Interviews with American expats in France: cultural perspective
I was recently interviewed by Margarita Gokun Silver, MPH, CPCC, PNLP at her site here (article below). I sought to explain my story and provide a little does of cultural insight into living in France based on my experiences.
My fellow expat in France, Lindsey, was also interviewed about doing business in France as she started her own company, Lola’s Cookies, selling cookies. You can find that article here.
I invite you to leave your own cultural perspectives in the comments section below.
An American in France
Posted on December 5, 2011
There have been quite a few famous Americans (and other expats) in history that decided to either settle or live in France for long periods of time. Today many follow their example and in this blog post we interview Michael Barrett, an American who is now living in France.
Global Coach Center (GCC): How long have you lived in France and how did you come to live there?
Michael: I’ve lived in France now over four years in a row but longer than that over my lifetime. I lived in Paris as a baby and toddler for three years as my father worked here on assignment. My family always had an interest in France so it influenced my decision to study the language and culture in middle school, high school and then in college. My first trip back to France was with the French club of my high school in 2003. During my sophomore year (2nd year) at the University of Notre Dame, I studied abroad in Angers, France 2004-2005, where I lived with a French family, studied in French, traveled and made friends from all over the world. It motivated me to come back.
I followed that with an internship at Sciences Po Paris in 2006, and then after graduating in 2007, I moved to Lyon to be an English assistant. I met my French girlfriend there, pursued graduate studies in communications in Grenoble for two years, during which I worked at AmCham France. In July 2010 I was hired as a Digital Project Manager at New BBDO Paris, and advertising agency. I’ve been here ever since, and I also manage the site Americanexpatinfrance, write for several websites and am involved with the expatriate community while keeping a close group of French friends. I plan on applying for dual citizenship soon.
GCC: What do you love most about living in France?
Michael: My girlfriend, my French friends, the rich culture and gastronomy and history, the diversity of the regions and their characteristics… close proximity to other European countries. A generally balanced approach to life and work…their healthcare system –although it’s not perfect.
GCC: What frustrates you?
Michael: Generalizations about America and its culture, strikes, lack of convenience here (the US is a culture of convenience)…although I’ve gradually come to accept these cultural differences with the traditional French shrug of the shoulders. Every country has its own pros and cons.
GCC: What would you have liked to know that you didn’t before coming to live in France?
Michael: To know how to (try to) master the inner workings of the French civil service bureaucracy and its paperwork, implicit messages (not explicit) and assumptions that you know everything if you don’t ask a question. But I’ve learned how to manage that, too.
GCC: What are three tips you can give people planning to move to France?
Learn the language and about the culture as well, as this will not only enrich you but also show a genuine willingness on your part to the French that you’re making an effort and reaching out.
On a related note, be open-minded. This is not America, and there will be some culture shock and things and approaches that are done differently. They have a different perspective here on many things, so approach it with curiosity and don’t be afraid to have friendly debate with French coworkers and friends (make French friends), as long as it’s not on taboo subjects (money, religion) – those are for closer friends usually.
Take a look at practical matters in detail – education, healthcare, taxes, driving regulations, housing – hopefully your employer or organization can help you with these matters. Better to be well prepared than land here and figure out as you go along. That can add to frustration. I’d be happy to advise on questions or refer you to an expert in a field that I don’t master as well.