I’m Naomi, I’m originally from the UK but I now have dual citizenship and am a proud New Zealander. I currently live in a small resort town high in the French Alps
1. Why did you move abroad?
When I was 27 I decided to blow a chunk of the deposit I’d been saving for a flat in London and go travelling instead. Best decision ever! During my year away I spent a few months in New Zealand and as the plane took off to whizz me onto my next destination I realised I was leaving a bit of my heart behind, and that I’d better return to join it!
I had a few other things I wanted to do in London – like buy that flat and tick the city box, but I only took a couple of years and I was itching to sell everything and get ‘home’. I persuaded my boyfriend to give it a shot with me, and we emigrated together.
Ten adventurous years later we moved back to Europe to be nearer our aging parents – we have two children, both born in NZ, and we wanted our family to have the opportunity to see each other a bit more. But we’re not huge fans of the UK… My husband spent his early years on other, much hotter, places, and then boarding school. For me, a decade in the sub-tropical climate of the northern end of New Zealand re-wired me. I felt like a bit of a stranger in the UK for quite a while, and my husband’s idea of living elsewhere in Europe – still closer to our wider family but with a better lifestyle, was definitely appealing. We had planned to move near Barcelona but we’ve ended up in France – basically when the landlords of our second UK rental told us they were selling and we had to move, I just said ‘let’s go’. We own a studio apartment here, so we came for a few months. That was March 2017…
2. How do you make a living?
My husband and I started a business when we were in NZ. Basically, he invented a photography gadget in our shed, and we realised that commercializing it could be a good business. He was in investment banking in London, I was a business project manager. In NZ he had become a professional photographer while I pursued writing, acting and was a cook! Anyway, we pulled all our skills together and found we made a good team.
Long story short, the bottom dropped out of the photography market and we closed our business in 2015 – then took all our skills and knowledge into consulting. The client I started working with in Bristol was happy to keep working with me remotely when we moved. Most of the work I do for them now doesn’t need me to be in their office – and when I do need to meet them it’s a cheap flight from Geneva. I fact the travel costs are often less, and the travels time from here isn’t much more than if you work remotely in the UK.
I’d like to find work in France, and plan to really look for work here after the upcoming summer holidays.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I think of home as where I’m living now, so I’m in constant communication! Having lived in the UK and New Zealand and feeling really connected to both places really means that home is more than one place for me. But I speak to my parents in the UK once or twice a week. Mostly just by mobile phone as our internet can be sketchy up here, but we do use Skype and WhatsApp video too. I have a sister in London and we WhatsApp message a few times a week, and talk weekly or fortnightly. Since returning to Europe I’ve used Facebook more to keep in touch with friends and just see what they’re up to and keep a connection going.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in France?
I like being a good representative of the British abroad. I don’t think we have a great reputation with the French, so it’s nice to be here speaking French, and having French people compliment my efforts is nice. They often say ‘Oh, I know this person who’s lived here for 20 years and hardly speaks a word.’ We quite often tell people we’re Kiwis and overlook the British bit – that gets us a better reception!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in France?
We’re currently trying to move house, and there’s definitely the sense that if you aren’t French, you’re a bit suspect! Some rental agents won’t rent to people with international incomes – so there are some hoops to jump through, which is annoying.
Taxes are high – by moving income tax to France you’re about doubling the tax you pay compared to the UK, which is hefty. However there are way fewer people in France, and a lot more space. Quality of life is much better. Who wouldn’t want a two-hour lunch break and the whole summer off? I also love the emphasis on things like saying ‘Bonjour’ to everyone – even toddlers squeak ‘Bonjour’ as you pass them, And the fact that food is an event, not something stuffed into your face while rushing from one place to another. Thank goodness for that.
6. What do you miss most?
I miss New Zealand and wish it wasn’t quite so far, and so expensive, to get there! We live just about above the tree line here, and I do love a nice big old English oak tree. English autumn is my favourite season – the colours, the mulchy days and the sunny ones, I love them all. I really missed it when we were in NZ. As I mentioned, we lived in the sub-tropical north where trees don’t turn. From our current little town it’s not far to find trees, and the autumn in the Alps is absolutely gorgeous, but I still miss the English version!
