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THE LOCAL LIST

CULTURE

How living in France will change your lifestyle

Whether for better or for worse, many foreigners find that their habits alter when they move to France. Here, a few veteran expats share their experiences of how French culture has changed their lifestyles.

How living in France will change your lifestyle
No time for lunch at home? Not in France. Photo: Shutterstock

Take the time for lunch

For Janine Marsh, editor of The Good Life France, it’s her attitude towards meal times that has altered the most since moving to France.

“During my 15-minute lunch ‘hour’ in London, I’d rush to do my shopping, pay cheques into the bank, phone the utility services, etc,” she recalls.

In France, however, time off for lunch is sacred.

“For two hours, banks and shops close. Road workers, doctors, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers simply va va voom at lunchtime to the restaurant of choice.”

Any tips? Visit your local council office before the lunch break, advises Janine, if you want to get anything important done.

France changes the way you drink


Photo: BluEyedA73/Flickr

There may be increasing fears over the rise in binge-drinking in France, but there’s still a big difference between the British and Gallic drinking culture, according to “A Year in the Merde” author Stephen Clarke.

“I now drink much less than British friends, who are capable of sinking twice as many pints as me during an evening. France just isn't as much of a binge-drinking culture (though it's now taking root here),” says Clarke.

Colin Randall, editor of France Salut and the former France correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, has also noticed a change in his drinking habits.

“I think nothing of having something from the trolley on the train into London from airports but never even think of looking for a pre-flight bar in France,” says Randall.

Piu Eatwell, the British expat author of They Eat Horses, Don't They, agrees.

“A decade of Gallic influence means that I now almost never drink spirits such as whisky or gin, and certainly not as an ‘apéritif’. The only pre-dinner drinks I drink now are Champagne or Kir,” she says. 

“I pretty much exclusively drink wine, and only ever accompanied by some sort of food (generally at meal times, or with an apéro).”

Quality over quantity


Photo: Monica Arellano-Ongpin/Flickr

Paris-based American writer Lindsey Tramuta, who runs the Lost in Cheeseland blog says she’s learned to value quality above all else.

“My base expectations on quality – ingredients, craftsmanship, experiences – have gotten higher since living in France these last nine years.

“Surrounded by artisans in everything from food to home goods who themselves place a premium on quality, has indeed influenced my own consumption habits. Buy less, buy better.”

Author Stephen Clarke says he’s abandoned the weekly supermarket shop since moving to France.

“I go food shopping every day rather than filling up a supermarket trolley and trying to live off the contents for a week.

“Sometimes I go out and buy fresh bread twice a day, straight from the oven. My whole idea of freshness has changed.

Develop a love for debate

“Whether at the dinner table, among friends sharing drinks or in the office canteen, French people never miss an opportunity to debate politics, current events or foreign affairs (and all matters personal in between),” says writer Tramuta.

And, usually, this is no bad thing, she claims.

“And while discussions can get heated, I respect the edifying effects of a little verbal jousting. It certainly motivates me to stay informed and on my toes!”

Home-cooking

For Colin Randall and his French wife, who divide their time between England and the south of France, it’s the restaurant culture that sets the two countries apart.

“Our eating and drinking habits change the moment we arrive in London or back in France,” he says.

“London life, especially if time there is short, can turn into a succession of meals out – admittedly Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and even French rather than English – because we have become convinced that while you almost always eat better as guests in France, Britain now has the distinct edge with restaurants.

“Maybe, in France, we are victims of location, part of the catering trade’s captive market on the Cote d’Azur, but we end up feeling disappointed or cheated eight times out of ten, whereas all our French friends and relatives are streets ahead of anyone we know in the UK when it comes to home cooking.”

Less work more life


Photo: Andreas Bloch/Flickr

Paris-based author Matthew Fraser can account for the fact that living in France will bring about a significant shift in work-life balance

“I’ve shedded the workoholism of my previous career-obsessed existence and now appreciate with epicurian relish the pleasures of each moment,” he says.

“Life in France places you happily in the present tense, unlike in anglo-Protestant countries where everything is driving madly towards the future.

“In Paris, when you are enjoying a bottle of claret in a restaurant with friends, or walking your dogs along the Seine, that moment suffices in itself.

“The quality of life argument for France is very compelling. I think it’s the reason so many expats stay. It makes the high taxes worth it.”

Knowledge of red wine

While many Anglos would have enjoyed a glass or five of wine before coming to France, many of them (including the editor of the site) knew very little about it apart from it came in three forms: red, white and see-through pink.

