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Joie de Vivre

Living and Working in France

© Terry Link, from Living Abroad in France, 1st edition. Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.

Living Abroad in France

After World War I a popular song asked “How are you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” Numerous Americans, from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein, answered: “You can’t.”

France is still a magnet for Americans today. The world’s number one travel destination draws hundreds of thousands of American tourists each year, some of whom fall so deeply in love with the country they return to stay. Why?

The attraction, just as it has been for generations, is the extraordinary quality of life the ordinary person can enjoy. France is both modern and old-fashioned. French science and technology rival those of any nation, yet the country appreciates fine food, a slow pace, and the good things in life. Indeed, a French phrase describes it best: joie de vivre (joy of living).

That joy of living can be experienced throughout the entire country. In Paris, you can sit in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral and watch pigeons bob along, as they have for the past 700 years, while talking on your cell phone. Then you can catch a high-speed train to charming Beaune, where farmhands snip clusters of grapes from the vines the way they did in Roman times.

At the local market, you can buy cheese from the person who made it, and fruit and vegetables from the farmer who grew them. The charcutier (butcher) can tell you where his meat comes from. You can sit along the quai in Honfleur and savor a bowl of moules (mussels) while gazing at the boats in the harbor. Here, though boats may be powered by diesel motors, little else has changed since Samuel Champlain sailed off to the New World. And while the barges that ply the Canal du Midi between Bordeaux and the Mediterranean transport passengers today, rather than haul freight, their captains still banter with the lockkeepers, just like in the old days.

You can drive through the south of France on two-lane roads edged with wildflowers and shaded by sycamore trees generations old. In olive groves and orchards, wild thyme, lavender, and rosemary grow in rocky patches of soil. The scent of pine and heather perfumes the air. You can linger over dinner, just like the French do. When you reserve a table at a restaurant in France, it’s yours for the night—the waiter won’t ask you to wait in the bar for 30 minutes before seating you, or hustle you along so he can seat another party before the night is over.

This is contemporary France, a land that has preserved what is good and beautiful and true from its past and made it work in the present. Other nations have also preserved their historical charm, and other industrialized nations also boast ultra-modern amenities, but no country combines these two so successfully as France. This is true not only in Paris, but also, remarkably, in the smaller towns and villages. The successful blending of past and present permeates the entire society and every region.

One of the secrets of this successful blending lies in the fact that the French have managed to combine an agricultural base within a modern industrial economy. High-tech agricultural methods mingle with the rural charm of hand-hewn stone walls and tile roofs. Farmers—individual, small producers—are still important to the French economy. When French farmers take their complaints to the streets, the government pays attention to them. After all, France is the food basket of Europe thanks not to corporate agribusiness, but to the family farm.

At the same time, France prizes its modernity. The country boasts a surplus of electric power from nuclear plants and builds rockets to launch its own satellites into orbit. It is Europe’s largest producer of automobiles and host to its commercial aircraft industry. In most years, exports surpass imports; when they do not, as in 2004, it becomes a national issue. French medical researchers rival their peers anywhere in the world, and the health of French citizens is taken seriously. Employers provide mandatory health care, and the government offers extensive benefits for the needy and unemployed.

France also educates its people, providing a university education at nominal cost for anyone who graduates from high school and wants to continue in school. Even in present times, an extremely popular annual event is the televised dictée (dictation), in which millions of French people sit in front of their televisions and try to write a paragraph of dictation correctly, just as they did in school. The correct version is later published, along with the results.

France is a well-educated, well-run nation, internationally famous for its culture, art, and cuisine; Americans living in France enjoy the benefits of all this as much as French citizens do. And the weather’s nice, too. The country enjoys a temperate climate, an added boon to Americans from harsher climes. The southern Atlantic and the Mediterranean coasts rarely dip below freezing and enjoy pleasant daytime temperatures of 50°F nine months out of the year, from February through November. The country’s coldest region, north above the Loire River, does not rest long under a blanket of snow. July and August are the only months with stretches of 95-degree highs.

