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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Once we have made the decision to settle in another country, for whatever reason, and once we have overcome the hurdles that have to be dealt with before we can relax and enjoy life, we are faced with deciding how ‘foreign’ – French in our case – we wish to become.

Not always a conscious decision – Frenchness grows on you as you acquire the language and become involved in the French way of life – but has anyone felt that they only wish to integrate up to a certain point? Or is this decided by the French themselves who accept us or not?

Much as I feel at home in France after many years here, I am glad that I spent my early years in the UK. Most of the time I feel as French as everyone around me but of course I see and interpret everything through anglo-french eyes.

How are we perceived? How much of what we appreciated ‘back home’ do we want to bring here? We can try creating a little Britain (USA, Australia etc) with pubs and fish and chip shops or we can turn our backs completely on all things Brit (or other) and try our best to be as French as our neighbours, or is there a middle road?

Have you brought anything to France from your country of origin that has been well accepted and appreciated? Or have you been accepted because you have not brought any baggage, you have concentrated on accepting France?

And how important is it to you to be accepted? Do you consciously take steps towards integration, do you just let it happen, or do you refuse to be any different to how you were when you arrived?
 

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Nice "philosophical" question! Thanks for posting that.

When I first got here to France, I was mixing with a couple of the big, well known expat groups in Paris, but got discouraged with them when I found many of the people to be trying to be "more French than the French." Any questioning or criticism of the French or things French was slapped down and people would often comment that "we are guests here" and stuff like that. Annoyed the heck out of me.

For me, the process of integration is one of learning to live as I wish to live without causing offense to the folks around me. I accept that things here are the way they are because of history and geography and other factors - and actually I love digging into some of the "oddities" of life in France to try to understand them.

OTOH, I live here and I have taken French nationality, so I feel (like a true French person) that I have the same rights to express myself that the French do (often). I try to limit my comments to things where I think I have some ability to influence the situation in a positive manner, and I've learned to avoid certain key phrases (like "where I come from, this is how it's done") that just upset people.

Anywhere you live, you have to create a life for yourself - friends, family, activities, habits. And there will be certain aspects of your childhood, or where you used to live that you'll continue to appreciate and seek out. I'm not sure if it's a matter of finding acceptance from some arbitrary group of people (who? neighbors? friends? complete strangers in the street?) so much as developing a system of living you can be comfortable with, within the bounds and constraints of the society you're living in.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Very interesting question, thank you Verité.

For me, it starts very simply - France is a delightful place to live if you are retired. As I've often said in this forum, France is not my first choice for a place to work.

I've thought about some parts of this question before and it really makes you think!

I'm as integrated as I want to be.....

* Married to a française
* Through my wife I have a large multi generation family. My family in the Us is small, so I spend more time on the telephone with the French side
* I was on a list for the local elections last year.
* I'm an "executive officer" (ha!) for a local association with a considerable income.
* I know most people in our village by sight, I tutoie the maire

So what could I do to be more integrated? French nationality? Deep down that would mean losing my Englishness.....for some complex reason I don't want to do that.

I'm keen to see the replies of others.

DejW
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Very interesting question, thank you Verité.



So what could I do to be more integrated? French nationality? Deep down that would mean losing my Englishness.....for some complex reason I don't want to do that.

I'm keen to see the replies of others.

DejW
When I got married I was lucky enough to be able to have dual nationality so I didn't have to make a choice. If I had to now? I would opt for French, but like you would be reluctant to give up my Englishness, the last 'official' link that we retain to our roots.
 

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It is often the case that expats in any country have a yearning for their country of origin, and bring so much with them. Never in Edinburgh would I have had Scottish country dancing in my living room, but my French friends loved the occasions when I organised some here, and we were even asked to bring our ceilidh music when friends were celebrating 10 years of marriage.

Many French have a romantic view of Scotland - a monster in every castle and a ghost in every loch, that sort of thing, so the subject of our homeland comes up very often in conversation. And I do point out that if they are putting coca cola in their whisky it needs to be good quality coke - no cheap supermarket brands.

