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Vanessa: Life on la Lune

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in France makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to France, etc.

I was born and brought up in southern England. After 10 years in publishing, I took an MBA and then went into public sector audit and research – latterly responsible for strategy and communications for a national organization. In 1997, having reached a crossroads in my career, I felt there was more to life than four office walls. My husband had already lived in France for four years and we usually holidayed here, enjoying la vie française. He was self-employed as a consultant, which he could do from anywhere, and I decided to do the same. I now run my own business offering copywriting and French-English translation services and write magazine articles about French life. In my spare time, I write novels and short stories.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started blogging nearly four years ago in 2010 – on Valentine’s Day, although that was a coincidence! I had lived in France for 12 years and felt I had something to say about life here from an expat’s viewpoint that others might find helpful. I’m fascinated by French history and customs and enjoy writing about them. Also, I just love writing and it was excellent practice plus a source of ideas for my freelance writing work.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

There are now almost 400 posts on the blog, so it’s not easy to choose. If I’m allowed three, they would be:

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?

Well, it’s not new anymore! I’ve been here for 16 years, so going back to the UK is something of a culture shock these days. Most people find when they move to France that it’s all new, exciting and exhilarating. I was no exception. I had the most difficulty with the language, despite having learned French at school and beyond for years. So for the first year, I felt at a strong disadvantage. I then took French lessons for four years and have never looked back.

The French way of doing things and French attitudes can take a while to get your head around. There are still some surprises, even after 16 years! Bureaucracy can be irritating but it’s not as bad as people make out, especially if you speak French. The main differences in my life now are that I live in the deep countryside and can arrange my working day largely to suit myself. In the UK, I commuted in big cities and worked in offices. Sometimes I miss the camaraderie of office life but, on days like today, when I saw two deer in the field behind the house, I wouldn’t swap this for anything.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

A resounding no to the first question! It was a leap in the dark, despite the fact that my husband had lived in France in the 1970s, and we were lucky that it has worked out well (touching wood hard). I don’t think we would have changed the basic decision to buy the house and move here but we could have been better prepared. There are plenty of things I would have done better but just two examples suffice.

First, nobody tells you how cold the winters can be and how much you will spend on heating. In that case, we might have chosen a more energy-efficient home (although I doubt it; we fell in love with the house). Second, we were very ignorant about financial issues such as pensions, tax, investments etc. We took advice after we moved but it would have been better to have done it beforehand.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

We were invited by neighbors to dinner. The discussion moved onto smoking. My husband turned to his neighbor, a rather grand lady, and asked, ‘Est-ce que vous étiez fumier?’ This actually means, ‘Were you a heap of manure?’ ‘Fumier’ is quite an insult when applied to a person! He should have used ‘fumeur(euse)’, which means smoker. There was a stunned silence and then I burst out laughing, which broke the ice and the party went with a swing after that.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?

  • Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language.
  • If you want two more: don't come if you don't have a regular income or aren't sure of getting one;
  • Don't discard your winter clothes.

How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

In 1997, there was a scattering of expats. The trickle turned to a flow in the 2000s, when a lot of Brits arrived and there is now quite a large community. It’s possible to live here without speaking much French, although I feel that rather defeats the object. We didn’t mind the lack of expats, since we wanted to integrate (as far as you can). At the start, I went back to the UK a lot for my work, so I had a foot in both worlds. Now, more organizations exist to help people find their feet. We are lucky to have like-minded friends of a variety of nationalities.

How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?

Living in France is like marriage: courtship and honeymoon can be followed by disenchantment before happy reconciliation sets in.

Ruben Barbosa

"After work I enjoy meeting other Brazlian expats offline. We go for a beer together and it feels like home. Thanks InterNations."

Verona Torres

"The idea to connext expatriates in Strasbourg fits perfectly to the city. Both are truly international."

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