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What are your PROs and CONs of living in France?

(103 Posts)
theQuibbler Wed 06-Jun-12 12:45:44

DH wants our family to relocate back to France. He's French, has had enough of the UK and basically wants to go home.

There are quite a lot of issues that I am uneasy about, but they are not necessarily insurmountable. DH would, ideally, like to go back to his village which is very small, rural and full of his family. I grew up in London and have always lived in big cities, (Manhattan, London, Geneva) and I don't particularly care for the idea of village life. We've been together long enough and I have visited there often enough to know that I would struggle with such close proximity and what it would entail. A small town would suit me much better and I would argue the case.

But what really concerns me is the French educational system. My little boy is 6 and it has become obvious that he has mild learning disabilities. I don't think they are enough to get him a statement, but he needs a lot of extra help with phonics and maths and he needs much patience and repetition to understand what is expected of him in the classroom. He is a very slow learner.

He is at a brilliant school that picked up his difficulties very quickly and have swung into action with his IEP, sessions with a SALT, extra lessons with one on one teaching and just a high level of intervention and support and encouragement to bring him on. We've stayed where we are (in our heinously expensive bit of central London), even though we would quite like to move to somewhere less crippling, because I'm not sure this would be so accessible at another school. And that's one of my biggest worries about France. From what I've heard and seen, it's more about supporting the best and well, almost sidelining the rest. DH is not much use because he went through the system without his difficulties (which he says he recognises in our son) being addressed and so did not have a good experience. I'm concerned that even a year out (as a trial period in France) could have a negative impact on his learning.

I just wondered if anyone had any experience with children that might have LDs and how they are treated by the system? Or any info about where I could go to find out more? (He's bilingual in that he can understand everything in French, but won't really speak it unless he's forced to - after a week or two in France when we are on holiday and he's playing with his cousins, he starts to forget English words! But I think that's quite normal at his age).

Also, I'm just really interested in what you like about living in France, wherever you may be, and what bits of it that you are less thrilled about, if you don't mind detailing them.

Wow! Sorry for the essay smile

unobtanium Wed 06-Jun-12 15:51:46

Hi, most of the items on my pro list relate to being close to Paris, which will not be your case, so I won't torture you with them.

You have quickly put your finger on the major con, your son's education, and it is puzzling that his father cannot see this, given his experiences. I worry that (in rural France especially) your options will be seriously limited as to schooling for SEN: things have not come on much in these schools since your husband's day, as you say.

The compromise surely has to be relocation to a large city with the right schooling options for your son. I would guess a private school would be the way to go. I know of a few in the Paris area that would be great for your son but they are of little use to you where you are going to be.

Now I have thought of a few pro's that would apply to everywhere in France: work/life balance, health (both healthcare and just a generally healthy lifestyle is easier here), becoming fluent in French, meeting and making friends with the French...

Cons: ridiculous red tape, sometimes quite dismissive attitude to foreigners (eg officials, shop assistants, not all the time obviously), difficulty finding reliable plumbers, electricians etc., taxes...

Honestly, get your husband to face up to the facts considering your son. Does he really want to put him through what he went through? It would be doubly hard for your son who has already experienced a caring environment, in a culture and language he knows, with home/school partnership (and the extra support that brings) which you will not find in most state schools here.

Best of luck persuading him. Let us know how it goes please!

frenchfancy Wed 06-Jun-12 17:24:37

I think in terms of education your son would be much better placed than many English children who arrive in France. He already understands French, and your DP is able to talk to the teachers about any concerns.

My experiences of the French education system are only positive. We are in the private (catholic) system. Small class sizes, lots of personal attention and extra help where needed. I don't have any experience with SEN in my children but there are several chidren at our school who are getting the extra help they need. I strongly advise you to look at the écoles privées as I know children in the école publique are not getting the same help.

Reading your post, and from my own experience then the rural vs city debate is potentially a bigger problem for you. It has taken me a long time to adapt to the very rural life here.

How good is your french? What would you do for jobs? Finding jobs in rural areas is very difficult even if you have lots of experience and qualifications.

So for me Pros: education, way of life for the children, children staying children for longer, food, bigger house and garden etc

Cons: rural area, language barrier (though this is no longer a problem for me after years of very hard work), income.

sommewhereelse Wed 06-Jun-12 18:25:40

I can't think of anything to add to what has already been said but I would like frenchfancy to expand on 'children staying children for longer' if possible as my experience is that they are expected to grow up quicker.

Bonsoir Thu 07-Jun-12 08:44:35

I wouldn't even contemplate a move from the UK to France if I had a child with any sort of learning difficulty. The UK is miles ahead when it comes to helping children with learning difficulties through education and there are all sorts of options available. You just won't find the same range of options in France.

