Although I am French and grew up in the Paris area, I left France when I was 18. Apart from a brief 1 year return to accomplish my military services, I lived the rest of my working life abroad till I decided to retire in the south of France almost 3 years ago and some 40 years later.
My heart is French but on my return I was a foreigner in my own country. I simply did not know how things worked. I had previously never done an income tax return in France, I had never heard of a carte Vitale (an absolute must for medical care), I had not used nor needed chèques in more than 3 decades, etc etc.
I felt sometimes somewhat strange having to ask in a perfect French, albeit not with the local accent, how to do this or that with the inevitable excuse “I left France 40 years ago”.
I have to say that a smile and a little joke go a long way and I am very impressed by the way I have been treated. I would tend to argue it was / is efficient but not necessarily speedy and most of the time friendly.
I also realized that a well written letter straight to the point is an excellent way to get things done. I think a letter is still preferable to an email, at least to get the discussion going.
Of course, unlike a “real” foreigner, I had a valid social security number which accompanies me since I was a teenager. I also had my French ID card and a few other administrative documents which are needed and sometimes requested. All of this negating the issues real expats might encounter.
Settling in the South of France has been a pleasure. I quickly got involved in a couple of associations and was immediately very active. This allowed me to meet a great number of people in a very short time. It also allowed me to be involved with the local administration and the mayor’s office for a couple of projects I was part of. So I met another load of people. Some useful ones at that.
Finally we stumbled across this existing expat community where I now have most of my friends.
I have helped some on a few occasions by writing a proper French letter to the right department or by enquiring in their behalf and generally learning how things are done. Important is to be able to translate back the information which is not only a question of language but also mentality. Having lived in a few countries UK, Germany, USA, China, Ecuador and having traveled to many others for business and pleasure, I can as a rule understand how people think and therefore give comprehensible advice.
Although I am retired (early I might add) and taking it easy, moving to France was the right “project” and ensured that I did not fall into the deadly trap of finding myself with nothing to do after a busy working life. Syndrom which affects so many retirees negatively.
I have a couple of additional projects for next year which I am starting to enquire about.
If you have questions on moving to France, do not hesitate to contact me starting by writing a comment on this post.