Expat Exhaustion: All Grèved Out and All Franced Out

Perhaps you heard that there was a strike this past Tuesday in France against the pension reforms. Perhaps you heard it was the 5th one this year, and another one is already scheduled for next Tuesday. Perhaps you heard that the government has already passed the reforms anyway. Even though most people protesting only took Tuesday off, the transportation strikes continue with limited trains throughout the week, and now high schoolers in many cities, including Chambéry, are blocading their schools and getting into trouble with the police. For the past two days, I have heard nothing but siren after siren as police cars leave the station (only 500 feet from us, oh joy) to head downtown. High schoolers started setting things on fire in front of their schools and throwing stones at the police, who responded by tear gassing the teenagers. This morning the students marched over to the train station and disrupted the traffic by staying on the tracks, where the police tear gassed them again.

I understand why the teenagers are mad and feel the need to protest like everyone else. Young people in this country already had a bleak outlook for their futures before this reform (unemployment is over 20%), and now it keeps getting worse. I don’t necessarily think that setting things on fire in the street is going to change the unemployment problem, however. Yet the reaction by the police seems a bit excessive to me too. Shooting tear gas into a school, chasing students just to hit them with their clubs, and threatening people who film everything make me sick.

In addition to the public transportation strikes, there are also reports of blocades at the rafineries and possible gas shortages. Luckily I don’t have to go anywhere and David can walk to work so we’re not affected by it. I feel really bad for the tourists who are stuck throughout France or at the airports in Paris. Strikes may be a big part of French culture, but I’m sure it’s not the “culture” they were looking forward to experiencing.

Yet it’s not just the strikes that are making me so tired of being in France or being an expat in France. It’s all the little things that add up to one big thing: frustration. Whether simply trying to open a bank account (took 6 weeks!), renew a residency card (took 9 months!), update important personal information on any French website (all of them are just horrible, awful trash), buy groceries on a Saturday, or do anything at all on a Sunday – everything feels like a huge obstacle to overcome in order to accomplish the most mundane tasks. And after four years, the inefficiency and lack of convenience really starts to get to you. But my biggest concerns have more to do with working and immigration, which are obviously the most important aspects to me as a non-tourist foreigner in France.

The cost of living and taxes continue to increase, yet salaries stay the same. We had to pay 1,555€ in income tax in September (it’s not a pay-as-you-earn system so you just have to keep saving money all year long), and then another 736€ in October for the taxe d’habitation (renter’s tax), of which 121€ was for owning a TV. The cost to renew my residency card each year is 110€, and in fact it used to be 70€. It costs more each year to own a TV in France that it does to have the right to work! Granted, I don’t mind paying higher taxes for health insurance, unemployment and retirement benefits, but when too many people start thinking they can slack off and let the government take care of them because of the high taxes they pay, then obviously it becomes a problem. On the other hand, paying lower taxes but having no government help at all is not ideal either.

I find it harder and harder to justify living in a country where 1,500€ per month/18,000€ per year is a normal or even good salary for someone with a Master’s degree. (The average income in the US for someone with an M.A. is about $40,000.) For as educated and experienced as I am, I feel like I’m worth a little bit more than the 1,200€ a month I got as a lectrice, which turned into about 13,500€ for the year after paying taxes. I’ve always been annoyed by the restrictive concept of needing a métier in France and no one caring if you have experience – all that matters is that you have a very specific degree for a very specific job and if you don’t like it, too bad. You’re stuck there for your entire life. No wonder this country’s youth is so pessimistic.

