On my first trip to France – visiting châteaux, the Eiffel Tower and eating a (very) expensive baguette on Champs Elysées – I came to the conclusion that France was not the place for me.
I’d been there, thought it was nice, but it was not on my list of dream countries to live in.
On the other hand, I always had something for the British. I love the British accent, the Beatles, Harry Potter and have an immense collection of Harrods Bears.
When the time came to pick my next adventure abroad I wanted something new and different, but with some English. So I picked Australia. Little did I know that Australia would bring me closer to France than I ever expected.
I decided to try living in the city of Melbourne. I moved into share-house accommodation, and one of my housemates turned out to be a very charming French guy. Despite the cliché, we ended up having the most beautiful romance.
The more time I spent with my copain, the more I learnt about the French culture, and the way French people actually live. I realized how much the French are part of our lives.
Being an expat in France is trickier than it sounds
When it came time to say good bye to Australia, we decided to start a life in my boyfriend’s hometown in the south of France, Toulouse. I arrived in the Ville Rose in April 2013, and started my journey into learning the language, meeting my new family and figuring out how things work around here. And trust me, it has been far from easy.
My expat coping process
The language, of course, has been challenging; it might be close to my mother tongue (Spanish) but the conjugation of French verbs and spelling don’t seem to stick on my brain.
I don’t understand why some stores aren’t open during lunchtime, or why some are closed on Mondays when they open Saturdays.
I am surprised at how often there are school holidays, and the fact that ‘je ne sais pas’ seems to be an acceptable answer in most professional situations. For me, a chocolatine (pain au chocolat) and coffee are not brunch, and a little bit of sun doesn’t translate into warm weather.
I have spent one too many afternoons watching French télé-realité and deciding which wedding should get the lune de miel.
Getting past the culture shock in France
Of course, it has not all been bad either. I’ve met a lot of very interesting, caring and lovely people, French and foreigners, who have helped me all along the way.
I get to live in a charming small city that offers everything any big city can offer. The centre-ville is well connected, it has great restaurants, bars and cafés, great shopping and artisan products, including the famous Violette de Toulouse and pastel.
It also has great museums and cultural activities for everyone, with the advantage that it is all within walking distance.
More and more I trust myself in ‘French situations’ and it fills me with joy every time I manage to carry out my everyday tasks without any misunderstandings and speaking only French.
There are many things I will never understand about France – neither do I expect them to change.
But while I walk the picturesque stoned streets of Toulouse, surrounded by pink bricked buildings, or drink a delicious chocolat chaud in one of the many cosy salons de thé, or enjoy a nice glass of wine on the terrace of a fine restaurant, I can’t help to think that there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
Are you an expat in France? How do you overcome the cultural differences in France? Share your experiences in the comments below.
All images © Dalet Vargas