With such a nice climate, it’s no surprise France offers abundant recreational opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts. Two massive mountain ranges, the Pyrénées and the Alps, border the country on the south and the east, respectively, providing Olympic-caliber skiing on nearly 80,000 miles of runs, plus hiking, biking, and other activities, all within a few hours from any location in the country. On the two coasts, extensive beaches offer chances to laze away the day, comb for seashells, or go boating—not to mention eat abundant fresh fish and seafood.

From the rolling plains of Champagne to the forests of the Massif Central, France boasts a varied geography paralleled only by its cultural variety. A distance of 10 miles can bring noticeable changes in the language, in the crops, in the architecture, and certainly in how the local population defines itself.

The Job Hunt

The days of Americans heading off to France and supporting themselves with a day job while writing a novel or painting a masterpiece are long gone. Novels may be written and masterpieces painted, but your chances of picking up a job as a clerk or a receptionist on the side are nil.

For the American job-seeker, there are two hurdles: First and foremost, long-stay work visas are issued only to those who have already been hired by a French employer, or to those whose foreign employer has a position for them in France. The second hurdle is the continuing 10 percent unemployment rate.

There are Americans working in France, often at a fairly high level of education and/or particular skills, the kind of people who would be holding similar jobs if they had remained in the U.S. In some cases, these people went to school in France or another European country, learned the language, and gained a particular skill. And they almost certainly made some personal or professional connections while in school.

However, it’s still extremely difficult for foreigners to qualify for professions such as medicine, law, architecture, and accounting in France because of educational requirements. You need only imagine the difficulty a French physician or attorney might have practicing in the U.S. to understand the hurdles involved. Though such transatlantic transplants do exist, they are exceedingly rare.

While doctorate degrees from American universities are recognized as the equivalent of the same degree from a French university, they are the only such degrees. Below a Ph.D., there are few parallels for transfer of credit. Each dossier is handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the schools involved. Anyone who wishes to join that elite group of professionals who were educated in the U.S. but practice in France should begin by applying to the Ministry of Education.

Aside from expertise in some high-tech areas, many of the jobs for which Americans might qualify involve teaching or using English, as well as French. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of competition, because large numbers of Brits, Irish, and Scandinavians—all European Union citizens with the right to work in France—possess the same skills. Perhaps the best opportunity for someone who wishes to live in France, has no special skills, and does not wish to go into business but needs to earn a living, is to work as an au pair.

Sometimes personal connections make it possible for a person to live and work in France. An au pair may find her employers helpful at a later date; friendships made during a year as a university undergraduate may later be renewed in graduate school. An American with a French partner gains legal status, is entitled to health care, and can work.

But don’t despair: Finding a job is not limited to Americans with advanced university degrees. For example, one of the agricultural schools offering training as a shepherd reports that its graduates have no problem finding jobs that pay €1,000–1,500 ($1,150–1,700) per month. Even if shepherding isn’t your thing, France offers opportunities for learning trades and skills that may lead to a job offer in the future. It is a form of apprenticeship not too different from that of an intern in the U.S. There is no guarantee of a job following such training, but it will teach you local tricks of the trade, and you are likely to make some useful connections.

Younger people who want to live and work in France should think of it as a long-term project requiring a certain investment of time and money to achieve. One often hears of an American without proper credentials who worked here or there in a restaurant or bar or on a farm, but in such instances, it is usually for a limited time—the summer season, a harvest, etc. This is not a situation you can build a life upon.

There are other ways to earn money in France. If you buy a property and later resell it at a profit, write a novel and sell it to a publisher, own a house and rent it to someone, or trade stocks on the Internet through a U.S. brokerage—these are all things you can do legally, as long as you pay the proper taxes and obey any other regulations.

Using the Web

For job-seekers, the Internet is a great advantage. Not only can you use it to search for jobs in France, many of the employment sites offer a place to post your curriculum vitae (CV), the term usually used in France rather than résumé. Email also cuts the waiting time for replies. The CV in France is really no different than the résumé you prepare in the U.S. It provides your educational and work history and your qualifications for the post you are seeking.

You can look for jobs at, a site for foreigners living in Europe Or go the French page of JobRank, where you will find various categories to search, such as job boards or headhunters. Almost invariably, the agencies listed state that they are accepting CVs from anyone “holding a working visa.”

The American Chamber of Commerce in France also publishes a directory of all the U.S. firms that operate in France. It might be used as a source list for sending out applications.

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