I also find it harder and harder to stay in a country that treats French citizens of foreign backgrounds differently and openly calls immigrants criminals. The new measure adopted by l’Assemblée states that any immigrant who kills a policeman will have his French nationality stripped from him – and it also makes it easier to expel Gypsies from France by allowing the expulsion of any EU citizen found guilty of “repeated acts of theft, aggressive begging and illegally occupying land.” Another part of the law limits access to medical care for foreigners who do not have a valid residency card. All this in the country of les droits de l’homme – or perhaps it should be changed to les droits des français nés en France.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t absolutely hate living in France or else I wouldn’t be here, and France is still winning in my USA vs. France battle (but only by a hair). But everyday it gets harder to stay happy here knowing that life is much better in other countries, where I can have a real career. I didn’t spend six years at university just to earn minimum wage in temporary jobs. I have no desire to return to the US but I also have no desire to stay in France for much longer. I love the French language and all Francophone cultures, but I feel like I need to break up with France before this frustration gets the best of me. Luckily David agrees that things are not good in France right now and wants to live abroad too, so to all of you who are thinking “if she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she just leave” – don’t worry, I’m working on it.

But I wonder how much of this frustration is due to being an expat in a foreign country (or perhaps just France) and how much of it is just thinking that everything is better where I am not?

Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.

– Baudelaire

  • Emmy

    I’m hearing lots of heavy expat hearts recently. :o( You’re going through a big change at the moment what with leaving your job. Keep an eye on yourself and if you notice you’re crossing over to the wrong side of the sanity line, make sure you do something about it before it’s too late. Take it from someone who crossed the line, stayed there (but came back).

    • I’ve probably already crossed the line. 🙂 I can see light at the end of the tunnel though, don’t worry!

  • Ms Superfantabulous

    Perhaps you should try South Korea for a year. With your experience and education, you could get a great job, free rent, the cost of living is extremely low, there is very little tax, yet cheap medical and dental care (compared to the us) and best of all, great public transportation system and no strikes!! http://www.eslcafe.com

  • So where are you thinking of moving to, Jennie? Canada? Somewhere else? Cynthia

    • Canada, Australia and New Zealand have always been my top 3. We’ll see what happens!

  • After spending a month in France for work and 6 months in the States, it’s surprisingly being in France that makes me realize the differences between Canada and the US and make me either want to stay here or move back to Canada. I know that eventually though, I will move back to the US and forget about those differences and stay there for awhile before moving back to Canada though.

    • I loved being in France for the first 7-8 months, but after that it was all downhill. Most of it was due to not being able to find a job, or find a job that pays more than poverty level, or find a job that lasts longer than 7 or 12 months. If I already had a job, then things would be very different. Yet even then, I think I would still prefer to be in N. America because everything is so much better there – more so in Canada obviously.

  • kim

    I’ve just a huge discussion with a french colleague all night about France… I also think my heavy heart and now disinterest in my profession, is mostly due to the bad experience I’ve had with my supervisor. In France we are given 3 years salary for a PhD, but it very rarely takes 3 years. After 3 years, the majority of French uni students lie and say they have finished and are searching for a job, so therefore qualify for unemployment (a nice 950€ per mnth), while finishing their PhD. Even though I’ve paid for unemployment for the last 3 years, I cannot benefit from any help from the state to finish my PhD, and this is all because I have a student visa. After living in France for 2 years I was told I should have a scientific visa, which means I could get unemployment, but to change to this visa I’d have to go back to New Zealand!! Yes, I’ll just go back to NZ this weekend – 24 hour flight, 1500€ return – I’m not sure a student can afford this, and after almost 4 years I’ve been home once at the expense of my parents. I’m so sick of the administration hassles I’ve had!! I know that if I went to England, to get the visa is difficult but once I get it there are no other problems. Whereas in France, the visa was relatively easy but to get a resident status took me 8 months the first year and every year thereafter I went through the same sort of problems to get another and a work permit. No one seemed to know anything about what I needed to do (hence having a student visa rather than I scientific one, despite being a student and the French Embassy in NZ saying I needed a student visa). These things get to me bigtime here.

    There are so many positives too though – I like paying next to nothing to get my teeth cleaned and filled (its so expensive in NZ), paying so little to attend uni, working 35 hours a week, long holidays (although as a student these don’t really mean much), and free/cheap healthcare. The culture and history is also brilliant!!

    After nearly 4 years though, I’m ready to go home. But unfortunately I think my experience at the university here in France has tarnished most of my perspective on French life, even though I know it shouldn’t.