As for living in a rural village when you are a globalised person: why would you inflict this upon yourself?

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 11:18:23

Could you compromise and move to a larger regional town, not the village itself?

We moved from London to Nantes last year and really love it here. (If your DH's village is anywhere in Brittany, Loire valley, the Vendee, Nantes would be a great choice.) It has all the advantages of a smaller town in that it's inexpensive, you can walk everywhere, life is generally easier, but it's also got a lot to do, a great culture scene, etc and so on.

I can't comment on the educational side as my DS is only 2. I have heard the private catholic schools can be terrific and they are not overly religious (b/c of laicite) or expensive. In fact, apparently many Muslim families are using the Catholic schools instead of state schools, so they are a lot more diverse than you would imagine.

What do I like about France? Generally, compared to London, life is just a lot more relaxing. There is a much better work-life balance and a lot of emphasis on family. Great food and wine, loads of things to do in the countryside and towns. At least here in Nantes, people are incredibly friendly and generous. The health care system is terrific, especially for DC. People really care about all the ephemeral 'quality of life' factors that tend to get pushed aside in busy capital cities (where I have also lived most of my life, so I understand where you are coming from!)

I don't really have any cons so far, that are specific to France (just the usual expat things, like oh my god my taxes are so complicated now).

I think it's entirely reasonable to be nervous about going to a really rural location, and would try to compromise by going to France but a larger town.

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 11:20:23

Ah I should say Nantes is not really a 'small' town, it's still several hundred thousand people, but coming from London it does feel pretty small (in a nice way) smile

theQuibbler Thu 07-Jun-12 12:03:31

Thanks - this is all really interesting. Especially about the educational obstacles. I was already thinking that we would probably have to look at a private Catholic school. I think I just need to do more research to come to an informed decision. But I'm not moving him anywhere that is going to knock his confidence - atm he's awash with stickers and certificates and praise and he loves his extra lessons because "they are special and not everyone gets to do it".

I don't know if I could cope with the very rural location. I think I would need to look at a larger town, but DH is keen to be near his family in the village or out in the countryside. We would have to compromise somewhere along the line.

DH's family has a business so he could possibly work with them. As for me, I don't know. My French is passable but nowhere close to nr native and I would be appalling at TEFL. I have a young baby as well so if we went for a year, I'm not sure what I could do.

The less frantic lifestyle could be a draw for the children (although, personally, I thrive on city life) and it is unbelievably pretty where he grew up but is it sustainable? I'm not sure.

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 12:11:32

Could you live in the outskirts of a larger town? You don't have the same sprawl here and towns can be very compact... for example, we live in central Nantes, my BIL runs an organic farm in the countryside, but it's only a 15 minute drive. The Muscadet vinyards are only 20 minutes away. Perhaps your DH could get his countryside -- just not his specific village -- while you would still be close to city life and more resources for your son.

Could you do freelance work online?

TruthTeller Thu 07-Jun-12 12:21:03

I am with Bonsoir.
If I had a child with any special needs at all I would not contemplate a move to France.

The French education system is really not set up to help children achieve their potential. It is set up to produce French citizens as close to the established and agreed upon model as possible. If your child is going to struggle to fit into their idea of the model, they will probably have a miserable time at school.

You do know, don't you, that the French system still relies heavily on redoublement for kids who do not achieve the pre-defined level? And then they re-do the year, using the same methods, same materials, often the same teacher and expect a different outcome. Even maternelle and primaire kids are subject to the threat of redoublement.

I would run a mile and that's before the issues of living in a village with tonnes of French family around.

TruthTeller Thu 07-Jun-12 12:26:42

Just read your second post.

Positive feedback is a pretty unknown concept in French schools.

My DD is top of her class, and yet because she is not gifted and ready to skip a year, she is constantly criticised. Having a child skip a year is the ultimate goal of all French families. It is the ne plus ultra of education, a bit like getting your child into a super-selective grammar in the UK. She was reading to me the other day, got stuck and turned to me in tears, saying, "I am useless, I am so stupid".

She is 5 and very able.

sayanything Thu 07-Jun-12 12:46:59

I'm with Bonsoir as well. In fact, I came here to post that the one big con for me would be the educational system and that was before I read in your OP that your son may have SEN. I found the French system to be very rigid, very focused on learning by rote, writing in a specific way (including handwriting) and with little encouragement for children to think for themselves and form opinions. Obviously that's just my view and I live in Belgium now, but I have no intention of sending DS to a school based on the French system.

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 12:55:09

Sorry to interject but -- When you say 'the French system' does that include the private Catholic schools? Or are they more laidback?

Is it really like this all over the country too?

