Expat Voices: April Milliken on how to be a Paris pro
Expat April Milliken shares important tidbits on surviving long term in French culture, from visas to the importance of integrating.
Name: April Milliken
City of residence: Paris
Date of birth: November 8, 1950
Civil status: Resident of France
Occupation: Real Estate and Investment
Reason for moving to France: Marriage.
Lived in France for: Regular visitor for 18 years and resident since June 2010.
What was your first impression of France?
I loved the simplicity and the close proximity of all the beautiful sites and the lifestyle. The US is so big and everyone is always in a hurry.
What do you think of the food?
After living here, on and off, for many years, I’ve picked up some great cooking secrets for quick cooking that’s good cooking.
However, I miss the great American steaks and tacos. France isn’t what it used to be in the '80s. You must search to find reasonably-prices restaurants that offer true French cuisine.
I am never disappointed with the little auberges along the many obscure routes of France, but in general I now find California cuisine to be stiff competition for the French.
What do you think of the shopping in France?
Love it, but way too expensive for the average American. I prefer the open markets' many little treasures.
Sales in July and January are great, buy boutiques outside sale months are prohibited for the average American (even when the euro was bearable).
What do you appreciate about living in France?
The absolute difference in the manner of thinking. Each day is a challenge and delight at the same time. As I’m pretty fluent in the language I can get the sense of things without struggling to translate.
It is a voyage in the “arcane”. The typical answer to a question in France is immediately “no”. I am naturally curious so I always ask, "why no?” This has been the precedent for all my learning of the French lifestyle.
What do you find most frustrating about living in France?
The standard negativity, but it’s cultural. Although, I love the hours spent discussing why something can’t be done (I’ve made many friends that way). It is vexing at times.
What puzzles you about France and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
A lack of the common logic in the American sense is puzzling. There are seldom straight answers to questions. It is a dialogue that sometimes can last an hour, and at the end you’ve learned a lot about how the French think but no answer. The French, for the most part, are very regimented in their thinking.
How does the quality of life in France compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
The quality of simplicity is France’s pen name for me, but only if you live in the small villages.
In Paris, as in Hong Kong or San Francisco, the pace is pretty much the same. It’s dog eat dog and Hey, I was in line first! Everybody is on the same plane in these cities as far as making money and having a good lifestyle.
If you could change anything about France, what would it be?
Logic, sheer logic, and being more proactive about changing their system.
Historically, France was a monarchy; the royalty and the peons. There was no middle class, but I see a formidable middle class developing. However, they don’t want to do the work to take it to the next degree. Sarkozy has introduced much legislation to launch more entrepreneurialism for small business, however the French don’t trust it.
It’s the right environment for small injections of American capitalism. Be prepared for paperwork, and the tax system is very different here. Know what you are doing, and get information from qualified sources.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
If you need to work, make your own business. France is ripe for that, and there is a myriad of services missing here. You can create businesses without being a citizen if you have a service that is lacking in France (and you pay your taxes).
It can also be an entry for residency if that’s your wish. The paperwork can be overwhelming, but there are plenty of expat English-speaking people to help you through this. Google these services, join groups and be tenacious.
As far as enjoying, integrating into your new life and making new friends, there are a wealth of websites that connect you to American expats living in Paris. As a new resident I’ve just started researching this, and I’m very impressed with the wealth of information available.
Would you like to add anything that we haven’t addressed in the questionnaire?
Don’t come here without money to survive for at least six months, and get a grasp of the language.
If you wish to retire here apply through the French Consulate in your area for a long-stay visa. It's not hard to get if you can provide proof of income medical insurance.
Further, the clause that you must sign that says you will not work does not apply to “entrepreneurial” business enterprises where you work for yourself. Again, there are many resources available in English to help you with this once you are in France.
Come here with the idea to integrate into the French culture. Learn the language to a passable degree and interact with the French.
Anyone can walk down the Seine and marvel at the beauty. Anyone can visit all the typical sites of Paris. However, to mingle with the French is a voyage in humor, exchange, and history that is the real magic. Don’t be timid. Get out there!
Jeralynn Benoit is an American expat who has lived in France for the last 10 years. You can read about Jeralynn’s adventures on www.cultureculturaldifferencescom.blogspot.com.
If you would like to share your perspective about life in France and contribute to Expat Voices, send an email to editorFR@expatica.com with 'Please send me an Expat Voices questionnaire on life in France' in the subject line.
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