    • I definitely understand your frustration with France because of all the problems with your program. I hope things work out for you! That’s so stupid that you can’t get unemployment for a few months to finish your PhD. What else do they expect you to do?

      I am always trying to think of the positives and what I will miss when I leave France, but I’m still really eager to leave it all behind.

  • I feel your pain, the prospects of finding a job (Inch’allah) and earning 18k is quite depressing especially if I compare it with what I would earn in Canada. I have to renew my visa next month and I would be almost happy if it was denied. I’ve been applying for jobs in Canada anyways so that if Paris gets the best of me, I’ll have an exit door open 😉

    • Good! You always need to have an exit strategy. I hope you can find something in Canada that pays you more than poverty level. 🙂

  • Zhu

    Oh yeah, I remember being tear-gassed in France, demonstrating as a student… and I remember lemon was the best thing to prevent that. And I remember being ran after by the CRS – not a nice bunch. Ah, French lycée memories…

    Salaries in French are way to low. I see it with my parents, both extremely educated and barely making ends meet. And I feel bad…

    • I feel bad for people on SMIC and those who only earn 15-20k a year. It really makes you feel like your education and experience mean nothing when you can barely survive each month. :/

  • I absolutely applaud you! You’ve made it longer than I could. Once I was done with the 9 month contract for the assistantship I was done with France (I was done a bit before that). I kept comparing it to Belgium. Belgium was just as frustrating sometimes but again it wasn’t. I decided to go to Spain. France is MUCH worse than Spain, but then again, Spain’s bureaucracy is a bit ridiculous as well. I’ve told myself I cannot live in Europe permanently. I don’t think I could actually do it. I wanted to do university over there…but in the field of linguistics…you just can’t really find schools that are better then the ones in North America (and maybe in Great Britain and Australia).

    • I’m feeling the same way about universities here. When/if I do my PhD in linguistics, I’ll need to move back to an Anglophone country. I love traveling in Europe, but trying to live here is too difficult and annoying and frustrating and I’m so incredibly tired of being poor!

  • Anna

    I totally hear you, Jennie, everything you say is true. I also agree with Gwan that the quality of life outside the work sphere is not to be easily dismissed. Have you looked into getting a job in Geneva/Switzerland? The salaries there are 3X higher, and the commute even from Chambéry would be decent if you use the highway.

    There’s an expat networking group you might want to look into as well: http://www.wwng.net/

    Being a French citizen makes things easier for sure. Why don’t you want to become a citizen (though the only way for you would probably be to get married) and pass the concours? (not implying you should, just curious 🙂 Citizenship would make it easier for you to live and work anywhere in Europe.

    Of course, if you’re really fed up with Europe, then it’s pointless!

    I totally understand and feel for you. People should be striking about lousy salaries and age discrimination, rather than retirement age. If people could more easily switch careers, they wouldn’t have to grit their teeth in jobs they hate, biding their time until retirement.

    • The commute to Geneva from Chambéry seems too exhausting (not to mention expensive) to me, and working in Switzerland would mean first finding a job to sponsor my new work visa and having to go back to the US to get it. I know a lot of people in Annecy who work in Geneva and they don’t exactly like it because of the way the Swiss treat them, being harassed at the border, the high cost of everything in Geneva, etc. but they put up with it because the salaries are much higher. Yet with the tolls and gas prices just to get to Geneva everyday, plus higher taxes to the French government, long commutes and work days, sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it.

      I do want to become a French and therefore EU citizen, but I definitely don’t want to take the stupid concours just to get a job here. I don’t agree with the tests and that passing one somehow makes you magically qualified to do a job. Theories do not automatically lead to practice and this country spends too much time on theory. But I am pretty fed up with life in Europe in general, so I’m looking to get off this continent and far, far away from the damn euro. I’d like to start my PhD anyway, and I’ll most likely be doing it in an Anglophone country outside of Europe.

      • Anna

        Can’t argue with any of that. I can’t speak for any of the other European countries, but certainly the quality of any anglophone university is certainly far higher than anything here.

