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LIVING IN FRANCE

5 signs that you have settled in to life in France

Moving countries always brings with it a bit of a culture shock, but after a while you will adapt and change - from medicines to complaining, dossiers to wine, here are 5 signs that you have truly settled in.

5 signs that you have settled in to life in France
Daily bread becomes part of your routine in France - but else changes? Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP

It’s normal that your habits will change in a different country – and that’s before we even get into the weird things that happen to your English-speaking skills – but it’s when your attitude and mindset begins to change that you know you have truly settled. 

1 Your bonjour reflex is such that you sometimes find yourself greeting ATMs and supermarket self-checkout machines

After an initial period of being nonplussed at how much time you are expected to spend greeting people, you’re now fully into the spirit of beginning every interaction with a bonjour, from ordering in a café to entering an elevator.

EXPLAINED Why bonjour is the most sacred word in the French langauge?

When you return to your home country, people think you’re weird because you insist on saying ‘good morning’ to everyone.

2 You can assemble a full dossier for any type of administrative appointment within 5 minutes

Bureaucracy is life in France and there is no point in fighting it. Even once you’ve got through all your initial admin on moving to France there are still regular appointments and it is now second nature to create a ‘dossier’ of documents for each one. 

At home, you have an enormous file containing every single piece of paper you have received since arriving in France. If there was a fire, you would save this before rescuing pets/children/loved ones  

READ ALSO The vital vocab for French bureaucracy

3 You have internalised the French public holiday calendar and can make lightning fast calculations on every opportunity to faire le pont over the next 12 months

From initially being excited at all the random days off work that France offers, you now regard these as normal and correct and are genuinely outraged at the ‘bad years’ when too many public holidays fall on a Saturday or Sunday.

After spending your first couple of years as the only person in your workplace on days adjacent to public holidays, you have now embraced the French tradition of ‘bridging’ holidays and now maximise your holiday time like everyone else.  

4 You would no longer dream of having toast for dinner

You consider proper meals essential and are happy to have long conversations on the relative merits of fondue v racelette, beaufort v comté or flat peaches v round ones.

Also, you have started sipping your wine instead of hurling it back like there’s a shortage and now genuinely see the point in spending more money on a good wine and making it last over several nights. Your friends back home wonder who you even are. 

5 You’re very happy in France, and show it by complaining

Nights out with your French friends involve complaining about the (excellent) French health system, the (generally excellent) public transport and the country’s leaders (OK maybe they’re not excellent but coming from a country that has had Donald Trump or Boris Johnson as a leader gives you a certain perspective).

You’re happy to go along with the French complaining tradition and you save your more dorky opinions (Paris is beautiful, baguettes are great and life in France is pretty good) for your fellow foreigners.  

READ ALSO ‘In France we don’t make small talk about the weather, we complain instead’

. . . and maybe this one is just for people of a certain age

You become extremely interested in your own health and don’t hesitate to visit a doctor, even for comparatively minor ailments.

You regard having a fully stocked medicine cabinet as completely normal and a trip to the pharmacy to look at the new remedies counts as a genuine day out.

You still refuse to consider ‘heavy legs’ a genuine medical issue, however. Integration always has limits. 

Do you agree with these signs of being settled? What was the moment when you realised that France had changed you? Email us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. Please kindly refrain from political talk. People of all political perspectives pay you money for your content. It’s a lazy writer that has to make snarky political comments to make a point. Otherwise, your content is fab!

  2. Interesting piece. I realise that I had some of these characteristics even before I moved to France; and now understand why I feel at home here and why I fit in so well. E.g. the well-stocked medicine cabinet and maximising holidays by “bridging”.

  3. I knew I had settled when I was able to get a fonctionnaire at the prefecture to help me get around not having “fiches de paie” by flirting. She suddenly had the idea that an attestation from my employer would suffice.

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For members

EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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