For our June expat interview we spoke to Stephen Glennon who lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
Easy question to start, tell us about yourself.
I’m Stephen, I’m originally from Ireland but I’ve been living in Berlin since 2005. I’m a writer and translator and I founded the English-language football magazine No Dice.
I had just finished university in Ireland and because of my Erasmus year in Genoa in 2003/4, I was desperate to leave Ireland and have some more European adventures. I had a couple of friends in Berlin and the World Cup was coming up, so I decided to head there. I was only planning on staying for six months or so, but I’m still here almost nine years later.
Freedom. I work freelance and it’s great to be able to work the hours I want, and from home too. It’s hard to get off the nine-to-five office treadmill but here it really works – provided you’re willing to slog through tons of paperwork and deal with difficult bureaucrats. As for Berlin itself, each different area has a completely different feel - from the working-class eastern areas to the well-to-do neighbourhoods in the west and the previously-poor but now über-hip areas of Kreuzberg and Neukölln near the centre, there is always something new and exciting to see and experience.
Mostly I miss how friendly and open Irish people are. Berliners are notoriously unfriendly and blunt – the region is famed in Germany for being the least friendly area of the least friendly country in Europe.
I would love it if Berliners learned to see the immeasurable value in polite, friendly exchanges with complete strangers.
I like to take off every January and February to avoid the freezing winters. So I will always take breaks from Berlin but I don’t think I’ll ever want to permanently leave this wonderful town.
Strangely I have never found it difficult to live abroad. I worked hard at learning the language as quickly as I could, so that made it a lot easier to settle in. Still, it was very frustrating for the first few months as I struggled to make myself clear with even the simplest of concepts.
- Learn the language! So many people move here thinking that speaking English is enough, but there is an increasing distaste for such tendencies as gentrification is starting to run rife and force prices and rents up, particularly in Berlin.
- It’s also important to know why you’re going where you’re going – far too many people see Berlin as an enormous adult playground where you can easily indulge all of your vices with impunity. Doing so makes it easy to forget that this is a wonderful place to live and work and it’s really worth working hard to learn the language and getting yourself established in your chosen field. That done, you can enjoy all the wonders of Berlin in both work and play.
- Finally, bring lots of Lemsip (cold medicine) – there is nothing of the sort in Germany and pharmacies will try to sell you silly homeopathic remedies.
We all know a few things about France that make us want to go there – the cheese, the wine, the croissants… and Paris of course. But what does it mean to be an expat in France? Here are five things you should know before moving there.
Finding a place to stay in France is pretty straightforward, and the Internet is a particularly good source of information. If you are going to France to live and work, you will find an apartment quickly on the web before or soon after your arrival. If you are a student, your university will be able to provide you with fairly good accommodation, usually on the campus, depending on what you are looking for and what is available. Just try and apply early to make sure there is still room for you.
You could also find a flatshare (colocation), although they are not as common as in other countries, such as Spain for instance. You will probably find several possibilities in the major cities though. Looking online for a room in a flatshare is the best bet, as there are several expat websites which cater for this. Newspapers may also include a few examples in the property section (immobilier). Also, if you have trouble earning enough money to pay your rent, financial aid is available to all students (foreigners included), depending on the type of place you live in. To apply for this financial support, called ALE/APL, you will find all the information you need on the Caisse d’Allocations Familiales‘ website.
In France, a full-time job is 35 hours a week, if you work more than this you are paid overtime, or are compensated with additional days off. You will also get five weeks of paid vacation every year, and that’s without public holidays (11 official holidays per year). Most people have weekends off, except those who work in retail or in restaurants, which means you will have two days per week to travel within the country, visit and see the famous places and regions.
3. Getting around
Moving around is also simple. Public transportation in France is highly criticized by the French, but will get you where you need to go for a reasonable price (except during holidays when the prices shoot up). Visiting an entire region in one weekend is therefore easy, and some areas are especially pleasant if you have a bike and are happy to cycle around, such as the Châteaux de la Loire region.
