Did You Drink The French Koolaid? Living in France: Reality vs Expectations

Expectations vs. Reality: living up the stereotypes of a North American living in France

People have been idealizing the French way of life since as far back as the 11th century. Unfortunately, reality rarely measures up to the picture-perfect image we fall in love. Here’s a look at my take on the “expectations vs reality” of living in France as a North American Expat.

Expectation

What people think I do vs what I really do travel meme about Living in France

What people think I do vs what I really do travel meme about Living in France

You might be interested in reading 9 reasons why France is so popular

What people think I do

If I were to tell someone “hey, I live in France”, they’ll most likely conjure up romanticised images of France— cobblestone streets — exquisite food — the effortlessly stylish French woman— Kissing in front of the Eiffel tower in the rain.

It’s practically a cliché.

What people think I do in Paris France

Blake and I were miserably cold when we took this photo in front of the Eiffel tower but the photo looks great!

Intuitively, you know France isn’t perfect, but let’s face it, most people see France through rose coloured glasses.

Part of the reason so many of us think so highly of France and the French is we’ve essentially been programmed to believe “everything French is better”.

All thanks to the artists of every kind who have throughout history been memorializing the French fantasy— in books, fashion, music, art, the movies and of course the media.

It’s been going on as far back as the 11th century – maybe longer—when practically everything French was considered high fashion among the elite of the English court, including speaking French which showed your elite status.

What my family thinks I do and what my friends think I do in France

When you live in France, friends and family will admire you, maybe even envy you—thinking your sitting pretty in the sun, sipping wine, eating baguettes or shopping along the Champs Elesée.

What else can they think?

The photos you share with them, whether it be through Facebook or email, only support the “French fantasy” and the “romanticised myth” of all that is French.

— Smiling photos at the beach.

What my family thinks I do meme: about living in France

This was actually a great day at the beach. So happy and it shows

—Obligatory cliché tourist photos in front of famous French monuments

What people think I do photo: cliche photo touching the pyramid at the Louvre

—Happy cliché tourist photos of the kids

what my friends and family think I do in France meme

—Selfies at the Louvre in Front of the Mona Lisa or Winged Victory of Samothrace

What my friends think I do: Standing in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre

Standing in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre with my daughter

—Enjoying bike rides on a very French looking pink bike

Life can appear to be so good when you omit or gloss over the negatives

—Ordering room service in your Parisian hotel

Room service at our hotel in Paris: what my friends and family thin I do

—Friends rarely share or pay attention to the mundane or less than flattering everyday photos of life in France.

what my friends think i do: sleeping in compromising position

What the French think I do

For better or for worse, most French people experience American culture on a daily basis through —

  • American music played on French radio stations
  • Hollywood movies played at French theatres and
  • Popular American television shows dubbed into French for the French audience
  • Even American politics seem to be on everyone’s mind in France, especially since the controversial president Trump was elected, who is not very highly regarded in France
    McDonald's and the stereotype that all Americans eat it

    The French believe all Americans love McDonald’s and are fat

With all this exposure to American culture, the French, of course, have formulated their own ideas and a few stereotypes about “Les Americains”

Unfortunately, many of those American stereotypes are not very flattering.

  • Americans eat a lot of McDonald’s (or fast-food).
  • Americans are Fat
  • American food portions are enormous
  • Americans are too loud
  • Americans all carry guns
  • Americans suck at geography
  • Americans are materialistic
  • American flags are everywhere in the US (or Americans are patriotic to a fault)
  • Americans live in McMansions
  • The United States is unsafe: On more than one occasion, I’ve had a French person ask me if it was safe to travel to the U.S. This is a common concern for many French people, especially with all the school shootings that have been happening in the US.
  • Americans are obsessed with consumerism and like to buy in bulk from stores like Costco. An idea which is horrifying to a lot of French people.

These stereotypes have never affected my relationship or the ties I’ve made with people in France, however, I know and they know they exist.

What I think I do and What I really do

I’m very happy living in France. Why else would I have lived in France for so long— since 2011— or create an entire website, this site, dedicated to France and all things French?

However, my life in France is a far cry from the “idealized French life” my 2011, starry-eyed self believed and hoped I was going to have.

In fact, I was pretty disappointed with life in France— maybe even unhappy in the beginning, for about a year or so. It wasn’t that life was bad, it just wasn’t what I signed up for.

