Expat Voices: Kristine Vial on French red tape and Paris commuting

Expat Voices: Kristine Vial on French red tape and Paris commuting

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Expat Kristine Vial admits the Parisan attitude is notably extreme and hard to handle, but her appreciation for French cuisine and quality of life easily eclipse city sourness.

Name: Kristine Vial    
Nationality: American
City of residence: Paris
Date of birth: 09 May 1963
Civil status: Divorced
Occupation: Executive Marketing Assistant
Reason for moving to France: To pursue a modeling career (over 20 years ago)
Lived in France for: 22 years

What was your first impression of France?
Paris was much bigger than I expected, it didn’t look that big in my high school French book.

What do you think of the food? 
When it’s good it is excellent, and when it’s mediocre it is the worst.

What do you think of the shopping in France? 
Great but very expensive, and convenience is lacking. Stores are often closed for two hours at noon and in August.

What do you appreciate about living in France?
The quality of life and the time the French take to enjoy simple things like a glass of wine at a café or a meal with friends and family.

What do you find most frustrating about living in France? 
Anything administrative, the atmosphere in the metro, the strikes, the lack of customer service and the difficulty of making money here.

What puzzles you about France and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
Why a greater effort is not made to make tourists feel welcome. I recently took a family to the Eiffel tower, and the man behind the ticket counter was rude to boot!. I miss the “anything is possible” attitude and the convenience of the US, but this has improved with online shopping and more companies that willing to deliver to France.

How does the quality of life in France compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
There is smaller living space than the US, but there is overall a better quality of life. There are better working conditions with Reduction du temps de travail (RTT), five-week vacation, excellent health care, job security, et cetera.

If you could change anything about France, what would it be?
The administrative red tape the French put everyone through.

What advice would you give to a newcomer? 
Practice yoga, learn the language, and get in touch with the expat community. If the French pretend to not understand your French, speak louder!

Would you like to add anything that we haven’t addressed in the questionnaire?
Living in Paris can be a frustrating experience. Prices are high, living spaces are small, and interesting jobs are difficult to find for expats. Most expats that have not been sent here by a company end up teaching English or working as secretaries and assistants.

I have seen a definite change in the city the past 20 years I have lived here. While once men would give their seats to women in the metro and everyone dressed elegantly, this has been replaced by aggressive behavior and a high level of commuter stress linked to long commutes most Paris workers undertake due to high housing prices. I’ve seen a man elbow a woman to get a seat in the metro.

The local train system (RER) is frequently on strike or running under full capacity. Yet in news interviews stranded passengers show support for strikers. All of this adds to the unpleasant commuting experience. Many French are surprisingly close-minded, something that I didn’t realise until I learned the language. They are suspicious of foreigners and tend to generalise about the different groups living in France. Many are not well travelled and speak only French.

Doing anything administrative is a nightmare. I let ten years go by before getting my French citisenship as I dreaded the hoops I would jump through.  

On the positive side, the health care system is excellent (although in financial trouble), the city is still beautiful and rich in culture, and the food and wine inimitable.

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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