One of the great resources available to us has been those Facebook groups aimed specifically at English speakers living in France. As well as a wealth of valuable and often actually accurate advice, these groups have shown us one more thing that we’re pleased to know: the kind of immigrant that we don’t want to be.
A large part of the “Ex-pat” population in France is British; the people who happily travelled between countries pre-Brexit, buying and selling houses, driving their right-hand drive cars of France’s left-hand drive roads, and generally seeing France as an extension of Britain.
It all reminds me too much of Monty Python’s “Travel Agent” sketch.
“What's the point of going abroad if you're just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea - "Oh they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at home" - and stopping at Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips and Watney's Red Barrel and calamari's and two veg and sitting in their cotton frocks squirting Timothy White's sun cream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh 'cos they "overdid it on the first day."
Except that the complaints now generally are about how hard it is to to import (just about anything) from Britain since Brexit, or how everything, and yes I mean everything, is so much more expensive in France, and how you can’t find your favourite British product in France. Or how you can’t register your British car in France without modifying it to meet French safety rules, or how long it takes to change your English driver’s licence to a French one.
And, of course the people who say “I’ve lived in France for twenty-seven years and just never quite managed to learn the french language, and can someone recommend a good English speaking plumber?”
And repeatedly, how slow, cumbersome, and confusing everything regulatory is in in France.
In other words, we’re trying to be careful to avoid the towns and villages with an English café, English shops, and a bountiful involved English ex-pat community. With games nights full of people complaining about how awful everything is in their adopted country.
Our goal when we move to France is to become French citizens. We’re working on learning French to reasonable degree, both spoken and written, and we expect to adopt a French lifestyle, French shopping, and French food choices. We don’t plan to bring along stocks of our favourite Canadian prepared foods.
We’re taking the time to learn and understand at least the basic French laws, and how income and taxation work, and the things that we need to do to register ourselves and our cat when we arrive. We’re working to obtain visas that actually fit what we hope to do in France, rather than arriving on a tourist visa and saying “Oooh, how can I convert this so that I can work?”
Because honestly the things that the ex-pat community feel so determined to preserve when in France tend to be the things that we are happy to leave behind. They are often the reason why we are moving.
More importantly if we’re to live in France we believe that it’s important to be part of the local French community, and the French nation. Otherwise what is the point?
Despite understanding that life in France is as complex and contradictory as it is in Canada, I still feel that the lofty goals of liberté, égalité, et fraternité are ones that I can embrace, and honestly seem much better defined than the wishy-washy ideals that define being Canadian.
(post-script: there are people living in France who have rewired their house using British electrical outlets rather than buying french kettles and toasters.)