  • I can definitely sympathise with those who are fed up of life in France. Other than the low salaries (2 Masters degrees & I’m towards the bottom end of that 15-20k bracket) the thing that really gets me down is that I can’t get a CDD at work without passing a concours. I rate my chance of passing a concours at approximately zero – French not good enough, I wasn’t trained for my job in France & it’s so difficult that there are prep courses even for French people, so how would I do it?
    BUT to argue the other side a bit, I do really appreciate the lifestyle here. While of course I want enough money to be comfortable & to feel I’m rewarded for my education, skills & hard work, I’ve never cared about being rich, so maybe that aspect bums me out less than other people. When I look at the short & flexible hours I work, the very very generous holidays I get, the fact that (contract issues aside) I enjoy my job, the history, culture, language-learning, opportunities to travel, food etc. etc. I do still enjoy it here & want to stay.
    That said, check in around Toussaint and if the strikes prevent my trip to Venice I will be VERY upset! 🙂
    I hope, whatever you decide, things get better in the future.

    • Gwan

      D’oh! Of course, I *have* a CDD, I *want* a CDI!

    • I enjoy the lifestyle too – I’ve never had so much free time in my life, but that’s also because I was a full-time student for 6 years and working part-time most of those years just before moving to France. I feel like I can be so much more productive in a different environment though. I love to travel in Europe, but not live here. And I want to be a university professor, which I can’t do here without becoming a French citizen and passing the concours, which I have no desire to do. Plus I’d like to teach French, which obviously is harder when you’re not a native speaker and everyone else is.

      I’ve never had much money and I don’t care so much about being rich or owning a house or any of that stuff. Lately it’s mostly been about my family back in the US. I need to make sure that they will be taken care of since my government doesn’t do a very good job at it. If I need to help pay for health insurance some day, then I will be very frustrated that I can’t because I have no extra money with my low French salary. And not even being able to afford a plane ticket to go visit them is the worst feeling ever. Luckily it hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but I’m afraid it will someday.

  • I completely understand and agree with what you’re saying. France is not the place to be if you want a career or to start a business or even just to earn a livable wage. Having a job for life (which the French seem to love) will get you no where. All it means is that you’ll swap peanuts for your time for the rest of your life.

    One of the major reasons unemployment is so high in France is that entrepreneurship is discouraged in this country. It costs so much to start a business, taxes are extremely high, taking on employees is too expensive. Why don’t the Frenchies discuss these things? It’s private enterprise who will create jobs but it’s not going to happen if the cost of doing business is significantly less in neighbouring countries.

    Why do the people here want to get a pension anyway? In Australia, the pension is for poor people who end up with nothing at retirement. Is that what the Frenchies are looking forward to, living in poverty their whole work lives so they can then continue to live in poverty throughout retirement? What about getting a better job or creating your own business and investing your own money so you don’t need the government and tax payers to take care of you in your old age? How can anyone be hoping to receive a pension? I don’t get it.

    And saying that the lifestyle in France is great with a short work week and loads of holidays. I don’t see how it is great if you can’t afford to do anything with all the spare time you have.

    Jennie, you know I have my online business so I don’t need a ‘job’ here in France but if I did, there is absolutely no way I would stay here and accept 2000E per month. I couldn’t see myself accepting less than 5000E per month and don’t know how people can manage on their pitiful salaries. I would move to the UK or somewhere like Denmark where they encourage you to start your own business and develop your ideas or at the very least pay you what you are worth.

    I know a lot of these things don’t directly affect me but it drives me crazy to see the Frenchies protesting the most ridiculous things and not realising that if they want jobs they need to make big changes here but the Frenchies hate change so things are never going to get better here.

    My days in France are numbered, that’s for sure. High prices (why is everything so much cheaper in Germany?), the constant protests, the lack of change, the crap govt. It’s not worth it when I’m free to live anywhere in Europe. Why live in France?

    I’m glad to hear you are planning on moving. You deserve better than what France has to offer.

    • Anna

      So true, Andrea. I was shocked when I first found out that the “best and brightest” here aspire to be bureaucrats! In the U.S. those kinds of “for life” government jobs are for people who are too stupid or lazy to do anything else!

