I moved to France in 2012 and you know what they say about hindsight being 20/20. You’ve heard the saying “you live, you learn” and I believe every choice I’ve made has led me to where I am now. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made. We try, we make mistakes and then we grow from them. We can’t go back in time, but when we know better, we do better. So if you’re looking to move abroad to France, maybe some of what I talk about in this post can better prepare you. If I were moving to France today, here’s what I’d do differently this time around.
What I’d do differently if I were moving to France from the USA today
1. I would have put a focus on language comprehension and actually speaking the moment I knew I’d be moving to France.
Speaking/understanding actual French should have been the focus! Not grammar, not writing and reading but actual speaking and listening practice. I think classroom learning is great, but a lot of time is spent on grammar and writing and there’s not always enough real-life speaking practice.
When we will soon be face to face with actual French people, preparing ourselves by practicing speaking and comprehending in real time is so important and something I majorly underestimated before moving. We don’t know what we don’t know, so I got up to speed but it took a while before I felt confident.
For so long, all the words just sounded like a jumble of sounds and I’d understand the first half of the sentence but not the second or I’d understand the end but the beginning telling me who or what was doing something. Spoken French is nothing like classroom learning.
I wrote a separate post that goes a bit deeper into why comprehension needs to be our focus, so check that out for more on this.
Grammar and reading and writing and all of that are important but preparing yourself as much as you can for conversations should be the top priority if you’re moving here.
These days it’s so easy to watch French shows and movies, listen to podcasts and all of that stuff which didn’t exist to the same extent 10 years ago. So take full advantage. You’ll be setting yourself up for success!
2. I would’ve worked harder at making connections and networking with people already in France so that way when I arrived, I would have had a network.
When you first move, especially to a small town, it can be pretty isolating. If I had made it a priority ahead of time to seek out other foreigners who just moved or French people looking to have a cultural exchange, I think it would have made my first six months here a bit less lonely. Now there are so many FB groups and networking is a bit easier than it was 10 years ago.
I think I avoided networking in advance because I underestimated the difficulty of making friends in a small town and the importance of having a network. I got sidetracked by packing lists, trips we’d take, getting my visa and overlooked this step.
8 Things people MAJORLY underestimate when moving to France >>
3. I would have relied less on my husband to do the important phone calls in the early days.
OK, you know how this goes. You’re nervous to begin with and then when you start making mistakes or you don’t understand, your nerves make you mess up even more, even on the easiest of phrases. Been there!
I remember calling a bank once in 2012 and not understanding much and then was so proud to get out my important question, eager for the answer, just to hear the woman tell me, “Ma’am, I just explained that.”
Oh man…. That’s cute when you’re an 18-year old student, but as a fully functional adult, the whole language learning process can be a major hit to your ego. Or your sense of self. Making you turn inward completely.
People understood me just fine but it was so hard, for a long time, to understand what was being said to me. Anyway, this point ties into the first one I mentioned about focusing on comprehension because if I had felt more comfortable talking to people especially on the phone, maybe I wouldn’t have had to rely on Tom as much. And maybe I should have just muddled through some of the calls I asked him to make.
But I didn’t want to miss important information on the phone with the bank or miss the appointment time, so I defaulted to Tom doing the hard conversations for me especially in the beginning. I think the move in general was overwhelming at first and I just did what was easiest — let Tom handle the hard stuff. It all worked out but I probably would have become comfortable sooner if I had just done it myself.
4. I wouldn’t have let our default language become English at home.
Rosie of Not Even French just did a really thoughtful video on this and I relate to all her reasons about why she speaks English at home with her French husband. So definitely watch that for more insight into this.
What it comes down to is that Tom’s level of English will always be better than my level of French. Because of that, early on in our relationship we got into the habit of speaking to each other in English more than half the time.
Then it just become the default language. If we had spoken French at home at least some of the time, I’m sure I would have gotten up to speed a lot more quickly and felt more confident speaking to people my first year or two here.