But having said that I have never actively sought out expats. My wife joined the local cubs/brownies - French version, and I was a volunteer at the town's rugby club, checking tickets in the stands.

A very full lists of adults and children wanting English lessons has not left us with too much spare time to "integrate" more, but our workload is falling now so we can get involved in the life of the town a little more.

So, there can be a tendency to have a heightened opinion of your homeland, but I try to do things the "French way" and I ignore all requests to wear the kilt - citing legs insufficiently hairy. I am just happy to be in France!
 

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When I got married I was lucky enough to be able to have dual nationality so I didn't have to make a choice. If I had to now? I would opt for French, but like you would be reluctant to give up my Englishness, the last 'official' link that we retain to our roots.
Though thanks to the EU, you don't have to give up your English nationality if you choose to take another EU nationality. (At least in most cases as I understand.) And France is the original "don't ask, don't tell" country. They don't make you give up your other nationality and even if your home country expects you to do so, they won't tell. ( I know several folks who had dual French-US nationalities back when the US claimed you were giving up your old nationality if you took US voluntarily.)
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Though thanks to the EU, you don't have to give up your English nationality if you choose to take another EU nationality. (At least in most cases as I understand.) And France is the original "don't ask, don't tell" country. They don't make you give up your other nationality and even if your home country expects you to do so, they won't tell. ( I know several folks who had dual French-US nationalities back when the US claimed you were giving up your old nationality if you took US voluntarily.)
Cheers,
Bev
Yes I understood that this was the case and that my children who have French nationality but were born in the UK could obtain a UK passport too if they wished.

Having dual nationality reflects the duality of the situation of most expats who belong to two (or more - EH!) countries and can identify with both - or sometimes neither?
 

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So, there can be a tendency to have a heightened opinion of your homeland, but I try to do things the "French way" and I ignore all requests to wear the kilt - citing legs insufficiently hairy. I am just happy to be in France!
Not sure if it's a heightened opinion of the homeland, or a sort of heightened awareness of your own roots. As I came to understand (or sometimes just to "accept") the differences here, I became very aware of how I have been influenced by having been born and raised in the US. I've modified my take on many things here, but there are some basic values and opinions I'm probably never going to change. (Then again, I never liked ketchup - which seems to be associated with Americans here in France. Go figure! I also seem to be one of the few inhabitants of France who doesn't care for olives.)

I also find it interesting how so many of the Brits I know seem quite concerned about the issue of whether or not to "hang out with" other expats, or other Brits, or whatever. I've always preferred to make and take my friends as I find them - local folks or expats (from English speaking countries or not). Have gone through a couple phases of joining "expat" groups, and kind of got bored with those after a while (primarily because I got sick of having to go into Paris all the time to participate). And I tried getting involved in a local "political action" group, but found it not at all to my liking (in part because of the differences in the political systems and expectations).

I have French friends, and I have expat friends, each of whom brings different qualities to the circle of friends and acquaintances. But I don't make a concerted effort to hang out with locals vs. expats or vice versa. I do find that I can be most helpful to newly arrived expats - by jollying them through some of the early stages of "culture shock." And I can amuse French friends by explaining my first reactions to some of the things they take for granted or asking them to explain various customs and traditions here.

But I don't think of myself as particularly assimilated - or not assimilated. Though I do still marvel at folks who think they can move to France without learning the language. Talk about being isolated!
Cheers,
Bev
 

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National identity has different levels?

First, there is what it says in your passport etc. This can be changed comparatively easily.

Second, there's the food that you like/hate, what size/ shape spoon to eat soup or any other food. To my personal knowledge these can be changed....but it takes time and a bit of "letting go"

Third, there's that deep down feeling ( a sense of belonging?) that is very hard to change. Spy writers often include spies that have lived in a different country under a false cover - they've married, divorced, had children, but deep down remain true to their country of origin.


