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Interview with Andy H - expat adventurer in France

Updated 15 Feb 2010
Andy H is a young American expat with hopes of enjoying the good life in France with her Frenchman for many years to come. She worked as an English teacher for two years but is currently studying to get a masters degree in the cultural field, so she can eventually work in the very competitive world of French museums.

Read more about expat life in the France country guide or read more expat experiences in France.

About Andy

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: A Maryland suburb of Washington DC.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Metz

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A: I lived in Metz during the 2007-2008 school year, in Mulhouse 2008-2009, and more permanently in Metz since June 2009.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: I first moved to France right after college to be an English assistant in French primary schools. I decided to stay for personal reasons. I worked a second year as a lecturer at the University of Mulhouse. I am now studying to get a master’s degree in art and culture at the University of Metz and giving private English lessons.

About Metz

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?

A: I love how old everything is, there’s such a rich history here. Metz was annexed by Germany several times during its history, so there is a great mixture of French and German elements in the architecture and lifestyle. The food can be quite German, lots of pork products and good beer. There are a few German laws left over, so we (Moselle/Alsace) are reimbursed 90% instead of 70% for health insurance, and we also have some extra vacation days that the rest of France doesn’t get. The region has almost everything in terms of sightseeing, mountains, lakes, historical cities and houses. Metz is close to Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, so you can literally be in four countries in a single day. There are special train fares for the region, so exploring isn’t too expensive. There are several airports between one and two hours away.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: The negatives depend on your expectations. I try and see everything as a learning experience, so things don’t bother me as much as they did at first. There are the standard gripes of poor customer service and slow administration. Paying for customer helplines still bothers me a bit. Also, the winters in this part of France can be a bit harsh.

Since I came here right after college, I have created my adult life in France. There isn’t much to miss, since I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I miss friends and family, but I also have friends and my boyfriend’s family here, so it’s not as hard as when I first arrived and was alone all the time.

Q: Is the city safe?

A: Metz is fairly safe, depending on the area. As with any town, there are areas that are more dangerous than others.  But I have no problem walking home at night through the centre.

About living in Metz

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?

A: Metz isn’t that big, but I know older, long-term expats tend to go into smaller towns and buy houses. There are a fair number of younger expats living closer to the centre, around the train station (for easy access to work in Luxembourg).

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: When you are younger, there is housing aid available from the government so it is much cheaper compared to the USA. The health insurance is amazing, I know too many friends in the states who don’t have it at all, so I consider myself very lucky. Food seems a bit more expensive, electronics as well. The closer you get to Luxembourg, the more expensive everything becomes. Gas is cheaper in Luxembourg, however. Many things are cheaper in Germany as well, so people who live close to the border take advantage.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: The region has a reputation for being cold, but I haven’t found that at all. The other students in my classes and my boyfriend’s friends and family have all been very open and nice. There are a few other expats I see, but we usually go out with French friends as well.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: I am fairly shy, so I don’t make friends easily in any situation. Changing jobs and cities never helps when trying to make friends. What’s important here is routine and if you go to the same cafés or bars frequently, you are bound to start making friends with the people there. There is the perception that as a foreigner you’ll be leaving soon, so there is no effort made to become friends. If people see that you are more permanent, then they will start to form a relationship.

About working in Metz

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: No, I had official contracts so there were no problems. I had to go back to the states in between jobs, which was a little annoying and really shouldn’t have had to if things had been done faster. Switching to a student visa was a bit harder, but I had all the paperwork so they couldn’t really refuse, so I didn’t have to return to the states.

In France the problem tends to be that every region and department has its own way of implementing the rules, so moving around and changing jobs can be difficult.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

A:The big draw of Metz is that Luxembourg is very close so most people work there, in the banking or technology field. There is lots of work for English teachers, because everyone who wants to work in Luxembourg needs to learn it! With the new Pompidou Centre satellite opening in a few months, I think everyone is hoping for more growth in the local economy.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: Things take longer here, and almost everything is closed between 12 and 2pm. Nothing is open after 7pm or Sundays. Fewer things are done online, and calling is still better than emailing. This can be hard for foreigners, since calling can be very stressful when you’re unfamiliar with the language.

Also, there is a very French way of getting jobs, and if you don’t have the particular degree for the job you want, you probably can’t get it. For example, even with four years of university, two years of teaching experience, and my language skills, I am not considered “qualified” to be a secretary because I don’t have that degree. There is no sense of transferable skills. This is important to keep in mind when looking for a job here, your degrees are often more important than your experience.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A: There is a German bilingual school in town, and depending on the area, German is taught instead of English in primary schools as the second language.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?

A: Wonderful. Not the most modern, but I can’t complain since it costs so very little out of pocket compared to the States.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Learning French is absolutely critical. You don’t have to be fluent, but the more you know, the easier things will be. Try to avoid other expats at first so you don’t speak your native language as much and really immerse yourself in the language. It’ll be hard, but if your goal is to create a life here, even for only a few years, it can make a huge difference in your experience.
~ Interviewed March 2010
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