Expat Voices: Catharine Higginson on living in France

Expat Voices: Catharine Higginson on living in France

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Catharine Higginson misses pubs and car boot sales but recognises that the quality of life in France is better than in her native UK.

Name: Catharine Higginson

Nationality: British

City of residence: near Biarritz

Date of birth: 17.10.69

Civil status: Married

Occupation: Freelance journalist and translator

Reason for moving to France: Where do I start? Well, we wanted an adventure and I was really disenchanted with the education system in the UK. I thought learning another language would be a great advantage for the children and we wanted a better lifestyle.

Lived in France for six years.

What was your first impression of France?
We moved to a very rural part of Brittany and the culture shock was immense. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was and how bars and restaurants shut so early out of season, if indeed they opened at all...

What do you think of the food?
If I am being totally honest, in general I think French food is overrated and unutterably boring. Yes, traditional French food can be great but I am sick and tired of going out for lunch and being offered ‘steak frites’ on the menu de jour. I love steak (and chips!) but it would be nice for the meat to be accompanied by something else, sometimes...

And I don’t mean soggy pasta either because it just doesn’t work! I have yet to find decent Italian food in France and I really miss the sheer variety of food that we have in the UK. And I really detest the way the French take something (that works) from another culture’s cuisine - say pizza - and bastardise it by adding French ingredients like foie gras, honey and camembert. The worst example I have ever seen of this was in a posh restaurant and was supposedly a ‘kebab’ but contained foie gras marinated in Sangria! 

What do you think of the shopping in France?
Fantastic fresh produce but for everything else from clothes, to trampolines, to computers to car parts, we buy from elsewhere in Europe. It is far cheaper, the after sales service is better and delivery is invariably quicker than buying from a French company online.  

What do you appreciate about living in France?
The countryside, the people, the weather, the health service, there are loads of things. Perhaps most important of all is the feeling of safety and security.

What do you find most frustrating about living in France?
The way it takes so, so, so long to get anything done. And the complete and utter lack of customer service. 

What puzzles you about France and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
These days I don’t really miss anything other than people, especially my parents who I don’t see anything like as much of as I would like. We have learnt to make decent curries (and even crumpets!) so the things I miss are places rather than things. I would love to go for a long pub lunch at the weekends, I miss being able to go to a car boot sale and know there will be good quality cheap gear there and most of all, I really miss being able to complain really effectively! What puzzles me the most is how the French as a nation seem oblivious to the way they are becoming economically uncompetitive and being left behind in terms of technology. If I was in a position of power in France, I would be very, very worried by this.  

How does the quality of life in France compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Having only ever lived in the UK, I don’t have a lot to compare it with but I would say the overall quality of life for our family is far better. Our children have more freedom and get to take part in things in a way that would just not have happened in the UK. School trips are cheap, there are grants towards holiday clubs with really great activities and activity holidays. Last night, my 13 year old daughter was taken to the ballet by school. It cost €3 including the coach.

During the half term she went skiing for a week, again it was very reasonable. We live in a great area and spend our summers at the beach. We have a lot less money than we had in the UK but we have far more time. 

If you could change anything about France, what would it be?
It doesn’t affect me personally but I think France needs to drop the idea that people train to do one job and then do it for the rest of their life.   

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Don’t bury yourself alive in the countryside - the people there may be very pleasant but you will be unlikely to meet many like-minded people.

Don’t try too hard to make friends, let it happen naturally like you would back home and find a forum where you can converse with like-minded people. Oh and insist all your guests bring tea bags!    

Networking is really important and so is support. All forums are different and those covering the entire country are great for general advice but local info is vital. That’s why we are shortly launching a forum for people local to us in the 64 region of France. www.catharinehigginson.com








