My dream of moving to a foreign country began at the ripe old age of 8.
I spent most of my early years daydreaming of where I wanted to live, and France was often the top of my list. As I got older my daydreaming transformed into my vision and I travelled extensively looking for my dream home. It was not until I arrived on the cote d’Azur in 1992 that I really started to settle down.
Of course, the dream life does not happen with a click of the fingers, the following two years were filled with a multitude of challenges. The French bureaucracy drove me crazy but the majority of my first steps were fun, learning experiences. So many hilarious situations that even now I’m giggling whilst thinking back. I mean, just how many times can you say, ‘merci beaucoup’ with such a bad pronunciation that the waiter thought that instead of saying ‘thanks very much’, you were complementing his posterior ‘merci beau cul !!
If I was going to survive in France, I needed to learn the language quickly, find a job, a creche, access the healthcare system and get a residency permit. How to go about that with a young baby in toe, minimum funds and boyfriend who worked away. Luckily, I love a challenge!
Fast forward 20 years, it’s probably no huge surprise that I created my own relocation business in 2012 and started the Serenity Club in 2016 dedicated to helping families navigate the rough waters of the administration system and ensure a smooth transition to their life in France.
So, if you are new to France or even already living here but struggling with the language and the paperwork, what can you do to get through some of those hurdles? Here are just a few of my top tips based on my experience.
'I mean, just how many times can you say, ‘merci beaucoup’ with such a bad pronunciation that the waiter thought that instead of saying ‘thanks very much’, you were complementing his posterior ‘merci beau cul'!!'
- Make this a priority if you really want to integrate. Private lessons may not be an option and are not always the best solution. I started out by asking a local lady at the supermarket to ‘exchange’ learning lessons with me. She became a good friend and we still laugh about the unbelievably bad French I had back then.
- Ask at your local international college to see if they have part time language lessons, this can be a good way to get your basics under your belt within small groups. This helps with practicing your French but in an environment that feels safe.
- Join an association or club, learn a new activity or donate your time to a charity – of course only in French! I took computer lessons in French with 15 other French ladies, the best language course I have ever had!
- Practice, practice, practice. The only way to learn is to make mistakes, so make them, correct them and then move on to the next one!
- Speak to as many people as you can. Put yourself out there. I often spoke to elderly ladies at the bus stop or whilst having a morning coffee. They have so much more patience and its free practice.
If you have children:
- Register them in summer activities in your local town. This is an excellent way for them to meet children of their own age and even to start picking up the lingo.
- Put a message out into local social media groups to meet other French speaking families to do activities together.
- Register early with the schools to ensure they get a place and organise a visit with the school. Children adapt very quickly so putting them in the French schooling system is a sure-fire way to get them bilingual quickly. If not, there are more and more private schools available.
- Lastly, French loves its bureaucracy. Get your paperwork footprints in place for yourself and family members.
I celebrate 30 years of living in France this year and have helped thousands of people with their transition and I’m pleased to say I’m fluent in French. So whatever stage you are at in your integration or language learning, don’t give up, take it one step at a time and have some fun with it. Please reach out to me if you need support with your relocation to France. It would be our pleasure to help you.