I've just re read what I've written above, and I think the same might apply to sex changes? Of which I very little, except I did some non sex change related work with a research doctor who was looking at the long term aspects of sex changes. Apparently sex changes can cause major hang ups both before and after.

DejW
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
National identity has different levels?

First, there is what it says in your passport etc. This can be changed comparatively easily.

Second, there's the food that you like/hate, what size/ shape spoon to eat soup or any other food. To my personal knowledge these can be changed....but it takes time and a bit of "letting go"

Third, there's that deep down feeling ( a sense of belonging?) that is very hard to change. Spy writers often include spies that have lived in a different country under a false cover - they've married, divorced, had children, but deep down remain true to their country of origin.


I've just re read what I've written above, and I think the same might apply to sex changes? Of which I very little, except I did some non sex change related work with a research doctor who was looking at the long term aspects of sex changes. Apparently sex changes can cause major hang ups both before and after.

DejW
Unexpected but interesting comparison with undergoing a sex change. Yes, I suppose any change that fundamentally alters your identity is extremely challenging to face. In a way it's like a bereavement - the person you were before will never be quite the same again - but once you have got past that stage you can look back with different eyes and forward in a new life.

I suppose it depends too on whether becoming an expat was something you chose or underwent unwillingly. In either case you can be disappointed or pleasantly surprised but you have to be aware that it takes time to put down new roots.
 

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Since you mention sex changes, there's always simple plastic surgery. I know one of the big things any reputable plastic surgeon is supposed to do before "fixing" your flaws is to talk to you quite earnestly about how this isn't going to change your life. You're still the same person, just with a smaller/straighter nose or with bigger [fill in the blank with your favorite body part] or smaller [ditto].

OTOH, maybe expatriation is a little bit over-estimated. Everybody changes over time, based on what experiences they go through, who they meet and marry (or not), and what challenges or obstacles Life throws in their way and how they cope (or not). We may have some experiences in common because we have lived or are living outside our home country. But we still all turn out very different, one from the other, based on how we reacted to those experiences.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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I have always been a bit weird and have never really 'fit in' anywhere :loco:

I am quite happy being different and respect those qualities in others. I have however, integrated into the local French community whilst retaining my individuality and smile at the many shrugs and perplexed expressions that I receive as they fail to 'get me', but accept me!

What I have brought with me is self awareness, an ability to laugh at myself, flexibility, my obsession with immaculate lawns (easily pampered to by a ride-on lawn mower) and an aptitude in throwing a good party (which usually starts with a full English breakfast at mid day, requested by the neighbours).

Vive la différence!

Gypsycob x
 

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This is an interesting thread to read and one I love - as anything that makes me think makes me happy ... First, and foremost I want to thank "Bev" for all she does on this forum (and the others too) but she certainly does fulfill her goal of helping 'newbies' ... although I am not yet in France (set to arrive Sept 1 - that is if my visa gets approved, my appointment is next Monday) I have thought a lot about me, my personality, and what I am looking for at this point in my life ...

This thread has challenged me to look deeper and I come up with the question of whether or not I've created a 'safety net' for myself in my decisions and how that will affect what I will or will not do/accomplish while living in France ...

I'm moving to Paris for two years - with the intent at the end of that time to decide if I want to move there permanently or maybe try Spain, or Italy, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or Prague, or Budapest (or who knows) for a year or two ... Since all of my travels involve Europe or Eastern Europe I've decided to make Paris my base so I don't have to keep flying back to California (and the expense of doing so - it's so much less expensive to just hop on a train, anywhere, in Europe and go someplace else)....

My two years in Paris is to learn the language ... I've been studying it since last October - so although I have a basic understanding of the grammar and can actually write it fairly well, man oh man - the spoken word is so hard .... (will I ever get it?) ...

But back to the 'safety net' .... am I short changing myself and my life experiences by having not made a full 100% commitment to truly become an "expat" ... ?
 

