Coming home to France

Coming home to France: Nouvelles

Coming home to France: Yes, I can.

There are days when I still don’t realize I will soon be France-based again, after 23 years in the United States. There are days when I wonder how challenging it will be to go through the administrative hurdles; how I will react when I have to deal once again with the French Administration (it does not have the best reputation, in case you have not heard.) There are days I wonder where I will end up, once I start looking for a rental apartment in Paris, or in another French city in the spring; what my new life will be like; what I will do for a living; who my friends will be. So many questions, and for now, at least, so few answers. Such is the lot, I understand, of people who decided to take a leap of faith and bet on themselves and their ability to handle a major transition. To make things even more interesting, I will be doing this on my own, calling all the shots, patting myself in the back for the triumphs, and taking responsibility for the mistakes. It is both scary and exciting; and I would not have it otherwise. I have thought about this transition for a while, long before it became a reality. As years went by, it became a goal, the plan that kept me going in challenging times. Through it all, I could not discuss this with many people, even if talked about it (“When I am back in Europe, I will…) My family and a few close friends listened patiently. I never quite knew if they believed I would actually go through with it. I am guessing, based on reactions when I announced my big news in the fall, many didn’t. After all, why would I leave the United States, a comfortable life, a life fully lived that took so many years to build, a career and a salary, friendships, and an American-born son, now a college student, who will not follow me once I relocate? Why? I am still asked that question, by friends or strangers, out of genuine interest, out of curiosity, too. I have come to realize many people are attached to the idea of certainty, for themselves, and others. Why am I coming home, to France? There are several reasons, of course; but lately, I have found it easier to reply: “Because I did not like my life, and I decided to change it.” People assume at that point I am done with the United States, and could not take it any longer in the land of Uncle Sam. They are wrong. I am fortunate to be a dual citizen, and I don’t exclude the possibility of returning stateside, one day, if I am in need of a new life once again. America has been with me for more than three decades. One does not just turn the page on 35 years of memories and experiences. There are aspects of my life in the US I won’t miss, from the most obvious to the not-so-obvious (I won’t list them here, as many are often discussed at parties and in social media.) Yet I know I will not be enjoying all aspects of French life either. From where I stand, I am at an advantage because I know France. I have always stayed in touch with my homeland. I am fully aware of her many qualities, as well as her shortcomings. France, to this native, who has visited and played here for years as a tourist, is not Disneyland. It’s… France; and I plan to focus on her good sides.

Coming home to France
“The price attracts customers. Quality is what keeps them here.”

As a former cross-cultural trainer, I am also prepared (as much as one can be,) for the process of repatriation, that is widely recognized as a lot more challenging than expatriation. With the exception of my family and aging parents who are thrilled I will be living closer to them, nobody is waiting for me; and many people may not be interested in hearing about my American life, or what I have done for the last two decades. In the US, I was somewhat exotic, thanks in part, to my French accent (and my insistence on affirming my European identity.) In France, I will just be one native among many. I need to be ok with that. I will, however, surround myself with people who understand what my life has been like, expats in France, or former French expats. I started exchanging with them a while ago and created new friendships in the process. There are also many online resources to help set expectations, like this portal.

Coming home to France
My life, like this Parisian window display, is “in progress”

Coming home to France: Planning the move

Recently, readers have asked me to share information about the relocation process. Who knows? Some tips may come in handy, should you decide to embark on a similar adventure. I am not an expert at international transitions. I have only done this twice, after all. I do know myself and am experienced at project management. First step: collecting and analyzing information, and doing your homework, is essential. From what I have experienced so far, patience, flexibility and a solid sense of humor are key (Don’t underestimate patience and a sense of humor: You will not believe some of the comments or questions you will get when you break the news!)  Also, life, like merde, happens. There will be surprises along the way, not all good ones. In the fall, I took care of half the logistical part of the relocation project, selling, donating, sorting out my possessions, so I would be able to downsize drastically in anticipation of the diminutive French apartment I will soon land. If you are a hoarder, or are slow at decision-making (Test: how long does it take you to order à la carte at the restaurant?) I’d tackle this part early on. If you are fully paying for the move, as I am, you’d be well advised to travel lightly. I will be selling all my American furniture at the beginning of the year. “Won’t you miss all these things once they are gone?” I don’t think so. I am happy to know they will be going to people, or friends, who will enjoy and use them. Full disclosure: My very favorite possessions will be taking the long trip with me, even if it is not convenient (Why, after all, would you bring a foldable Fermob bistro set when your chances of landing an apartment with a balcony in France are non existent? Yet, I am about to do just that.) To get my life over to France, I have been looking at transportation companies, like Crown Relocation (Your belongings travel via cargo ship; you can share a container with other people and get charged based on used space.) I am also considering a shipping company that came highly recommended, Send My Bag (boxes or suitcases travel quickly, door to door, via air, and you get charged based on weight.) I will make a final decision early next year once I have packed all my boxes (fewer than 10 at my last count.) Important papers (check document retention policies first,) will travel in a carry-on with me. I have already scanned quite a bit; and shredded even more. Once you arrive, you may not have a place to live yet. There are ways to store your belongings affordably in private spaces (cellars, garages,) that people lease out month by month. This network helps you locate them all over France. Fortunately for me, my parents have recently cleared out part of the cellar in their building’s basement. Most of my boxes should fit there when they arrive.

