When I was back in Florida last month, I fielded some interesting questions from my fellow Americans. I’ve written before about the things French people frequently ask me, but let’s get into the questions I got from Americans.
Questions Americans ask me after learning I am an expat in France
Sometimes it makes me uneasy to tell people I live in France. You never know how they’ll react or what they’ll assume, so I usually don’t mention it unless someone asks me directly where I live or something like that. Most of the time, it’s a pleasant and positive thing to talk about and Americans are curious. I’m flattered that people take the time to ask questions about France and want to learn more, since I know it’s a privilege to be able to even see the world in the first place.
Here are some of the top questions Americans asked me last month about being an expat in France.
Do you speak French fluently?
This is one of the first questions people ask me and I heard it a lot. I was getting a COVID test at the CVS drive-through before my flight back, and upon hearing I lived in France, the nurse practitioner administering the test asked me if I spoke French fluently. I told her yes and she seemed really impressed and we chatted about life abroad a little bit as I was swabbing my nostrils.
For people who have never seriously studied a language, the whole language learning thing is very black and white. You either speak the language or you don’t. Being “fluent” to them means you pass the unspoken test.
But in reality there are many, many shades of gray when it comes to learning a language and I talk about it more in this post about how long it takes to learn French. Fluent doesn’t mean you never make mistakes so let me say that right off the bat. I make a ton of mistakes. It comes with the territory. But there are levels of fluency and it’s not to be confused with being bilingual/native or speaking without an accent.
I speak French yes, although my speaking skills far surpass my written French at this point because I don’t work on my writing skills much. Anyone observing me would say I’m perfectly fluent when I speak, but I know there’s a lot I don’t know. I avoid sentence structures that I know I’ll flub on the fly. My French is good enough to do anything I need to do — deal with a plumber, talk to a vet about anything going on with my dog, handle pretty much any situation I run into. People have no issue understanding or communicating with me.
But if I had to have a very delicate, nuanced conversation with someone in a professional setting, well I’d have to work on getting up to speed. I couldn’t speak at a medical conference (couldn’t do that in English either!). I lack vocabulary in some areas. Sometimes I am unable to say things with the exact amount of finesse I’d use in English.
If you quizzed me on grammar rules, I’d run away from you. I know if I spent time working on it, I could iron things out, but there are only so many hours in a day. Yes, I speak French fluently enough and am well beyond just being conversational and that’s good enough for me. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist so nothing will ever be good enough. 😉
Will you speak French fluently after living in France for a year? >>
Are you a French citizen?
I think sometimes people confuse citizen with permanent resident or think you need to be a citizen to live and work legally in France. Or that if you move to France or marry a French person, you automatically become a citizen. But that’s not the case. Citizenship is a process that you apply for, just like it is in the US.
The answer to this one is nope, I’m not a French citizen and have no plans of starting the paperwork for citizenship any time soon. I’m a permanent resident (like a US Green Card). At some point though, I’m sure I’ll apply for French citizenship. After several years of marriage, I became eligible to apply but it’s a bit of paperwork and a bit of an expense.
French citizenship would honestly change nothing about my day-to-day life so I’m not rushing to get it. I’d get a French passport which is cool, but I already have the right to live and work here since I’m married to a French citizen. The only thing it would change more or less is to give me the right to vote. I feel more connected to the US political scene so it’s not the hugest deal if I don’t vote in French elections for now.
The option to become a French citizen doesn’t have an expiration date, so I’ll get on it one day…. for now it’s just not that important and I’m in no rush to tackle anything French bureaucracy-related at the moment.
Do you like living in France?
Absolutely. If France made me miserable, I’d like to think I’d have figured out a way to change my circumstances for the better. So many aspects of life in France are compatible with who I am as a person and what’s important to me, but that’s not to say life is perfect here or that the French are superior to the people of any other country. I’m not saying life in France is a dream life by any means.
Life’s problem’s don’t disappear if you’re an expat in France. At this stage for me (past the culture shock), when I’m struggling with something, it has very little to do with the fact that I live in France. It’s more of a life problem, not a France problem.
I like living in France with Tom and Dagny and am grateful for the life we have here. I love so much about France including the work/life balance, affordable health care and vet care, the lifestyle and appreciation of food culture, the beautiful country itself and more. But France is a real place with real problems and not a 24/7 vacation. Life is full of ups and downs like life anywhere.
Why do you live in France? Did your husband get a job there?
