Kimberlee Mancha describes herself as a somewhat contrary, 40-something woman who decided to leave corporate life in the USA behind and reinvent her life in France. She runs a small business, The Bohemians, a petite boutique in Brantôme with gifts, clothes, and décor items for the home. Read her fine blog on life in France at www.noregretsforme.blogspot.com.
Read more about the country in the Expat Arrivals expat guide to France, or read more expat experiences in France.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Berkeley, California
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Brantôme, France
Q: How long have you lived here?
A: Nearly two years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: No, but I brought my two dogs!
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: To follow a life-long dream of living in France. I just opened a small boutique in my village.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: The charm, the history of the city and region. The quality of life is unparalleled for those who would seek a lifestyle where the focus is on working to live versus living to work.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: My two children.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Completely, it is a rural area and the town has only 2,000 residents. Plus, I live just up the road from the Gendarmerie.
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Brantôme as an expat?
A: I don’t live in a ‘city’ but a village. For me, choosing to be within walking distance of the town versus being more isolated in the countryside is good since I am alone. I have a large garden and the village is surrounded by atmospheric landscape, so there is the best of both worlds.
I think expats should really consider their desired lifestyle. Try to imagine how you want to spend your daily life in your new town. For example, city life can be energizing or chaotic (if you like lots of people, stimulation) … country life can be seemingly idyllic when you visit but isolating and lonely if you will live alone.
My village is about 20 minutes from a larger city (Perigueux) where I can get a bigger ‘shot’ of culture with theatres, concert sites, a larger variety of shops, people, things to do… and a train station that is easily accessed and a gateway to the rest of Europe.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Brantôme compared to America? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Because I own my home, it is much cheaper. I find property taxes are less, the consumption rate is less, so I’m spending less. The tax rate for salaried individuals is much higher, but you won’t pay as much for health benefits and the like.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: My goal was to integrate, and so I have made a variety of French friends. I’ve recently tapped into an English expat pool of folks. I personally think it is a mistake to socialize solely with other expats. I find that happens a lot here and can extend even to using only businesses of the same nationality etc. You don’t gain many points with your new countrymen/women by doing this.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: As can be expected, the biggest barrier is the language. As my skills improve, my local social circle broadens.
About working in France
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No because I have started my own business. Getting permission to have a salaried job is more difficult, as in any country.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Brantôme, is there plenty of work?
A: I live in a rural department (county) so jobs are not plentiful here. If you have permission to be employed, the government provides support in finding a job. Choosing a more populated area is best if you need to be employed.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: On this topic, I sum up the difference between French and Americans in this way: the French work to live and Americans live to work.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, I researched and performed all of the steps. I moved household belongings and my pets, and have documented all of my experience and findings on my blog.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Wow, it would be hard to share it all. Leave your expectations and comparisons behind…instead of being wistful for all the things at home and searching to replace them here, try to be open to experiencing and assimilating the new culture and traditions of the country you’ve moved to.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE. Make the effort, you won’t regret it.
~ Interviewed February 2010