Coming home to France
Why go the easy route? Bring Nice back home!

Coming home to France: Finding a place to live

I have been warned. A lot. In a competitive real estate market like Paris, many landlords are picky when choosing a tenant. The law, in France, always favors the tenant, so it’s important a landlord selects well in case of an eviction. Add to that a shortage of long term rentals in cities popular with French and foreign visitors (like Paris) where many apartments are snatched up by investors who put them on the profitable short-term rental market. While house-hunting, being French will not help me at all. In fact, being a former French expat may play against me: I will not have the type of paperwork French landlords are fond of (a permanent work contract, several months’ worth of pay stubs.) Even if my parents offered to act as my guarantors (an exciting prospect for someone in my age group!) I am not guaranteed to come across as a valuable applicant in a big pile of applications. There are ways around this, most of which are costly, (renting furnished apartments owned by foreign landlords who may be less demanding in terms of paperwork, hiring a real estate broker or a relocation company to help with house hunting and the preparation of the dossier, securing a coveted property through word-of-mouth if you are lucky to have an extended personal network.) I do not even need to mention how high rents can be in downtown Paris where everyone wants to live! On the bright side, compared to many of my fellow Americans, often accustomed to sprawling estates in suburbia, I am ahead of the game: I have already lived in big cities in France; have downsized twice since my divorce five years ago, and lived successfully in a 270 sq foot studio for two years during my Parisian years. If you are considering relocating to France, do not underestimate the attitude adjustment it will take for you (and your family) to get used to living full time in such cramped quarters with inadequate storage. Aussie expat in Paris Oliver Gee, of The Earful Tower fame, recently ran an interesting podcast episode on this topic.

Coming home to France
My name is on a Parisian mailbox for the first time in 23 years (even if it’s my parents’!)

Relocating to France: What’s next?

I still have a few things on my to-do list during my French vacation this month. Being an American citizen, my French and American income will be subject to U.S. income tax even as I live in France. I should not pay twice, thanks to a treaty between the two countries. But Uncle Sam will be watching my every move. Each year, I will have to file two separate income tax declarations, a time-consuming and costly process, much decried by American expats around the world. I plan to find a Paris-based international tax specialist who will help me navigate through this. On another note, I have been paying through the nose in the US for Health Insurance through Cobra since I left my job in September. By the end of December, I will happily re-enter the French healthcare system. I had to wait three months because I am not currently working, and provide a list of documents to reinstate my rights. Universal healthcare is available to anyone residing in France for more than three months with the intention to spend more than 183 days a year in the country, whether they are currently employed or not. You can learn more about this topic from this excellent website. Vive la France ! 

Coming home to France
A French Girl (in green) and her international tax accountant…

It’s time to wrap this up for now. Don’t get fooled by this story: I am moving through this transition with my eyes wide open, and a methodical approach. Yet, there is no hesitation, no afterthought. I am looking forward to being through with all the relocation steps and starting a new life in my old country. Coming home to France means I will be enjoying more quality time with my family, and getting reacquainted with Paris, Lyon, and other great locales I have only been able to visit briefly during my American years. I have a lot of catching up to do with Europe. For now, here in France, life continues as usual, peaceful at times, a bit more hectic lately. This is France. This, too, shall pass. France has changed, yet France is still familiar. Keep visiting. It will delight and surprise you, the way it continues to delight and surprise me. I know I am enjoying the ride!

Bonnes Fêtes ! Happy Holidays!

A bientôt.

