Every Friday I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week’s interview is with Ulrike who moved to France.
1. Hi Ulrike, can you briefly introduce yourself? Please tell us who you are, where you are from, where you moved to and when you made that move.
I’m Ulrike, a 41-year old former back employee from Maldegem. My husband is from Knokke-Heist. We moved to the Auvergne in France with our three children (now 17, 15 and 9 years old) in 2009 to start a Chambre and Tables d’Hôtes there.
2. Why did you move to France?
We were convinced that we could live differently, without the rat races, traffic jams, way too high costs for childcare and running from one place to another every weekend. We wanted time for each other, the simple things in life, enjoying life with the kids in a natural environment.
Another reason was my allergy for fine dust plus the fact that we were both stuck in our jobs and felt like it was time to have a project of ourselves that we could put our heart and soul into.
3. What were your expectations for life in France and how did those expectations square with reality?
We hoped to get more time for ourselves and for the children and that came true. Of course, we still keep ourselves busy with their school and after school activities, but as soon as we step outside our front door, we enjoy the beautiful surroundings and quality moments.
4. What’s the biggest difference between life in France and life in Belgium?
My husband and I stopped living next to each other and live with each other again. The children leave home sooner as boarding school starts at 15, but we’re always there for them when they get home and spend more time together.
Shopping is difficult here as everything is much further away, but you quickly get used to that and then you adjust.
5. What’s the biggest cultural difference or difference in mentality?
People here in the countryside don’t pay attention to physical appearances. They’re less focused on what they own and more on doing things together and being there for each other. There’s more poverty, but I think people are happier, in general.
We do notice that the difference between city people here and city people in Flanders is less big. They seem to have the same worries and a similar life, always needing a bit of time to adapt when they spend a weekend or a vacation with us.
That’s why I think the difference is more in the surroundings than the country. The problem is that there’s so few countryside left in Belgium and even less countryside mentality!
6. What do you like best about living in France?
(Almost) Everything! The lovely nature, the silence, the fresh air, my amazing neighbors and the good healthcare.
7. What do you like least about living in France?
The time-consuming administration. You often get 10 different answers to a question, call centers don’t have a clue, contacts with official bodies don’t go smoothly… The country is also behind when it comes to everything IT and it often doesn’t know how to handle foreigners, although you’d think them to be experienced in this.
If you want to get something done, you need to pay the respective body a visit. Calling and e-mailing them won’t work.
8. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Some friends and family, but besides that increasingly less. Belgium doesn’t feel like home anymore.
9. Is there something about Belgium you don’t miss at all?
The air pollution, the traffic jams, the stressed out people, the aggression in traffic, the mentality…
10. Are you planning to stay in France? Or do you think you’ll migrate again someday?
I don’t know if we’ll stay in France forever. I suspect we will, but maybe other horizons will lure us? Going back to Belgium doesn’t seem like an option though.
11. Do you have any tips for other Belgians who are thinking about moving to France?
Organize leaving well, especially if you’re taking kids. Involve them in the organization.
Besides that: take a zen pill and let everything happen. Stressing about it won’t help. You just have to go through the formality list and have a lot of patience!
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!