Expat Voices: Howard Hulley
British expat Howard Hulley lists the many reasons why a life in France shines bright compare to what his homeland has to offer; food and shopping is just scratching the surface of a deeper pleasure.
Name: Howard Hulley
City of residence: France
Date of birth: September 1971
Civil status: Married with two nippers
Occupation: Self Employed Writer & Business Consultant
Reason for moving to France: We got fed-up with living in Britain
Lived in France: 5 years
What was your first impression of France?
France offers it citizens so many things that contribute to the successful pursuit of happiness: a world-class health service, free nursery schools, the world’s fastest railways, fresh local produce, clean streets, job security, long holidays, modern leisure facilities, wide open spaces, mountains, beaches, gastronomy, culture … it seemed almost too good to be true.
What do you think of the food?
Generally speaking French food is excellent, but its subtleness can take a while to get used to if you like strong or spicy flavours. Alsace has its own regional cuisine that tends to be heavier than classical Parisian fare -- but it’s delectable nonetheless. Family favourites include Tarte Flambée, Raclette and Späztle, with a glass of local Gewurztraminer or Crémant d’Alsace to wash it down.
What do you think of the shopping in France?
Shopping can be a delight although frequently expensive. Independent boutiques and artisan specialists are still abundant throughout France, as are local food markets. The highlight of my week is popping into a chocolatier to watch them wrap my pralines in extravagant paper, ribbons and cellophane -- and at no extra charge!
What do you appreciate about living in France?
On a personal level I enjoy the challenge that daily life, immersed in a foreign language and culture, brings. Some days are harder than others, but every day is stimulating and immensely enjoyable.
What do you find most frustrating about living in France?
My wife has been teaching English at the Kronenbourg brewery for the past six months and has yet to come home with a single free sample!
What puzzles you about France and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I’m deeply puzzled as to why more people don’t move here. There’s not much that I miss about England -- except perhaps proximity to friends, relatives and fresh Cumberland sausages.
How does the quality of life in France compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I’ve visited many countries, but had only ever lived in England before we moved here. The two situations are almost incomparable however. The French attitude towards social responsibility ensures society puts the well-being of its citizens above all else. Here in Strasbourg for example there’s regular, substantial investment in public services such as expanding the tram network, and culture, such as libraries and arts festivals, which contribute hugely to the quality of life.
By contrast, in Britain it seems that public well-being is put at the bottom of the agenda, with public services being progressively eaten away by a private sector driven only by profits. I wouldn’t move back to Britain if you paid me.
If you could change anything about France, what would it be?
The financial system seems specifically designed to ensure anyone who registers themselves as self-employed is driven out of business as quickly as possible. This is because every independent worker is required to pay into their health, retirement and social security funds before having earned a penny -- on the basis of estimated future income. To calculate such things in arrears would be much fairer.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
There are not many rewards to working for yourself in France, but if you really want to do it start with a portage scheme before going it alone. This will give you a chance to learn how the system works and how much you will need to know and earn before taking the plunge.
Visit Hulley's blog about living in France at www.englishmaninstrasbourg.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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