Last week we met Gigi Whitford who had retired to France with her husband. I hope you enjoyed reading about her experience as much as I did. I’m packing my bags now!
This week in Part 2 of Retiring to Another Country, Gigi explains how she coped with learning a new language and also outlines her 10 top tips to consider BEFORE THE MOVE.
Did you speak the language before you moved? If not, how did you overcome the language barrier?
While he does not consider himself to be fluent in French, my husband is able to speak much, much more French than I am. He has been taking French lessons for decades. He loves the French language. Having one person in the couple who can speak some French is a huge bonus in being able to navigate social and administrative situations!
I only started to learn French when I was certain we would be moving here. For me, learning French (or any new language) has never been on my ‘bucket list’, but I do have a desire to communicate,… and when you live in France you have to communicate in French! So, for me, learning French is all about being able to communicate with the people around me.
When we first moved here, I could barely speak a word of French. Seriously. I was pretty much lost. I had trouble remembering the names for the days of the week! Numbers? Not even close (they are still very difficult for me). I had to have my husband translate what people said to me and translate what I wanted to say to them. I was lucky enough to have incredible people around me who were beyond patient with me.
One thing I discovered about myself early on was that if I knew the person I was talking to, I was fearless. I would just try to communicate. I’d use the words and phrases I knew and I’d pantomime.
Most of the time, I would get stuck. It was like ordering a big meal at a restaurant when you are really hungry and then not being able to finish it! I’d start a sentence all excited and then have to stop because I ran out of words I knew!
Because the people here are so kind and friendly, they’d typically help me get my thoughts out.
That still happens and I’m grateful! We had assumed that it was going to be simple to find French classes here. Nope. Really hard. We had to go to a night course an hour away by train twice a week at first.
Now, I take a lesson once a week from a local teacher and I love it and I am making progress! I still speak like a caveman. I have to think of each word I want to say before I get it out of my mouth, so I don’t speak with a natural rhythm. Conjugating verbs is the hardest for me and I am forever messing up my tenses.
My vocabulary is big but my lack of grammar definitely holds me back. But, now, I am more confident when speaking to strangers. Post office, I got this! The hardest type of communication for both my husband and I has been with our medical doctors. That is hard because there is a lot of specialized vocabulary and because it is your health, you have to make absolutely sure you understand.
What advice could you give to others who would like to follow a dream such as yours?
First, I would say that it is most important to “do your homework” once you begin to seriously think about moving to another country.
Here are Gigi’s 10 Top Tips to Consider before the BIG MOVE!
1. Try before you move
When trying to determine if you can really make a big move, I suggest that first you rent a “vacation rental / holiday home / gite de France” (typically a house or apartment) and stay there for 2 -3 weeks, or as long as you can. This gives you the opportunity to try living more like a resident than a tourist.
2. Do your homework
When moving from the US to France, if you are an American citizen, it is not just a matter of packing up and going! There are a lot of procedures to follow, starting in your home country and then once you get to your newly adopted country.
3. Purchase a Comprehensive Book
I would advise starting with a comprehensive book written in your native language (search Amazon or your favorite bookseller) using keywords such as “retiring in France”, “living abroad”, etc.
4. Start learning the language BEFORE you move
If you are thinking about moving to a foreign country, start taking lessons in the new language. Even if you only start 3 months before your move, try to start. Figure out the best way you learn and go for it.
5. Think about your pets
If you have pets you are going to be bringing with you, talk to your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
6. Work out what to take
Figure out what you can afford to take with you. It is really expensive to ship household items overseas.
7. Medical records
Get a copy of your medical records from your doctor before you go. This might take a couple weeks, so do that early too!
8. Be patient with paperwork
Be prepared to continue the paperwork process in your new country.
9. Stay connected to your home country
Figure out how to stay connected to your home country.
10. Be Patient
Finally, I’d say to give yourself TIME. Integrating takes time.
I’m an American expat living in a tiny village in rural France. My husband and I have been here for about 1 1/2 years and we absolutely love it. We have two cats, one American cat (Oreo) and one French cat (Rosie), both who are very spoiled.
I love a beautifully-set table with lots of colorful dishes, napkins and flowers, a glass of wine every night, baking and eating raw cookie dough, and binge-watching Netflix.
I blog at www.awarmhello.com and write about ways to add warmth to your own little corner of the world. On my blog you can find ways to add warmth to your home, your table, and across the internet.
You can follow Gigi at
Let’s Keep Sizzling!