Starting with the all important…
Be prepared for the lack of toilet seats and the abundance of mixed-gender toilets in public places.
- BUY A TOILET SEAT (if you’re in halls, IKEA do the cheapest ones)
- Your quads will be insane after having to squat over so many seatless toilets
French deodorant is really not up to much, I mean it, the stereotype is true, stock up on English deodorant before coming to France
They don’t really do supermarket own brands per se of moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner etc so be prepared to splash out
Educate yourself on CAF, I wasn’t told about it and it’s actually something very worthwhile doing. It’s a lengthy process but it ends up giving you back 1/3 of your rent (in my case anyway)
Get a French bank account and get a French phone contract, don’t try and get by on your English ones. The sense of achievement you will feel after having opened a bank account and a phone contract entirely in French is SO worth it, and it makes sense money-wise
- Orange and FREE do good phone deals in France
The whole process of enrolling into university, picking your modules and making your own timetable whilst ALSO worrying about getting your learning agreement signed is quite frankly awful and painful but you’ll get there eventually…
The French bureaucracy really will make you more frustrated than you ever thought you could be
Everything that’s computerized in England, is most likely done via paperwork in France. AGH. Be prepared for lots of queueing, heated discussions and hours of your life wasted when you need to go through any sort of administrative process
FOOD, DRINK AND THE SUPERMARKET
Say goodbye to eating meat – in the same quantities that you would at home anyway.. it is expensive and not as good a quality
It’s all very well saying don’t eat meat, BUT equally vegetarian meat substitutes don’t exist in France, so vegify yourself
Hundreds of bottles of wine at less than 5€ in big supermarkets – dreamy
Baguettes, cheese and pastries are so cheap, it explains why French people live off of them, but boy-oh-boy French cheeses pong to high hell, I would recommend buying food bags to put said cheese in once you’ve bought it, and even put it in a tupperware after you’ve bagged it, and then, only THEN will the odour in your fridge be reduced (no promises though)
French supermarkets don’t do special offers like BOGOF, it’s either pay full price, or buy 5 of the same thing and get about a 50 cents reduction, WOW, maybe this is why French people buy in bulk??
French supermarkets are also havoc, especially on a Saturday evening because everyone is last-minute buying before Sunday where everywhere turns into ghost town
- Don’t forget that everything is closed on a Sunday, prepare yourself or otherwise you’ll starve
Remember to WEIGH and PRICE your fruit and veg before going to the checkout, otherwise you’ll have to do a hilariously embarrassing sprint through the supermarket
French people just pick at the fruit and veg in the supermarket and eat it there and then, what??
Stock up on baked beans and English breakfast tea, or pay 100€ (ok slight exaggeration) in France to buy them, trust me you will need more teabags than you know, I have gone through an absolutely barmy amount of English breakfast tea
If you’re a cheese fiend, I guarantee you’ll miss cheddar (I do, SO much)
Don’t buy UHT milk, ew (maybe I’m just too fussy). Fresh French milk still isn’t as fresh as it would be in England but a bottle of it lasts easily over a week once you’ve opened it, without any sourness or chunks of congealed milk yum
Sliced bread is not like it is in France – it’s tastes sweet and weird, hell, just eat baguettes all year round
You can’t buy painkillers or medicines in the supermarket, any medicine has to be purchased from a pharmacy
40p boxes of paracetamol/ibruprofen don’t exist in France, the cheapest normal painkillers will probably start at 2€ per box, but they are effective; you can get much stronger medicines over the counter in France than in England
French halls do not even begin to compare to English halls’ of residence. Oh and they don’t have ovens so say goodbye to easy oven-cook food
- I would recommend that you buy a toaster, kettle and maybe even a microwave/oven to have in your room, mine have saved my life this year
French transport is amazing. Trams, trains and buses are always clean, comfortable, efficient and on time, and often very good value for money
- Buy a tram pass (mine is only 15€ per month for unlimited tram and bus travel within my city)
- Buy a Carte Jeune – equivalent to a 16-25 railcard in England, it’ll save you a lot of money
