The first steps towards a life you’ve always dreamed of
Once you have moved to France you will immediately notice that many things are different – driving on the right, the traffic light sequences, yellow postboxes, shops closed on Sunday... all of which is part of the fun.
Getting settled in means finding out more about your local community and it is a good idea to introduce yourself at the mairie, particularly in smaller communes. (The commune refers to the first level of local government – usually one village or town – with a council and mayor). This will be easier if you have some command of French and you may be visiting them quite often as you work through the formalities.
The mayor plays an important role in local life, so being on friendly terms can only help. The mairie also has important information such as the location of local rubbish tips, bylaws, how to pay for school meals and so on.
A lot of small communes have a page dedicated to new arrivals, letting them know about what they need to do, the various démarches administratives. If you search online for nouveaux arrivants mairie and the name of your commune you should find some help. Some mairies have even prepared little booklets.
Getting to know your neighbours is important, especially in a small commune. One way to do so is to invite them for an apéro (pre-lunch or dinner drink). These are usually arranged at short notice and informally, either just before lunch (11.30am) or dinner (7pm) at weekends.
The usual drinks are pastis (generally in the south), whisky or a sweet fortified wine such as Muscat, but some people serve champagne, or local sparkling wine. Other than whisky, spirits are rarely drunk. Another popular apéro drink is kir (white wine and a dash of crème de cassis) or a kir royal, which uses sparkling wine or champagne.
Finger food is essential, and not just peanuts and some crisps.
As you settle in you may be invited to a French home for lunch or dinner. Take flowers or another small gift – but usually not wine (this is chosen by the hosts). Meals generally follow the traditional French pattern of apéritif, starter, main course, cheese and dessert, served with the appropriate wines.
Table manners differ a little from those in Britain. It is acceptable to rest your arms on the table and to clean up (in French, saucer) your plate with your bread. Frequently, you are meant to keep your knife and fork after the entrée to use for the main course.