Marseille just a few days after we arrived to live in France back in 2011

I fell in love with a lie: This photo was taken in Marseille France, just a few days after we arrived. I was disappointed that France wasn’t the picture perfect place I fell in love with.

Don’t Drink the French Koolaid

Like so many individuals who come to France with high expectations, I felt let down at the realization that France is nothing like the postcard-perfect place I fell in love with.

A simple search on the web and you’ll find thousands of articles touting some secret French way of doing something as a prescription to a better life, often downplaying, omitting or glossing over any shortcomings about France which of course only perpetuates the “French fantasy propaganda machine”.

Meanwhile, the positives are often exaggerated or blown out of proportion.

Paris Syndrome

The poor Japanese have an even more unrealistic, overly romanticized image of Paris that teeters on being delusional and causes some Japanese tourists to experience a form of extreme culture shock called Paris syndrome, 

All thanks to the Japanese media, especially magazines which depict Paris as a place where people look like “matchstick-thin” models and women dress in high fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton. (source Libération)

Unfortunately, I have yet to discover any mystical French secrets that only the French are privy to.

  • There is no secret way of washing your hair like a French person.
  • There are no beauty secrets to stay young that only the French possess.
  • There is no French secret to staying thin.
  • There is no secret French way to get your kids to eat anything.

Adjust your expectations

After I realized that France was not the picture perfect place I imagined, I took off the rose coloured glasses, made some changes, readjusted my expectations and adapted to my new country.

It was only then that I really started to enjoy my life in France and appreciate France, the real France for what it was, not the France portrayed in the media and movies.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

What I think I do in France travel meme

Having fun with a friend from my California university days in Lyon France

If you’re dreaming of moving abroad, France is definitely a worthwhile place to live as long as you set realistic expectations.

Here are a few things you should consider or research before moving to France.

Money:

If you want a better quality of life and earning a living isn’t your main concern, France can be wonderful.

If however, you need to make a living, and you don’t have a job already lined up, foreigners often have a hard time finding jobs in France —mainly due to a low-level understanding of the French language.

For non-EU citizens like Americans and Canadians, even if you do speak the language, you’re not guaranteed to find a well-paying job in your field.

Let’s not forget that you’ll have to find a company willing to sponsor your work visa but in order to do that, they’ll have to prove to the French higher-ups that you’re not stealing a job from an EU or French citizen. If you’re a citizen of an EU country, you don’t have to worry about visas because you have the right to work and live in France but you can’t vote in elections.

My friend Diane, over at OuiInFrance.com, who lives in France with her French husband and a really cute dog reminded me that “people who come to retire in France will have a majorly different experience than those of us who need to earn a living and aren’t 60 years old”.

Location, Location, Location:

People want to move to France for different reasons and your happiness will depend greatly on where you choose to live in France.

If you’re young and single and want an active social life, don’t move to a town where everything closes after 8 pm.

If you’re not a city person, Paris is probably a bad idea.

If you want a truly classical French experience, don’t move to Marseille which has one of the largest population of immigrants in all of France.

The south of France has a very different feel than the North of France. Similar to how the East coast has a different vibe than the West coast of the United States.

Moving closer to a border town will have strong influences of that other country. Strausburgh borders Germany and has German influences. Menton borders Italy and has strong Italian influences, etc. etc..Often the people in these border towns speak multiple languages.

Language:

If you don’t speak the language, are you ok with NOT having meaningful or deep conversations with the people around you?

Even if you do learn French, it’s going to take years to get your level of comprehension and conversation up to the point where you’ll be able to express yourself or have meaningful conversations.

This was a real issue we didn’t anticipate. Although I spoke French already, thanks to my French Canadian side of the family, my husband didn’t speak any French. He would often get bored at social gatherings because everyone around him spoke French very fast. This greatly impacted his experience in France.

Research the pros and con’s and read about the hardships of others who have first-hand knowledge of France

Preparing will help you get a more rounded and realistic view of France.

Here are a few articles I found which don’t tout the superiority of all things French.

Don’t think it won’t happen to you

Don’t think just because you visited France a few times or lived abroad elsewhere that you won’t fall victim to the French fantasy. I lived in 3 countries and visited over 15 countries before I moved to France and it still happened to me because the myth of the mystical French life is pervasive throughout the world.

Andi if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. If it doesn’t then you are among the few, not the many.

Bon courage mes amis.  

All opinions and experiences expressed in this article are my own. 

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

Benny

That’s pretty funny! I guess I had the wrong idea too about what it’s like to live in France. 😉

Comments are closed