Some Advice From an American to Americans

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.


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.

(This post was published with some edits as a guest blog on the site from my blog


That’s mean. It’s a well-written humorous article based on one person’s experience. And I can’t get bagels for love or money in the Gers!



You haven’t mentioned the 2-3 hour shop closures every afternoon. That’s the one that gets our guests.

They do butcher the meat differently, the cuts are different here, and a rosbif cut is very lean. It’s worth getting to know the local butchers. Produce is so good outside the supermarkets. We’ve found a butcher in Nimes market who understands the value of keeping the Pork fat and skin on a roasting joint for crackling. There is a fashion for lean meat, but the right breed, the right butcher and cut, such as a Rib, a you will get the right marbling.


I love it here enough to write satire. You live in Paris with the bulk of the rest of Americans in France? Herd animal, are you? Try life in the hinterlands.

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A good butcher is essential. The first time we ordered a pork shoulder, our butcher brought out a beautiful piece, then immediately began trimming. Now he understands that we’ll let him know when we want him to trim or not.

Thanks, but when you put yourself out there, there are always folks who don’t get it or who are just trolls. My wife and I love it here and most folks get that sentiment underlies my writing.


How come the first thing mentioned is food? Ha, who am I kidding, I’m right there with you! The thing I miss the most? Betty Crocker cake mix. Seconded by the frosting. I splurge and purchase it for three times the value at an “American” shop on birthdays.
If only I had company from the states visiting me regularly enough to buy clothes and ship to them only for them to bring to me, along with any medication I might want (what is is with boxes of Defalgon when you can get twice as many pills in a little bottle?).
Great article. Thanks for the laugh!

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And thank you. Fortunately, Cathey is a good scratch cake baker, but I get the idea of mixes. We had a waffle iron in the States but didn’t bring it. Now it’s been close to three years since I’ve had waffles for breakfast…or dinner.

send me a mail address and I will send some bagels…plenty of stores in Versailles

So you confirm my report that bagels are available in Paris, Versailles being close enough for jazz. According the stats, that’s where most Americans in France live. It’s one reason, besides the weather, that I chose to live elsewhere.

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