Expat Interview With Jennifer - US expat in Bordeaux, France

Published: 23 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,France
Jennifer and her family live in Bordeaux, France. Formerly, a school guidance counselor, Jennifer now writes about her new life and how she is blending her American heritage with the French culture. Life in France is full of surprise opportunities, at times frustrating cultural ways, and everyday parenting situations. They enjoy life with three daughters, exploring the area and traveling as a family. It\'s not always easy, but so far, being an expat family has been full of rich experiences and broading perspectives. Jennifer\'s blog is called American Mom in Bordeaux. Jennifer's expat blog is called American Mom in Bordeaux (see listing here)

Meet Jennifer - US expat in France
Meet Jennifer - US expat in France

Here's the interview with Jennifer...

Where are you originally from?
We are originally from Saratoga Springs, NY – a small city half way between between Montreal, Canada & New York City.

In which country and city are you living now?
We are living in Bordeaux, France

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We moved here in late October 2011

Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved here as my husband, had an opportunity to work in Bordeaux. I use to work as a School Guidance Counselor in the States, but since moving here, I have been able to enjoy being with the family and writing. I try not to feel too guilty about not working, but for us it works right now to have one of us home to manage the household and activities of 3 kids.

Did you bring family with you?
We have 3 daughters who are currently 5, 9 & 12 – They keep us busy and on our toes !

Place Gambetta - Bordeaux - Great city to walk & cycle.
Place Gambetta - Bordeaux - Great city to walk & cycle.
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition of living in a foreign country took some time. The girls all needed to learn French, but we chose to immerse them directly into the public schools. We also hired a tutor to work with them once/week. Amazingly, after 3-4 months they were pretty fluent. My husband spoke French but also had the transition of moving back to his home country after 25 years. For me, it was learning how things are done in this country – who and where to go to for various services & products. My French was proficient but I definitely lacked some confidence early on. I did find though, as long as I was attempting the language most people were more than willing to help or assit me.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Making friends was definitely different. I was lucky to find an English-speaking International Women's Club. This is where I first met friends and it was comforting to speak English with others. It was also a great resource group for questions and clarifing the processes and procedure of things. My kids also enjoyed meeting other English-speaking children. Other expats, no matter if American or not, do share similar perspectives. Over time, we have made friends with other parents of our children's school. Mostly, this has been smaller conversations at birthday parties or other school events, but it's evolving and I feel there is a small handful of women I would call emerging friends. This just seems to take more time.

Altantic Ocean, near La Rochelle, my daughter's enjoying the sunset.
Altantic Ocean, near La Rochelle, my daughter's enjoying the sunset.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Bordeaux itself is a beautiful city – full of interesting architecture, history and pretty clean for a city. The city was rejuvenated about 15 years ago with the cleaning of the sandstone on the buildings, installation of a new tram system throughout the city, and making much of the city extremely pedestrian friendly. As it sits right on the Garonne River, there is a beautiful walkway along the city's edge and river, complete with a fun reflecting pool. We always have a blast walking around the city and investigating all the fun nooks and crannies.
Bordeaux is wine country – totally surrounded by vineyards – Medoc to the North, Saint Emilion to the East, and Sauternes to the South, just to name a few and there are hundreds more ! So tasting and enjoying wine is a big part of life in Bordeaux for anyone.
We are also only 45 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean – it's always great fun to head out there on a nice day. The Dune de Pyla – the highest dune in Europe at 107 m is also about 45 minutes from Bordeaux.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The food, wine and the pace of life are some of what I enjoy most about living here. The market food is farm fresh and delicious and pair it with a great tasting wine – it's heavenly ! Some specialities of this area are duck, foie gras pate, & lots of seafood – especially oysters ! It's also so nice to find excellent wine at a very reasonable price – so many options to choose.
The pace of life – no one is in a hurry – one enjoys their meals & their time together. It's nice to enjoy a great conversation around a table for a couple of hours and savor the food , wine and each other's company. Even walking around, as an American, I noticed how fast I walked compared to others here – I've slowed down a bit.

Bordeaux - Place de La Bourse
Bordeaux - Place de La Bourse
How does the cost of living compare to home?
Housing seems to be a little more expensive here than where we were from in Upstate NY. However, I think if people were moving from a big city, they would find the housing cost similar. I find food costs similar – yes, meats & fish are higher priced, but fruits & vegetables are much less. It tends to even out. Children's activities cost less here than we were paying in NY. Gas is more expensive, but public transportation is a bargain – so we use that most of the time to get in & out of the city of Bordeaux.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
For an expat who is not fluent in the language, the language and nuances can be a struggle. Even if one speaks proficiently, the way things are done here is just different. There seems to be a lot of paper work to get anything done and taken care of. It seems everything takes a dossier (or handful of paperwork) to get moving & then there are several steps involved. Being used to the American efficiency, this took some time to get use to. Additionally, most all shops & stores are closed on Sunday and they are also closed nightly around 7 pm – this has taken some adjustment, knowing you just can't run out 24/7 to get anything you need.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Be prepared for life to be different – be ready to make adjustments – be flexible. Life here is not better or worse – it's just different. I think the people who have the hardest time adjusting are people who are constantly making comparissons about how their life previously was better or easier.

Bordeaux Fete du Vin - along the Garonne River, Bordeaux-June 2012
Bordeaux Fete du Vin - along the Garonne River, Bordeaux-June 2012
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Learning how life is organized and understanding the systems here. It can be as simple as to what different items are named and where they are found (i.e. What stores carry what items). Also as complex as, where does one go to register kids for school, how does one get reimbursements for healthcare etc. When you come from one system and understand how life works there – it's a learning process to understand that life just functions differently in different places. We are 18 months in & I still find myself asking the question « How is this done here ? »

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Immerse yourself, learn the language and interact with people who speak the language – at least most of the time.Try to experience how the people from that culture live on a daily basis.
  2. If you have kids, enroll them in native speaking schools. There will be an adjustment period but kids learn the language faster than adults
  3. Take advantage of local fare – food, drink, & culture – attend festivals, exhibitions & local concerts – it helps to live more like natives than just playing tourist. Look around and observe what others do and how they interact – this helps to understand cultural nuances..
  4. Give yourself at least a year to adjust – Life looks different 3 months in, 6 months in and at a year...
  5. If you are interested in moving abroard somewhere, or have always wanted to experience a different culture – DO IT !! Research and read about where you want to go – life, expenses, other expat experiences, & ask questions. Remember not all questions are answered until you get there and sort it out. Take the risk !

Parc Bordelais - Bordeaux
Parc Bordelais - Bordeaux
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog, American Mom in Bordeaux – Blending Cultures began as a way to share our life and experiences here with our family and friends back in the States. I love taking pictures and capturing moments to remember, so it's been a great platform to share these memories. The blog has evolved into something greater than I even imagined – the networking, connections and new friends that I have made from this endeavor, I am forever grateful.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via my blog.

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