Are foreigners living in France generally accepted by the French? I was asked this recently by one of our Fab Findings From France Facebook group members. It is something I am asked frequently. And it is quite an important question if you are considering moving or staying long term in France. So what is it like being an expat in France?
As someone who has been an expat (foreigner choosing to live in another country) in a number of countries, I have found that most countries are accepting. It is only the occasional individual that is a xenophobe. (A person having a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.)
Saying that, in France, it does help to check out where you wish to stay/live before you commit. Especially if you are looking at a more rural than urban environment.
As a generalised rule of thumb, the larger the town the more diverse it will be and accepting of people from different cultures overall. It’s as the village shrinks you have to consider how much you wish to be ‘different’.
Something to realise, if you choose to be an expat, you will never be a native. It is simply not possible. But what you can do is work at fitting in – learn the language to fluency, take the time to understand cultural differences and embrace them, make friends amongst the locals.
There will always be some who will never accept you, no matter how hard you try. And they are worth ignoring. But by far the majority will be interested in your difference; your knowledge and experiences. And a select few will wish to truly get to know you better because you are different.
Expat in France
I have lived in 3 very different location types in France, and each has given a different experience. None of them bad. First was a very small rural village of 500 residents in the south. This village was half French, half expats (mostly British).
The expat community was embracing. The native community was selective. There was a real sense of divide there, between us and them. It wasn’t helped by the fact that many of the expats were not full time living there. There was never a sense of ‘expats go home’, rather more a world weary acceptance that the village was being taken over.
Of those that spoke fluent French, they were far more accepted and integrated amongst the natives than those expats that didn’t. (And this is true, no matter the size of the village.) This did not appeal to me, but if you wish to retain a feeling of being an expat (as some are more comfortable with this) then this is the sort of place to look for.
My next place was heading towards northern France, and very rural. Middle of nowhere rural, so far less community sense. What community there was, was completely French. Even in the nearby village, it was only natives. Here I found that our difference was a real curiosity, and of interest. People made the effort to get to know us, and help us.
And now I am more centrally located, in a good sized town, with additional population around the area. My village is at a guess about 10% expats. It was a knowing choice. We wanted to be somewhere with some expats, but predominantly natives. To be part of and learn the French culture, but with a touch of diversity. And the natives are definitely friendly.
Of course, not everyone is. But there is for certain no open hostility. We, and the other expats have been welcomed in. And this is irrespective of language ability. Though, saying that, we still strive to improve our French. A few people can speak a little English, and do like to try now and then a phrase with us. But it is not the norm.
Meeting the locals
The expat community here is not a cliquey group. More a community by degrees of separation. I know A, who hangs out with B, who lunches with C, etc. We are there for each other if needed, but most of us are, or are trying to make friends and acquaintances amongst the locals.
This latter expat style of living is my personal preference. But you may prefer one of the others. The key is to determine what would make you most comfortable and find it. Test the waters by house sitting (that’s where we started) if you are unsure. It’s a good way to be quickly introduced to the area and the locals as the owners will often pass on their information and contacts.
Where do you come from?
According to Where Can I Live – France is considered one of the most accepting countries of expats and regularly tops surveys along these lines. They give insight from the American perspective. Overall, it’s considered a worthwhile venture, but with a few caveats of understanding. They give details and insights on taxes, visas, citizenship, and helpful expat stories.
In my research for this, predominantly the expats of France are from ‘English speaking countries’, the Netherlands and Germany. I have noted that it seems to be agreed ‘English speaking cultures’ are generally embraced in France. Dutch are liked, and seem to integrate the best. This could probably be put down to generally speaking French fluently from the get go as well as being extroverts for the most part.
But the culture that appears to have the most issues in France is Germans. On the whole, it is good, but Germans do seem get a little more cold shoulder than the other expats. This may be purely down to cultural difference. (German jokes do not translate well into French.) It could be history for some, especially older generations. Also, like the English speakers they are not as proficient overall as the Dutch.
From a German perspective Carola gives some insight of what it is like to be an expat in France on her YouTube channel: Life in Paris.
For varied thoughts and insights on life as an expat we can recommend the blog Ashley Abroad. She writes and interviews other expats on what it is like to live in foreign countries. Amongst these are a few interviews on being an expat in France, particularly living in Versailles (city area) and the Maine-et-Loire (country area).
From my perspective, no place is perfect. And no place will put expats on pedestals. Rather, it is up to you if you choose to move or come to France, to take the time and make the effort to determine what suits you best, what you need from your community, and how far you wish to integrate. If at all.
Like to explore more about France?
If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy my other writings:
Misconceptions and Stereotypes about France
If you enjoy items from France, do check out our Shop, where we offer the unique and sometimes down right ‘it’s very French’ type of items. Here’s a taste:
(Simply click on an image to see more.)