5 things living in France Improved about my Lifestyle

posted on August 13th 2014 in Blog & Inspiration & Living in France with 39 Comments

Last August, I moved to France. A spontaneous step puzzling everyone who know me, myself included.


Let’s define it as the toughest and scariest decisions in my life – follow my heart.

Having no particular expectations set and even a slightest idea of what’s being an expat in France is actually like, I bought a ticket and left. It is just as crazy as it sounds.

(Living in Japan doesn’t count. I was a 4 year kid and can’t remember much of that time anyway.)

A year after setting foot on land of wine and cheese for the first time, I can make an official statement – “My life became much better than it used to be!”

Here’s how:

Healthier sleeping and eating habits

Hating early wake-ups since childhood, my tendency to stay up late got even worse during college. Classes were always scheduled midday or late afternoons.

In four years, I have seen so many gorgeous sunrises…..because I haven’t gone to bed yet.

A new job I landed at my senior year made things even worse. Flexible working spoiled me so much, that I was unable to get up early unless there was a crucial reason for that (think cheap morning flight!).

Result: highly deprived sleeping patterns. Constant insomnia and constantly feeling guilty for being late and wasting half of the day for nothing.

Living in France, gave me a number of reasons why I should get out of bed earlier.


Photo by my lovely B

Insanely delicious morning pastry. You can spot a queue at any boulangery as early as 7 a.m.! Freshly baked croissants and baguettes disappear fast!

Serene bike ride through the empty streets to cheer up. Instead of grabbing a coffee and immediately going to business, I take this long refreshing ride to hear the first “Bonjour” of the day from some random people I see on my way. A lovely mood-setter for the whole day.

That becomes completely impossible, when you woke up midday and have email exploding already. With eyes half open, you immedeately go straight to business and stay glued to your chair till evening.

Not cool at all.

Proper lunch. One of the things I don’t understand about France are fixed eating hours. You are obliged to stick to a perfectly crafted schedule like everyone else.

The usual lunchtime is from 12 till 13 PM which is too early for someone who just got breakfast at 11, right?

You won’t find a good meal after that time. Cheap places close or stop serving discounted lunch offers.

Nope, you can’t order a pizza. Domino’s and Pizza Hut in Besancon have weird working hours and are closed from 14 till 18 PM.

Eat on time or stay hungry. Cruel motivation making me jump out of bed early.

Getting things done. All services and shops close at 19 PM sharply. You won’t buy milk at 21 PM Deal with it.

Governmental institutions close even earlier around 16-17 PM.

Result of all these things combined: Normal sleeping patters and better well-being.

(Oh, and I stopped looking like a walking dead in the morning)

Becoming less of a workaholic

I work from home now. Fact, that is more time efficient than ridding in a tightly people-packed marshrutka and overcrowded metro, arriving to the office frustrated as hell.

French are not workaholics.

People arrive early to work (around 8-9 AM) and do not stay later than 17-18 PM. You have one-hour lunch, often with glass of wine. All paid for.

Your employer will never ask you (unless there’s an extreme emergency) to stay overtime (double taxes + double wages) or work on the weekends.

In Ukraine, (and a lot of other places) you are expected to work overtime. The unspoken rule is – leave the office after your boss did. It used to be true at my previous job.

You can learn what is a proper work-life balance in France. Sunday is the day you usually spend with family, doing sports, traveling and…

Spending more time outdoors

Love the French word “Randonee”. It can mean: hiking, cycling, tracking or simply a walk.

Since, moving to France randonees became my favorite weekend pastime!

Picturesque sloppy hills surround Besancon, with a fort topping each of the main 6 hills! Hiking trails are marked all around the area with pointers or get a printed map at the local tourist office.

You never know what you’ll find on your way up – a farm with lamas or an abandoned funicular station. There are a lot of hidden spots even in small French towns!

And should I say how gorgeous the views from the top are?


Being less concerned of my appearance

In Ukraine you never see a girl going out to the corner store without make up and heels. Yes, Kyiv was named the city with the most beautiful women a while ago, but do you imagine what it’s like to walk on ice in heels?

Or how to wear dresses when it’s -10 C for 2 month in a row?

You are expected to dress that way, just as most other girls do. I’ve felt the odd one out so many times in a girly company wearing comfy flats and no make-up. Wearing 10 cm heels is ridiculous when you go out for coffee.

The French women have this unique freedom to wear whatever they like. No make-up and pure skin. I adore the local principle of natural beauty.

The true French girl charm is simply her self-confidence and acceptance of her own skin and imperfections.

I’ve always had issues about my hair. It’s curly and when I had a shorter cut – it looked so messy! When I’ve straightened my hair, there were always some flocks that didn’t want to take the right place.

Just look around and see other girls and women with that sexy bed-head look which has actually been called one of the French women fashion secrets. Cool for me, I have this tousled hairdo all the time :)

No matter what a French girl is wearing – designer shoes or keds, each step she makes is full of confidence!

