I’m leaving France at the end of this month after almost three years living and working here. My work contract is up and I’m ready for something new, but I can’t help feeling melancholy about leaving. Getting ready to say “au revoir” has me reflecting on what I’ll dearly miss about France… and what I really, really won’t. I’ll start with the good:
The 10 Best Things About Living in France
- The sacred trifecta: bread. wine. cheese. Of the affordable and mind-blowingly delicious variety.
- Also, pastries. Pastries made with so much butter they practically melt in your mouth. Cakes so ornate they look like something you shouldn’t eat… until you do.
- Work/life balance. People, on average, seem to work just as hard here, but are more willing to say, “enough.” Everyone is guaranteed more than a month of paid time off, and there is a refreshing lack of guilt about relaxation. New families are supported and post-natal mothers given time to recover. The attitude has been a welcome change from that of the United States, where so many people must work non-stop just to get by, and many who don’t need to work non-stop to get by still do, so that they can feel sufficiently productive and tell everyone how much they work; where new technology, instead of opening up people’s lives, only further blurs the line between work and personal life. Time away from work is a priority in France – because what are you working for, if not to live? (That being said, this attitude also contributes to conditions that will appear on my “worst” list, to follow.)
- The GR and PR trail system. One of my favorite things to do here is to pick one of the hikes charted by the French Hiking Federation and follow the blazes like a scavenger hunt to discover France’s small towns and natural landscapes. Sure, I often end up lost and covered in manure in someone’s backyard, but that’s actually part of the fun.
- National health insurance. I always erred on the side of caution while living in the United States and have never been without insurance. Even so, because of opaque insurance company policies and the extremely high base cost of care in America (the exact same care is far more expensive in the United States than in France, for a variety of pretty incredible reasons), I have personally depleted hard-earned savings to pay for relatively routine, necessary medical procedures there.
I almost cried the first time I went to the doctor here in France and they apologized to me for the cost of the visit, 23 euros. I realized to what extent my thoughts while receiving care are usually dominated by an immense anxiety, the result of life in the American health care system. How sad that my fear of financial hardship due to medical care should almost equal my fear of illness and injury. With a carte vitale, which entitles me to the public health services I help pay for through French taxes (which, by the way, are NOT as high as Americans think they are, especially considering the services they pay for), I’m able to watch partial reimbursement for already reasonably-priced care magically appear in my bank account, without once having to fight over the phone with someone who’s set on making sure I don’t get reimbursed.
- Public transportation that is, generally speaking (exceptions to come), quick, reliable, affordable, and comprehensive. You can get almost anywhere in France without a car.
- Better produce. Eggs taste better (did you know that yolks are supposed to be a dark orange color?), strawberries taste better, meat is held to a higher standard, apples turn brown like they’re supposed to.
- Geographical and cultural variety. From where I sit, a two-hour train ride will take me to mountains, sea, vineyards, cornfields, gorges, and each region, from Brittany to the Savoie, has its own cultural traditions, history, and specialty products. The entire country is only about the size of Texas but, like some fictional storyland (the kind that warrants a map at the front of the book), somehow boasts a little of everything. And, of course, it’s also pretty easy to travel between countries and get a taste of other European cultures and landscapes!
- The language. It’s fun to try to hack my way through français (perfect textbook title, non? Hack Your Way Through Français), mangling all of the soft sounds and subtle vowels. Delightfully silly words, like “bof,” which the owner of my favorite coffee shop recently explained, “means, eh, OK but not great” (basically, “meh”), are accompanied by uniquely French facial expressions that I will always find hilarious.
- Lyon. Lovely, lovely Lyon. I can’t say enough good things about this city and how much I’ve enjoyed being here.
Now that I’m in the mood to never leave, it’s time to compose a list of the bad and ugly. Maybe it will make it just a little easier to pack up and fly away.
Have you ever left la France? What did you think you’d miss the most? What did you actually miss the most?