Expat Voices: Patrick Owen on living in France
Patrick Owen admires the French emphasis on fresh produce and attachment to the land, something that the English are only just beginning to rediscover.
Name: Patrick Owen
City of residence: Grenoble
Date of birth: 02/02/72
Civil status: Married
Occupation: Business English trainer
Reason for moving to France: My wife is French, and I didn’t fancy living in the UK after 14 months as an aid worker in Nigeria.
Lived in France for: 8 years
What was your first impression of France?
It is hard to remember after 8 years. I was struck by the mountains and scenery around Grenoble. I was made welcome, but I think having French in-laws helped. My wife being French made settling in France much easier.
What do you think of the food?
I enjoy French food, but sometimes miss the international cuisine I enjoyed in London. I was surprised to discover dishes like boudin, which are similar to English dishes, like black pudding. I think that French and British cooking has more in common than most French would like to admit. When French people tell me about raising and slaughtering pigs in their back gardens, I feel like I’m listening to my Grandmother talking about pre-war Leicestershire. I admire their emphasis on fresh produce and attachment to the land, something that the English are only just beginning to rediscover.
What do you think of the shopping in France?
In Grenoble it’s lacking variety, but I did live in London before, so I was spoilt. Personally I hate shopping so I don’t mind that there isn’t much choice.
What do you appreciate about living in France?
I think that my quality of life (food, working hours etc) is better, even if the salary isn’t. There is still an attachment to public services, and the hospitals and schools are generally good. I think that the French have a stronger sense of community than the British - they work towards the common good. Although this is changing.
What do you find most frustrating about living in France?
The fact that the French can be very insular and they think that France is the best country in the world. Also the French administration which, despite its reputation, had been frustration free, until I decided to set up my own business.
What puzzles you about France and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
What puzzles me, is the French want to live like Americans, with big houses, big cars, swimming pools, high salaries, low taxes, etc, but, at the same time keep their public services. I think there is a real shift going on in French society and the next few years will be painful.
I miss going to the pub after work on a Friday or for Sunday lunch. I also miss being able to go to the DIY shop on Sunday, when, in the middle of a weekend DIY job, you realize you’ve forgotten something.
How does the quality of life in France compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I lived in Australia for one year and would have loved to have emigrated. However I decided it was too far from friends and family. The Australians have a relaxed approach to life, they work to live rather than live to work. For them work is not the be all and end all; it finances their leisure. They eat well and spend time with their families. I think France is very similar and a good compromise for me because I can return to England easily. I also lived in Nigeria for 14 months and of course France is better, although the ‘system D’ is as developed here as in Africa.
If you could change anything about France, what would it be?
Their pride in France, reluctance to accept they could be wrong and lack of willingness to learn from other cultures.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Be open, try to learn the language and speak to French people. They’re not so different and the preconceptions we have are not always true. In the end, if you choose to live overseas you have to accept the good and the bad just like at home.
Would you like to add anything that we haven’t addressed in the questionnaire?
I would recommend reading 60 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. While it is a little too Paris centered, it does explain a lot about the French mentality. And for anyone considering teaching, Sorbonne confidential by Laurel Zuckerman is a good read.
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' in the subject line.
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