French women do know how to love and pamper themselves + hear a ton of compliments each days from their man. It’s absolutely okay if a colleague or someone’s French husband comments on your dress or appearance. Nope, he’s not planning to hook up with you. Yes, he’s just stating you are attractive as a matter of fact. Learn to accept that flattering things.

It took me a while till I’ve finally started to feel the same. Learned to radiant with this “I don’t give a fuck” confidence, stop worrying about my looks each moment and started loving my appearance the way it is.

Corsica France

Me in Corsica earlier this year


Frankly, I have learned how to bike only this year at the age of 22. Yet, it quickly became the most favorable mean of transportation!

Besancon is extremely comfortable for cycling as there are loads of routes crisscrossing the city along with special parking places at every shop.

Mind, you are not allowed to take your bike on public transport in case you got tired.

What could be better than a weekend ride out of town? Cycle through adorable tiny villages in Grand Besancon area with this unique rural allure that you could never feel in a big city.

Riding along the wine yards, yellow raps fields and emerald green hills, reflecting in the sparkling river was sort of a perfect picture I’ve imagined before going to France.

Today, I see this stunning view from my window.

It’s just happened so unexpected as my move to France.


Suddenly, I realized – my life became different. More balanced, relaxed and healthy making me feel way happier that I used to be.

If you feel like you need a change, there’s a big decision you are trying to make and still doubting…. well, go for it!

It may turn out to be one of the best decisions you have made in your life!

Check Out: 10 Healthy Living Tips To Adopt From The French for more suggestion on how you can improve your life!

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  • Rie

    Very nice blog, I too discover my country through foreign eyes. Reading some comments, Paris is definitely different from the rest of France. So what Elena experiences in Besancon may not apply to Paris.

  • Ella

    It is very nice to hear about France. My dream is to live there and it is very refreshing to hear about it. I feel like it might be too late for me to move beacuse I have two school age kids. And i do not know how the school system in france.

    • Hey Ella. First of all, it’s never too late to make a big change. Secondly, the school system is rather fine in France. In case your kids don’t speak French at all, they would be assigned a special tutor or extra classes to catch up. For free. My friends’ got their daughter (aged 8) into Marseille public school last year and she mingled with the rest of the kids easily and became fluent in French pretty fast.

      Besides, Uni education is really affordable in France. Most undergrads can study for free or have to pay around 300-400 euro per year for text books and stuff alike. Again, higher education is rather good in France. At least from my perspective.

  • Hi Elena,
    nice post :)
    About French girls’ confidence even when wearing no make up and wearing anything they like, somehow I can see that in their movies (I’ve never been to France, so the French movies are as close as I can see them). It’s so refreshing after seeing too much of “picture perfect” in Hollywood movies to which I’m more exposed to.

    Breakfast at 7 am? Hoho.. bring it on! As an early riser, I’m all for that!

    Nice to stumble upon your blog!
    vira recently posted…Tenganan Tukad Dauh, Bali – Bali Aga and Their Intricate ClothMy Profile

    • Hey Vira,

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I love the fact that French girls and women embrace the standards of natural beauty and films promote that too! Oh…I’m not good at getting up early, especially on gloomy winter days, so still struggling a bit with getting used to that 😉

  • What a terrific and reflective post! It’s fascinating to read about how much these quotidian things have changed you and subtly molded you into a person you like even more than before. That’s a very special thing, and one you can carry with you if or when you leave France.

    After living in Spain for four years, I very much agree about being less of a workaholic. If I have to go back to the American 9-5 (er, 8-5…) work grind, I will be forever fighting it!

  • I <3 the French lifestyle! The breakfast, the working-to-live… I think I was French in a past life!!

    • Haha :) It could be true. And yes French definitely know how to enjoy life!

  • Ah, living in France sounds amazing..! I think the freshly baked croissants would make anyone a morning person 😀

  • You basically make France sound like heaven, which maybe it is! I’d love to get into some healthier habits like you have – it sounds like a much happier life overall!

    • I didn’t come to this point of view pretty fast..Used to hate the fact that I can’t eat late, do midnight shopping at an empty supermarket and buy new stuff on Sunday (’cause all the malls are closed) …but then I gave up and started to faking the local way of life, till I actually made it 😀

      Yep, living in a small French town definitely has some cool perks that you won’t have in a bigger city, yet there’s the other side too. Just like with most things in life.

  • saying hi from the link up! I love the fact that natural beauty &amp; self-confidence rules in France. I can’t stand being all primped up and pretty just to go to the freakin’; market!

  • I have to say living in France sounds amazing… warm freshly baked pastries in the morning, a more relaxed working schedule, the great outdoors. I’m almost ready to throw in the London towel and move on over! Claire xx

    • Maybe you should? :) I never knew how it would have turned out when I made this decision and it turned to be a really good one.

  • David

    I’ve already seen ukrainian/russian women walking in high heels in the snow, and i always thought it was because they were street hookers or something. Haha no joke. I had no idea women were pressured to dress like that no matter the weather outside.

