What It’s Like To Live In France

Want to know the good sides and bad sides of living in France ? Read this.

I am a French citizen, born in France in the 90's, raised in France. I did my studies in France, I’ve lived in small and medium cities in the western part of France, but also in Paris for 2 years. So, as you can imagine, I know my country pretty well.

But I also traveled quite often in Europe, and especially in many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but also in Canada and in the US. This allowed me to step back on what France really is, and I decided I could try sharing a pretty realistic opinion of what it is like to live in this country. I’ll try to be as brief as possible on this wide topic.

Before starting, I just want to remind you that this is just my point of view and that I talk “in general”. Not ALL French people are exactly the way I describe us. France is NOT exactly the way I describe it. À bon entendeur !

Social and Health System

Our social and health system is one of the things that many foreigners envy the most. Health is the most important asset we have in life.

In France, whether you get a bit sick or really seriously hill, you will have a lot of (if not all) your medical expenses covered. I remember I met in the US a 20 year-old girl, already a mother of a toddler, who could not afford medicine for him while he was sick. It was heartbreaking, especially as I knew that kind of situation never happens it France.

In some ways we could also consider that the health system is even “too” good. For example, many people can change their glasses every 2 years and get a full refund from their health insurance. It makes us forget the value and necessity of things.

Compared to other countries, the financial supports you get from the State are high too. If you are a student, you can have financial supports for paying your rent. If you are parents, you can have family allowances. If you are unemployed you will have a REALLY decent unemployment compensation.

Everything is made so that you can get by if you are in a deep shit. This system is actually expensive and some people say that it is easy to play the system (“profiter du système” en français). I don’t know if it is true, I am not an expert on this point.

But what I can tell you is that I feel really grateful to be born in France when I compare our health and social system to other countries, even our closest neighbors like Spain for example.

Natural Beauty and Cultural Heritage

France is not a huge country but the diversity of its regions and landscape is quite stunning. You can go skiing in high mountains, go hiking around volcanoes, spend your summer in wonderful coastal cities. Or you can take a few days off to visit castles built in the Xth century.

Château de Chambord, which has started to be built in 1519.

Take a bit of distance from the cities and you will find wonderful smaller towns or villages producing wines, cheese and other local food specialties. All regions have their own culinary identity !

What I find kinda cool and frustrating in the same time is that France is so full of history. So even if you spend lots of time trying to increase your knowledge on it, you will actually still know a very tiny part.

I think what makes France one of the most touristic countries in the world is, of course the beauty of this country, but most of all is the image associated to it. People think French are romantic, that Paris is perfect and is the city of love, that we all wake up in the morning and go buying our bread, that everything is “wonderful” and “amazing”. Some stuffs are true, other are myths or completly wrong. It is not the perfect country and the reality may be different than what you imagine.

Did you know that there is a real syndrom called the “Paris Syndrom” that is actually experienced by people who are kind of depressed when they discover Paris ? It’s mainly experienced by Japanese people who idealize our culture. But don’t be mistaken, Paris is great. You should just not have unrealistic expectations and think that this is heaven on earth. We have our problems too.

Economy and Working World

Let’s get back to a more serious topic now : WORK. Finding a job in France is actually pretty easy. I see sometimes articles saying it’s hard to find a job for young French who just graduate. I disagree. Maybe not your dream job, but a job, yes you can find one. Also, the job market is really centralized in Paris, especially for those having high ambitions for their career after graduating. No other city can offer as many job offers as Paris. But some cities like Lyon, Lille, Nantes, Marseille or Bordeaux are pretty dynamic too.

When I talk to my friends and people around me, I really feel they would love to leave Paris to settle in other cities like the ones I just mentioned, especially Bordeaux and Lyon which are becoming more and more trendy.

Place de la Bourse, in Bordeaux

While no country can be protected from an economic crash, I still think France is quite solid economically and is a key country of the European Union. Our economic growth is weak but it is probably because it is already a highly developed country economically and socially, and we don’t have the same entrepreneurial and workaholic mindset as our Anglo-saxon friends and German neighbors. And maybe also because we have a latin culture !

The legal weekly working time is 35 hours and we have 5 weeks of paid vacation each year. We also have some additional days off offered granted by our company, like 1 or 2 per month. So yes, we are lucky on rest time. However, if you work in France, it is quite well considered to stay late at the office. Even though you don’t have much to do, it is better than leaving early. In same cases it’s a non-sense. I have already worked for a company where colleagues tease you saying “have a good afternoon” when you leave at 6.45 pm.

We still have many start-ups that flourish on our soil, but it is hard for them to thrive on the long-term as we are not risk takers at all. So it is hard to find investors in France who are ready to “bet” on your success. Banks are also really precautionary when you ask them a loan. It’s not in our culture to go All In I would say.

French People and Mentality

When I traveled and studied abroad, I have heard several times people saying they did not like Frenchies, especially in cities where there are many French people like Montreal or Barcelona.

We are not bad people at all, but we may have some behaviors and cultural differences that foreigners don’t like or understand. For example, if you are in a group of people and there are 2 or more French people in this group, it’s highly likely that they start speaking French together without feeling really bad that other people may not understand.

It’s kind of a bad habit that we naturally take, probably because our English level is not great compared to other European people from Germany, Netherlands and the Nordics countries. And maybe also because we are a bit lazy to make the effort to speak in a foreign language.

Thus people think that we are snob and cocky, that we don’t want to integrate and we prefer to stay together. It doesn’t mean that it is hard to make French friends. It just means that, when in groups, French people may not come naturally to you and speak in English right away.

So at the beginning, being friends with French people can take lot of time. I think we are not as welcoming as Americans for example during the first interactions. However once you’ve built friendships with French people, it is likely that it lasts for a long time.

French workers on strike. A very common situation…

We also have a reputation of being always complaining and never satisfied with our situation, with what we have.

We like to grouse about everything, that is why France would definitely win if we organized a “Days of Strike per year” international competition. It is not funny at all when you experience it with public transportation every two weeks, while heading to work. But I also think it is quite a funny and laughable characteristic that we have.

But the best advice I could give you if you want to have a clear image of what France and French people are is : Come to France !