But once you're here you're almost forced to learn about it, perhaps because a waiter will ask you what kind of wine you want rather than just “big or small one”.

Whether it's learning the correct way to open a bottle, or spotting a Bordeaux from a Burgundy by the shape of the bottle, you start soaking up knowledge.

“Living in France means that, by a mysterious process of cultural osmosis, you become quite knowledgeable about wines,” says Fraser.

“You don’t realise it when you’re here because everyone in France knows a good Bordeaux from a bottle of plonk.

“But when you go up to London, or find yourself in New York, you quickly realise that most people don’t actually know their wines. And they are terribly impressed when, in a restaurant, you scan a wine list and select a very decent Haut Médoc from an excellent year.  

Take a train not a plane

For The Local France's editor Ben McPartland, living in France has taught him to avoid planes and stick to trains when possible.

Going on holiday in Europe from the UK means you are pretty much obliged to get on a plane, but in France there is another, far better option.

“Why risk the unreliable RER B to Charles de Gaulle airport to then be herded around from one queue to the next before you squeeze into your tiny seat, when you can sit in the bar of a TGV while it hurtles through the spectacular countryside to the Alps, the south coast or even northern Spain,” he says.

“Holiday destinations are now chosen on the grounds of whether you can get there by TGV.”

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BUSINESS

‘I’ll never complain about URSSAF Again’: How two British brewers made it in France

Two months after brewing their first-ever beers in 2018, likely lads Tim Longstaff and Ash Smith bought a professional beer-making kit and started a brewery in the French Alps. Now, they sell 30,000 pints a month...

'I'll never complain about URSSAF Again': How two British brewers made it in France

“Sometimes opportunities just present themselves,” was the modest way Tim Longstaff described his and business partner Ash Smith’s successful decision to open a small craft brewery in the French Alps despite having no brewing experience and little experience of running a business in France.

“In France you could see, if you looked around in Lyon or Paris, that craft beer was happening here,” he said. “There’s that cliche that France is 10 years behind the UK – it was inevitable there would be a craft beer boom here, like there had been in the UK. 

“We thought if we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Nine years earlier, new graduate Tim had headed to the Alps for a seasonal job on the slopes. He had, by his own admission, no idea what to do next with his life, but thought idly that opening a brewery in the mountains might be ‘cool’.

“I moved here in 2013 to do a ski season in Les Arcs,” he said. “I came over after university when the craft beer scene had exploded in the UK. I was always surprised there was no good beer here.”

“I went back to the UK for a while and moved back to Chamonix in 2017 and – again – there was no good beer. Me and Ash Smith, my business partner, were bored of drinking crap, fizzy lagers, so we decided we’d learn to brew and start a brewery.”

From such crazy ideas, successful businesses grow. The location was right. The business was right. The timing was – just about – right.

“It was winter, January 2018,” Tim, 30, said. “We decided we’d start learning to brew. We bought some small homebrew equipment, 25-litre stuff. I did our first brew in March 2018. And in May 2018, we signed all the paperwork for a 500 litre brewing equipment with four 1,200-litre fermentation tanks.

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“We installed it in October – Nov 2018. That was our first winter season – we were running as a proper brewery, brewing 700 litres at a time. 

“We went from literally reading a few books and watching some Youtube videos, we produced one beer that we thought was reasonable, and that was it. We went to the bank, got a loan, put some money in ourselves and went for it. It was pretty ballsy, I guess.”

The pair’s Sapaudia Brewing Co is ideally placed in Aime-la-Plagne, in the heart of the world’s biggest ski area. “In terms of a market, especially in the winter, we couldn’t have asked for a better location,” Tim said. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

“It was a bit of a risk, but we were both in a place in our lives where we decided to just take a punt. We knew we were at the start of something in France. When we set up, there were two other breweries in this area – they were quite small – and there are now about 14 breweries of different sizes within an hour of where we are.

“A friend has a really small brewery that does 100 litre brews that he only sells in his restaurant, and there’s us who sell 30,000 pints a month in our biggest months. And there’s everything in between in this area.”

A business loan got the pair started, even though, in Tim’s words the bank’s business manager ‘didn’t have a clue what we were on about’, but getting through to local bars was a different matter. 

“When we started chatting to bars, the two references for beer are the Belgian styles – they’re quite strong – and then everything’s by colour. 

