Canadian Expat Living in France - Interview With Crystal

Published: 22 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,France
Crystal is an anglophone Canadian expat in France who first came to teach English in a village in the north of France just after graduating university. A month after arriving, she met and later married a handsome Frenchman, and is now living in the Alps with her husband, small dog, big furry cat and two hairless kitties. She's a freelance writer with a passion for photography, animals, travel and blogging. Crystal's expat blog is called Crystal Goes to Europe (see listing here)

Meet Crystal - Canadian expat living in France
Meet Crystal - Canadian expat living in France

Here's the interview with Crystal...


Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in a mid-sized town near Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

In which country and city are you living now?
I'm currently living in France in a small town in the Alps, about 15km outside of Grenoble in the department of Isère.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I came to France in September 2005, but I've lived in this alpine village since September 2011. My husband's job has us moving around a lot, so from 2008-2011, I lived in the Parisian suburbs, and before that, I spent about 3 years in the north of France (Franco-Belgian border). We'll likely move again in the next two years, but where, I'm not too sure!

Why did you move and what do you do?
Originally, I came to France to teach English in a high school for 8 months. I wanted some life experience after university (I got my degree in English Literature and French Linguistics), and to visit Europe. I hadn't planned on making my life in France, but an encounter with a beau Frenchman threw a wrench into my plans! Right now, I'm a stay-at-home pet mom, but I do some freelance writing for pet websites and am looking for a full-time job! Since living in France, I've worked as a business English trainer, a bilingual hostess and gallery monitor at a museum (in a castle!) and spent one fateful week as a barista in a Parisian Starbucks.

Fave French food - baguette, wine & olives
Fave French food - baguette, wine & olives
Did you bring family with you?
Nope! I came all alone, but my family and close friends have been able to visit a couple of times since I left Canada in 2005.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Admittedly, very hard. As I said before, I hadn't planned on making my life here, but it ended up that way. I still suffer from homesickness, even after 7 years, and sometimes wonder if I'd be better off moving back to Canada. I was lucky that I spoke French before coming to France because it made the initial transition a little bit easier. But I've also moved house (and region) over 6 times in 7 years, so my life has been constantly in transition since I arrived in France.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Again, because I move around a lot in relation to my husband's job, it's hard to build and maintain friendships. My closest friends in France are all expats who I've met through past jobs or through my blog. We keep in touch primarily by internet because we're all scattered throughout France (or living in different countries now). I tend to gravitate towards making friends and socializing with other English speaking expats moreso than with French people. I speak French on a daily basis with my husband, so it's nice to have friends with whom to chat in my native language!

Autumn in the Alps from my window
Autumn in the Alps from my window
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
I live in the Alps, so there are lots of great things to see and do! I'm not a skiier, but some of the best ski stations in France are in the department where I live (Isère). In the winter, you can ski, toboggan, go snowshoeing and even try dog sledding! In the summer, there are beautiful hiking trails and lots of lakes to enjoy. I'm lucky to be living in such a beautiful part of France.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
What I enjoy most about France in general is the diversity of the landscapes. For such a small country (in comparison to my native Canada), you can find everything from snow-capped mountains in the Alps, to beautiful coastlines along the Côte d'Azur, to arid gorges in Ardèche and quaint farmlands in Burgundy. Each region of France is beautiful in its own way, and there's lots to discover.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Well, France is known for its taxes, so I'd have to say it's more expensive living here! But, to be honest, it depends where you are living in France. Certainly it's more expensive to live in Paris than a tiny town in the centre of France, but in general, I find life more expensive here than in Canada. I'm lucky that my husband's job provides us with a free apartment because the cost of renting/owning in the Alps is outrageous! One important difference, however, is that in France you can buy a delicious baguette for less than 1€ to go along with a hunk of cheese and good bottle of wine that you got for under 5€!

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Well, besides the aforementioned taxes, the economy in France isn't so great right now which means finding work can be hard. I'm not a fan of French customer service, either!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
I'd encourage people to learn a few words in French before coming here if they don't already speak the language. In most major cities, you can get by with little or no French, but in more rural areas, even just a simple "bonjour," "merci," and "au revoir" will go a long way with the locals. The French don't expect everyone who visits or lives in France to speak perfect French, but they do appreciate you making the effort. Oh, and don't ever tell a French person that French food and wine aren't the best in the world. You will never hear the end of it.

The Bastille in Grenoble
The Bastille in Grenoble
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The hardest aspect of my expat life has been coping with constant homesickness. I'm a very adaptable person, but I still don't feel like I've completely settled into my life in France. I continue to refer to Canada as "home" on my blog or in conversations with people, even though I've lived in France for 7 years, and don't plan on moving back to Canada in the near future. Certainly homesickness, lack of career opportunities (from moving around so much) and loneliness (no family or close friends nearby) have been the toughest things for me thus far.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
My husband has a job that he can only do in France, and it's a job that he loves and one that provides us with financial stability, so as long as we are together, I do not see myself moving back to Canada. That said, no one knows what the future holds -- if you are an expat or not -- so I tend not to think too far in the future. I'm doing my best to make the most responsible decisions for the short term, and we'll just have to wait and see for the rest! I do tell my husband, however, that I'd like for us to live in Canada after he retires!

Canadian stand xmas market Paris
Canadian stand xmas market Paris
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Beware of French men. I have many expat girlfriends who came to France single and never left because they fell under the spell of a handsome Frenchie!
  2. Just because you can get by in Paris or Lyon or Nice with little or no French, doesn't mean you should. Try to learn the language by taking classes or making French friends. Immersion is the key and also not being afraid to make mistakes (pronunciation or otherwise!).
  3. Get out and explore. France is not the biggest country in the world and the extensive transportation system here makes it possible and affordable to travel all around the country. Keep an eye out for cheap domestic flights and promos on TGV tickets at www.voyages-sncf.com.
  4. France is a very popular tourist and expat destination which means there is a wealth of information on the internet. Do your research before coming to know what to expect and how to make the most of your time here. Find out when the museums offer free admission or the advantages for those under 26 years of age (sadly, no longer the case for me!). Many expat bloggers in France, including myself, welcome any questions potential expats may have, so don't hesitate to leave us an email or comment!
  5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Life will be hard and overwhelming no matter where you live, so try to relax and enjoy all that your adopted country has to offer.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my blog in 2005, a few months before moving to France to be an English teaching assistant. It started out as a travel blog and an easy way to keep family and friends in Canada up-to-date with what I was doing. Well, 8 years later, I'm still blogging, but my blog has become more of a place for me to reflect on day-to-day life in France, post gratuitous photos of my pets (lovingly referred to on my blog as the bébés) and connect with people all around the world. I try my best to blog honestly and openly about being an expat in France -- the good, the bad and the ugly!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I welcome comments on my blog and can also be reached via my blog and on Twitter as well @PinchMom (Pinch is the name of my dog!).

Crystal blogs at http://crystalgoestoeurope.blogspot.fr/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Crystal Goes to Europe has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Crystal, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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