Long story short, I live in France because I married a French guy. Living in France after getting married was the easiest way for us to be together right away. I’ve told you before that I wouldn’t be here in France at this point if I didn’t have Tom by my side. Without him, I’d be lost. And probably crazy (crazier?). I did the whole living abroad alone thing back when I moved for TAPIF to teach English back in the day.
Life is manageable having a real live French person in the household. 😉 Not sure I ever mentioned it here, but after getting married, our plan wasn’t to stay in France indefinitely. We had Green Card paperwork pending for Tom for several years (bye bye $$$$$$, guess that was money I could have put toward French citizenship!) but then decided after careful consideration to stay in France for a bunch of reasons. The rest is history.
I guess beyond being married to a French person, we live in France because it feels right.
I don’t live abroad because I hate the US. I didn’t move abroad to make a political statement. I don’t think life in France is the best option for everyone or forever, nor is it superior to life elsewhere, as I said above. It’s just where we’ve decided to make a home and we’ll be here for as long as it feel right.
I’ve also come across the second part of the question. People assume that many of us are expats because a spouse (usually assume it’s the husband) got a job in another country. It’s a common reason for why people live abroad but just not why I moved to France. Tom already had a job here.
Are you moving back to the USA soon or staying in France forever?
Forever is a long time!!!
I think for some people, it would be unfathomable to live abroad permanently. Not because it’s some kind of achievement to live abroad but because they’ve never considered it or even thought it was a possibility. Or the assumption is that Americans want to move back home.
The default is to live in your home country so of course it’s a normal question from fellow Americans who are curious about being an expat in France. I’ve asked people if they ever plan on moving home. I think the question is especially common from ones who love you and miss you and want you home. To some, maybe living abroad is just a detour or a cool thing to do with an end date.
Some of us are an expat in France for a certain amount of time and that was the plan — a work contract, a study abroad semester, a gap year. For others, time abroad doesn’t have an end date. I’m not planning to move back to the US anytime soon. But I’ll never say never.
Do you regret moving abroad?
This one usually comes up after I’ve expressed something negative about my life like being far from family. I always respond to the regret question with a strong no. I don’t regret moving abroad. If you ask me on a bad day, maybe I’ll tell you yes in a moment of frustration but the answer is definitely a no.
I think you can yearn for the path you didn’t choose and dwell on the what-ifs because it’s only normal to think about things, but regret? No way. In good times and in bad, we push through and learn lessons about ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Life isn’t easy at “home” all the time either and no matter where we live, life’s struggles will present themselves.
Life abroad has led me to learn French, all about a new culture, and something I’m the most proud of is that moving to France has been the catalyst for growing the Oui In France blog and YouTube channel to what it is today.
I think people who love us just want us to be happy, so if you’re going through a challenging time and express this to them, they equate that with regret. Like living abroad is to blame and then a simple move home will fix everything. Maybe it is to blame and moving home would fix things. But I don’t think that’s always the answer. Sometimes it’s about just getting your feelings out and it has nothing to do with regret or wanting to leave France. It’s about being heard and expressing yourself so you can work through whatever is on your mind.
Is it expensive to live in France?
This question is hard to answer because so much depends on your lifestyle. You can rent or buy a super expensive property, drive a fancy car, and go on luxurious vacations. Or you can live life on the other end of the spectrum and live in a small house or apartment, not even have a car, and travel locally. I feel like most people live somewhere in the middle.
Just like there’s a ton of variation in the cost of living in different areas of the US, it’s the same in France. You can live in a cheaper area, buy what is on sale, cook all of your own food, find low-cost or free activities, and find ways to make life more affordable.
Now that being said, gas is not cheap anywhere in France. It’s priced by the liter and currently is around 1.40 euro/liter for diesel. Tolls aren’t cheap. Clothes tend to be more expensive in France than in the US. Buying flights to go back home gets expensive.
One thing that balances out the more expensive things is healthcare in France. Yes, taxes/social charges are high, but what you get in return is the security of knowing an accident won’t bankrupt you. Veterinary care is also more affordable. Cost of living in France vs. the US isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
Personally, my life is way less fancy in France. Back in NYC, I drove a nice car, wore fancy clothes, ate out at fancy places, and went out more. Big-city single life is different. Priorities change and so do budgets.
Anyway, that’s all to say that life in France isn’t inherently more expensive or cheaper than the US. It depends on how you live and where.
What about you? What do your fellow countrymen ask you about living abroad? Are you an expat in France?