Living in France

Moving can be a daunting prospect for anyone, especially if that move is abroad. New people, a new language, and a brand new culture/way of life, are all things that will take some getting used to, but make the effort when you arrive in France, and it will reap rewards.

One of the key things to be aware of is that although many of the French have learnt English, it’s a minority language there, and isn’t always widely spoken, especially away from the main tourist areas. Making the effort to learn the language before you go, and/or taking some classes when you arrive in France will prove very useful, and any effort (however clumsy) to master the language will be appreciated by the people there. Taking a language class in France can also be a great way to meet new people, and integrate into the community, a key part of adjusting to the French way of life.

Involving yourself in community life through events, taking up or continuing with hobbies, and joining local interest groups will also help, though when it comes to social occasions and introducing yourselves to the neighbours, a little research on French etiquette will be helpful. The French are very family orientated, and can seem reserved towards newcomers, but making the first move with an introduction, or a pre-dinner drinks invitation will emphasise your intentions to be friendly. That said, invitations should always come with precise dates and times, and correct greetings should be used.

The French tend to be at their most informal with those inside their social circle, and will invite you to call them by their first names. There are also informal and formal greetings that should be observed in daily life, such as a kiss on both cheeks to greet friends, and calling shop workers or business people Monsieur and Madame.

When it comes to business transactions, the town hall can be a useful source of information. They will be able to register you for any services that you will need, or direct you to someone that can. Alongside this they have information on subjects like building regulations, local schools, language classes, and clubs/societies in the area. They may not openly display or volunteer information though, so always ask if you have any questions. There are also expat groups in some areas of France, along with expat forums on the internet, packed full of information and advice.

If you do have any business transactions or shopping to do, familiarity with opening hours is key. Although some of the big cities and tourist areas may have shops and businesses open all day, in some parts of France they will close on Sundays/Mondays, and for 1-2 hours at lunchtime. This aside, banking and postal services run hours similar to those of the UK, though shops tend to open later.

The French culture isn’t all about shopping and business though, there are special occasions to observe and celebrate too. Important occasions in France include Easter, which, just like the UK, is celebrated through church services and chocolate, Bastille Day, which is marked with fireworks and parades, and The Feast of Three Kings in January. A special cake is eaten with a ceramic object hidden inside, and whoever finds it is King or Queen of the party. At first glance, it might seem like other celebrations are marked in a similar fashion to that of English speaking countries, but there is a French take on almost every festival, and overall, being aware of little things like these, will help you as you try to fit into your new life in France, for every effort is appreciated.