    • Ok, some ugly truth here. A lot of people do have a tendency to think like that seeing the way some girls’ dress up… I had a reverse thing: when I saw hookers in Madrid city center, I first thought they were just girls going out to party

      Anyway, the reality is. If you see a woman walking in high heels/short dress in winter
      49% she’s single and wants to attract someone
      49% she always dresses like that because she thinks she looks good
      2% that’s probably a hooker.

  • I love hearing how being an expat has improved lives! I’ve only been one for a week-and-a-half so time will tell, but I already love the lifestyle differences this move has made so far!!

    • Welcome to #TeamExpat should I say? 😀 You did pretty a lot of traveling already, so I bet you’ll have interesting thoughts and comparisons of staying in different countries. Would definitely look forward to that!

  • ~ K

    These all sounds like great improvements. I’m definitely less of a workaholic since coming to Belgium, it’s all for the better and because it took me a while to learn there’s more to life than work.
    ~ K

    • I once thought I really love my job (I still think this way), but it no longer occupies the 1st place in my life. Learning to balance it all correctly is one of the best things I’ve managed to learn so far! :) Glad to know you have similar experience!

  • Really enjoyed reading this post!! Yeah, I would wake up early for those delicious pastries too. In Germany where I’ve expatriated to they also don’t wear so much makeup or make such a fuss about having every strand of hair in the perfect place and I LOVE IT. So freeing.

    • Exactly :) And this attitude does save a lot of money and time that could be spent on some other amazing activities!

  • Great post! France sounds like an excellent place to live, with the fresh pastries and bread, and all the cycling and the confident women. It’s great that it has changed you for the better. I should get myself to France right now!

    • Come to visit and try spending time away from Paris and other major touristic cities! I believe it’s the smaller, less known towns where the authentic French allure is.

  • Very interesting post!

    I have such issues with restaurant that close between lunch and dinner – I do not have “normal” eating schedule when I’m travelling and it’s always throwing a damper on things!

    Also, I think it’s is very interesting how you say you cared less about your appearance in France, because when I was staying in France I was so self-conscious because they all look like models, so well dressed, so put together, so elegant! And then there was me – jeans, converse and large coat. I do think you have put your finger on it though when you say confidence is their key!x

    • What I’ve noticed here is that a girl may not have this absolutely perfect appearance of the next Miss Universe, yet she’s still knows she is beautiful in her own way. No matter what she’s wearing, even if her hair is styled not the right way or her manicure isn’t perfect today, she would still walk gracefully like a real model.

      Besides, unlike a lot of other nationalities the French girls tend to dress really modestly and simple, yet still look sexy. Guess, it has something to do with red lipstick.. :)

  • This is really marvellous. It is amazing how much your experiences have positively influenced you – I can indeed see why you experiences of self esteem as an expat have been so good! Thank you for sharing!

    • I felt like I needed a change, a big one. And than life threw it to my face 😀 A year ago I would have never thought so many things would improve in my lifestyle.

  • These are all such positive, wonderful things! Good for you for following your heart.. it always leads to the best places :)

    • …and even unexpected places you never actually wanted to visit or even haven’t known that they existed :)

  • Elena! I love your blog! The French women have such a je ne sais quoi that I envy!

    • Annie, thank you so much! :) Exactly, that attitude adds even more points to their beauty karma I guess.

  • I agree with one thing – you will truly miss the coolest and the warmest pastry from boulangerie!! :)

    • Haha, yes! I think it’s time to admit I have sort of addiction to it :)

  • I love your perspective on how living in France has influenced you – I reflect on that from time to time myself and enjoy hearing the experiences of other expats. I too love the balance between work and play in France. It’s something I think the French do well, and it is refreshing coming from NYC where everyone is on the go, all the time. It’s interesting to read your thoughts on dress in France because I’ve had a very different experience. Maybe it’s different in Paris versus smaller towns? Everyone in Paris it seems (men included) dress nicely, all the time. I’ve felt I’ve had to step up my game and more carefully evaluate what to wear – and no sneakers except to go to the gym!

    • Concerning fashion and looks – I love how the French women are dressed. Plain colors – dark or pale and all that sophisticated accessories. They look chic, though modest. In Paris, Besancon, Lyon and guess pretty much everywhere else :)

      In Ukraine you can see a girl early in the morning, obviously going to the office, yet dressed as though she’s heading to a luxury roof-top party in Manhattan (or better she thinks that people get dressed like that there). Full face evening make up, extremely high heels and best of her clothes for sure! Girls back in Ukraine always seemed a bit overdressed to me and I was feeling so uncomfortable ’cause of that. I won’t opt for a tight fitting bandage dress and 10 cm heels as my usual outfit for a coffee :)

    • Wow, I certainly have not experienced the culture in the Ukraine – that sounds like a lot of pressure for women to get ready each morning! I&#39;m coming from the opposite experience – where I lived outside of NYC, of course there is a range of how people dress, but you wouldn&#39;t think twice if you saw someone at the food store or mall wearing sweatpants or pants that look like sleepwear, like