Want to move to France? Perhaps you are marrying a french man or a woman? Or just interested in living in the country of cheese, wine and Napoleon? In this article you will learn my observation about the "typical" french moms' lifestyle, the living in France pros VS cons, my thoughts on french schools in France (Paris), a bit about french food and the french life in general...
This is my life in France Review.
Background: I'm a 30 years old mom of school-aged kids. I love France (although, there are a few aspects I don't like about Paris) and I live in Paris with my awesome family. My kids go to public schools and we all have french friends and are pretty immersed in the french culture. I'd like to share here my interesting observations and useful information on life as we know it - here in Paris, France.
French kindergartens and french primary schools.
Being a mom in France and French moms' style.
Typical French afternoons.
Daily life in France, French food, shopping, etc.
French children are very polite and are taught to be so from a young age. They will always tell you Bonjour (Hello), Merci (Thank you), Bonjourne and Au revoir (Good day and Good-bye).
Parents often give babies and young children a "doudou". What is a doudou? Doudou is a small french rag toy. Usually the toy looks like a fluffy handkerchief with a rabbit's or a bear's head and limbs attached from the sides. The purpose of a doudou is to have something that kids can cling to for confidence. Often, a doudou is a must-have on the kindergartens' items list, along with diapers and a change of clothes.
We live in Paris and the common sense here is that women go back to work as soon as three months after giving birth, although the french maternity leave can last up to one year.
In cosmopolitan areas, it's rare to meet french stay-at-home-moms. It seems to me that French women are career-driven, but at the same time, the rent and living costs in France are on the high side, so it could be tough to live and raise a family on just one salary.
Many mothers in France, both local and expats, strongly rely on nounou (babysitters) or Assistante Maternelle (babysitter which usually takes care of several kids at the same time at her own place), often such babysitters in France are employed full time. Nounou's job includes responsibilities such as dropping kids to school in the mornings, picking them up, providing light snacks and taking them to parks.
The nounou and Assistante Maternelle "culture" is spread among every working class that I've encountered. Even when nounous were not employed full-time, I was told by parents that they are commonly used for various hours so that the parents can have things done or go out on dates.
For french moms, their relationship with their husbands are very important. Many of the parents I've encountered go to weekend getaways and mini vacations without their children. During those times, the children are staying with grandparents or with full time babysitters. "All-inclusive" vacation deals where children can be left in "kids clubs" are also popular.
Another common thing is that during school vacations, kids go to "Centre de Vacance" and "Centre de Loisir" (summer camps and recreation centers) which are responsible for supervising the kids and providing a variety of activities, such as sports, arts, computer studies, etc.
With wealthy expat families, especially those living in the suburbs or country-side, where the apartments and houses are bigger, an au-pair or a live-in-maid are a popular choice.
Au-pair is usually a student or a young person who'd like to explore a different country/culture and gets to live together with the host family. Au-pairs receive a small salary from their hosts, as housing, food, phone, transportation and other expenses are taken care of. In exchange, the au-pair is responsible for helping the household and for taking care of the family's kids full-time. That includes school drop offs and pick ups, help with cooking and feeding, certain house chores and other daily tasks. Requirements vary from one family to the other but there are common ground rules that are monitored by the law.
Another very common point that I've noticed is with cleaners: cleaners' services are often used among all working classes. Oftentimes, cleaners are employed permanently with one cleaner having 3-4 families, whom she services every week or several times per week.
French Moms' Style:
Many want to dress like the french women, and before coming to live here, I imagined the local women fashion to be ultra chic and gorgeous, especially with the Parisian dress style that's often advertised in the media. However, turned out that most ladies like their fashion casual. French moms often wear relaxed clothes and natural or minimal makeup. In terms of brands, it seems that clothes in the style of the Spanish Zara, the Japanese Uniqlo and the American H&M are what's commonly worn.
Women living in the "high-neighborhoods" of Paris (those that are either closer to the center or on the west side of Paris) and those in the "fashionable cities", such as Cannes, frequently dress in chic designer items. They also seem to prefer stronger makeup.
French dads are expected to take an equal part in raising the children, although many women told me that in practice, they are the ones mostly cooking and cleaning after work rather than their husbands.
On the other hand, seeing fathers playing with their children in parks and taking them to museums is a common sight and it's lovely. The work-life balance in France is very important (you might be already aware that French often go on strikes and fight for their vacation rights and salary increase).
In terms of fashion, in general, french men seem to like to take care of themselves and you can definitely notice it. In my opinion, french men look more stylish than women.
French Kindergartens and French Schools:
I love the free education in France. Private bilingual schools in France exist, especially in the west neighborhoods and west suburbs of Paris, but because the education system in France is good in my opinion, I felt no need for switching our public school. The french goverment provides free french classes and usually public schools show patience with new non-french speaking students. I was told that a child learns to communicate in french within 6 months and I can tell based on our experience that it holds true.
French school hours vary. For example, french primary school students usually don't attend on Wednesdays or spend only half days in the school (until noon).
I found that there are the good, the bad and the weird parts about the education here.
The good thing is that, in general, the education system is excellent. Kids are taught tolerance and respect toward different cultures. The schools and kindergartens provide lunches and allow the kids to eat at home if they don't or can't eat at school (providing that the kids are brought back to school after the lunch time).
The lunches are of a great variety and good quality- quite like restaurants! Kids get balanced 3 course meals. The ingredients for school lunches in France are often bio! A typical lunch would always have cheese, bread, fish or meat as the main dish, veggie-rich side dish and fruits bowl with mouth-watering chocolate cake or pudding as desserts - yes, you read it correctly! I was also surprised how calmly the french attitude is about sweets- it's provided DAILY in the school system.
