France: Living like locals

It was a dream come true when my husband Dean suggested we buy a pied-à-terre in France. Now we could truly live like locals. Or could we? A former French teacher, I am fluent in French, but my husband is a deer in the headlights after basic greetings. And as a compromise we chose Nice, the second tourist destination in France, to call home.

Is it possible to experience authentic daily life in a tourist destination with an anglophone partner? Mais oui! It takes a bit of thought (and creativity!) but you can have those moments of complete “belonging”. It is a balancing act, of course, because you don’t want your partner to feel left in the dust! In our thirty-plus trips to France together, we have experienced the yin and yang, and have worked out a pretty amazing demi-French life. Whether you are doing a long-term rental or own a place, you can live like locals too.

Worlds apart

Thanks to my French grandparents, I was inspired to learn French very young. I became a French teacher and enjoyed an amazing, although short career. I decided to leave a job I loved to raise our children (an obvious choice with the last name Parent) when my husband started his own IT business. I continued to hone my skills, as my love for the language and culture never waned. Although Dean shares my love for travel, he grew more proficient in the language of computer programming instead. When we traveled, we were happy tourists. I was the translator, and that was that.

Bridging the gap

While I was in charge of communication, Dean brought a different, yet equally important set of skills to the table – like remaining calm in times of crisis (not my forte). Take, for example, the time we were locked in a non-automated parking garage.

We had spent a full and exhausting day at Euro Disney with our kids, ages three and six, and arrived at our car to find no attendant, no way to pay, and thus no way to exit. I found it difficult to breathe, imagining us sleeping in a parking garage with no water or bathroom, when Dean said “I can’t read what is on that far wall, but maybe that is important?” Of course, the instructions were listed in large print.

He became head of crisis management. Being the translator can seem overwhelming at times, but recognizing that your non-French-speaking partner contributes in other ways helps create balance.


Our (almost) perfect demi-French life

Nice has always been a favorite destination, and a happy compromise, with its lovely shops and beach vibe for me, and plenty of anglophones for Dean. We looked at one apartment, had a coup de coeur, and made an offer!

Our demi-French life was about to begin, but could we truly feel connected in such a large metropolis?

Each large city is really a group of small, complete neighborhoods, so we began settling into ours. Soon we had our favorite restaurants as well as our boulangerie, pâtisserie, and fromagerie. Going to the daily market and frequenting the same small shops, we began to see familiar faces and get to know the owners.

Living like locals and eating at home

Tourists have to go to restaurants, while residents can cook at home, so as often as possible we prepare fresh Mediterranean dishes in our own kitchen.

We spend time on our balcony, practicing French (Dean’s language is really progressing!) and people-watching; over coffee in the morning, and apéro in the afternoon. We know which dogs walk at what time, we watch for the swimming club to take the plunge at 7 a.m., and wait for the students to set sail in the afternoon. We have adopted the leisurely pace of life in France, and it feels like home.

Living like locals

To really belong, you have to spend time with the residents, and for us, that means sometimes in French and sometimes in English. Chacun son bonheur.

I treasure my trips to my hair and nail salons, where everyone is friendly and conversation flows freely. I also joined the Pilates club, and I feel a special bond with that group. I have made a couple of close friends as well, and eagerly await our next coffee or lunch.

At first, we found it difficult to meet expats. but then we joined an e-bike tour into the vineyards of Nice and met three great couples.

The world is indeed small, and back in Arizona, we found another couple who lives part-time in Nice. We adore them. We planted roots, and now our connections and friendships are growing.

Even Dean can proudly say “La vie est belle”!

Tell me, do you think it is ever possible for an expat to live like a local? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


About the Contributor

Traci Parent

Former French teacher and boutique owner, my love for the language, gastronomy, culture, and shopping lure me to each corner of France, even though we have a home base in Nice (when not in the US). I share French hidden gems & authentic experiences at

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One Comment

  1. Bonnie Hayek Dec 4, 2023 at 1:40 AM - Reply

    What a great article Traci, I enjoyed reading how your first days in Nice happened. Keep up the good work.

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