    • Thank you Andrea! It’s always nice to hear that other people think exactly the same thing about France as I do. I just don’t get why the French put up with the low salaries and high cost of living. It’s so pathetic when I hear about people working for 30 years and still not making more than 2000€ a month.

      I wish I were free to live anywhere in Europe but since I’m only PACSed and not married, I’m stuck in France for now. I am eager to leave Europe though. I need stores that are open on Sundays and wide open spaces with more animals than people. I definitely won’t be going back to the Midwest, but I won’t settle for anything that resembles France.

      • Frecil

        In France, someone who earns a net income of 2000 euros/month has to pay 20% of “charges ” and his employer 50% of “charges patronales”, so the total cost is more in the 3500 euros/month range. That’s approximately the 40 K$/year figure you gave for the US. You need a lot of tax to finance the “Securite sociale”, but americans should (at least in theory) spend the same amount to save for retirement or buy health insurance.

        And remember that in France, university is the bad system, with a bac+5 from an engineering school or a business school, you starting salary will be at least 2000 euros, but master degree delivered by university are less valued in France (too theorical to useful).

        For the lycée teacher job, as for every civil servant their starting salary is low, but it raises constantly as they ages (whereas for the private sector, your salary will be tied to your productivity and will stagnates after a few years). And remember you teach only 18 hours/week during 9 month / year.
        It’s a job mainly choosen by women who need time to take care of kids.
        By the way, did you think about the cost of a nanny for those who work full time ?

        • Your take-home pay is what matters most though. I don’t care if my gross income is 4k a month, if I’m only bringing home 2k, then it’s not worth it – even with the benefits. I prefer to make more money so I can decide how I want to spend it. I don’t like the government taking most of my money and spending it on things I don’t care about or don’t support.

  • Matt

    This is some depressing stuff. Oh hi, I’m Matt, I read your blog every now and again because I dabble with French. Recently I’ve been thinking of ceasing my dabbling. Plus, my dad is Algerian, so you know… I’m American, but still, um, you know what I’m saying?

    Yeah, you know what I’m saying.

    Anyway, I say come study in California. Relax the pain away.

    • Well, the good news is that more people outside of France speak French than those in France. And life is much better in Canada, Belgium, & Switzerland than here. Maybe not true for Africa, Haiti or the DOM-TOMs, but there are still a lot of places to visit/live where you can use French and not be constantly depressed because of France. If I ever were to return to the US, I would definitely go to California.

  • SarahZ

    I understand your frustration – I’m an American who’s been in France since 2005 and it’s starting to wear on me, though perhaps for different reasons. What gets to me more is people’s attitudes here – how unpleasant and rude so many people you interact with can be (and allow themselves to be, as though it is completely acceptable). Mainly medical secretaries and receptionists for whatever reason! They talk to you in a way you would never hear a receptionist speaking to someone in the U.S.!

    I don’t feel the economic strain however, but maybe I will now that I have a “real” job and am going to have to start paying more taxes and getting zero aid…
    Out of curiosity, why do you refuse the idea of taking a concours to teach at university here? Is it the hassle of becoming a naturalized French citizen, the uncertainty of passing the exam, or a rejection of the system in general? Because I’m planning on doing this at some point, and honestly if I were French today I would sign up to take the concours (Agreg or other administrative) in a heartbeat. Just wondering how you felt about it!

    • I am just completely against the concours system because it’s very unfair and it’s not an accurate judge of who will be a good worker anyway. Success on the tests are just based on luck (the first part of David’s was just multiple choice questions on random cultural stuff, including Harry Potter!!!), and most are too theoretical to apply to real life. Knowing how to analyze or translate literature does not mean you will be a good language teacher.

      Plus I’m not even sure that I will be able to get French citizenship since I have no job. And even if I were French, I would just move to another EU country so I could make a higher salary doing the exact same job. I would not stay in this country and attempt the concours just to make 1700€ a month teaching at a university that doesn’t value research or education, or only 1300€ a month to teach for Education Nationale and not have much control over where in the country I have to work.