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
As much as possible I volunteer to help with things at the school. It’s a bit funny living in a resort town as it’s very seasonal and people come and go. There aren’t heaps of clubs and what not for adults – though there’s lots for the kids.
I have found it quite hard to make friends to be honest – but that’s not my strong suit. Also working from home in English isn’t the best way to integrate. Naturally the international community here do come together quite a bit, but I’m not a cliquey person either… I could have made a bigger effort, no doubt, but I’ve also found people here aren’t hugely responsive to attempts to befriend them.
When we were new in New Zealand we went to see all our neighbours, and they appeared in turn to welcome us. In Bristol the parents at school were also really welcoming. Here I didn’t get that sense of warmth and welcome from the French community. But I’ve heard very different stories from people in other places in France, so it could just be because of where we live.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The two-hour lunch break! Even shops often shut - from 12.30 until 4.30 sometimes. You have to be very organized and onto it. it’s weird arriving at the baker’s to find they’re shut for lunch!!!
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
I’ve never seen anyone in a stripy top cycling along with onions around their neck. But I have seen men in berets.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
We have a skewed view on that because we live in a ski resort – which is expensive. When we decided to stay on we looked at renting a bigger place, but it’s just so expensive we decided to stay in our studio instead. Everything comes up the mountain, which adds a premium. Where we’re looking to move to is a few hours away and much closer to a big town and I’d say rent is similar to what we were paying in Bristol, but for a much nicer property! Possibly a bit bigger, but just nicer. With gorgeous views everywhere.
I was actually born in Bristol and although I never lived there as a child I did spend time there, and then lived there for a few years before coming here – I absolutely love it. I’m a runner and really fell in love with running when I lived in Bristol – you can run for ages without having to do much at all on roads. Oh, sorry, we were talking about cost of living. Who cares as long as you have nice trails to run!
I don’t think the cost of living is very different in France – but that whole tax thing… sheesh.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Put in effort to learn the language – even if you’re not very good, not good is better than not at all!
Put in effort to make friends (she says). My resolution when we move is to really dig in and make more of an effort to meet people. Just keep inviting them for coffee or whatever. In NZ and the UK we go for coffee, but that’s not really a thing here. The coffee’s pretty awful in fact. I’m not quite sure how the French do it – the meeting people and making friends thing, so clearly I need to do a bit of research there. Perhaps I need to get into pastis? When I find out, I’ll let you know!
Try to look at differences with open eyes and an open heart. You didn’t come here to have the same life, so don’t expect the same life. Embrace the things that are there. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t miss things, but don’t whine to yourself about what you haven’t got – make the most of what you have.
Make sure your guests travel with check-in bags, not just carry-on, so they can bring lots of marmite and crunchy peanut butter!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
Before blogs were really a thing I used to write an email newsletter from NZ to friends and family. I called it ‘Long White News’ (New Zealand’s real name is ‘Aotearoa’ meaning ‘land of the long white cloud’). At some point I thought those could be chapters for a book, which I called ‘Jumping Off The Edge Of The World’. Then blogs started to become popular so I set one up on Blogspot in January 2011 and called it Jumping Off Books. I posted chapters from my book-in-progress and other bits and bobs. It was just a place to feel I could publish, I suppose.
I did finish that book – then sat on it for years until I finally published it on Amazon this year! But I kept blogging, even if it was a bit on and off, and moved my blog to Wordpress. Since moving to France I’ve got into it more as I’ve spent more time writing, and I love it. Even if no one reads my blog it’s somewhere for me to put my thoughts, process my experience. I like the habit of posting regularly. I like that it makes me practice writing and share our experiences – hopefully giving a bit of support or help to other people thinking of moving overseas, or already doing it. There’s a good community of expat bloggers, which I’m just starting to connect with.
Visit the blog, Jumping off Books
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