasta, and dish soap without creating packaging waste.
At large events, single-use cups are also banned. If you go to Christmas markets, you’ll notice that they give out reusable cups for any drinks you buy. You pay a 1 euro deposit for the cup, which is returned to you when you bring the cup back.
Finally, the TGV (high-speed train) made traveling so much easier, all while leaving a smaller carbon footprint. In the US, we basically have to drive or fly to most places — the automobile and airline industries have lobbied against a high-speed train system for decades. Within most cities, you also have to drive to get anywhere, as they lack a usable public transport infrastructure. In France, the tram, metro, and buses were a lot more convenient to use. Because all of these initiatives, living sustainably is more accessible in France.
Being an Asian woman, one of the most challenging parts of living in France was this near-constant awareness that I was ‘different.’ I’d walk into a shop, and the staff would ask if I needed help in English. People would say ‘Ni hao’ to me on the streets. Or they’d yell karate noises at me when I was running.
Though some encounters were certainly racist, most of them weren’t malicious. I think these ignorant attitudes mostly stem from the lack of diversity in France. It’s estimated that only 15% of the population is non-white, vs. 47% in the US. Asians, in particular, are poorly-represented, making up less than 2% of the French population. I think people make these assumptions because they just aren’t educated about race. The French government isn’t even allowed to ask about race in the census.
You might even argue that some of the behavior I experienced is ‘fair.’ In places like Paris or Nice, where there are tons of tourists, is it ‘fair’ to assume that the Asian walking into your store is a tourist who doesn’t speak French? A parallel I like to make is a white person going to China. I sure bet most Chinese people wouldn’t speak to that non-Asian in Mandarin. That being said, I feel for the Asians who live in France, who are constantly treated like outsiders. Making these almost assumptions sends the message that Asians can’t speak French or even be French.
“My name is Estefanny and I’m from Mexico. I lived in France for a while to study for my masters and I was single back then.
The easiest part of living in France was getting along with French students. I cannot say about other cases but this [being a student] was my surroundings. It was easy to integrate with them. They were interested in meeting people from other countries and on the outside they are easy people. I wouldn’t say they are close friends but the type you need for a while when you are abroad and alone.
The hardest part was especially at the beginning. My French was never perfect but I was holding a B2, and my accent was not the best. Anyway, I found it a bit difficult to communicate with French people. I have the opinion that people who know more than one language are more patient; the French are not.
While my French was not that bad, I was trying to talk as much as possible, but they were expecting me to have a perfect accent. They made faces like ‘in which language are you talking?’ Haha, now I laugh but in that moment it was frustrating. I think they need perfection with their language.” –Estefanny, @EstefyCM on Instagram
“As a child, we spent a lot of our summers in Paris. We would rent an apartment for a month and would be ‘living as Parisians.’ After high school, I wasn’t ready to go to school and found myself jumping from job to job, so I decided I wanted to do some soul searching. I packed my bags, bought a one-way ticket and moved to Paris to be an au pair (English-speaking nanny). That was 8 years ago!
Life in France hasn’t been all rainbows and daisies, though. In all honesty, the hardest part of living in France is dealing with French administration! Every time I find myself renewing my residency permit, I also find a couple more gray hairs. I just have to remind myself, c’est la vie! And a few extra gray hairs are definitely worth all of the positive reasons that I call France my home.
Another thing that I find quite difficult is making any French friends. I find it much harder to make French connections and find many natives to be much more closed off. Most of my friends are other expats, which has its difficulties as not everyone is here for the long haul. My group of friends tends to ‘refresh’ as many people move back home after a couple of years.
As for positive reasons for living in France? Where to begin?! The fact that you can jump on a train or plane and spend the weekend exploring a new city, anywhere in Europe, is definitely a bonus in my books! As a French trained pastry chef, my blog My Secret Confections has allowed me to share my passion for la pâtisserie française, food photography, and snippets of my expat life, as well as host baking classes both in person and virtually.
But the biggest thing that I love about living in France is the life that I have built with my (French) husband. The quality of life that we enjoy here is no comparison to what we would have back in the US.” –Natalya Seddar, @mysecretconfections on Instagram
“The easiest part of living in France is the lifestyle it has afforded us as a family. Our move to France 4.5 years ago from New Zealand coincided with both my husband and me transitioning to work for ourselves, and so we have been able to make our family life a priority, instead of having to adhere to office hours. We’ve also found the school schedule of four days a week (no school on Wednesdays), and the lack of multiple extra-curricular activities here means there’s more time for doing the things we love — like going for hikes in the beautiful Provence countryside and exploring nearby attractions.
The most difficult part of living in France, for me, is undoubtedly the language barrier. It won’t be the case for everyone, but I’ve personally found French very difficult to pick up — both because of time constraints, limited prior language learning and because of my working situation (I work at home, alone, and in English). This isn’t just a problem in terms of daily living, but it has also affected my confidence and inhibited me both socially and professionally.
A close second would be adapting to ‘French time’ – i.e. the time it takes to get anything done here. Between short opening hours, long lunch breaks, holidays, and the general no-rush attitude, I’ve had to learn to be more patient! Being away from family is an obvious third and is becoming more evident as our son gets older.” –Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend
“My name is Chris and I have been living in France permanently since 2014, same old story how I came to France, boy meets boy, boy gets married, and then moves life over to here. I live in the Île-de-France region with my French husband (Julien). I will start with the easiest part of living in France, for me it’s relaxing. I feel like since I’ve moved to France I know the true meaning of relaxation.
I come from a big city in the US (Philadelphia) and though it’s not NYC it was always on the move, you always had to be moving or doing something. In France, I feel like people know how to take the time to slow down and enjoy life, definitely since I’ve been with my husband I’ve noticed that I’m not in as much of a rush as I was when I was in Philadelphia.