      • Those salaries are completely ridiculous. Why bother going to university and doing the concours when you can just get a job as a checkout chick at Carrefour and earn the same salary?

        The skilled and educated get low salaries, the unskilled and uneducated get low salaries. It’s just like communism. Scary.

        • Frecil

          Because :
          – being the checkout chick is exhausting and not very funny (expecially if you intend to do this for your lifetime)
          – you are a civil servant, you can’t lose your job
          – as your ages, you salary will increase constantly at the same pace, while the checkout chick will stay at the SMIC until her death.

          And if it is such a bad deal, why they are so many people that apply ? For each teacher position open you have at least 10 candidates with the relevant bachelor degree …

      • SarahZ

        Those salaries are really the absolute lowest, for someone just starting out. In fact after the reform, even first-year teachers don’t make that little. It’s only my second year in high school (private, not public, concours) and I’m already making about 1650 thanks to my years as an assistant. I don’t think it’s low. After a few years someone who has the Agreg really starts making a good amount, in my way of thinking. I have no idea how much teachers in other parts of Europe make, but even if University professors in the States make more, how impossible is it to get a teaching position in an American university these days?

        As far as the concours not judging teaching ability, I completely agree with you!

        • Frecil

          For those who teach in “prepa” as an “agregé” of math or physics, they usually double their salary with the “colle” they do (that’s an overtime hour for each).

          At the end, they makes quite a good living (4000-6000 euros/month maybe), but that is not that much for someone as qualified as they are (you have to be a “nomalien” to teach there, and that is harder than getting a PhD from the MIT).

        • The EU average for beginning teachers is 33-35k a year. In France, the average is 20k. So yeah, I’m definitely not going to work in France, and I’m definitely not going back to the US either.

  • SarahZ

    I understand your frustration – I’m an American who’s been in France since 2005 and it’s starting to wear on me, though perhaps for different reasons. What gets to me more is people’s attitudes here – how unpleasant and rude so many people you interact with can be (and allow themselves to be, as though it is completely acceptable). Mainly medical secretaries and receptionists for whatever reason! They talk to you in a way you would never hear a receptionist speaking to someone in the U.S.!

    I don’t feel the economic strain however, but maybe I will now that I have a “real” job and am going to have to start paying more taxes and getting zero aid…
    Out of curiosity, why do you refuse the idea of taking a concours to teach at university here? Is it the hassle of becoming a naturalized French citizen, the uncertainty of passing the exam, or a rejection of the system in general? Because I’m planning on doing this at some point, and honestly if I were French today I would sign up to take the concours (Agreg or other administrative) in a heartbeat. Just wondering how you felt about it!

  • I hear the similar sentiments about France a lot–France would NOT be my choice of a European country to immigrate to. I’d love to visit, I’d probably even like to live there for a year or two, but I’d absolutely pick Germany, Switzerland, or one of the Nordic countries to actually live in permanently and get citizenship in. The big kicker for me with France is what you outlined above: inefficiency and frustration (and the frustration is primarily caused by the inefficiency).

    Do you speak German or a Nordic language? Have you considered that? Have you considered the U.K. or Ireland?


    • Germany, Switzerland and Denmark are my choices if I were to stay in Europe, though getting citizenship in those countries is really hard. Germany & Denmark don’t even allow dual citizenship, and for Switzerland you have to live there for 12 years before applying.

      I have to admit that some of the problems I have with France are Europe-wide though (nothing open on Sundays, or during lunch or after 7pm; everything is too small and the population density is too high, etc.) And I’m not a city person at all – I need wide open spaces with few people or noise, which is impossible to find in Western Europe. So I’m looking beyond Europe – Canada, Australia and NZ are my top three.

  • Jennie — now I remember why I left France, but being in the US isn’t for me either. Where will you go? I have been thinking about moving to some other EU countries, but am afraid of the weather in everyplace but Italy and Spain, where I am not sure I want to move to either. Same problem with Canada — cold winters frighten me. I am weak I know.

