Starting your life in France is just my summary of our four-year journey so far. If you’re one of the lucky ones moving to France then this post is for you. The four-year mark of us moving here will be rolling around November and I certainly can’t believe how fast it has gone and how much I have learned and am still learning. Come and read more about how to survive and actually live well in France as a foreigner.
If you’re one of the lucky ones moving to France then this post is for you. The four-year mark of us moving here will be rolling around November and I certainly can’t believe how fast it has gone and how much I have learned and am still learning. Living in a smaller town has its positive and negative points and the French culture here is way different than what I experienced in Montpellier. The French never seem to be just a certain way. Just like in South Africa where the regions are so exceptionally different when it comes to speech and traditions that you can’t really compare them, here, well it’s quite the same. They make fun of each other’s accents, they eat food differently in certain regions, but when it comes to socializing the general population does it the same way. I guess we have more in common with the French than we thought. That all tough comes through experience.
Here is a story of a friend of mine that just moved to Grenoble. Her insight made me realize that I have forgotten how hard it was in the beginning. The first two weeks of arrival we stayed in a hotel, with French staff, French TV, French breakfast (espressos, the worst plain yogurt and of course chocolatey baked goods and Nutella) We stayed in our hotel room for nearly two weeks. For newly weds this was horrid. I was so scared just to head out and explore, because what happens if I get lost. Who is going to help me??
Now her story is quite similar to mine, but I can expect that with three boys it’s a whole other challenge of its own.
Bonjour from Grenoble.
“When we just arrived at the airport, the kids we tired and they didn’t really want to drive with a strange man (one of the coaches) and mom in the car, so Francois was thrown in the deep end and had to drive straight away. Sounds easy, but the car is an SUV left-hand drive and you drive on the right side of the road. We just laughed because over time he wanted to change gears. So he would reach with his left hand into the door! So driving for me was another thing that I had to get used to, but it gets better the more I drive. I realized that in France you can park over 2 parking lanes if you like, you can park screw, you can drive in the middle of the lane if you want, it really feels like no one really cares and if they do they will just honk at you and drive the past, but they don’t scream at you or look at you funny.
My first challenge was obviously the language. Most people don’t really speak English, so I have found a few stores in the few weeks that do have store clerks who can speak a bit of English.
Secondly was trying to find all the essentials for our house. First things first, BUT, a store here came to our rescue, they have fairly reasonable priced furniture and appliances. So we started off buying 4 beds and bases, a fridge, microwave, washing machine, Nespresso (my husband won’t survive without coffee 🙂 ) and an Ironing machine. We were fortunate enough to receive 2 boxes full of Cutlery and cleaning products from a previous couple who stayed in Grenoble, who moved back to SA. I just checked what products the left and replaced it when I went to the supermarket.
So basically I knew most house things I could find in BUT, IKEA, ALINEA, and MAISON DU MONDE. But… have you ever been to Ikea? I have never before 5 weeks ago, that place is huge, If you can’t speak the language, you can’t really ask for help, so we walked through the whole place to try and figure out what is where and then bought the things as we found it.
It’s easier to buy fresh stuff as you know what you are buying, but I remember my first trip to the shop took me 1:30 hours just to “Google translate” every label to find out if I buy flour or bread mix, salt or sugar?
I have learned that in Grenoble you don’t go to one shop and find everything there. L’eclerc is amazing, they have a huge variety of everything, a lot like Game in South Africa. Carrefour I compare to Checkers or Pick N Pay. They have Bio shops where you can find all your Bio products, cleaning products, fruit and veg, meat, honey flours etc. Go Sport is like a Sportsmans Warehouse, and Maison du Monde is much like a Weatherlys and Corricraft, they have beautiful french furniture and decor.
So first things first: you have no place to live, or no car to drive and don’t have a clue on where to start to furnish your house.
Where to go shopping for:
House-:La bon coin
Houseware: Ikea, Alinea, Casa, Zara Home, H&M Home, Maison du Monde, Cocktail Scandanive, Habitat. Those who are a bit weary and tired after all that shopping, unfortunately, most of these furniture places don’t give you the furniture in one piece, but in a whole lot of pieces. We slept on the floor the first night in our house and I can still remember how cold I was that night. It was right to slap back in winter time.
