Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The ugly side of the retour en France

Inspired by Crystal's comment on my last post, here is a random list of things I am really not looking forward to with the move back to France.  This is the dark side of France, what it's really like underneath all the romance and glamour.  Once again, they are in no particular order and just off the top of my head.  But these are some of the things that I really dislike about life in France:

1. La Préfecture– Not surprisingly, I am dreading having to return to a life of frequent visits to the préfecture. The lines, the unfriendly civil servants, the lack of organization and efficiency…let’s just say I could have done without ever stepping foot in a préfecture again in my life!
2. La Poste – Not that I’ve ever really managed to get away from my old enemy, La Poste. Even in my current job in the US I am constantly haunted by their inability to perform any of the basic tasks that a post office/bank should be responsible for. They mess up our clients’ payments and fail to consistently fail to deliver mail we send to France. The fact that Lionel and I still have our bank accounts with La Banque Postale scares me to death and I’m definitely not looking forward to dealing with their inept bank and horrid postal service again.  I have posted too often about my hatred of La Poste to be able to link back to them all, but if you're curious about my various experiences with La Poste, feel free to hunt them down on the blog!

3. L’administration française – Let’s just be honest really. I’m dreading pretty much every aspect of l’administration française. The inefficiency, lack of organization, long waits, incompetent and unfriendly civil servants, well it never was a pleasure and it certainly never will be. On the bright side, at least I already have my French driver’s license, social security number, etc, so I will have less administration to fight with, at least upon first arrival. I am pretty much terrified of the headache that will certainly be the entire process of applying for citizenship.  And let’s not forget, my favorite part of every process you have to go through with French administration, my best friend in France, le justificatif de domicile.  Oh, how I have absolutely not missed French bureaucracy!

4. Crowded public transportation – As much as I miss having the option of les transports en commun, I’ve never enjoyed crowded trams, metros and buses and that certainly hasn’t changed. It’s especially bad in the summer...

5. Toll Roads – Also in regards to transportation, I certainly haven’t missed having to pay insanely high tolls to use les autoroutes in France. It irritates me so much that you have to pay so much for the privately owned autoroutes, but then women have to pee in a hole in the ground if they need to use a restroom along half of those same, expensive highways.

6. Taxes – I know there has been a lot of talk about taxes in France recently, especially with Gérard Depardieu’s announcement. A lot of this talk centers around how paying taxes is part of one’s civic duty and show’s your national pride. And I agree. I don’t mind too much paying higher taxes in France. What I really don’t like is the way the tax system works. I’ll certainly be signing up for my income taxes to be taken monthly cause those lump sum payments just seem so much more painful. And I’m dreading the local taxes we will be paying on our new “digs” (more on that coming soon).

7. Lack of customer service – Oh, it has been nice to be back in the land of customer service. I love being able to get answers to my questions, to get help without a fight, to never be hung up on or glared at or ignored. It’s just amazing to not have to bend over backwards, jump through fiery hoops and wait half your life to get the customer service you need. And on top of the speed, efficiency and willingness to help, you also often get a smile. 

8. Les Grèves – I certainly have not missed les grèves and the headaches they often cause. And now I realize I get to look forward to a lifetime of strikes – transportation strikes, teacher strikes, postal worker strikes, etc, etc ,etc. It’s just another one of the things I’m just going to have to take with a Gallic shrug, but it will be hard.

9. High prices on household products – While food and wine are generally cheaper in France, a lot of household products, especially kitchen appliances, consumer electronics, etc, are considerably more expensive, which always kept me from buying a lot of the kitchen appliances I would have liked to have had.  I mean, I went for over 2 years without even getting a microwave!

10. Unfriendly, unsmiling and rude people – I’m also really not looking forward to the joy of being constantly surrounded by angry, unfriendly, unsmiling and rude people. From stores to public transportation, while walking in the street or eating at a restaurant, so many of the people you encounter are just so impolite and unpleasant. Once you get to know someone better, this usually changes (at least a little) but it does get very tiring to never get to see a smiling face in a store or on the metro.

11.  Lower salaries – Not that I’m particularly earning an incredible salary here, but the fact that chances are I’ll be earning less there, like before, is quite intimidating.  But at least Lionel should be working full time again which will help.

12.  The job search – I hate searching for jobs in general, but doing it in France intimidates me more than a job search here.  I feel like I’m being judged on everything and then the interview…I forget my words when I get nervous and can barely speak, not to mention my accent…it’s a wonder I ever found a job in France at all!  And my biggest fear is that I will end up trapped in English teaching again because we needed money and it was the job I could find the fastest.

13.  Leaving my friends and family – I have gotten used to being around my family and American friends again and I know the move back is going to be very hard in that respect.  While in France I had gotten used to not seeing them all the time, so it’s going to be a big adjustment.

14.  How doing simple things can be such a big hassle – So many simple things are so much more difficult to accomplish in France, often because of shorter business hours, lack of service, inefficiency, lack of organization, unclear explanations, lack of simple logic.  Life in France can be just plain exhausting sometimes!


  1. Well THIS list I can relate to! lol...no, seriously, I didn't mean to leave a debbie downer comment on your last post, but I know the problems with thinking the "grass is greener" and then finding out it's not. The fact is, no one country is perfect, and at least now you won't be asking yourself the "what ifs" about life in America.

    Also interestingly enough, many of the points you list are quite specific to Ile-de-France. I've lived there, too, and I can definitely relate, but life really IS a bit better when you live in other parts of France where the people are generally nicer, the Préf not so crazy, cheaper things, grèves not such a big deal...

    But I'm totally with you on the low salaries and job search nightmare!! I'm currently looking, and am dreading having to return to teaching or work as a "hôtesse d'accueil". There are definitely more job opportunities in Ile-de-France than in this tiny area of the Alps!

    (I'm also thrilled you are back to blogging regularly! It's so nice to have someone to comiserate with :)

  2. Good luck with your move back. What part of France will you be in? Hope all goes smoothly for you. Will you get French nationality? I did, and don't have to deal with the nasty préfecture any more as a result, I LOVE that. I'm impressed you have your French driver's license... been here 14 years and haven't done that yet. :x Shhh!

  3. Hey Crystal no worries on the less than positive post. Its good to make sure I've got my head on straight before making this move and then regretting it too. Luckily I do know what I'm getting myself into and this time in the US has helped me to better understand what I want, what I value and where I want to be. It will be good for me to be in France and not constantly wondering if things would be better in the US. I think that will make a big difference but I know things will still be difficult in France and less than perfect. But I appreciate your concern!

    Luckily those Ile de France specific issues wont be my problem any more because we are not returning to the Paris area, we are moving elsewhere...more on that in my next post.

    And I'm also very happy to be back to blogging regularly ...it feels good and I've finally caught up on all the blogs I've been behind on, yours included!

    Alisa, thanks for the comment. I do plan to get nationality. Once I get all the other paperwork figured out just to be able to get over there this spring I plan to start looking into my nationality request. And I got pretty lucky on the driver's license. I'm from Ohio which is one of the states that does the exchange. If it weren't for that I wouldn't have it ;)