One of the hardest parts of life in France is the lack of tact in general. I feel like the French people I have met (I don’t want to generalize) are too honest and too opinionated. There are way too many unwanted or downright rude comments here that in the United States would cause problems. I noticed this a lot with my husband and his family. I love them to the ends of the world, but sometimes I feel like they need to learn to be a bit more considerate for other people’s feelings.
A quick example, once at dinner, my mother-in-law made a meal that wasn’t tasty and I didn’t say anything because she cooked it for us and it took time and effort. But my husband’s family let her know it wasn’t good. I was shocked to be honest. I’ve always hated and will never tolerate brutal honesty, but here it’s the norm, and it’s really hard for me to handle. I’m a firm believer in ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ With my husband, that has to be our main source of disagreements LOL, because he finds that Americans aren’t honest enough.” –Chris Bonnin
“Let me start with the easiest part of living in France. It is the fact that transportation is very convenient and organized compared to where I come from. In Paris, the metro, tram, and bus systems are the best (as per my experience) and moving in and around Paris is easy. The situation is fairly good in small towns out of Paris, too.
The most difficult part about living in France is how crippled I feel not knowing French well enough. It’s been a little over a year since I moved to France and I had a chance to learn the language only for three months and then COVID happened and classes have not resumed yet. It is definitely a pain being unable to get work done easily when I am at the hospital, bank, or even at the grocery store. Google Translate has been there for my rescue but it sure is still inconvenient.
Obviously the only way to overcome this challenge is to learn the language well. Countless scenarios have pushed me to an almost frustrating state but it sure is inevitable to live here not knowing French! Also, it is important to know the language for you to land in a decent job, even if you are going to teach English!” –Hafsha Mohideen, @hafsah_holmes on Instagram
“I’ve lived in France since July 17, 2017, in Rennes for 2 1/2 years and in Gensac since February 11, 2020.
I find living a simple life easy in France. I find, for the most part, balancing work/home life easy for my husband. Living in Rennes, we were able to live without a car. Now, we own a house (or the bank owns it…) and living in a small village we own a car. However, when I look at what our income was in the states versus what it is here, it is significantly lower. That said, I do not feel as if our quality of life is significantly lower. It is so much better! We must say 10 times a week that we love our life.
I am not wearing rose-colored glasses and there are difficult parts to living here. Learning languages is not something I enjoy — never has been. My husband has a PhD in linguistics and loves learning languages. Being away from family is difficult as well. The virus has impacted that 100 times as I could not get back to say goodbye to my father. It used to be a direct flight to see them and now I haven’t seen my son in over a year. Finally, being away from familiar stores and brands is hard. I miss being able to go to one shop and know that what I need will be there. Not being skinny and being quite curvy, buying clothes can be difficult here.
To weigh everything out, I must say the pros outweigh the cons. We love living here and are planning on never returning to the US.” –Amy Speers
“I would have to say that the easiest part of living in France is the weather. I live in Montpellier in the south on the Mediterranean Coast, so of course this won’t be an experience shared by everyone, but here we get an estimated 300 days of sun per year. I find that my overall mental health is a lot better than it used to be, and I owe a lot of that to regularly being bathed in a lot of sunlight that I just didn’t get in the UK [insert joke about the rain].
Navigating a foreign language, figuring out who I was, and later building a business are all very difficult things to do, but when you want to step outside more often and wake up to natural sunlight, you start the day from a better place and so more positive things happen, or should I say, I’m more prepared to acknowledge the good things happening.
Par contre, on the flip side, the hardest thing about living in France has got to be dealing with French administration when you’re still learning the language. Yes, they are known for not being the kindest people at la préfecture or when you need to call them (heaven forbid), but when their websites are so bad and they are so unresponsive to emails with little to no sympathy for you, it’s totally demoralizing and anger-inducing.
I even say to people with a straight face that they should seriously consider whether they are prepared to put themselves through the necessary administrative procedures before deciding to take the leap and move. And I’m someone who tries to stop overthinking and just ‘do’ whenever I can.
Overall France still wins for me over the UK :).” –Alex of French in Plain Sight on YouTube
“I’ve been in the Loire Valley since 2012 and over the years, my answer to this question has definitely changed.
The easiest part of living in France is taking advantage of the wonderful French lifestyle including amazing food and wine, a slower pace of life, and the fact you can travel so easily by train. I also don’t worry about outrageous healthcare costs since we all pay into a system that benefits everyone which is a major plus. Generally, you can live a slower life in France if you choose to and can get by with less money. Sure, if you want to buy a luxury car or wardrobe, it’s expensive, but day-to-day costs are more reasonable, especially if you don’t live in a big city or have a flashy lifestyle.
At this point, most of the things that I find the most difficult don’t have a lot to do with France specifically but are a result of living abroad and going through life away from everything and everyone you used to know. What I mean is that little quirks about France and how things are done here might have really gotten under my skin the first couple of years here — the bureaucracy, store and business hours, etc., — but now those things just seem normal and at most are just annoyances.
These days, the hardest part of living in France for me is feeling like I’m missing out sometimes on things going on at home, on getting to know friends’ and family members’ kids who I only know through a screen. I miss being there for people I care about most in person — the birthday parties, celebrations, funerals. I sometimes feel like I’m losing touch with part of my ‘Americanness,’ yet at the same time I’m not really becoming French either. I struggle with wanting to have one foot planted in each country, knowing full well that it’s not possible.” –Diane of Oui In France
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed and took time to read and share this post. If you live in France, what are the easiest and most difficult parts for you? Talk to me in the comments!