My city and most French cities have a bike-rental scheme, this is a great way to explore where you live whilst also getting fit
If the weather is nice, WALK or CYCLE, yes even if you’re feeling lazy, you’ll regret it otherwise when you get to the end of your year abroad and realise you missed out on seeing a lot of cool places
Crossing the road isn’t the same as it is England, French people don’t actually tend to stop at pedestrian crossings, so be super vigilant to avoid getting flattened
OUT AND ABOUT
If you go up to stroke someone’s dog, don’t expect a friendly conversation with the owner like you might have back in England. Be prepared for a glare and an ‘omg you’re such a nuisance’ kind of look from the owner – maybe this is just in my experience lol
EXPLORE. You will notice yourself spending lots of money, but this year is a once in a lifetime opportunity – you (normally) only get one year abroad so make the most of it!! Don’t be afraid to splash out when and where you can, use your Erasmus grant and make sure you don’t regret not doing things
SAY YES to every opportunity (within reason, yes)
Clubbing isn’t really a thing in France, it’s all bars bars bars. The clubs that there are, are usually very sexist (in our favour) as girls’ entry might be free on a night when guys have to pay 10-15€ !! Or maybe this is just Grenoble.. !?
French guys are a lot more touchy-feely than you’d ever expect on nights out here, and they’re very persistent, keep your guards up girls, unless he’s a looker or a charmer, or both (lucky you)
Start drinking beer – it tends to be one of the cheapest drinks on a student night out, in addition to Teq Pafs (tequilaaaaaaaaaa slammers)
There are no student gym membership rates here – you’re probably looking at about 25-30€ per month membership
Shops here are AMAZING for female fashion, take advantage or you’ll definitely regret it
Take lots of photos, document your year abroad and your memories
VOUS, VOUS and VOUS until asked to ‘tu’, unless you’re speaking with friends, or you could end up easily insulting someone
When you haven’t heard something that’s been said, say ‘pardon?’ not ‘quoi, quoi?’ which is a bad habit I got into, it’s always better to be overly polite than rude (sorry to whoever I’ve offended in France whoops)
Don’t be afraid to talk more slowly than the natives do, if you try and speak too fast you’ll trip over your words – I do this ALL the time
Put yourself out there – the only way to get more confident at speaking French is to practise practise practise !!
Even when you’re spoken back to in English, persist with the French, even if you have to tell the person you’re talking to to please speak in French, I know it sounds awkward but you’ll thank yourself eventually
- French people love to practice their English with you, it’s not always an insult when they speak back in English, for example if I met a French person in England I’d want to speak in French and practise my French even if they wanted to speak English – same principle!
Things that we would say in about 50 words in English, in French they’ll use about 500 words instead
You will have bad days, days where your French feels like it’s gone back to GCSE level, and days where you really can’t express what you want to say, but this is natural, we can’t be on top form all the time! It will get you down and you’ll feel like you’re not improving as much as you should be, but language learning is a rollercoaster, take it in your stride!
THE ART OF QUEUING
This doesn’t really exist in France, we Brits stand out like sore thumbs, learn to be less patient and learn to push a little more
To end – your year abroad is quite literally what you make it. Your decisions and your happiness are in your own hands, the world is your oyster and only your head can control your own two feet and whichever direction you want to steer them in. Your year abroad experience will never be the same as that of anyone else’s so don’t try and compare them or get bogged down when you realise that maybe your year abroad won’t be the ‘best year of your life’. You will learn so much about yourself (both good and bad) and your confidence will rocket. Remember, if you can do a year abroad you can quite literally battle anything else in life that is thrown at you.
Even if you’re not a languages student but you have the opportunity to go abroad, DO IT. I think this is the most invaluable experience ever and it’s so underrated, the ERASMUS scheme is a godsend so use it to your advantage.
I hope this can be of some use to some of you out there about to embark on a year abroad, or inspire some of you to do a year abroad, or just plainly amuse those of you who have no interest in doing a year abroad whatsoever but want to laugh at my struggles.