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But back to the 'safety net' .... am I short changing myself and my life experiences by having not made a full 100% commitment to truly become an "expat" ... ?
Given that I came over here "because I wanted to" and with no safety net to speak of, I suppose I'm living, breathing proof that you don't actually need one. However, I do seem to have that trait they call "dumb luck" - or else I'm just too stubborn to admit defeat. In any event, things have worked out for me.

I've known others who find themselves "stuck" in a place, with no money to get back "home" (or onward to some other new place) and either no right to stay where they are or no particular way of supporting themselves going forward. That's not fun. And it's not always a matter of a "lack of commitment." (That can also be just "dumb luck" - the not so nifty kind.)
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
This is an interesting thread to read and one I love - as anything that makes me think makes me happy ... First, and foremost I want to thank "Bev" for all she does on this forum (and the others too) but she certainly does fulfill her goal of helping 'newbies' ... although I am not yet in France (set to arrive Sept 1 - that is if my visa gets approved, my appointment is next Monday) I have thought a lot about me, my personality, and what I am looking for at this point in my life ...

This thread has challenged me to look deeper and I come up with the question of whether or not I've created a 'safety net' for myself in my decisions and how that will affect what I will or will not do/accomplish while living in France ...

I'm moving to Paris for two years - with the intent at the end of that time to decide if I want to move there permanently or maybe try Spain, or Italy, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or Prague, or Budapest (or who knows) for a year or two ... Since all of my travels involve Europe or Eastern Europe I've decided to make Paris my base so I don't have to keep flying back to California (and the expense of doing so - it's so much less expensive to just hop on a train, anywhere, in Europe and go someplace else)....

My two years in Paris is to learn the language ... I've been studying it since last October - so although I have a basic understanding of the grammar and can actually write it fairly well, man oh man - the spoken word is so hard .... (will I ever get it?) ...

But back to the 'safety net' .... am I short changing myself and my life experiences by having not made a full 100% commitment to truly become an "expat" ... ?
Sadly (happily?) there is no recipe for getting it right. All you can do is prepare as best you can, LEARN FRENCH - speak it and listen to it as much as you can between now and September - and be prepared for things to be hard and sometimes go wrong.

A safety net is peace of mind and if you are lucky enough to have one, so much the better.

If you have been to France before you will already have some idea of what to expect, if not I think that the safety net will help you get through the first months.

Have a great time.
 

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I realised very quickly that there is no real cultural difference between me (British) and a French person of my own age. We do, think, laugh, at the same things.

We are all the same. Speaking the same language to communicate is not so important.
 

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Thank you Bev/Verite/Smeg for your comments .... I have been to Paris which is why I chose it to live - knowing that if push comes to shove English is spoken there ... but, I don't want to be an American tourist living in Paris ... I want to embrace the culture, language, attitude, ideals and whatever else I can learn and I realize the language is the most important thing to me right now (I've already been scouting out schools in Paris) ...

It's weird ... all my life I've wanted to live in Europe ... I retired quite young 5 years ago so I could devote all my time to my passion of travel ... and now I'm finally fulfilling a life long dream ... quite honestly, I don't anticipate ever moving back to the US but I've given myself two years to make that decision - if that is the case I'll return, sell my house, etc and then move back .... but back to just where remains to be seen - I'm keeping my options open .... it's my time to just live life!

Again, thank you all for the ability to converse and chat .... (now pray that my interview goes well ... I keep thinking to myself that Russia issued me a visa last year and if they did why wouldn't France .... but, I don't want to be overly confident - so I'm on pins and needles right now)
 

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Bonsoir mes amis. For the benefit of "coprnkl" I am not in France but in Spain and I occasionally visit other country's forums when there is something that interests me. Having said that, I think Verite's original question is as applicable to anyone moving to France as it is to Spain, Timbuktu or wherever.

