living the dream?

Recently, both Eyelean and Den Nation wrote posts about what France is really like once you take off the rose colored glasses. Their posts have inspired me to write one of my own.

I often get the question “Which do you like more, France or the United States?” and no one is ever happy with the answer. I say I like things about both and dislike things about both. I mean, there are days where France pisses me off so much that I think moving back to the US would be the best option. Other days, I can’t imagine ever leaving. It’s all about the circumstances, isn’t it?

Many Americans I know (even some that have lived in France!) have this glorified version of France in their minds, and often tell me that they are jealous of my life and that I’m living the dream. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I do have a good life. I’m happy. I’m with a great guy, have the cutest dog, and have had some great experiences. But living the dream?

Sometimes, I think my potential has been wasted on France (I’ll save that for another post). I wouldn’t be an intern if I went back to the US. I’d have a decent job by now. For me, that’s the dream.

I look outside and see a bunch of young guys smoking joints and destroying things. I open the window or go on the balcony, and all I can smell is urine (and it’s not dog urine). Drug deals are going down just outside all the time. Is that the dream?

If you Google “Lille”, you’ll probably find images of the Grand Place, Vieux Lille, and all the other pretty Flemish buildings. The vast majority of people cannot afford to live in those areas (maybe in the outskirts of Vieux Lille, but it has horrible public transportation connections, and who wants to deal with cobblestones?).

We currently live in Lille Fives. It’s a “quartier populaire” (think working class neighborhood but with a lot of poor immigrants (or second or third generation immigrants) that is apparently becoming more and more “bobo”, but I don’t really understand why people say that. Fives does have a horrible reputation, but J has lived here for almost 3 years now (and I’ve been here over a year now).

In the beginning (and up until about last autumn), we couldn’t see why the neighborhood had such a bad reputation. We have a really nice reasonably priced apartment in a new building (with a garage and balcony) on the main square with the local town hall. We just assumed that only some areas were shady and giving the entire area a bad rap.

Lille Fives

Fives isn’t always bad, sometimes there are fun events!

Starting last autumn or so, youths (most likely the younger brothers of the drug dealers) have pretty much taken free reign over the area. They like to kick in and break the doors, smoke joints inside our building (I’m assuming they deal as well), ride motocross bikes dangerously across the square… you get the picture. If you call the police, they take 45 minutes to show up and then tell you that they’re already gone (uhh, duh!). If you call the company that manages the building to talk about security issues, they say to call the police or the town hall. Then, they blame residents for some of the damages to the building (we’re waiting to see if they’re raising the monthly charges). So basically, nothing is happening to deal with the issues.


I know, these things could happen anywhere, but is this what foreigners picture when they picture France? I don’t think so.

I also want to state (in case my mom is reading) that while the guys have caused all sorts of problems, they have never threatened us or harmed us.

Elliot on the balcony

Elliot enjoying the festival from the balcony

Back to the idea that I’m living the dream or that France is the best place ever or whatever. For me, life has just become normal. I think that’s why I had a lot of trouble keeping up with my old blog and why I stopped updating here for awhile. Writing about my mundane normal life didn’t seem interesting. I’m having far less of those “Wow!” experiences that many new arrivals have. Day-to-day life in France is just that. Normal. I think many expats will agree with me, right?

Okay, just wanted to get that out there.

More positive post coming soon!


14 thoughts on “living the dream?

  1. You’re absolutely right of course. And you’ve only touched on one problem. All countries have problems but France being the tourist capital of the world seems to encourage the rose-tinted spectacles. I have none of those. Living the dream? Yeah… right!
    Still want to stay though. I just need to be able to create my own bubble to live in.


    • Yep, exactly! I’m not saying that I want to go home. I know the US has plenty of problems and isn’t exactly picture perfect. I just wanted to get this all out especially after reading the others’ posts.


  2. I’m not a patriotic French (there is stuff I like in France and stuff I don’t, you know, the usual) but I’m often surprised by many expat blogs. They seem to be living in another country than the one I remember, one where they enjoy fine dining (crêpe is usually the only thing I can afford in France, dining out is expensive!), fancy apartments and great fashion (EUR150 for a pair of jeans…). It’s… strange.

