Oct 18th, 2015, 03:23 PM

French Countryside vs. Paris

By Angelic Croxell
Looking out to the vast green landscape of Normandy (Photo: Angel Croxell/Plume)
Normandy is beautiful and not to be missed, but country living isn't for every American who wants to live in France.

Have you ever tasted Calvados? It’s a local liquor made from apples in Normandy that’s not only good to drink by itself over ice, but also popular to cook with, or drink warm on a cold winter day. France is, of course, home to famous alcoholic beverages like champagne and "les grands crus", but lesser-known Calvados is a real treat, best from an unmarked bottle someone made on their farm.

This local delicacy is much less common in Paris, and is one of the many differences I have noticed between French countryside and French city life. Though the ride from Paris to Normandy is only a few hours by train, the cultural differences spread much further.   

If you’re an American moving to Paris, there are plenty of books, blogs, websites and how-to guides that will make the transition much easier than if you were moving to Normandy. For me, the one make-or-break difference between living in Paris and living in Normandy is how well you speak French. Yes, it’s that simple. If you’re just starting to learn French, I recommend you stay in Paris, where it is more likely that residents speak English. But, if you have a working knowledge of French, you may find the countryside quite pleasant in comparison to the busy, bustling city of lights.

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world and as such, it has made a lot of adjustments to take care of the visitors, tourists and expats that frequent the city year-round. It has a very easy metro system, a majority of the city speaks English, you can find American food throughout the city, making it seem like you really aren’t that far from home. Whether you are staying for a week or a year, Paris is not that difficult to adjust to, provided you are open to speaking French occasionally and can adjust to stores closing at odd hours of the day. 

Inside the Paris metro (Photo: Flickr/pedrosimoes7)

In Normandy, however, speaking French is a must. The farther you get from Paris into the surrounding countryside, the more you will need a basic knowledge of French and French culture. The small, 16th century town of Mortagne-au-Perche in the Percheron region of Normandy is known for its horses and apples, and only a handful of the 1,600 residents can speak English with some level of fluency, many of whom are English teachers. Unlike Paris, many people are born and raised in the countryside, and stay there if they do not go away to college. They simply have no need to learn English if they aren’t going to move. 

The countryside also provides a close neighborhood community that is often lacking in city life. In Paris, it is much harder to get to know your neighbors, whereas in Mortagne-au-Perche it felt like I knew half the town by the end of my first week. The people are kind and friendly to outsiders you quickly feel welcomed and at home, going as far as stopping by unexpectedly to ask to have coffee together. As odd as it seems at first, it’s quite normal for them and you are more than free to return the favor stopping by your neighbor’s house without calling beforehand -- something that does not happen in Paris.

Finally, living in the French countryside means relying more heavily on a car. Whereas in Paris, you can get around easily with the metro, buses, and bikes, Normandy has infrequent train stations and buses that run at odd hours, and even then, never on Sundays. Unless you have a car, you are likely to get stuck in town for most of your stay or rely on your friends to drop you off and pick you up from the train station. No, there are no taxis whatsoever.

The lush green landscape, the quiet life of living in a small town, the friendly family-like atmosphere really make the countryside an idyllic home, especially for someone who speaks French and has spent a large part of my life studying the language and culture. But, it’s not for everyone who wants to move to France. If you’re not familiar with the language, need the comforts of home that Paris can provide, or have a fear of being stuck in a small town with no way out most of the time, I do not recommend it. Paris is the place to be. That being said, renting a car and taking a trip out to the countryside at least for a weekend is an incredible experience to see what small town France is like.