Do not hesitate to try Drive: What is this you might ask? Well, it’s online shopping for food. You choose your goodies, pay and select what time you’ll be fetching it. You’ll arrive around the time you selected and your bags will be ready and packed. Most supermarkets here have a DRIVE online store. Never been easier!
Things I’ve learned after four years that have simplified my life:
Save yourself some time and try online shopping
Yes, yes I know that this concept is not something new, but finding a reliable source to buy goods from online can be a bit daunting. So go for the ones you know I would say. They have a great returns policy that is very easy. all you have to do is go on to the app or online, online press returns. Click on the items you want to return and then you’ll receive an email with details to fill in, place on to the box you’ve received with the goodies in, drop off at the post office and voila, within a couple days you’ll have your money back in your account.
Baby: Click on this post for more info on where to shop for the little ones.
Pregnancy: Click on this post for more.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Things to do to occupy your time:
Get involved: Make French friends, try to speak the language. Most French people can speak basic English that they learn from school, but are shy about their accents. So try speaking in broken French even though you feel like a fool. Say yes when you’re invited to an event, even though you’ll stand there all night just listening and saying, oui!
Practice your hobbies: Try to get out there and do something that you love, you never know you might meet someone who can help you and teach you the language.
Plan your weekly meals: Try to look for new recipes via Pinterest, my blog and other resources like Instagram etc. This is a great way to occupy your time, learn some new recipes and exploring some culinary skills you did not know you had. For some recipe inspo, click here.
Plan a trip: There copious amounts of place to see in and around Europe. You are in such a privileged place to be living, make the most of it. For some traveling inspo click here.
Try something new: Join a gym, do a Zumba class. I remember the first time I joined the Zumba class. It was an absolute disaster, just for the fact that I did not understand the language and was completely out of balance with the rest of the group’s dance moves. I looked like an unbalanced giraffe in the background.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: When you’re speaking to a French person and you do not understand a word. Just ask them what that word means. This will allow you to broaden your vocab.
Things I did not know before coming to France:
Siesta- This is a concept that is slightly envied and hated. Mostly all enterprises are closed between 12 and 2. So get your stuff done before 12 or after two, not when lunch is the main attraction!
Sundays- All food shopping stores are closed, all that you’ll be able to get is a nice hot baguette from the local boulangerie. If you’re having a Barbie then sorry for you the only thing you’ll be eating is a braai-broodjie. Luckily we have a local market that is open on Sundays. They sell Rotisserie chicken by the kg. With no lunch on the table that expensive rotisserie chicken will have to do!
Mondays- Most enterprises and restaurants are closed on Mondays, due to the fact that they are open on a Saturday. It’s like they have replaced the one day they could not have a decent weekend and added that to their week. Sounds like a super plan for decent relaxations and planning for the week, don’t you think?
Post office- The post office times are very limited. Most post offices open around 9 and close between 12 and 2 and then by 4 in the afternoon they have closed once again. The post office has also a fetch and delivery service which allows you to send a package from your home to where you want it to go!
Tabac- If you are a smoker, then this is the place to obviously buy cigarettes, but also stamps to pay your speeding ticket, stamps for your carte sejour and when you have family coming to visit, Timbre fiscal. Also, you’ll be able to buy liquor in a Supermarket, but no cigarettes.
Drivers licence- You’ll be asked you give your SA drivers licence and then you’ll receive a French driving licence. Do not wait too long (like three years) because then you’ll have to do the real deal. That will include writing a test in French and then having driving lessons as well.
Special dates in France:
14 February: Saint Valentin
28 February: Madi Gras
1 April: Avril fools
April: Paques (easter)
1 Mei: Fête du Travaille
8 Mei: Jour Victoire
28 Mei: Fête du Mere
18 June: Fête du Pere
21 June: Fête de la musique
14 July: Bastille
15 Augusts: Assuption day
1 November: La toussaint
11 November: Jour de l’armistice
24 December: Noël/Christmas
For more vacation days and their meaing: click here
Here are a few websites and books to learn more about the French culture, sayings, and food.
This is just my summary of our life in France these last four years. I do hope that my ounce of knowledge will make the transition a bit smoother. Just know you are not the first of the last to take this big step and some days it will be really hard and other days not so hard. Every day is a new opportunity to learn, challenge and equip yourself to live the best life you can, now!
For more questions, do not hesitate to send me a mail.
Bon weekend à tous.