UK expat dreams of France can turn into nightmares

Published:  9 Oct at 6 PM
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France is a favourite destination for UK citizens mesmerised by the dream of great food, cheap wine and a romantic rural haven, but the Gallic lifestyle can cause problems.

The majority of British expats who leave the UK for a new life in France settle in without much in the way of problems, but for a few the initial experience is much more than they bargained for. At that point, the French dream becomes a nightmare, with disillusion and regret the order of the day. SOSHelp, an organisation set up to help newbie expats struggling with the challenges of the French lifestyle, explains how the reality and the dream can be reconciled.

Drawing on experience and a wish to help those totally confused by their new lives, SOSHelp provides a friendly, English language helpline ready to explain life in France with all its joys and frustrations. Many would-be expats have only visited the country on holiday, enjoying its rustic charms without realising all the stresses of real life exist for residents. The French are definitely not as ‘in your face’ as are the Brits, and an inability to speak the language properly can cause unintended problems.

Many Britons fall in love with France, sell up and move, imagining they’ll be able to communicate with just the French they learned in school, but the reality is that this simply doesn’t work. As with every other world language, French fluency allows an understanding of the culture of the country which is essential for true integration. The best way to a successful expat life in France begins at language classes and continues with the confidence of knowing you can communicate without misunderstandings.

The gulf between an urban lifestyle in the UK and the tranquillity of French rural life is huge, involving customs, habits and the need to travel to the nearest large town for supplies unavailable in villages and small towns. Another problem is the comparative cost of living in France’s differing regions. Paris, for example, is a very expensive city, with settling there needing as much or more monthly income than does London. Many of SOSHelp’s calls come from Brits who can’t afford to live there and can’t afford to move back home.

Problems with settling down in France can strain even the best marital relationships, especially when one is in heaven and their signifcant other believes they're in hell. The best and only way to make France work is to put everything into an effort to invest fully in the French lifestyle. That’s when British expats realise they’ve made the right choice after all.
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