Coming home to France
Enjoying breakfast at my local hair salon earlier today

 

Coming home to France
Les Deux Magots, Paris, this week (Photo M. Stevenson)

One last thing: This French Girl may be “taking France,” yet she needs to finance all the delicious viennoiseries she is enjoying on her way to the train station in the morning! If you have not yet visited my Holiday Bazaar, please stop by. There are many fun, unique, affordable French-themed gifts there for you, or your favorite francophile. Merci! — Véronique (FGIS)

Dear readers:

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

56 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing your adventures! I recently bought some French soaps from your site and am wondering whether you will continue with that shopping opportunity – maybe adding more interesting inside products? Or, is postage from France too expensive? Someone who may be able to help you find an apartment is Robyn Webb – you can find her on FB.

    • Bonjour Cheryle. Thank you for visiting the FGIS Boutique. I hope you enjoy the soap you ordered! I will definitely continue this if I can and will be adding products, as long as they can get shipped to the US affordably. I know Robyn, by the way. She interviewed me recently on her blog (you can find a transcript of our conversation in the “About” section of the FGIS website. A bientôt !

  • Thank you for keeping us posted on the status of your project. I will also be relocating from Seattle to Canada next Spring. So I am learning from your letters what I will also need to hurdle.

  • I will be eagerly following your progress, Veronique, since I’ll be coming to France at the end of January to look for an apartment somewhere on the west coast of France, either La Rochelle or Royan. I’ve also considered Angers, Le Mans and Nantes, since I have qualified to teach ESL with a company called Oxford Seminars. So much to consider, so many decisions. And I am much older than you – 73 – I’m not sure if I want to work in France but doing some teaching seems like a good way to meet people, especially if you teach adults. (I have tutored some adults successfully here in my home town, where there are many students from abroad.)
    Thank you for the links to more information. I’m immersing myself in French until I leave, continuing to purge my house, and gathering information as I have the courage to do so! It’s scary but I have wanted to do this since 2008. Retiring in 2013 gave me a big push. It’s very interesting to hear about the differences between repatriation and expatriation. I hesitate to sell my house here since I am not sure I will want to stay in France when my health is not as great as it is now.
    Enough about me, I am looking forward to hearing more about you and perhaps meeting up at some point if that were convenient for both of us! Wishing you bon courage et bonne chance!
    Sara

    • Bonjour Sara. Thank you for sharing your exciting plans. Nantes is one of the cities I had originally thought about. I don’t know it well enough and will have to visit soon. As for teaching adults, great plan. I did this in the Seattle area when I had my own business, for about 17 years and loved it. I actually miss it and will probably teach again in 2019 once I am back in France, at least for a while. Good for you for planning such a major life change as well. It sounds like you have waited a few years to make this happen, as I have. Let’s stay in touch and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about life in France (or the French.) 😉

      • Merci beaucoup, Veronique! I will be in touch as I have done more of my own homework & have more concrete questions. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in France since 2013, enough to know that it is not all wine and roses. I do have friends there but don’t want to depend on them for everything, that can become very wearisome. I do know some people in Nantes but not well — I’m working on my French skills to be able to communicate better in writing, which I have been hesitant to do. A bientôt! Sara

  • I am so excited for you, and from your writings and posts know that you are aware of the two sides of your life sometimes clashing. But I have faith that you will handle those few incidents with the greatest of poise. I enjoy reading the variety steps (hurdles) to be taken even though I am not making the move. Keep smiling, if only on the inside, and definitely keep sharing.

  • Chapeau et vive le changement. Ça a quelque chose de vraiment thérapeutique de tourner une page et finir un chapitre, puis d’en demarrer un tout neuf! Toutes mes bonnes ondes vous accompagnent, et visiblement vous semblez bien préparée, alors une fois dans la mer il faut nager!
    Ce qui est essentiel c’est d’avoir un réseau familial bien soudé et un bon job , le reste finit toujours par se mettre en place.
    Si vous avez besoin de tuyaux ou contacts n’hésitez pas.
    Bien amicalement

    • Bonjour Nicole. Merci de votre soutien. Côté famille, je suis effectivement bien entourée. Pour le job, ça viendra, dès que j’aurais décidé ce que je veux faire dans les mois qui viennent. Pour les contacts, vous m’intéressez. Pourriez-vous me contacter par email? Merci!

  • Thanks for posting this. It’s interesting to read about your thoughts and decisions as you relocate. It’ll be great to follow the rest of your story, and then to tag along as you travel about France and Europe. I appreciate the time and work that you put into this. Every one of your posts is a treat. Thanks.

    • Merci Bruce. I spent a good part of my day on this story yesterday, and I am very happy you enjoyed reading it. Many people don’t realize how much work goes into writing a blogpost “the old fashioned way.” 😉 Thank you for your continued support. Keep following!