Public schools often have one day of the week as a vegetarian day and another day as a special theme day to introduce different countries' food. As such, for example, french school kids get to taste Indian, Chinese, German, Italian, etc,. I want to go to french school just so that I can eat there!
The meals are not free, but affordable. Families with lower incomes pay several euros per day while wealthier families pay 7 euros per day. The rest of the education in french public schools, apart from buying school supplies, is free up until high school graduation. Furthermore, elementary grades are provided with free notebooks and textbooks.
For busy parents, schools provide after-classes activities within the school, accompanied by snack time. The amount is paid depending on the parents' salary. The snack time often consists of fruits and...chocolate breads or croissants...
Now to the one major bad point:
somehow, lice are a common problem among french children. It's almost inevitable and it's recommended to spray your kids' heads with anti-lice spray each morning before going to school. Just thinking about this this makes my head itchy!
The weird point, in my opinion, is that some kindergartens (or "creche" and "ecole maternelle" as they are called in french) are allowing children to enter classrooms with outside shoes WHILE asking that parents wear disposable shoe-covers or bags.
This both makes no sense and the wasted plastic is terrible for the environment. In my own humble opinion, to keep the floors clean, both adults and kids could be asked to take off shoes at the entrance, don't you think?
Another puzzling moment for me (and i know it's controversial - don't kill me!) is that, chicken pox vaccine, while available, is not compulsory and is not commonly administrated. This results in most of the kids catching chicken pox in France. Chicken pox is not a deadly disease, but very unpleasant nonetheless and very contagious.
Typical French Afternoons:
Ah, the french way of life...if you think that french typically walk around with baguettes sticking out of their bags, drink aperitif at tiny tables outside tiny restaurants, eat way too many croissants and walk around smoking like chimneys...well, know that racial profiling is bad but you are right.
There's another common thing here, that perhaps you are less familiar with, and this is the gouter.
A "gouter" (a snack) is commonly given to kids in the afternoon. It's part of the daily life in France. Most don't try to "keep it healthy" (as you already figured out from my previous explanation) and often the snack is either a "pain au chocolat" (chocolate bread or a "pain in the teeth" as I call it, hehe), a cookie or some other sweets or chips.
I am very happy to note that France also has a great variety of healthier snacks: they have delicious and easy to eat purees which are especially designed for small children. Many got no additives whatsoever and are even made of bio fruits. Another good, although not especially "healthy" snack is a french crepe with chocolate or caramel filling which is made without any added preservatives and colorants.
When the weather is good, small kids typically go to play in the parks after their school hours. Often, accompanied by their nounou/babysitter (usually both parents work). Unfortunately, I often see nounou that are not exactly playing with the kids- frequently, they just sit in a pack and loudly talk among themselves, leaving toddlers and kids to either motionlessly sit in the stroller or crawl away and play on their own.
French Living, Food and Shopping:
In terms of french food, France is a heaven. Every neighborhood is dotted with bakeries, local cheese shops, local meat shops, specialty wine shops and fruit and veg vendors. Every week, neighborhoods organize markets selling delicious foods and interesting goods.
As you can expect, the cheese selection is mind-blowing. French supermarkets are also stocked with halal and kosher food and food in the style of or imported from other countries Think cup-noodles, freshly made sushi, frozen paellas, couscous and couscous salads, Russian Kefir, middle-eastern sweets, etc. The list is too long!
Oh and the canned section! You can find anything and everything canned!
Another great addition is the Picard chain. For busy families, Picard sells a great variety of frozen foods that are actually tasty. Picard focuses exclusively on frozen foods. It's unique in that their stores are just rows over rows of freezers and nothing else!
Thanks to the cultural diversity in France, there are plenty of authentic food stores (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Spanish, etc) to delight any foodie.
On weekends, the wealthier families with cars tend to go to the forests or to their vacation homes in the countryside. Those who don't have cars, can rent one either through a rental shop or by using companies that have parking areas across the city from which one can rent a parked car through an app (there are many such companies). Same service applies to renting bicycles and, of course, you can also use public transportation (buses, trams, metro, trains) to reach your destination. Unfortunately, many attractive destinations are only reachable by a car, but then there are many others that can be reached by train.
A big minus, apart from the living cost in Paris and in France in general, is that Paris is not very kid-friendly. Most metro and train stations have no elevators, restaurants are mostly too small to fit a stroller and have no high-chairs or changing facilities. Many people walk and smoke and carelessly swing their cigarettes when passing children. I've encountered assholes who throw cigarettes out of their windows! Parisian streets are rather dirty with plenty of dog poo.
There are some available activities for children (Sortir Paris lists existing and upcoming events in English here) , but those, at least in Paris, get extremely crowded or are booked-out quickly.
Many museums are free on each first Sunday of the month, however, due to the crowds and waiting lines, I wouldn't recommend going there with small children.
Unfortunately, due to the crazy amount of tourists, during all of our life in Paris, we couldn't go to the Eiffel Tower nor to the Catacombs (3 hours waiting line!)
Other complaints would be that deliveries here are unreliable (many have wonderful experiences, but then there are many, such as myself, with true horror stories). I also dislike how in some bakeries, the sellers touch bread with bare hands, and the croissants and such are positioned near the cashier, where customers may accidentally sneeze or cough directly on them.
But all in all, life in France is beautiful and delicious and the proximity to other European countries make it easy to travel abroad. Traveling inside France can be achieved quite cheaply if you use the low-cost train called OUIGO trains: kids cost a flat rate of 5~8 euros, depending on the destination and tickets can be as cheap as 10 euros per adult.