Bonsoir Thu 07-Jun-12 14:29:47

"The French education system is really not set up to help children achieve their potential. It is set up to produce French citizens as close to the established and agreed upon model as possible."

Very succinctly put. And absolutely true.

Bonsoir Thu 07-Jun-12 14:30:48

Private Catholic schools also follow the French national curriculum. They just add a bit of religion (which sometimes - not always - includes a bit of kindness and understanding).

TruthTeller Thu 07-Jun-12 14:57:39

Sometimes the Catholic schools can be more rigid as they are expected to get good results so they are required to use pretty austere methods, including asking children to leave if they are not reaching the expected level.

The level of religion, I find, is usually relative to the performance of local schools. Where local state schools are performing well, the sous contrat Catholic schools will be chosen by parents who are looking for the catholic instruction, preparation for sacraments etc. Where the local state schools are less good, you usually find there are over-subscribed Catholic schools whose religious dimension is light. Parents choose these schools for stronger discipline, better results and not for the catholic ethos.

My children have attended two high performing, over-subscribed catholic schools both of which have been light on religion. and there's no requirement to be catholic. As a poster mentioned above, there are lots of muslim children in our school, veiled mums at pick up.

Bonsoir Thu 07-Jun-12 15:00:51

That's an interesting observation, TruthTeller. In Paris there are both über religious Catholic schools and Catholic-lite, and both sorts can be very academic or not terribly so. But I imagine that in smaller towns market forces may well pan out in the way you describe.

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 15:36:01

Hmm, very interesting, thank ye! smile

TruthTeller Thu 07-Jun-12 17:45:42


I think you need to show this thread to your DH.

Personally, I think it is easier for kids to move from the French system to the Anglo system, but very difficuly to move from a UK primary or secondary school to a French school.

It's a fallacy that formal education starts later in Europe than in the UK. Mandatory education (not school, of course, as home education is permitted here, unlike in Germany, for ex) in France starts at 6, but the vast, vast majority of children attend maternelle from a very young age. And those three years of maternelle are crucial in preparing the child for the way school works here in France. Maternelle is not at all touchy-feely. Children are expected to be in a classroom of 30 with one, possibly two adults, and acquire serious classroom skills very rapidly. There is a right way of doing things from an early age, including eating lunch at the canteen, writing in upper case and then rapidly progressing to cursive, sticking notes in the cahier de correspondance with a baton de colle.

indiastar Thu 07-Jun-12 18:46:13

I moved back from rural France when my ds was 4 so he could start school in the UK. He has SEN and I knew that he wouldn't be able to cope in the French school system. His nursery teacher actually said to another nursery teacher (in front of me) that it looks like my son smokes too many joints, she didn't know that I had lived in France as a teenager and knew all the slang!!!! He was 3 at the time!

When my brother was a school in France, my mum was told that there was no such thing as dyslexia, just kids that were not very intelligent!

My ds gets excellent support in his school here.

dreamingbohemian Thu 07-Jun-12 19:36:01

Gosh, Truth, you make maternelle sound so grim!

We have seen a lot of our local maternelle, as DS' creche is in the same building -- the kids, especially the youngest ones, mostly seem to be playing games, singing, dancing, listening to readers... it's a very bright and cheerful place and the staff are pretty chirpy. So I haven't been worried about sending DS there next year, I'm more worried about a couple years from now.

frenchfancy Fri 08-Jun-12 06:06:23

Truth - your version of Maternelle bears no resemblance to my experience.

I think there is a great tendancy of expats to blame one bad experience on the "French system". Bad schools exist in England too. Just because there is a national ciriculum does not mean all schools are equal.

TruthTeller Fri 08-Jun-12 06:58:55

I don't think I have exoerienced a bad maternelle here, that's not what I am saying. There are of course good points about the education system here. Why else would I agree to put my children in it?

But, it is not only very different to the UK system, but considerably less holistic, with less emphasis on pastoral aspects and a strong reliance on negative feedback to motivate. I do see good points, but was responding specifically to the OP's situation and in her situation with a DC with mild SN, I would run a mile.

Read Peter Gumbel's book, On achève bient les écoliers.

TruthTeller Fri 08-Jun-12 06:59:33


jenpetronus Fri 08-Jun-12 08:13:25

Have to add that this isn't my experience of maternelle either TruthTeller - I can think of dozens of examples of holistic teaching and attitudes at my DS's (catholic) primaire.
They are both happy, well adjusted, curious, interested to learn - although I have never had a child schooled in the UK so have no comparison. Of course they have to stick to the national curriculem, but from the tiny sample of opinions on this thread there seems to be huge disparity between experiences.
Could you talk to some of the schools he would possibly attend? - I'm sure if it were me I'd have a much better idea, just based on instinct alone, of how my DS would fit in having made some contact.

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