  • Bonne chance in your new life, Veronique! Hope you will continue to share your news when there is time. Your courage is inspiring and, if my French language skills were better, I might consider heading to my maternal homeland as well. Paris is one of my favorite places to be! Joyeux Noel!

  • What a great and brave move .. Best wishes and look forward to many more adventures to read so interestingly shared. Thank you French girl in Seattle and now taking France!

  • Bonne chance with all your new adventures!! I had some challenges readjusting to the U.S. and I was only in France for a year. But I do love the growth and learning that comes along with grand changes. I’m so excited for you and hope that you continue to blog and share your new experiences! I dearly miss France and hope to return for a visit very soon. But in the meantime I sure would love to hear your stories. Who knows maybe we will actually get to meet someday! Diane (Breath of French Air)

    • Bonjour Diane. I remember you very well. You lived in Toulouse for a year or so, n’est-ce-pas? I enjoyed following your French adventures. I am planning to continue blogging, even if for practical reasons, I tend to share more on the FGIS Facebook page than on the blog lately. Will try and write on a more regular basis. Bonnes Fêtes!

  • I always read your very interesting page, although I don’t comment very often.
    I wish you lots of luck for the future and hope your move goes smoothly. Please don’t lose touch with all your bloggy friends and fans. I have family and friends in the Dordogne and visit them as often as I can, work permitting. I only wish I had moved there myself years ago when I had the chance.

    • Bonjour Keith. I love it when a longtime reader steps out of the woods and says “bonjour” in person. Merci! I am not planning to lose touch with FGIS friends and followers. Many have been by my side since I started blogging exactly 8 years ago this month. La Dordogne is a fabulous region where relatives of mine live as well. I hope to return soon. A bientôt! Happy Holidays!

  • Good luck to you❣️A very interesting read… you are very realistic and have all your ducks in a row. As a visitor to Paris I have always been curious as to the people hehind the doors of all those houses and apartments. I have rented a very small apartment in the 20th and loved being in a neighborhood that wasn’t as busy. From a Seattlelite I wish you bonne chance❤️

    • Bonjour Mary. As a pragmatist with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, I like to plan ahead to anticipate challenges, an approach that has paid off often in my life. This little project of mine will be no different. Stay in touch from Seattle!

    • Bonjour! Détrompez-vous, il n’y a pas de tristesse, mais comme je suis pragmatique, je n’hésite pas à me poser les questions importantes pour tenter d’anticiper les problèmes éventuels rencontrés en chemin. J’avance aussi les yeux grands ouverts. Ce retour, je l’ai voulu et depuis longtemps. Je suis ravie de rentrer en France, en Europe et de me rapprocher de ma famille. Bonnes Fêtes !

  • What a courageous step! I haunt your blog from Bellevue and this is most likely the first time I have commented. This post was highly informative and very real. It will be interesting to see how your move works out and where you end up. Good luck!

    • Ah, a neighbor! Like I commented above, I love it when long time readers step out and introduce themselves to me! Bonjour Emilyn. Keeping things real (and fun) is the best way to go from where I stand. Keep following. More adventures ahead!

  • Thank you for sharing. I really admire that you decided to change up your comfortable life; it’s so much better than remaining stagnant and unhappy. I think with your practical attitude and sense of humor you’ll adapt pretty well, pretty quickly.

    Enjoy your new adventure!

    • Bonjour Sue. Good analysis. Comfort is great. Moving forward, growing and getting excited about life again is better. My practical attitude has helped me often. Hope this continues. If not, there will still be humor (and sharing my adventures here on the blog to entertain you all!) A bientôt !

  • I lived in Valence, sud de Lyon, for one year while my hysbavd worked for a French company. A year of paperwork, searching for a rental home, buying furniture frugally, cartes de séjour, and being “let go”, après seulement un an, ( when were promised 3-10 years) parce que “il ne marche pas” … lol! I feel your nervousness/confusion/ questioning!
    My high school french teacher lives in Paris much of the year! She is wonderful, and I’d love to message her contact info to you! She is renting now after decades of owning an apartemment. Bon chance! Hope to bump into you next year!! Carpe Diem! You have an amazing spirit!!!

    • Bonjour Rosemary. It looks like expatriation has kept you busy (and challenged,) which is not unusual! A good friend of mine is from Valence and has recently filled me in on Lyon, a city I have been considering as I look for my new home. This being said, I don’t feel that confused, even if I always ask questions. As I like to remind people, I am relocating to my homeland, I speak the locals’ language, so with a little bit of luck, things will run smoothly when I arrive. 😉 Maybe we will meet one day soon, in Paris or in Lyon. A bientôt!

