paris (im)perfect: ‘Living Abroad in France’

paris (im)perfect: ‘Living Abroad in France’

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An interview with American author Aurelia d’Andrea, a freelance writer, former magazine editor and professional Parisian dog walker (!)

When my (crazy) idea of moving to France first came to me 'round about 2005/2006, there weren't that many practical guides explaining how to make it happen. I found books with titles like "Working and Living in France," but these were inevitably written largely by and for UK residents.

As all of my North American expat friends can attest, a vastly different set of challenges face those not already wielding an EU-passport.

That's why it's lovely to see a new book (released Valentine's Day - aww) written for a more North American audience.

Living Abroad in France Aurelia d’Andrea is a freelance writer, former magazine editor, and professional Parisian dog walker (!) who has put together a useful guide to Living Abroad in France (conveniently, that is the title of the book, too!)

D’Andrea hails from San Francisco, but has successfully navigated two different long-term stays in France. Her book covers everything from planning a fact-finding trip to moving with pets, the different types of visas and their associated requirements to renting or buying an apartment.

The guidebook is engaging and accessible and packed full of resources. Besides admiring the work it takes to put together such a guide, I’m also relieved to have an easy title to point to now when others ask me how they too can live in la belle France. “Get this book,” I can now say. (Phew, I’m off the hook!)

It takes real perseverance to make the dream of living in France a reality, but as d’Andrea proves – it’s possible. And so worth it.

I’m happy Aurelia agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.

I was stunned to learn that you researched and wrote this entire book from scratch under a very tight deadline. The book gives an overview of everything from French government to getting your kids into school, handling administrative hurdles to mapping regional geography. How in the heck do you even approach putting together such an extensive guide on such a large topic as “Living Abroad in France”?

Thank goodness for outlines! I’m not the most organized writer on the planet, but taking that preliminary step made the information-gathering and writing processes so much smoother. Also, Moon Living Abroad in France is one title in a series of “Living Abroad” books published by Moon Guides—there’s one for Costa Rica, another for Spain, China, and so on—so I was able to follow the tried-and-true structure established by previous authors. Fleshing out that blueprint was another story altogether. It was sort of an all-day, every-day affair for four short months. Even while sleeping, I couldn’t put the project down. It’s such a relief not to be dreaming about Carla and Sarko anymore!

You're a true Francophile, but you seem to have a realistic, well-rounded picture of France. What were the biggest adjustments you had to make yourself when you left the States behind for Paris?

Because I'm not fluent in French (yet!), the hardest part of the adjustment process-and one that's ongoing-is struggling with verbal expression. I really took that for granted when I lived in the United States! Here, things really do just get lost in translation sometimes, and being misunderstood on a regular basis can be so very frustrating. When I get flustered trying to communicate in French, I break into Frenglish, and it's not pretty. It generally leads to more confusion, too. One message I underscore throughout the book is the importance of learning French while you're here. The more you know, the smoother your transition will be, on so many levels. Plus, it's empowering! There's a real sense of pride that develops when you realize you can, in fact, break that language barrier.

You pepper the guide with short first-person accounts of expats living in different parts of France. Do you notice any qualities that people who have successfully made the move share?

Building friendships with people that you can share the joys and frustrations of expatriate life with definitely serves a sort of therapeutic value, and seems to support a successful living-abroad experience. It doesn’t matter so much whether the friends you make are locals or fellow Anglophones—it just matters that you build that support network and utilize it. The majority of people I meet who appear happy with lives here are outside-the-box thinkers, often creative-types who embrace adventure and aren’t afraid to take calculated risks. That sort of go-getter spirit thrives in a place like Paris—and probably in other cities throughout France, too.

Your guide offers overviews of many prime living locations in France including Provence, Brittany, and Lyon to name a few – yet you chose the City of Light when it came to your own adventure. What drew you to Paris and what keeps you here?

Ever since high-school French class, I dreamed of coming to France. Fashion! Culture! Cute boys! I’m a city girl, so Paris was an obvious choice when I finally decided to follow the dream. The same things that drew me here as an adult are what compel me to stay: access to municipally supported (read: affordable) art and culture, the physical beauty of the urban landscape, excellent transportation system, work opportunities. I love living in Paris—language barriers and all! I sometimes dream of moving south, near the sunny Mediterranean, but then I wonder: What the heck would I do there?! I know it’s do-able, but I need to sit down and start plotting if I really want to make it happen.

Your whole book can be seen as helpful advice so it may be unfair to ask you to boil it down to one concise answer, but I’ll ask anyway: what would you say to people with a passionate desire to live in France but overwhelmed with how to make that dream a reality?

Invest in thoughtful planning, and keep your optimism intact. That’s imperative! We can all make our dreams come true if we commit to it, but without belief in our ability to succeed, the challenges we face can be daunting enough to send us packing our bags and hopping the next plane for Poughkeepsie, Portland, or wherever we call “home.” Before moving to France, the question everyone should ask oneself is, “How will I support myself financially?” There are many, many options: Teaching English, working as a freelancer, au pairing, landing a position with an international organization. Figure out how to do that–and how to do it within the French legal framework–and you’re nearly there. Now, you need to go out and learn some French! That’s the essence of it.

Now that you’re settled in Paris and have written a book about how others might do the same, what’s next for you? 

Well, every day in France offers adventure in some shape or form, and as a writer, that’s a good thing. There’s a never-ending supply of material to work with! Turning that material into euro to support my Bordeaux-and-dark chocolate habit is a daily preoccupation, but right now I’m working on another guide to France, only this one has an animal- and eco-friendly angle I hope will appeal to others like me who love to eat well, travel in style, and have fun without compromising their green ethics. That said, it’s very un-French to talk about work, so to get into the spirit of the place I now call home, I’d say that’s what is next is un grand mystère. I love the potential embedded in that idea, and it just feels so French to say!

Thanks, Aurelia! Check out the Moon Living Abroad in France page if you’re interested in picking up the guide.


Reprinted with permission of paris (im)perfect.

Sion Dayson is an American writer living in Paris. Her work has appeared in a number of different venues and she blogs about the quirkier side of the City of Light at paris (im)perfect.

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