Monday, October 24, 2016

Living in France - a long post

I have read some idiotic and not-quite-accurate blogs about living here so, maybe it's time I wrote just a little but about my experience so far here in France. I touched on it a bit in this post (with French language errors):

I came here in the summer of 2014 to meet my now husband for the first time face to face. We had been online friends for 8 years before we met in person (a story for another time unless you already know me) and then moved here in January 2015. However, since I didn't have a long-term visa yet, I spent 3 months in Colorado with friends between April and July. I returned back here in July where I married my wonderfully amazing French husband and I am now in the settling process after a year and a half-plus.

I live in a town named Massy. It's a suburb in the Ile de France region about 10 miles from Paris. I live in an apartment near a decent supermarket, a great little street with 2 boulangeries (one better than the other!), a boucherie and a couple of wine caves. I am close to all public transportation and since I no longer drive here, this is trés nécissaire. Comme je suis ici vers 2 years, I can talk about the pros and cons and also the realities.

First off, yes, I live near Paris and it IS a beautiful and very cool city. I adore the architecture, art and culture and look for the most artsy arrondissements I can find but I am not in Paris all the time for enjoyment. I now work in many of the arrondissements so I am seeing more of the real Paris and taking in the ones I prefer to see more of.

However, like any major city, it is expensive to do a lot in there so when I do go in, it's for very specific reasons. The trains/subways are, in my opinion, similar to the ones in Manhattan. You have crazy rush hour, too many people, problems CONSTANTLY with the RER-B (my main train line) and the exhaustion one feels after your 2-3 hour daily round-trip commute (depending on where you have to be). Since I am still learning French AND trying to sort through static announcements, I generally have no idea why a train has suddenly stopped and won't move again for 10 minutes or so. Anyway, if I do not have to go into Paris, I am relieved.

So, living here in of itself is easy for me. I don't see that many cultural differences but it's the little things that I am amused (and sometimes annoyed with).

The 13:00 lunch hour:
At 1pm (13:00 since the French use the 24h clock), EVERYONE goes to lunch. Almost everything shuts down and if you have an appointment with, say, an administration-related thing, at 14:00h, don't think you will be taken at that time. You see, some of the lunch hours here last 1 1/2 hours. One of my préfecture appointments was between 12 and 2. We got there at 12 and at one, they closed their windows and went to lunch while we waited! Also, if you are not hungry for lunch until 3, don't think you can find a good place to eat at because almost all restaurants and brasseries (France's version of a diner) close for 3 hours between lunch and dinner. There are BK, KFC, McDs and Starbucks but...blech.

The Food:
Ah, yes the French are all about their cheesy, fatty, creamy, gooey, greasy tradition and I love that about them. I am of Italian descent, and I feel the same with Italian food. However, when one is trying to watch their weight, there is only so much you can do, especially if you are not rich. Yes, there are vegeterian options hidden in the supermarkets and some over-priced organic shops in Paris but overall, you have to try to find things that are healthy without breaking the bank and that is hard. In fact, you have aisles in the supermarket dedicated just to the cheese. And how I ADORE le fromage. Thankfully, we do not eat out often at all, so I cook and I try to keep things on the healthier side even if we do have cheese and bread on our table every night. Still, there is the indulgence of tartiflette, cassoulet, and many other pork/duck fat related delicacies. Chicken and turkey sausage doesn't really exist and there are ingredients that are strictly American that one can not find here (unless you go to the exclusive and ridiculously priced "American" shops in Paris) so it's been a challenge to eat "well". 

Family Matters, Childless Couples Don't:
France centers everything around the family. If you have children, you get all of the benefits and compliments France has to offer. In addition, a childless married woman (and who knows? Maybe childless women in general) are looked at very differently. It's not very obvious but it's there. It's also one of the first questions doctors, new acquaintances and even employers ask - "do you have children?" And if you say no, you get looked at funny. And here's an interesting and annoying thing - you can get diapers and other family-related things in the pharmacy but feminine hygiene products? No, not really.

While we are talking about pharmacies:
Over-the-counter meds do not really exist. Sure, you can get Doliprane (Tylenol's equivalent) and some placebo-type stuff but to get something of substance, including cough syrup, you need a prescription. If you have just a little cold but it's enough that you need something, you HAVE to go to the doctor if you want decent meds. On the up side, prescription costs are extremely low. I don't think I have paid more than 4€ (approximately $5) for one prescription. I imagine if you have a serious illness, the cost would be higher but I remember needing to buy iron pills and getting any vitamin supplements in the US are a fortune compared to the 2€ a month I spent here.

Santé, Politics and Sports, Not Sex:
And with pharmacies and doctors comes santé (health). This is one of the three topics that are mainly discussed in length about and what the French society likes to focus on. Politics and sports are the other 2 main topics of conversation and all three are revered on a high level, all the time and with such passion. There is a popular misconception that the French are so sexy. Well, yes they are but it's subdued. Sex is NOT openly spoken about, except with your significant other and even that can be very modest and conservative. Jokes about sex are rarely made openly and,'s just not spoken about in general conversations. This is something I don't get at all, especially because of the aforementioned idea that ooh la la the French are all about sex.