“So we’d say, ‘we’ve brewed an IPA’ and they’d ask ‘is it a blond, or a blanche?’, and we’d say, ‘no – it’s an IPA’, and no one knew what that was. They’d call it a blond because it was the same colour as a blond beer. But now IPA has become a massive buzzword [here].”

It seemed the pair had tapped into something – but then Covid hit. And everything shut down. 

Tim believes that French government help for the hospitality industry played a key role in ensuring the new business that was just starting to blossom would survive. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

The support from the French government was nothing short of incredible,” he said. “If we had set up in the UK, I think we’d be gone. Speaking to friends in the UK who have businesses – the difference in the financial support we received was night and day.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever complain about paying URSSAF stuff again after the help we got.”

Even with all the help, times were hard. Neither Tim nor 43-year-old Ash could afford to pay themselves any wages from Sapaudia during the long lockdowns. “It was a case of reduce spending, pay the necessary bills – rent, electricity and stuff – and just try and fight through.”

Pivoting from working with businesses, such as bars, to sales with individuals was not straightforward, though they tried. “We’re set-up to do keg sales – getting in bars, on tap,” Tim said. “We did flip a bit – we tried to sell bottles but we don’t have a proper bottling machine. We’re not set up to do thousands of bottles a day. We did some 5-litre mini kegs which sold pretty well around Christmas time.

“But it was tough, especially round here. It’s a massive tourist area, everyone’s business was decimated. People have tightened their belts and haven’t been spending.” 

The business came through the Covid lockdowns intact. And it is now operating flat out. “As soon as everything opened up, orders started to come back – and they came back really strong,” Tim said.

“I was worried we wouldn’t be able to pick up where we’d stopped. I didn’t know how the market was going to be, but it was almost like nothing had happened. It was – bang – back to where we were.”

And the first close-to full winter season after Covid was just what the brewery needed – despite a scare when British holidaymakers were stopped from travelling by concern over the Omicron variant.

“This winter’s been massive. Everyone needed a big winter. The Brits getting banned from travelling back in December was a bit of a kick in the teeth for a lot of people. But, from February onwards … I can always tell how busy a week’s been by how many empty kegs we get back in a week. The week the British returned, our distributor had to bring a lorry – there were six pallets of empty kegs. I thought “yeah – the Brits are back”.

More official help for the business came when they were looking to hire a full-time employee. Pôle emploi offered to pay the wages of a local worker during a 12-week formation – and give Sapaudia €5 an hour on the promise he was given an open-ended CDI contract at the end of the period. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Having lived in France since 2017, neither Tim nor Ash – both of them originally from Stockton-on-Tees – found any problems applying for post-Brexit titres de séjour. 

“Politically Brexit bothered me,” Tim said. “Personally, I was here and had all the paperwork, so when I went for my carte de séjour, it was almost too easy. “France made the system really easy and wanted people to stay.”

From a business point of view, however, there have been issues. “We used to work with UK suppliers – we used to get branded beer glasses from a firm in Halifax, and got other bits of promo material from Britain and we’ve had to stop using them. A lot of them won’t ship to us because it’s too much of a headache.

“The company that print the beer glasses told me they are not allowed now to print the CE logo onto the glass … we get our glasses from Germany now.

But he knows other local businesses have found it harder than they have. “The majority of our clients here are British-run bars and they struggled so much to get staff this winter.”

READ ALSO ‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

And, despite the forced two-year break due to Covid, Tim’s sure he and Ash were right to take a risk four years ago.

“No one saw the pandemic coming – I don’t think you’d take a risk on anything in life if you thought there’d be a pandemic round the corner. 

“In terms of our numbers, when we did our business plan, we’re exactly where we projected we’d be, with a two-year delay because of Covid. Everything’s going the way it should be, it’s just that we were put on pause.”

Now, they’re looking to grow, and take the business year-round.

“I just got off the phone this morning with an equipment supplier. We want to expand in autumn 2023. This winter we reached capacity of our current equipment – and we’re having to throttle sales back a little. 

“We’re massively seasonal – winter’s really big, and we’re working to make summer as big as winter so we have a distribution partner in Lyon and we’ve got a sales rep working in the west coast in the Hossegar area.

There’s a reason that their business plan jumps from the mountains of the east to the shores of the west. Many people who spend their winters in the Alps head for the surf towns of the Atlantic in the summer. The idea is to let word of mouth from the east spread their IPA gospel in the west, too. And in cans, too. Part of the next phase of the firm’s could include an online store, selling Sapaudia beer to individuals across France. 

 

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