We made a "burn our bridges" commitment when we moved (almost 7years ago), we have no safety net of a home back in the "auld country" to which we could go back. I think this makes a difference, one feels more committed to making sure that it works.

SWMBO and the m-i-l are fluent Spanish speakers, I can speak (and read) a certain amount but partial deafness doesn't help when trying to have a conversation. I shall always be known (if not by my name, William or Alan) as "el inglés" as are SWMBO (Colombian) and the m-i-l (Texan).

Our degree of integration is quite high by comparison with most other foreigners here because we have made the effort and we are known by many of the people in the village (pop. 5000) as was apparent when I ended up in hospital a couple of years ago following a mild heart attack (it was at 2am and I went by car (SWMBO driving) so there was no ambulance disturbing the peace. SWMBO was amazed at the number of people (well over a hundred and fifty including many she did not know) who asked her how I was.

Because it is a village, being warm, open and friendly works well here towards being accepted. Back in UK if you are in the Doctor's waiting room, everybody is silent, pretending not to be there. Here, as you walk in you say "Buenos días" and everybody responds likewise, then it is question time "What are you here for?" and everybody swaps symptoms and gives their own diagnosis, etc. Often people will just pop into the waiting room to see if anybody they know is there and have a quick chat. It is a very friendly community and we love it here.
 

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I love reading all of your posts here, and I can relate to most of it, especially with Bev's. I came and stayed by choice with no safety net in place. Although I could return to the US at any time and stay with family, but it isn't something I ever truly desire.

I have managed to keep my "american-ness" while integrating, I think. I never once searched out any expat groups and honestly, this is the first expat forum I ever visited. I don't know what made me finally do a search for expat forums after 15 years here, but I'm glad I stumbled on this one! The idea of searching/hanging out with expat communities really doesn't appeal to me. I don't base my friends on their nationality, more on whether they are interesting and I enjoy their company. But I also had a great support group here in place when I arrived via my husband and his friends, who were all welcoming and great.

As far as feeling "french" (I'm not french yet, but hopefully my application will be approved soon lol), I have to say I just feel like me. Although I feel I have integrated fully and everything I've done/accomplished was in the french language, no translators holding my hand to help me (except my husband in the beginning lol).

I got my french drivers' license by going to auto-ecole and taking my test in french. I've gone through all my formations for my job as well as just completed the first part of my CAP (the written test is on 12 Juin and I am not even stressed out, a miracle!). I've participated at my son's school by teaching his classmates a few simple songs in english (which they absolutely loved). There are other things of course, but honestly I just feel as if I'm living my life, happily, and not even paying attention as to where I am.

Although I will say, what really makes me feel at home here is the fact that I feel weird speaking english outside of the home. I mean, I do know a few people who like to speak english with me, but I feel so weird doing so! It just feels unnatural rolling off my tongue and I feel like I'm talking too loud or strangely! And when I'm talking to my mom on the phone, I have to constantly stop and try to remember a word in english, or forget and start speaking french to her lol.

Maybe I will always identify as American, but I kinda think that is natural (for me at least). But that won't stop me from living the french way with a bit of americanese thrown in!

God I hope I made sense, it feels like I just rambled on here lol.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Ok, here’s a little test to see how French (or other) you have become:

1 Do you find yourself saying hello and goodbye when you walk into shops when you return to your country of origin?

2 Do you now rinse your plates and cutlery etc when you wash them up by hand?

3 Do you eat artichokes, chard, oysters, snails?

4 Do you eat red meat still oozing blood?

5 Do you buy baguettes and walk out of the shop with them in your bare hands (or with a flimsy bit of paper wrapped round them)?

6 Does it upset you when the person giving you the baguette takes your money and hands you the change without protecting their hands?

7 Do you say merde in French or English when you walk in dog poo deposited on the pavement?

8 Do you count in English or in French?

9 Do you look forward to your village/town’s yearly fete or do you dread it?

10 Do you buy a calendar every Christmas from the postman/bin men/firemen?

11 Have you bought a beret?
 
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