How life for expats in France has changed over the years

Ben McPartland
Ben McPartland - [email protected]
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners who have made their lives in France explain how life in the country has changed for both better and worse over the years.


People often say one of the main attractions with France is that life changes more slowly here than in other countries.

Nevertheless things do change, and who better to explain how than those who moved to France many moons ago?

Here’s how.

You can buy Old El Paso in French supermarkets

Back in the day French supermarkets had French products and if you wanted something like Marmite, Vegemite, HP Sauce or Cheddar Cheese, well you just had to book a flight or a boat home and go and get it.

But things have changed.

“Food wise, things have changed a lot,” says Sam Goff, who moved to France in 2001. “I remember the first time I found Old El Paso in the supermarket and I nearly fell to my knees and cried with joy. It was so hard to find international foods here then - and now, you can find them in nearly every supermarket.”

Photo: Gordon Wrigley/Flickr

And it’s not just supermarkets…

The number of international restaurants has also ballooned especially in the capital Paris and other big cities. Not so long ago the foodie scene was dominated by French brasseries serving the same list of dishes, but many have closed only to be replaced by Thai, Japanese, Mexican and even Fish and Chips restaurants. "A loss of French culture", some might say. "More options", say those who like variety.

More locals speak English

Mike Longhurst, who was replying to a question from The Local on the popular Survive France community forum for expats said he had noticed how more of the local population speak English now, compared to when he first moved to the Alliers region of central France.

"There are far more French people speaking English, it is as though it has become very fashionable to speak English here.. not a bad thing," he said.

The bureaucracy burden has eased

Believe it or not, people who have lived here a long time insist the paperwork has decreased. But while new arrivals might read that with disbelief, one point we cannot argue with is how France has made massive steps in ensuring almost every dealing with the state now can be done online.

French admin is notoriously complicated. Photo: Isaac Bowen/ Flickr

“Within the last 10 years it's become possible to do virtually (excuse the pun!) all your dealings with the tax people, CAF, URSSAF, utilities companies etc online, and it works very well indeed, I'm particularly impressed with what the tax services have achieved so far,” says Anna Watson. “And they're still rolling things out year on year.”

Rebecca Pintre added:  “I arrived in 1998. There was no carte vitale and any dealing with the French bureaucracy was a nightmare. What we deal with now is nothing compared to that. Everything is easier now from sorting out insurance, phone line, taxes. Yes, there is still far too much red tape, but nothing like what there was.

It’s got more expensive to live here…

This may depend on where you live, but regular data surveys does suggest that the spending power of those who work in France or who have retired here has decreased over the years (and especially since Brexit for pensioners).

For Simon Armstrong there’s no question it’s got pricier in France.

"As we live really close to the Spanish we notice an ever-increasing gap in prices between them and France,” Armstrong said. “Everyday products and fuel are so much cheaper - for example this week Diesel €1.01 in Spain and down the road here in France €1.18. A weekly supermarket shop - like for like is approximately 15-20 percent cheaper in Spain."

Photo: AFP

Rural life has become less lively?

Believe it or not life in rural France seems to have slowed down even further, although granted this may depend on where you are.

Jayne Warner says that in her part of France (the Creuse department in central France) there’s far less partying among locals.

“The thing I have noticed, particularly the last three years; has been the reduction in social activities around our region. A few years back we would be finding it hard to decide which event to go to, even during some weekday evenings. Nowadays it is difficult to find something to go to,” she said.

Others have noticed that rural bars and cafes have closed down over the years and local schools are under threat, perhaps not surprising given that la France profonde is still emptying as the cities fill up. 

The trials and tribulations of moving to rural France

Moving to rural France is not all rosé and cheese. Photo: Philippe Rouzet/Flickr
But at least the internet has arrived in the countryside

And that means it's far easier to keep in touch with families and friends back home while others say the speedier internet has boosted their employment options by enabling them to work from home in France.

Technology has made the big difference,” says Ros Petherwick. “When we arrived in Feb 2003 we had dial up internet, which was expensive and slow and would frequently crash. With the advent of ADSL, unlimited free phone calls, and the growth of social media keeping in touch with family is now so easy and so much cheaper."

Sam Goff, who arrived in 2001 said: "I remember when I first arrived; it was really hard to stay in contact with family - because the internet was nowhere near as accessible as it is today. I used to buy €5 phone cards (actually, I think it was francs even) and go and sit in a phone box for an hour to call my family once a month. And for the internet, we used to have to book a spot at the local "Centre de jeunesse".

Far more cheap flights home

And one of the major differences, at least for Brits in France, is that there are now far more budget options for getting home. The only way home now is not on the boat.

“We used to rely on Buzz Airlines flying into the UK twice per week from Limoges - now we have frequent cheap flights courtesy of Ryanair which is invaluable to us,” says Ros Petherwick.

Ryanair tweet calls French team 'cheating b**tards'

Photo: AFP

More Brits here but fewer are moving  

For those who moved to France a long time ago, the one stand-our difference is the number of British citizens who have since made a similar move, meaning certain villages and towns in France have practically been colonized.

Others have noticed that the steady flow of British nationals moving across the Channel has slowed, perhaps since Brexit and the worries it has caused.

“In the last few years we have seen more Brits go home and less Brits move here and houses now seem to take an age to sell,” said one.

Brexit: Brits in France could face 'cataclysmic' impact

Photo: AFP

Have French people got more friendlier to foreigners?

Or is it just that foreigners French language levels have improved over the years and helped bring down the social barriers?

"When I first came here, people in shops and french admin were really not pleasant, very rude or just totally indifferent to you as a human. I have found that to have changed a lot and now find them quite helpful and even quite friendly," said Jocelyn Bull, who admits her improved French ability might be the key.

"I see smiles on people's faces when I walk up to a counter and before I open my mouth that NEVER happened in the 90s here."

Security everywhere now

In the last couple of years the increase in security has been noticeable across France. It’s not just about the soldiers on the streets in Paris and at airports around the country.

Even when you get on a train these days there are multiple announcements about the need to look after your luggage and report anything suspicious to a special SNCF emergency number.

France has long feared terror would strike its churches

Photo: AFP

While many of those who have settled in rural France may not see the extra armed police patrolling the streets, it certainly has  been a new feature of life in the big cities.

“I feel that the state of emergency has affected both my psyche and that of the city of Paris in general. For example, I see more soldiers on the street and at my university, they have installed turnstiles and rigorous bag checks since the attacks,” says Alison Bunting.

Thanks for Facebook group RIFT (Remain in France together), members of the Survive France Network and Aussie Expats in Paris for their contributions.




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