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Tip Not in the Guidebooks

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MBS
12/14/2016 06:25 EST

You're thinking of spending some time in France, either buying a holiday home or moving over full time. You've read a few books. You've bookmarked a few websites. You're proud of yourself. You are well prepared.

Not...

Important things, things that you need to know in order to live your life, do not appear in any guidebook. But saddle up, friends. I'm here to fill in the blanks.

1. They bake great bread here in France. Abundant variety. Baguettes warm every morning in every town. The breakfast croissants and pain au chocolat are buttery/flaky wonderful. Specialty loaves abound and each deserves serious consideration. But it's what you won't find that's frustrating. You won't find a decent bagel. You won't find even a half-decent bagel. (They say bagel bakeries have opened in Paris. I can offer no proof.) You won't find a properly cheap, squishy hot dog roll in which to put the Nathan's hot dog that you won't find here, either. So be prepared. Once your delight at all of the new breads that you have at your disposal has waned, you'll be left with a longing for that loaf of Wonder Bread that you thought that you could do without.

2. While we're on the subject of food, Americans can say good-bye to roast beef. French beef is not feed lot beef, at least not in the well-marbled, juicy, and tender sense to which Americans are accustomed. Chewy and not cut for roasting. Cooked hams for holidays? Nowhere to be found. Whole turkeys? Only for Christmas. Our Thanksgiving turkey has to be special ordered and costs the equivalent of $6.00 a pound or so. And not only is there no Wonder Bread, there's no bologna to fry either. Heinz yellow mustard? Yes. Bologna? No. But believe it or not, there are compensations. The lamb tastes like lamb should taste. The pork tastes like pork should taste. BACON! And there's duck confit, duck breast seared on the grill, and for those who can live with the backstories, foie gras from heaven and veal in all of its incarnations. Did I mention BACON!

3. OK. Enough about food. Lets talk about right angles. You know what right angles are. They are the angles at which walls meet other walls, floors, and ceilings. Except in France. Oh, I suppose that new builds are squared up. But who wants a new build in an historic village with a 1,000 year-old church? You want history. You want stone. And stone walls seldom meet tile floors at right angles. And stone walls bulge at such odd angles that putting up a shelf can be a real adventure. In fact, just drilling into a stone wall to set one hook to hang a picture can lead to disaster. So if you do buy a stone house, buy a really good drill with a percussion setting. If you don't know what that means, don't buy a stone house. If you do know what a percussion setting is, here's another tip. When you're drilling into that stone wall, through paint and plaster and God knows what else, start up your vacuum cleaner and hold the wand under the hole as you are drilling it. The vacuum will suck up the dust and you won't have a mess to clean up.

4. You can't buy aspirin the the supermarket in France. But you can get a prescription for aspirin and the French healthcare system will reimburse you. So see a doctor and get a prescription. I have. Even so, every time family comes to visit us from the States, I have them bring a big bottle of low-dose. We ask family to bring Lactaid, too. I once asked a pharmacist how the French deal with being lactose intolerant. She said,"They don't eat cheese." Word. Make a list of the OTC and prescription drugs that you require to get through the day, vitamins and supplements included, then find out if they are readily available, or available at all, before heading for this side of the Pond.

5. Quality clothing and shoes are expensive in France. Very expensive. While living in the States, I did most of my clothes shopping online on sites like LL Bean and Cabela's. So now, when I need jeans or mocs, I have them sent to a family member to bring over when they next visit. (Are you detecting the trend? Turn family members into shipping agents. There's a rationale that might just convince them. If they bring you stuff from the States in their luggage, they'll have room to take back presents when they head back home.) But there's also a French answer for the discerning shopper. Nationwide, pre-planned, deep discount sales. In 2017, winter clothing will go on sale from January 11 through February 21. No foolin'. It's on the national calendar. 30% - 50% discounts are the norm. 70% discounts are not uncommon as the sales wind down. Stores are not allowed to bring in stock specifically for the sales so you get the stuff that they normally keep in stock. (Wink, wink...) Summer sales run in June and July. That's when I buy $40 sandals for $18. And we all wear sandals here. Please, no socks...

6. Quick takes:

Bring more than one pair of really good walking shoes. If you're not walking everywhere, whether in the cities or the countryside. you're not making the most of it. Great walking tours and walking trails everywhere. Take advantage.

Sort out your electronics. Find out about SIM cards for your phone. Make certain that your chargers work on the more robust European voltage. And one size does not fit all. British plugs are different from French. Don't think you'll find adapters and chargers after you get here. You won't.

Wine can cost anywhere from the equivalent of $1.50 to $100 a bottle and more. Forget the price. Try them all. Ask questions. Buy what you like best and can afford. We seldom pay more than $10 a bottle for wine to serve to company and we've had some true connoisseurs at our table, enjoying every sip.

Oil changes for your car cost $80 or more. There are no discount, in-and-out, cheap alternatives. Do it yourself or pay the freight.

Finally, don't listen to advice. It's France. Experience it for yourself. There's no place quite like it. We moved here in 2014 and life here as exceeded our expectations in every way.

(This post was published with some edits as a guest blog on the site www.renestance.com. You can read my blog at www.southfranceamerican.com)

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OldPro
12/14/2016 18:34 EST

Some of your comments assume that others think as you do. While anyone is entitled to an opinion on something, there is a difference between writing it as an opinion vs. writing it as if it were a fact.