But yeah, I feel like I only know Tom in English and it’s weird to me when he speaks French. I just think of him as my husband who speaks English with an accent and not a French guy, if that makes sense to anyone out there.
When you establish a relationship in one language and get to know the person in one language, it’s so hard to break your habit. So we can still work on this and maybe there’s still hope to speak French some of the time. We’ll see.
5. I would have joined the gym right away.
Fitness has been a part of my life since college, but when I moved to France, I quickly learned my small town didn’t have the same type of gym facilities I was used to. The only gym here in town I could walk to had old equipment, just a few classes and was not motivating at all. So for over a year, I worked out alone at home or at local parks instead of spending the money on a gym membership.
Eventually my solitary routine got boring (this was well before the Peloton and Les Mills apps came on the scene), so I joined my local gym and it was the best decision I ever made. Anyone I consider an acquaintance or friend here is someone I met through my gym. For the social aspect alone, joining a gym was worth it!
My advice is: If there’s an activity you really enjoy, seek out a club or association right away – for a hobby or any activity you’re interested in. Don’t delay!
OK, I want to know from you below what things you would have done differently if you got a moving abroad do-over, and if you can relate to anything I said above.
Great article Diane! One thing that I did when I first moved to France was establish a vet for my dog, which was great because we did have an urgent issue (infected tooth) in the first few months. What I didn’t do was establish a primary care doctor for myself and that’s something I wish I had done. I figured I’d just find one when it was time for a check up but I actually suffered from a bout of kidney stones and just had to see an SOS urgent care doctor (who was very nice, but they don’t evaluate your lab results etc after they prescribe any imaging or tests). I ended up just waiting to see a primary care doc until I made a visit to the US a few weeks later to follow up with my care.
Aussie Jo says
We live and learn, indeed we do if only we knew what we now know
Amie E. Karasinski says
I’m new here…starting to think about the move
I am originally from Taiwan but I moved to Boston for college. Having a connection with people there before actually arriving in the place is important. Since I already made a lot of connections with students there, I do feel a little bit lonely in Boston but at least there are a lot of friends that I can get in touch with. Familiarizing with the language spoken in the new place is also crucial. Anyways, thank you for sharing! I love the content:))
Since we think about buying a house in France, your post gave us a fresh momentum to learn French. Of course we know and think speaking the language is crucial, but it will be a couple of years from now that we will really be able to live in France, so putting in the effort to improve our language-skills always seems to be last on the list of our daily tasks. Thank you for giving us a push to starting again so that hopefully – when living in France really begins – our French will be decent!
So glad the post was helpful, Eva! Cheering you on from afar 😉
I think it’s great that the author said, never change to avoid it, but to be clear about your motives and make sure he’s right before making a decision.
We live and and we learn! Thanks for your sharing!
You’re very welcome!
So timely (we’ll maybe too late on the French speaking!). Arriving 5 September and will use the Vet, PCP and Gym advice stat!!!
Thanks for sharing! Want to move to France as well
I have lived in Taiwan for 4 years and to be fair one of the hardest things to admit was when to give up and pack my stuff to go back. Sometimes a country simply is not for us and it is so hard to admit it.
Working on language comprehension before moving the country is such an important tip. I regret not doing the same thing. Also, I agree entirely with the networking, I was lucky enough to find a community where I would be accepted immediately but I am aware that is not the usual case.
Moving to France is a brave move! How I envy you! Are you learning French for now? Or you speak fluent French already?
Wow, Diane. I have just discovered your blog and upon reading this article I feel like you could be writing about me. I share so many of your thoughts and experiences. I have also just moved to France, from Australia, with my French boyfriend and am now navigating the job market with only a beginner-intermediate level of French. It’s always comforting to hear from people that have gone through the same challenges and come out the other side.
Hi Alexandra, welcome to France and so happy you discovered my blog and you find the content relatable. Wishing you the best this holiday season and hang in there in the early days. It’ll get easier 🙂