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9½ Things You Need To Know Before Moving to France

Updated 15 Feb 2016

Got an interview lined up for a great new job in Paris? Dreaming of Alpine life and acres upon acres of snow? Then don’t go anywhere before you’ve read this. 

1. Insist on Speaking French

Because if you start chatting in French, they’ll often switch conversation back to English - and then you’ll never get fluent. A hint of hesitation – one small error in your grammar - is often all it takes. But if you politely persist in French, your conversation buddy should take the hint and switch back to good old Français. 

2. Learn to Go With the Flow

You’ll hear about the endless red tape of French bureaucracy. You’ll learn the hard way that restaurants close between mealtimes and that shops can close at lunchtime. That people you need to speak to at work take long summer holidays right when you really need them. Don’t throw a hissy fit – it won’t get you anywhere. Be French about it, and shrug it off.

3. Buy a Breathalyser

Motorists in France are required by law to carry breathalyser kits in their cars, in a campaign to reduce drink-driving. Those caught driving without a breathalyser will face a fine. Spread the word, because this catches a lot of people out.

4. Leave Your Prejudices at the Border

Yeah yeah, we all know the stereotypes: surly Frenchman, stony-faced Frenchwoman. Gallic sneers. French arrogance. These are damaging, often self-fulfilling prophecies. If you arrive in France expecting an eye-rolling, brusque welcome, you’re unlikely to elicit warmth and kindness. Plaster on your best smile and offer a ‘bonjour’ instead, and take it from there.

5. Take Time Over New Friendships

Because the French are typically more formal with each other socially and professionally than Brits, and can take longer to warm to new faces. Be patient, and don’t take it personally. To take one example: workmates shake hands with each other every morning. So don’t roll up bellowing ‘MORNING!’ to the entire office – it won’t go down well.

6. Get Used to Kiss-Kissing

Let your French acquaintance make the first move so as to avoid face-smashing. Aim to press your cheek next to theirs but actually kiss the air rather than planting a smacker on them. In most regions, it’s two kisses, but some go for three and others four: just follow their lead. Men aren’t expected to kiss other men, and kissing to say hello and goodbye is only for friends and family, not colleagues.

7. Forget Dating

There’s no word for ‘dating’ in the French dictionary. Because French people don’t date in the way Londoners do. People tend to get to know each other by doing things together in a group – going to concerts, meeting at people’s apartments or going out for dinner – before finally deciding to do something together on their own. At which point, you’re not actually dating but in a relationship.

8. Wean Yourself Off Weetabix

Most standard petits dejeuners involve dipping pastries into coffee, hot chocolate, or even tea. And your hot brekkie beverage will normally be served in a bowl. Just go with it. Soon you’ll be dunking nonchalantly like a proper Parisian. Worried about all those carbs? 

9. Bring Photocopies of Everything

Because unfortunately paperwork is a massive thing here. From setting up a new mobile phone contract to renting an apartment, you’ll need proof of just about everything. Keep all your payslips and bank statements, tax bills, cinema stubs, bus ticked and love letters. Who knows when you might need seven laminated copies of them.

9 ½ Smile and Enjoy It

We thought we’d sneak this in as a final piece of advice. Moving to France from the UK is a phenomenal opportunity to become fluent in a new language and experience a fabulous new way of life. It’s a chance for career progression, to meet interesting new people and to manage a healthy and rewarding work-life balance. So go ahead and embrace that joie de vivre!

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