No, not moving to France – that was a wonderful decision!
But we have made plenty of mistakes since moving to France less than two years ago. Here are the top ten mistakes we’ve made (so far):
10. Assuming we can find familiar ingredients. Some of our staples, especially Tex-Mex ingredients, are difficult or impossible to find in France: jarred jalapeños, green chilis, Rotel, Fritos, sour cream, bison meat, and many other items. But there are substitutes for many (crème fraîche, for example, is much tastier than sour cream), and some things we bring back from U.S. visits (last year I brought several bags of Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Stuffing Mix in my checked bag). As for the others? We simply embrace the bounty to be found in France!
9. Getting baking powder and yeast mixed up. This was a fun learning experience… but it only took one baking disaster to resolve. “Levure chimique” is baking powder and “levure du boulanger” is yeast. Soon after we moved to France, I used levure du boulanger to make biscuits. They were not consumed.
8. Using the wrong flour. While we’re on the subject of food, I should mention that in France flour has numbers. Number 65 is what I now use for cakes, and I use #45 or #55 for other things, such as breading chicken or thickening gravy. How did I learn this? By making my mother’s famous chocolate cake, which I’ve made regularly all my life, with flour #45. It tasted right, but the texture was dense and dry. It was, however, consumed, with gusto.
7. Choosing an apartment for guests instead of ourselves. We rented a lovely furnished apartment for our first year in France, giving us ample time to decide on a more permanent home. The criteria we gave Renestance was very clear: “We MUST have at least two bedrooms and two full bathrooms, so we’ll have a comfortable space for house guests.” Ann-Lii of Renestance came through with flying colors, finding us a beautiful, spacious apartment, and our guests loved the privacy and space. BUT we rarely have house guests, so when it came time to buy an apartment, our criteria were for ourselves, not potential guests. We now own a smaller apartment with one bathroom and a canape-lit (sofa bed) for guests.
6. Doctolib protocol. Doctolib is the French system for finding a doctor and securing appointments online. My husband Phil had to learn the hard way that it’s also the platform for sharing documents with your doctors. After searching in vain for a document from his physician, he finally found the switch in the “Documents” tab to authorize the storing and sharing of documents. Once he clicked that box the documents appeared. Of course, Doctolib is in French, so…
5. Smiling for an official photo. In France one needs an official photo for many purposes – driving license, healthcare registration, visa renewal, etc. We have had them taken by a professional and have also used the ubiquitous shopping mall photo booths. But after having an application rejected because I had a faint smile in my photo, I learned my lesson. With a photo that looks like a criminal mug shot, I’m now in business!
4. Going shopping on Sunday. In the U.S. Sunday is a big shopping day. All the stores – grocery, clothing, electronics, everything – will be open. We arrived in France on a Sunday and discovered that we could not buy sheets, towels, or much of anything else! Fortunately, Lizzie of Renestance had anticipated this and arranged for the essentials to tide us over until Monday. Some weeks later, we had to relearn this same lesson. We traveled via tram to Odysseum, the large mall in Lattes, noting how few people were on the tram with us. When we arrived, we found out why: NOTHING was open! Lesson learned.
3. Signing outside the box. We were fortunate to move to France from Texas, a state with a driving license exchange agreement. With help from Renestance, we submitted all the paperwork and photos, and after a couple of months, Phil received his driving license. I, on the other hand, received a rejection letter stating the photo was not acceptable. I had a very slightly pleasant look on my face (see #5 above), so I got another photo, this time looking like an axe murderer. Again, my application was rejected! The Renestance team was as puzzled as we were, but finally someone suggested that the problem could be that the “y” in my signature dipped slightly outside the signature box. Sure enough, after correcting that, and waiting several more weeks, I received my shiny new driving license!
2. Buying a car that won’t fit in the garage. Yes, we did that. Our apartment came with a locked underground garage space and we had permission to install a charger for our electric car. After closing on the apartment, we drove optimistically down the spiral descent, which was lined with industrial bubble wrap – for a reason! We finally made it down to our level but quickly realized that our car is simply too big to fit into the garage. So now we park on the street and use the garage for storage!
1. The language, of course! We are working hard to learn French; Phil has twice-weekly lessons, and I have those plus conversation classes. Many of my mistakes are hilarious, like the time I asked our winery guide if he was the viognier (this is a type of wine). “Non,” he replied, “Je suis le vigneron!” Vigneron, of course, means winemaker. When our daughter was studying in Toulouse, at a large dinner she commented, “Le nourriture francais n’ai pas beaucoup de preservatifs.” This translates to “French food doesn’t have many condoms.” Language mistakes are common, and in our experience, people are happy to correct us when we make them. After laughing.
So yes, we’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I’m sure we’ll make many more. But part of the reason we moved to France was to challenge ourselves, to learn new things, and that’s exactly what we’re doing—one baby step at a time.
In early 2022, Sandy Shroyer retired from her professional career. Her jobs have included cooking for hired ranch hands, serving as a community mental health center staff psychologist, performing various leadership roles in healthcare firms, managing a lot of highly successful sales executives, and selling technology and services to health systems and health plans. The best part of her career was people—those who became lifelong friends, those who irritated her into learning important lessons, and those who taught her things through their kindness and genius. Her superpower is connecting people, whether it’s professional networking, introducing friends who become friends with each other, or just figuring out who might like to know someone she knows. She tried never to miss an opportunity to have fun at work. Sandy and her husband traveled full-time in the United States during the pandemic, and they are spending their retirement in Montpellier, France.
All articles by: Sandra Shroyer