What Americans notice when they move to France

Four US citizens in France explain what they have discovered about life here (apart from struggles with bureaucracy)

Sam, James, Carol and Jarrett (clockwise from top left)
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Sam, 55 from New York - Photographer

I made the decision to move here from New York when my kids were grown up. I have been in Paris for five years now.

It has been a positive experience overall. It is a great place to live until you need to have something done… in the US, it takes two days to get wifi at home, here it took a month!

But then, the prices are not the same. In the US your cell phone bill is $200 a month, here it’s €25.

For healthcare too, check-ups that cost thousands of dollars only cost hundreds here.

‘No work on weekends’

Sam was amazed by the panoply of yoghurt available in France Pic: Jacky D / Shutterstock

People have totally different expectations of work, they have more free time and don’t work on weekends. They are more relaxed, friendly and eat out a lot more.

Adapting to the work environment has been a challenge. When you come here as a freelancer it can be difficult to break into French circles. People are not excluded, but it would be easier to adapt to French life with a contract and a normal schedule.

People shop differently in France. Americans tend to have much bigger fridges and so do not need to go to the shop so much. Here I have to shop all the time.

One little thing that surprised me was seeing the mad quantity of yoghurt in supermarkets. The proportion of yoghurt to toilet paper is the opposite in the US.

It feels safer here. The social climate in the US was a big factor in my moving, with the political tension and guns. You would never see guns in a supermarket here. You do not realise that you felt unsafe when you did.

The bureaucracy has been hard work, and it never ends.

James, 64 from Washington - Professor

As a professor of Shakespeare, I have been a regular visitor to Europe, working in the UK, for many years. I finally decided to move to Paris in April 2022.

I spent a year in France in the 1990s but things have changed somewhat since then.

The melting-pot of Paris is absolutely fantastic. Here you can visit Greek, Lebanese, Chinese and Italian restaurants all within a block in the Latin quarter, and hear so many different languages.

It is much easier to meet people today than it used to be, in large part thanks to language exchange websites, which is a big positive.

‘Little bookshops’

James has enjoyed discovering the variety of restaurants in the Latin quarter of Paris Pic: littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock

The libraries here are great here too, and I love the many small, independent bookshops. You just don’t see these in the US or the UK where there are far more chains.

The social climate here pleases me but the struggles are very different. I was taken aback by the pension reforms and the reaction to the protests. That the president could just force the reform through using the 49.3 ruling seemed undemocratic, which disappointed me.

Then there is the bureaucracy. Getting my social security number was a big struggle. It does not seem to have improved much since the 90s, although at least today much of it can be undertaken online.

Carol, 47 from New York - business owner

I moved to Paris two years ago with my French husband. I had been living in New York for 13 years, working in finance and we wanted a change of pace.

We already knew what we wanted to find in France: a slower pace of everyday life, a good healthcare and childcare system and free after school care.

In the US, all of those things are so expensive.

‘France is so formal’

I was surprised by how formal French society is. Of course, it is also very charming, with little restaurants, hidden streets, a lot of creativity around cities and little flea markets in different neighbourhoods.

But you have to talk to people in the right way, saying vous and Monsieur, Madame.

The food is amazing, with good quality balanced meals provided in school using organic products.

It is not particularly easy to integrate into French life. A lot of that is due to the language barrier, as people are friendly. There are also lots of expats who can be easier to get on with as they tend to share the same points of view.

Living here is certainly more difficult than visiting. It is harder than I expected to adapt to living in a different country at this stage in my life.

Because I was raised in Italy, I had a certain presentiment about how French bureaucracy would be, but it still surprised me.

It took a year and a half for me to open my business having to go back and forth with bureaucrats.

Then there were funny rules like the bank here saying there is a limit to the permitted withdrawals of your own money from your own account. So strange!

Jarrett, 32 from California - Founder’s Associate

Originally I was only meant to come here for four months, but that was in 2018. I stayed, am now married and have a child here.

At first, I had all the cliché expectations of France and of Paris. We were a group of expats who came here together, trying to make the most of the short time we expected to spend here.

Paris was a party. I think we still saw it as the city of the 1920s, roaming the streets from café to café.

I come from a small town and Paris was the first big city I had lived in, so it was amazing for me to have everything I needed within a short distance. I definitely spent too much money at first!

As you get used to France you learn how to live more reasonably.

‘Simple, good food’

When I met my wife it opened up a whole new aspect of French culture. Simple things were so illuminating, like eating good, simple food together with her family, and seeing how they interact with each other.

Jarrett saw another side of France thanks to meals with his French inlaws Pic: barmalini / Shutterstock

It depends where you are from in the US, but I prefer the conversations that people are having about politics here. In America there is no middle ground.

I always found that people here have positive reactions to Americans but, that said, French people do like to tease, but they tease absolutely everyone!

But the bureaucracy is horrible! You have to go to all kinds of different administrative branches to get anything done and when you go to one entity they tell you it should have been a different one first.

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