They not only help people understand and adapt to the demands of administration; they know the way society works and can help you integrate.
Finding one’s own place within a community can be a challenge and Michelle O’Brien, co-founder of Parisian agency A Good Start In France said: “Expats often worry about the way they are perceived … the French language is colourful, and French people can be quite boisterous. It’s nothing personal: that’s just the way they are.”
To overcome initial hurdles, Ms O’Brien suggests simple tactics, such as always dealing with the same person in each shop. “That way you can build up a network of allies and relationships in the community. It also helps to shop outside the rush periods, when people will have more patience.”
Sophie Dord, head of Lyon Expat Services, said: “The French don’t realise it, but France is overly-complicated administratively.
“Finding somewhere to rent can be especially difficult, particularly compared to the UK. We don’t have a culture of making it easy.”
Ms O’Brien put her finger on the problem: “Landlords here are afraid of tenants who don’t pay, particularly during the trêve hivernale, when the law prevents evictions. Expats have no credit history in France and are therefore a big risk.”
Once you accept paperwork is fundamental to all aspects of French life you will make more progress – and understanding the difficulties faced by landlords can also help ensure that rejected applications feel less personal.
While some people can be boisterous, Ms Dord admitted the Lyonnais have a reputation for being ‘cold’ but said: “It’s not hostility, more a lack of awareness of the problems faced by new arrivals.”
She suggests breaking the ice by joining one of the many associations that flourish across the country.
In Lyon, for example, the Lyon International group invites new arrivals from abroad to share meals with French families – and welcomes more than 1,000 foreign guests a year.
“This works well because it helps people find their own place in local life.”
In the end, though, it is the new arrivals themselves who determine whether they will integrate successfully.
Ms Dord said: “You need to be courageous and prepared to move on from any disappointments”.
Ms O’Brien agreed, saying: “Embrace it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time to adapt”.