Sharon: Piglet in France
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to France, etc.
I’m originally from South West England and was British Junior Ice Dance Champion two years running. It was Ice Dance that brought me to France aged 16 for an intensive training camp in the French Alps. After the initial camp my dance partner and I were invited to train full time in Lyon and we jumped at the opportunity. So a few weeks later, just after my 17th birthday, I moved to France, arriving on the Eurostar with all my possessions in 1 bag and no French language knowledge other than “Salut”!
As I got older I realized Ice Dancing wasn’t for me so I set about improving my French and started work. I am now a self employed mortgage broker living just outside of Lyon in the Isere.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging in June 2009 more as something to do and a place to sort out my ideas on what it felt like to be a foreigner in France. I have always enjoyed writing and find that my blog is an excellent escape route for some of my feelings. I hope one day to be able to write professionally but know that I need lots of practice first!
Within a short time of starting my blog, I was in contact with a lot of other people in similar situations (French husbands) and I’ve never looked back! I have never really known any other expats in France and didn’t realize that the whole expat blog community even existed so I’m really pleased to have found it.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
As I write for my own pleasure and not for an audience I don’t have a particularly favorite entry as such. I like looking back through my old post as a way of remembering what I have done, how I felt etc. If I really had to choose a favorite I guess it would be “My bread is a germ free zone” which I wrote in February 2010.
Tell us about the ways your new life in France differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
As I moved to France at a young age I didn’t experience culture shock in the same way as an adult would. My greatest difficulty was the language, it was very frustrating and isolating not speaking French but persistence paid off and I was soon able to converse fluently.
Employment here is very different. It is essential to have a degree in the specific area that you are seeking to work in and without that degree you’re pretty much unemployable.
I did return to the UK for a few years for work and experienced culture shock then, I had become very French! I was desperate to get back to France and get my degree to allow me to continue my business here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
As I didn’t decide to “move to France” in the way some expats do, I wasn’t expecting anything, it just happened and a few weeks later I was here. If I knew that I was moving to France I would definitely have spent time learning the language as that was my biggest barrier.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh there are so many! One of my most embarrassing moments was when I was still ice skating. I went to the Dr’s with neck pain and couldn’t understand why he was telling me to take my trousers off. I remember thinking how strange the French were (after all, they are great fans of suppositories) and why of Earth would a Dr need me to be trouser less to sort out a neck problem. Anyway, when he started bending down to look at my derriere I urgently started pointing to my neck “j’ai mal au COU” I repeated. Except I hadn’t been saying that, I had been rather vulgarly saying that my bottom hurt as I had been mispronouncing the OU sound!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?
- Learn as much of the language as possible before arriving and then continue to learn once you get here.
- Find groups and try and meet people in your area on the internet so that you have already established some social links before arriving. The internet wasn’t in use when I arrived here and it was very lonely!
- Be open minded! No-one dislikes anything more than hearing someone harp on about how it isn’t like that in Britain, the US etc. Being open minded will allow you to experience more and others to accept you into a community. Of course I find some things better in the UK but I will never let on to my French friends, I air those thoughts on my blog instead!
How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
As I already mentioned, I didn’t really know any fellow expats until starting my blog, I had never really set out to find any except when I first arrived but I was a lot younger than the expats here then.
Now, I have found that there are different sorts of expats. There are those that are here by chance like myself, those that have come for work, those that love France and those that make it seem like a constant competition as to who has the most right to be here/is the best integrated etc. I get really annoyed by the latter and the constant feeling of needing to justify oneself is a bore. For that reason I generally avoid expat groups and forums; The expats with whom I chose to socialize are like minded souls rather than just expats, being foreign isn’t enough to form a solid friendship although it does help you get to know people as well.
How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?
Novel, mysterious and just trying to survive the French bureaucracy!