    • I’m pretty sick of Europe in general, so I’m looking into Australia & NZ. I do love Canada, but the weather is too cold.

  • Interesting debate I’m reading about living in France.
    Sounds quite similar to my experience living in Madrid. Great having so much time free but when you haven’t go the resources to enjoy it it ain’t so much fun..

    I’m from Ireland-I wouldn’t exactly recommend living there now it used to be Europe’s place of opportunity-those days are coming to an end though due to the recession.

    My experience in a continental country as opposed to an anglo country is also tempered by the fact I am a parent-being in Spain is ok for that compared to my home country. I would think strongly before moving back to the US-it seems to be attractive as a person without a family but once you have a kid the Latin countries of Europe are way better than the Anglo ones..the ideal would be Scandanavia but they have damn hard Winters!

    • I’ve heard that Ireland is rather expensive and I don’t think I would like the weather anyway. It is a really beautiful place though.

      I can see how some places are more kid-friendly than others. I don’t have kids and don’t plan on ever having them, so that’s not a factor for me. Actually I prefer to be someplace where there are fewer children. I like old people more. 🙂

      Scandinavia sounds like heaven except for the winters. I love how progressive and egalitarian they are, but I need some sunshine and heat!

  • MandyV.

    Hi Jennie- I read your blog from time to time in passing and was so relieved to find this posting. I honestly thought that I was the only one who was having such a difficult time living in France; yet so many Americans dream about living here. I was beginning to think I was just a down right pessimist but to my relief, you’ve expressed the same exact sentiments that I’ve had. I’ve been here for over two years, first living in Provence and now le Nord very near to Belgium. I’ve also been Pacsed for almost a year to my partner whom I met while finishing up my B.A. in Provence. I’m so worn down by the constant barrage of rude people who are unwilling to help (not all of course, but quite a few) and the ineffective system. Everything, from renewing my family visa, to finding what Americans would classify as a ‘high school type job’ as a waitress/dishwasher, takes months upon months. Even going to the post office can be a nightmare! I’ll be here for another two years, while my conjoint finishes his Masters; in the mean time I’m still waiting now for a local Fac to review my dossier d’inscription for a Masters program, so that I can start classes which began six weeks ago. They’ve also had the dossier for almost six weeks. So I’m just so thankful for you saying something negative about France; I honestly thought I was the only one who felt this way about the country, and yes I’m saying this twice! Granted I’m so happy that I’ve been able to master French, experience the deep culture and visit the country-sides and historical places we only hear about in history books aux Etats Unis, as you so beautifully have illustrated on your website. (I agree on wanting open-space however!) So to cast my vote, I would say to you, go to Quebec! They speak French and Quebec is not so far away from your home and family. Personally, I think we may end up getting married soon, besides for personal reasons, there are reasons of being able to freely relocate between Europe and the U.S. eventually; maybe settling near the New Orleans area (I’m from the NYC metropolitan region). Thanks for this post and good luck on figuring out ‘the next step’ for yourself and your partner!

    • Hi Mandy, don’t worry there are actually a lot of expats who don’t like living in France! 🙂 We put up with it though because life is still slightly better than in the US. I can definitely say that I am completely worn down by France now, and can’t wait to leave so I can discover another part of the world. I am always honest about my feelings towards France. Whenever I receive e-mails about people looking to move here, I tell them the truth. I get so sick of the fairy tale myth about France. It is just another country like any other. Good luck with your time left in France and with your move back to the States!

  • If you are worried about the weather in Canada, it is fairly warm in Southern Ontario around Niagara Falls (peaches and vineyards abound), and the climate in British Columbia on the West Coast is very moderate. Vancouver’s is similar to England and in Victoria there are actually palm trees (just a few, but hey). There aren’t jobs to be found for everyone in those spots, but if you are both teaching, that should be less of an issue. There is always a desperate need for French teachers in the public school system in Ontario (probably BC too) and those jobs pay well, and there are excellent universities in each of the places I mentioned. Here is a French travel doc about Vancouver… http://www.france5.fr/echappees-belles/emission/vancouver/video.html

    Come to Canada! 🙂