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10 Comments To This Article

  • Frenchiegirl posted:

    on 19th November 2009, 11:38:33 - Reply

    What a shame Catherine is unhappy with the French food where she lives. I am living in sud Vendee, and there are lovely restuarants, with really good French food, well served and not all with french fries. I emigrated here alone with then two cats, at the ripe old age of 63 from south of England. I love it here, speak the language and have wonderful French and English neighbours. I think that onee has to speak as one finds, and there are good and bad restuarants, people etc wherever one lives in the world. It's a question of trial and error. The shops locally sell wonderful seafood, not too expensive. I do have to say that clothes locally are of poor quality, ghastly colours and expensive, so I shop on line until I can get to the large towns, where there are quite good outlets - there ias a local M
  • Jean posted:

    on 12th November 2009, 22:52:13 - Reply

    Catherine, if you find chips too boring, then remember to appreciate adventurous combinations when they offered to you! As for cosmopolitan food, well, I d much rather appreciate a pizza in Naples and fish and chips in Southampton! I really don't get why people are obsessed with getting pale imitation of the original anywhere at anytime!! Yes, standards are falling, not only in France but in the whole of Europe, because of a bunch [edited by moderator] who cannot appreciate local food or select the places they go to and prefer flashing the cash in mediocre restaurants!! CQFD
  • Vanessa posted:

    on 12th October 2009, 20:15:13 - Reply

    Pascal without an 'e'-I have no doubt you have years of experience and are an expert chef. i was, as many of us commenting are, discussing the article and Catherine's comments-I did not read yours. Sorry to offend but really don't understand why people continue to complain about where they live but don't do anything about it! Its your choice, you have many wonderful things to be thankful for in france but it seems the English only come over to complain. They do so in all the countries I have lived and found UK expats! Sorry, but its an observation and am certain will offend some but it is true. Part of the charm of France is that it has maintained its charm and culture, it would be sad to let in too many that try to change this.
  • Pascal posted:

    on 12th October 2009, 19:17:51 - Reply

    [Edited by moderator] I am male, the female version of my name has an "e" on the end, I am half- French, live and work here and have family in the region. I am an expert cook and buy my produce in local markets and small shops! I think most of us on these posts are referring to the globalisation of the supermarkets and restaurants. Certainly down here standards have fallen. I have already mentioned that this situation may be different in other areas. Regarding England, I have spent much of my life in central London which is, of course, very cosmopolitan and though I don't expect it to be like that here, nor indeed would it be in rural England, I certainly think it about time the French broadened their horizons!
  • Pascal Hiscott posted:

    on 23rd September 2009, 16:42:52 - Reply

    Catharine Higginson is absolutely right.Try living here for twelve years! Remember the South isn't just the exclusive Riviera region. I really have seen the restaurants here deteriate in both value and quality. Basically, they seem to have sold their souls to tourism. It may well be different in other parts of France of course.
  • fildor posted:

    on 23rd September 2009, 15:18:43 - Reply

    I can't believe what she says about restos
  • Pascal Hiscott posted:

    on 23rd September 2009, 12:44:26 - Reply

    What on earth has happened to France? Where I live, in the South, most of the restaurants are awful (same old boring menus) and overpriced. The supermarkets are getting larger but are being filled with even more tedious produce. Shelf upon shelf displaying jars of gherkins and mustard etc. and a complete lack of anything cosmopolitan.
    Thank goodness for the Internet for other purchases, competative prices and far more variety but so many problems if things go wrong as well as the enormous postal charges.
    In spite of my complaints, France is a fine country and far more enjoyable to live in than modern Britain.and from personal experience the health system is second to none!
  • thinker posted:

    on 29th July 2009, 22:03:29 - Reply

    I am American, not British.
    You gave good advice when you said "Bloom where you are planted".
    I attended thier conference. I am doing the best I can, but it doesn't change the facts of live in France.
  • jeudi posted:

    on 29th July 2009, 21:54:19 - Reply

    I would say to her ' bloom where you are planted'... you cannot recreate Britain like things and experiences in France..love France for what it is : so very FRENCH! Judi Dunn
  • thinker posted:

    on 8th July 2009, 18:38:21 - Reply

    In Courbevoie, 3 metro stops from Paris, they roll up the sidewalks at 22h00. There is nothing going on here except "Metro, Bolo, Dodo".
    Can Courbevoie be just as quiet as in rural Brittany?
    I think so!

    You are right about the food too. The French are eating sickening versions of other culture's foods, cheese, or hamburgers with French fries. I have yet to find any restaurants I would honestly be happy to take you. My neighborhood restaurant is acceptable but the price is around 50 euros for lunch without wine.

    There is also no choice when shopping just as you said.
    Like you, I shop elsewhere and definitely not in France.
    I love the USA for shopping!

    I love to dance, and in Paris they have a club that you can begin ballroom dancing after lunch. However, everyone is so serious and all look so unhappy. No one ever has any fun. All are very uptight and afraid.