    Okay, I realize that many people want to live the “French dream”, much like French abroad are sometime trying to hard. Like new immigrants to Canada who insist that poutine is a delicacy and not junk food for hangover folks.

    Anyway, it’s great to have another perspective, even if a bit negative, it’s more realistic.


    • I’ve been pretty negative recently. I hate my Masters so much, and the problems in our neighborhood just make being home miserable as well. We’re going to move once I’m working which I think will help a lot. My boyfriend hates this neighborhood perhaps even more than me. And would you believe it? We don’t even have a good boulangerie here!

      There are things I love about France, or else I never would have spent 7 years here. It’s just the living situation has been grating on us a lot lately. We can’t wait to have the chance to find somewhere else.


  3. So so so looking forward to my move to Brussels! Not really because I’m leaving France or because I’ve had the same kinds of issues many of you have – my neighbourhood’s a bit dingy, but not particularly “sensible” as far as I can tell. I just hate my apartment and the commute etc. etc. I’m crossing my fingers that things will look up for you when you finish the Masters and find your dream job and apartment with your new husband!!


    • Yeah, I think that’s more of my problem than France in general (that and the Masters from hell). And hopefully good things will be heading my way in a few months. Thanks for that!


  4. We’ve debated long and hard about selling our apartment. I’d like to leave the drug dealers behind as well, but unlike you and your fiancé, we’ve bought our place so it’s a bit hard to leave. Not to mention that it’s not a good time to sell.

    There’s no way I could put up with a noisy square in front of my apartment!

    Oh, yes, I know exactly what you mean when you say that your potential has been wasted here. I don’t really think that I would have been better off with my profession in Canada – in my case I could have stood a real chance in certain European cities (but definitely not Bordeaux).

    I don’t know about you, but while we are not struggling financially, personally (not counting my husband) I am a lot poorer living here than I would have been had I stayed back in Canada or moved to one of these European cities I spoke about above. On the other hand, though, at the end of the day I think I would rather have stayed poor and jobless and have time to be with my husband to travel (paid for in part by his job) and not be a weekend couple. I’ve made a choice to stay with my husband here and have less money. I think that this is something that people back in Canada could never understand – there are less options here and sometimes you have to settle for a situation that is less than perfect.

    My mother is horrified that I am over 30, don’t have a car or a career and ride my bicycle around everywhere. What people reading these fairytale posts need to realise is that it costs money to live here, and the reason that I have lasted so long in Europe has been thanks to my husband, but also because I live a very frugal life. It takes sacrifice and real commitment to stay in France for most immigrants.


    • My boyfriend almost bought something in this neighborhood, and now, we’re so glad he didn’t. It’s surprising how quickly things have changed here!

      The noise of the square isn’t bad at all. The apartment is well insulated, so we don’t hear the neighbors or anything. Unless there’s an event, we’re fine.

      My boyfriend is a web developer, and it’s definitely paid a lot less in France than in other countries. Until we have 2 incomes, we can’t do too much.

      I’m less than a year from 30, and sometimes I freak out about not having saved for retirement yet (a necessity if I end up in the US), not having a real career yet (I did teach for a few years though), and the like. But I am happy. I am glad I stayed. If I hadn’t, some of the good things in my life would not be happening.


  5. Bad living situations can really get to you. Forward momentum is also important, I think… I think I passed the CAPES at just the right time and met J at just the right time to feel like I was still moving forward. But then, I have the advantage of wanting to teach! But I’m sure things will get better when your masters is over. Congratulations on suffering through it all the same.


    • Sometimes, I do wonder if I’d rather teach. I almost did change masters this year, but with the new concours reform, I wasn’t sure if I’d fair well. You get either Version or Theme now, and if it’s Version… I’d be screwed. Of course, it ended up being Theme. My fingers are just crossed that I can actually find a job after this! I’m ready to be in a career already!


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