French Administration:
What can I say? That is something that I have read online that IS accurate. I am very thankful I am married to a French person because I can't imagine what I would have to go through if I wasn't. This is difficult enough. I am baffled at the amount of paperwork - I mean PHYSICAL paperwork they ask for each time you do anything legal here. You need to show proofs of things, you need to provide physical copies and for me when we went for our marriage paperwork, I had to have professional translations made AND copies of the translations. A wonderful article has gone viral online about how France is one of the first countries to really bog down on plastic but they don't understand how important it is to save trees, apparently.

Another thing that I don't understand. In the US, whenever you go into an official government building, not only is Spanish a second language spoken, but most signs are in multiple languages of the world. Here in the biggest immigration organization OFII, and even the préfecture, there are no signs in English and most employers don't speak it either...or at least they are afraid to try. Athletes playing against France from other countries (and France's athletes) speak English...why don't immigration departments?

It also seems that the fonctionnaire never communicate with each all. I have received emails from different people in the same office with different responses to the same question....or the "I don't know" can come up as well.

French are afraid of speaking English:
This is the common denominator. I have met many English-speaking French but there are ones that CAN but are shy and afraid to try. I suppose I can understand that but if I am in my own country, I would be comfortable making mistakes in another language. Maybe that is me. And again, in government offices, it should be mandatory to have some level of English.

Side note: shop signs, posters, movies, TV English, so it exists here. It really does!

De-bunking the myth that the French hate Americans...sort of: 
This is something very important to me and I can easily empathize for the French. I have witnessed Americans in Paris. I am referring to the vacationers, not the ex-pats....though there are some of those that I fear are of the same mentality. I don't know but maybe I am weird for thinking that if I am going to a foreign country for a vacation, maybe it would be in my best interest to at least learn enough of the language to say "hello", "goodbye", "thank you" and "where is the bathroom?" The Americans I have witnessed here, don't even try. What's more is this strong sense of entitlement that they can do whatever the hell they want because, after all, if they are on vacation in Paris, then they should be treated like royalty. They also feel, as I wrote above about not understanding why so many do not try to speak English, that they ought to but not in their minds. They will rudely ask the person helping them "well, why don't you speak English?"

My husband and I were in a créperie once and there was an older couple ordering their food and of course, this was in one of the more touristy areas so English was spoken by the servers but the couple were so rude and didn't even say "please" or "thank you" in any language and made some remarks about the French! I then witnessed this several times while out with others as well and inside a few shops. Sure, there are some rude servers, usually in cafés and brasseries in the tourist areas, but overall, it's not the case. Lastly, when we were on our honeymoon, we were on a bus to the Normandy beaches coming back from there. In front of us were 2 American students that were talking about the French in such a mean way and I just shook my head and asked my husband, "do they know that there are English-speaking French and maybe some others that can understand everything they are saying? Do they care? Ugly Americans indeed.

French are rude?
Extending what I just wrote. Yes, like any other person, there are rude people here - in banks, in administrative buildings, some servers but you know, I don't usually encounter the rude French often (ok, in my bakery there are a few but they are rude to other French as well). What's more is that when I speak French, the best I can, I have been told they were impressed by how much I know and how well I can speak. Secretaries in doctors' offices for one, have told me this. I have also received a lot of help and have met some very nice people. I am modeling more now in ateliers/schools and even the ones that do not speak much English are very happy and appreciative of me and I am told that. So, if the French are rude, I blame the Americans above. ;)

On to a different subject just for a moment. There are more taxes here that I am aware of than in the US. People who rent apartments get charged a renter's tax once a year that is either equal to or more than one month's rent. There is also tax if you own more than one TV and you have to declare that....I don't really remember how they find out if you do, but they can find out. The tax on a receipt is different too including a 20% tax that I am still not 100% sure what it all means.

At the moment, if you work a conventional job (this excludes me), you are responsible for your own income taxes. There are a few taxes that are take out of your salary but the majority is not so once a year, you declare your income and then 3 times a year, you are hit with huge amounts to pay. This is all supposed to change with the way it is done in the US but that might cause other problems here.

If you work a full-time job, it is illegal to work any other jobs. Period. It's in the contract. If you are caught working another job, you can get into trouble. With me, what has happened is even more complicated. As a model in the US, I was considered self-employed and depending on the school, I would either receive a W2 (they took taxes out automatically) or a 1099. It's kind of the same here but as an auto-entepreneur, I had to get a number, similar to a tax ID number for only some schools of which I have to provide invoices for, as if I am an actual business. I suppose I am but it's handled very differently in the US and I think I have a lot more administrative work cut out for me. Welcome to the NEW world of modeling nude.

There are other details that I can't think about at the moment, but to sum up my feelings for living here, I can say that I love it here. I have the right combination of similarities and differences, thrown in with romance. Of all the realities, there are only really a few that are difficult to handle at times and learning the language is, for me, the biggest hurdle that I am doing my best to get over. In the year and a half of learning, I do know more.

Je peux parler, ecrire et lire. Je peux comprendre plus mais pas assez mais j'essaye chaque jour. Je voudrais continuer avec un autre formation de langue mais je ne peux pas pour le moment donc je ferai que je peux partout. Quand je travail, je suis dans un endroit ou j'ecoute et je parle. À chez moi, je parle avec Gilles et mon beau-frére aussi.

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