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LIVING IN FRANCE

The secrets to settling in France: Readers reveal their five top tips

Moving to a new country is never easy, but France seems to be gaining a reputation as a country that is hard to settle in if you're not a native. So what's the secret?

The secrets to settling in France: Readers reveal their five top tips
All photos: AFP

We asked the experts – the long-term French residents among readers of The Local – what advice they would give to newcomers on how best to feel at home in France.

A survey published last week by Expat Insider Internations group showed France placed 42nd out of 64 countries rated as the best places for foreigners to move to. And it was ranked 52nd out of 64 in the categories on friendliness and ease of settling in.

Survey respondents said that those who do not speak fluent French have a particularly hard time when they first arrive, but even those with good language skills found it hard to make friends with French people.

So we asked readers of The Local – many of whom have lived in France for decades – about their experiences and what they would suggest to new arrivals.

1. Learn French

It might seem pretty obvious, but if you're planning on being here long term, you will need to learn the language. Unlike other countries where it seems that virtually everyone speaks English, many French people speak little or no English. If you're in a touristy area, or an area with a high concentration of English speakers, you are likely to find people who can help you out with day to day requirements, but if you're looking to settle down and make friends with the locals, French will be essential.

Anne McKee, who has lived in France for 29 years, said: “It is imperative to learn French, learn how things work and be determined to stick at it and accept that France is not England. It is unfair to the French to compare them to the English.”

In good news, there is lots of help on offer for people who want to learn, and if you're unemployed or with an income below a certain level, the French government will even pay for your classes.

On the plus side, due to the reputation that English-speakers have for being somewhat monoglot, people who do make a real effort to speak French are generally appreciated.

Ela Jacobs added: “Make the most of all that one is offered – arts, festivals, markets, etc. And having a go with the language. People here in Perpignan are very welcoming – many speak English, but like you even better if you have a go, and interact and laugh/smile as well.”

READ ALSO Sympathy and the odd freebie – why you really should speak bad French

2. Learn the secrets of bureaucracy

One of the main things that strikes foreigners when they first move here is the incredible amount of paperwork necessary for daily life. When you first move there will be big things to arrange like a carte de séjour residency permit (depending on your nationality and status) and a carte vitale health card. But even after the big things are out of the way there will still be lots to keep you occupied – from your complex yearly tax returns to the necessity of taking your passport to the post office every time you need to collect a parcel.

Claire Harvwood, who has lived in France for 15 years, said: “Getting a degree in government administration in French would be of benefit before you arrive. Paperwork is a big issue so getting all documentation together is crucial. Today, dealing with the Town Hall is much easier than 15 years ago as people working there have now become more communicative and share information when you ask a direct question.”

Michelle Lucas agreed, saying: “The bureaucracy can be a nightmare! By this, I mean the paperwork; the difficulty in getting appointments, the many papers they require (sometimes several times over due to 'clerical errors'), and the time it takes for them to process said papers once the 'clerical errors' have ceased. Opening bank accounts, obtaining the proper insurance if you're renting a place, getting electricity hooked up in your name, and transferring the license plate on your vehicle also have the potential to cause much frustration.”

Sadly there are no shortcuts to French bureaucracy, it all needs to be done and it will all take lots of time, so perhaps the best advice is simply to adopt an attitude of zen-like calm when you are asked to fill in the same form for the fifth time.

READ ALSO From dossier to notaire – your guide to the crazy world of French bureaucracy

3. Move to the country

Perhaps not practical for everyone, but readers in rural areas report that their neighbours and colleagues were much keener to be friendly and welcoming than those in the city.

Long-term resident Thomasina said: “Living in a small village makes life infinitely easier in France. You see the same people, day in and day out.

“At some point, the locals actually acknowledge your presence, every time they see you. Visibility is key. Familiarity is key. And the day you receive the triple (in the south of France where I live) kiss greeting, you know you've made it.”

Peta Dulwaulle added: “I've made loads of French friends over more that 30 happy years living in a small village in Normandy and have always been treated with love, kindness and respect.”

One American reader even reported that the neighbours in rural France supervised the refurbishment of their kitchen after a fire when they had to return to the USA for eight months for family reasons.

READ ALSO These are the biggest challenges of living in rural France

4. Join in

Making friends anywhere new is not easy, but joining clubs, groups and organisations is generally a great way to meet new people.

Fetes and community gatherings are important in France, particularly rural France, so go along and show your support – most villages have a Committee de Fête which is usually looking for volunteers.

As with every country, there are numerous groups, associations and clubs where you can meet people who share your interests.

France even has a special day for making friends with your neighbours.

And of course a short-cut to integrating into French society is hooking up with a Frenchman or Frenchwoman. If you're on the market – check out our guide to online dating in France.

READ ALSO How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France

5. Learn to say bonjour

OK so this is generally the first word that any student of French learns so it's unlikely that anyone moving here would not know the word. But what you might not appreciate is the importance of greetings and general politeness in French culture.

A formal greeting is expected in France in any situation, whether you're popping in to the boulangerie to pick up some bread or asking someone for help. Most French people would expect a bonjour if you walk into a crowded lift or a doctor's waiting room – anywhere where there are already people in situ.

People coming from slightly more casual cultures like the USA or UK can frequently fall foul of this and end up unintentionally causing offence. So revise and revise again bonjour, bonsoir, bonne journée, bonne soirée, merci, de rien, pardon, s'il vous plaît and au revoir.

One American long-term resident said: “Learn the customs, be polite and treat people as you would like to be treated. A nice bonjour goes a long way!”

READ ALSO Why bonjour is the most important word in the French language

And finally – remember why you moved here. 

Yes, France does have its challenges, but there's a reason why it's the most visited tourist destination in the world. From its stunning scenery and world-beating cuisine to more prosaic matters like excellent healthcare and (largely) free education, it is all in all a great country to live in even if sometimes you will find yourself feeling lonely, frustrated and unable to understand why everyone is on strike again.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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