I wouldn't eat Wonder Bread if you paid me. One of the great advantages of France is that they do have REAL bread and there is no need to EVER eat white pap like Wonder Bread. Bagels I can somewhat understand eating but only if they are bought fresh from the bakery and eaten immediately. Hot dog buns, never.

Re beef. Again, while I can enjoy a good steak when I am in N. America, I have never missed beef when there is so much else available like veal and lamb, etc. N. Americans in general have no idea what THEY are missing.

Right angles are as unlikely to be found in a NEW BUILT N. American cookie cutter house these days as in any older house of any type of construction.

Differences in the availability of medications are simply that, differences. If you don't like differences, stay in N. America.

Quality clothing and shoes are expensive in any country and I don't count LL Bean or Cabela's as places to buy quality clothing. Hiking gear, sure, dress wear no. N. Americans vs. Europeans when it comes to being 'well dressed' is no contest at all with N. American's losing on that front.

Socks with sandals is a British habit. N. American's and particularly women of a certain kind who are often found on a cruise ship vacation, are known for wearing running shoes with ankle socks that have 'pom poms' at the heel. Tres gauche.

Bringing even one pair of walking shoes only applies to someone interested in walking. Your opinion of whether they are making the 'most of it' or not is just that, your opinion. It is not a FACT so please don't write as if it were.

SIM cards, chargers, plugs, dual voltage items, etc. generally apply to tourists who visit a place but if you are going to live in a place, they are only relevant for the first initial period of time. Live local, buy local.

Wine, if you want to drink it, does come in all prices. It does everywhere else in the world as well. Drinking what you like vs. what costs the most, is something anyone should be doing anywhere. It is not unique to France.

If you can't afford to have your oil changed for you, you can't afford to live in that country.

Your last point of not listening to advice is the best point you made. That includes listening to your advice.

You've been there for less than 2 years it appears. That puts you still in what I call the 'rose coloured glasses' phase.

My advice to people looking at moving is to never listen to anyone who has not been in a country for 5 years or more. With less than 2 years of experience, you may THINK you know but in fact you don't know more than you do know.

I find it annoying when neophytes presume to write as if they were experts. And that, my 'friend' is exactly what you imply when you write, "But saddle up, friends. I'm here to fill in the blanks."

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20abuse

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MBS
12/15/2016 03:43 EST

Three points:
1. While we have lived here permanently for only a little more than 2.5 years, we owned a holiday house here for a decade prior and visited for a couple of years before that. We are hardly neophytes and our glasses are quite clear.
2. I find it interesting that you criticize me for writing an opinion piece, then counter with your own opinions. I don't pretend that my opinions are dispositive as you do. In fact, as you point out, I clearly say that France should be experienced personally without preconceptions. Speaking of which...
3. Out of hundreds of hits on my piece from the various places that I posted it, dozens of people have commented that they enjoyed it, posted smiling emojis. or discussed their favorite parts - like the French builder who said that he never had the lack of right angles in French houses so amusingly portrayed. There have been, however, exactly two self-righteous prigs who couldn't identify satire and sarcasm if it jumped up and bit them in the arse.
Have a nice day.

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30abuse

emiliaromagna
12/15/2016 07:23 EST

MBS : Thank you for your lighthearted and useful observations from which everyone can take away whatever they like, need, enjoy; some may not at all (take away anything), and that's o.k. too! And some may not agree with everything, and that's just as o.k.! No need to tear it apart.

I find OldPro very stuck in his ways. Provides some useful information at times, but seems inflexible, very set in his ways and seems to think that everyone else should follow his doctrine. Unfortunately, it often comes across as lecturing, patronizing and condescending. Not a good thing in a forum like this one that provides help, information, food for thought.

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30abuse

emiliaromagna
12/15/2016 07:23 EST

MBS : Thank you for your lighthearted and useful observations from which everyone can take away whatever they like, need, enjoy; some may not at all (take away anything), and that's o.k. too! And some may not agree with everything, and that's just as o.k.! No need to tear it apart.

I find OldPro very stuck in his ways. Provides some useful information at times, but seems inflexible, very set in his ways and seems to think that everyone else should follow his doctrine. Unfortunately, it often comes across as lecturing, patronizing and condescending. Not a good thing in a forum like this one that provides help, information, food for thought.

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00abuse

MBS
12/15/2016 08:06 EST

Thanks for that. I hope to post here occasionally and I'll keep your advice in mind. It's always a bit of a shock when someone wails away at you as if you are solely responsible for climate change or the burst of the housing bubble. I try to keep my responses light-hearted, if I respond at all.

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00abuse

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Choosing an expat health insurance provider is an important decision. Get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA. With Cigna Global Health Options, you can create an international health insurance plan that's perfectly tailored for the needs of you and your family.

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Diane2263
12/15/2016 10:58 EST

Well said, MBS, and I enjoyed your post!

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10abuse

MBS
12/15/2016 11:27 EST

Thanks.

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Aussieshiela
12/15/2016 18:06 EST

Thank you so much for all the very helpful advice. I will make a note and begin to prepare what I need to bring to france and what I need to leave behind.

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