  • Bonjour Véronique

    Bienvenue en France

    You will of course still be regarded as an exotic and interesting person by French people due to all the time you have spent in the US

    In my experience as an American expat living in Provence now for the last fourteen years
    French people simply adore Americans and are keenly interested in American culture
    Surprisingly you will often be asked why on earth you would want to leave the US for what many French consider their dreary country full of lots of disgruntled people
    Yes as you know the French love to complain

    My advice and how I’ve gotten along all these years and Certainly I could not have survived without lots of contact with Americans visiting France through my tour business
    It’s wonderful having Americans as clients and sharing my perspective on French life with them

    I for one love my new life in France and don’t ever foresee going back to live in the US
    I think you will quickly warm as well to the joie de vivre back n France

    • Bonjour Jane. So happy we connected recently. I hope to meet you in person soon. I realize the French are interested in American culture (in fact, I used to be one of them.) You will find, based on many testimonials I have heard from former French expats, that my countrymen are more interested in “the real McCoy,” i.e. American natives like yourself. That makes sense. I have already heard the comments you mention (“Why would you leave the US to return here, with all that’s been going on, etc, etc.?”) I know my countrymen and am able to take their advice – or opinions – with a grain of salt. Planning to surround myself with positive vibes and encouraging people, be they French, American, or from another country. The only way to live a happy, successful life whether in your homeland or abroad, in my humble opinion. A bientôt!

  • Use a good moving company for your stuff. My husband found a cheap one to move our few things from NY to France and they arrived, months after expected, stacked on a pallet and wrapped in plastic–but all wet (including a computer). They had told us that since we had so little to move, they would pack it all carefully in their warehouse and put it in a shared container. Lies. It was 15 years ago and I don’t have the name any more. But my first move to Europe (paid by my employer) went great with Graebel movers.
    I will email you my U.S. tax preparer, who specializes in expats. If you earn under about $100,000 a year, you don’t have to pay U.S. taxes, though you have to file a declaration. Over that amount gets complicated.

  • Veronique,

    I am reading My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, which you recommended in one of your posts. I applaud both you and Lisa for your fearlessness and strong female characters to have made such moves. We should all have that strength. I hope that moving back to your homeland will bring you much joy. I look forward to hearing/reading all about it.

    Barbara

    • I am so glad you are enjoying Lisa’s book. I don’t particularly care for all the Paris-based books that regularly land on bookstore shelves as they all tend to blend in after a while. Lisa’s stands out I think. I have met her in person and she is lovely (and energetic!) Thank you for your support!

  • Veronique ~ you are an inspiration. My husband retired and we got as far as all the downsizing and the letting go of everything…and even managed to finally get all of the paperwork and the documents ready (and the gazzillion photocopies required of everything). That was in 2011! Unfortunately, we ran into mitigating circumstances. We never get too old to dream the dream, however, and I am so excited for you. We read your article carefully and can really empathize with your feelings of liberation as well as adjustment —and we will be cheering you on every step of the way!
    You’ve Got This! 😊😊

    • Merci beaucoup Barbara. I am humbled by all the support I have received from my friends in the French Girl in Seattle community since I announced my plans to relocate in September. This is simply wonderful! Thank you so very much for your encouragement. It means a lot!

  • Hi Vero! I must second the opinions of others here and say that you are a total inspiration. Your story particularly resonates with me as I am similarly taking the plunge in early 2019 to quit my job, sell my possessions and move full time to Italy. What will happen? I don’t know but I’d rather try and fail than always wonder! It’s such a risk, and quite scary, but as you so eloquently said – I’m not happy in my current life so I think that means a change is in order! In any case, it’s an absolute joy to follow your move – I love seeing your photos, reading your thoughtful insights and enjoying beautifully written posts that remind me why it’s worth it to take big chances in life – so, many thanks to you for your continued inspiration and I eagerly await the next instalment! Ros

    • Bonjour Ros (we are on a nickname basis now!) Thank you for stopping by and for the all the kind words. They mean a lot. I have realized, after I shared this story, that it has inspired quite a few people. I am happy about that, as I have been inspired by others myself, and it’s helped a lot. I am particularly happy to hear from someone who is about to make a similar move – it gets lonely at the top, you know? 😉 – I wish both of us the best of luck over the next few months. Long live Old Europe! A bientôt, Ros. – Véro

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