Once in France, you can also travel easily to neighbouring countries – a weekend in Belgium or in the UK sounds good too, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that if you are a student or an EU citizen under 25 and interested in culture or history, most museums are free, providing you can present a valid ID card/student card.
Paris will blow your mind. Everyone says it and it’s true – Paris is a wonderful city. Museums, theatres, nightlife, bistros, markets, bakeries, the Eiffel Tower… All the landmarks and Parisian clichés your hear about will prove to be spectacular. If you like diversity, the capital is the place to be. But be careful as Paris is a very expensive city, especially for housing, and living somewhere else and coming to Paris for a visit every now and then is the most sensible option. Every region in France has something to offer, and the capital is definitely not the only choice you will have.
France is a pretty open country. Just like in any European Union country, you can come and live/work/study in France without a permit if you are a citizen of the EU. French Universities will be happy to welcome you as any other student, but make sure you know the language: French is hard to learn, and if you don’t have some basic knowledge, things might get tricky. If you are not an EU citizen, just go to the French embassy and ask for the type of visa you need.
Bear in mind though that the French may not be super-friendly. Although some other Europeans such as the Spanish have a reputation for welcoming expats and easily engaging in conversation, the French probably won’t hold your hand. It will help to have family or acquaintances before you arrive, so that you don’t feel lonely. If you don’t, try and make as much effort as you can to appear sociable and fun, to get them to open up.
In any case, France is a beautiful country where you’re sure to have a great time!
For our May expat interview, we spoke to Maureen Burge, a British expat who moved with her husband to the Deux-Sèvres region of western France in 2010.
Tell us about yourself to start!
Hi! My name is Maureen Burge, I don’t normally give my age away, but as it’s probably relevant I’m 58 years young! I am married to Les, who spoils me daily. We have 3 girls between us from previous relationships, they are; Daniella, Leanne and Remmi. I was born in Lancashire, England, into a large family. My mother was definitely the head of the household and I like to think I inherited her strength and determination. I have played badminton most of my adult life and I believe this has given me the perfect tool to meet people. I currently play for Moncoutant (our local town) and help train members of the club.
Why did you move?
We simply had the opportunity. I was able to take early retirement, my husband and his business partner had reached their 10 year plan and more importantly our children were settled, mine living away from home and Les’s daughter Remmi, then 18, lived with her mum. So we just jumped! Although we lived on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, we had a holiday home in France, which we had bought six years prior, so the destination was already made for us.
What is the best thing about where you live now?
We live in a village called Moutiers sous Chantemerle in the Deux Sevres, it’s peaceful, there is no pressure or sense of urgency, very different to what we were used to. Everyone speaks to each other, everyone helps each other and products appear on our doorstep throughout the growing season. The community respects and embraces all age groups, which is ‘a breath of fresh air’, we are lucky to have met new friends both English and French since our arrival in May 2010.
What (if anything) do you miss about home?
Family and friends. If I could put everyone in my pocket and move them all here, life would be perfect, but realistically – not going to happen.
If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be?
As we never thought our holiday home would become our permanent home – ‘central heating’ is the one thing my husband didn’t include, that would have made a difference in the winter.
Do you plan on moving again in the future? If so where and why?
For the foreseeable future, we will stay here in the village. My husband is a carpenter and is always looking for a renovation project, if we do move then it will be because he has found his challenge, goal or dream.
What was the most difficult aspect of moving abroad?
Saying ‘goodbye’ to those we love, the language and the paperwork (taxes and health cover).
Share your top three pieces of advice for people thinking about moving to France
- Research the area you are interested in, make sure if you have a family you check out the local services, ie schools, sports facilities, clubs. Remember everything looks lovely in the summer but imagine life there in the winter as well.
- Don’t be isolated, there are plenty of web sites, clubs and groups that will be of great help and advice to you and your family.
- Give yourself time to adjust to your ‘new life’.
If you’re thinking of moving to France Just Landed’s expat guide to France has all the information you need.