Salut, tout le monde!
Planning to live in France? Whether it’s for a few weeks for an immersion program or for several years for a working-holiday stint, knowing what and what not to bring with you can be an incredibly stressful process. This isn’t the same as vacationing for a short period of time like you used to do– no, you’ll be getting ready to get settled in a new environment for the long term, and every little thing that you bring (or don’t bring) can make a difference to how your experience turns out in the end.
That said, just what should you pack and what should you leave at home? Short answer: it depends. Generally speaking, your packing situation might not be the same as other’s, in terms of what things can be foregone and what are absolutely non-negotiable. For me, after having spent about a month studying abroad in Paris, eight months teaching in Normandy, and countless weeks (and weekends) traveling all over Europe during my teaching stint, I’ve gotten a good feel for what I needed and didn’t need when far from home. Essentially, it comes down to experience and knowing yourself, your wants and needs (generic as it sounds).
I’ve put together a list of things that you can pack (or not pack) for France. In advance, I won’t be listing the common stuff like clothes, toiletries, passport, etc. because, well, those are obvious. Instead, I will list those that I’ve found were (or would’ve been) very helpful from my time studying and working abroad. Perhaps you can take these into consideration when you begin to pack your suitcase!
P.S. Just as a side note, I would say bring no more than two large suitcases with you abroad. Even if you’ll be there for a long period of time, you’ll save a lot of sweat and tears lugging around your heavy items as soon as you get off the airplane, through the metro system (where many of the stations don’t have escalators), and to your desired destination. You really don’t need to pack for a whole family, especially if you’re the only one going.
In any case, here are some things that I would suggest you pack (or not pack) when moving to France. Allons-y!
What to bring:
1. Layers (and more layers). This is probably one of the most important things that I wished that I had brought more of, especially before heading to Normandy for teaching. Being California born and bred, I had underestimated the *much colder* weather of northern France. It’s not just a little chilly that you get the goosebumps- no, it’s the kind of cold that gets right down to your bone, turns your fingers so numb that you’re afraid that they’ll break off any moment. I’m sure the Canadian and Scottish teaching assistants are probably laughing at me right now, but I’m serious: it’s so frickin’ cold!
I would say that, generally, it’s fairly cold even in the south of France during the winter/early spring months (I vacationed there in early March, and found it nippy at times). That said, if you’re coming from a warm, temperate environment like mine in California, prepare yourself with thick winter coats (water repellent ones are a plus since it can get very rainy where you live). Scarves are a huge plus, as are beanies and gloves.
…also, one thing that I really wished that I had brought with me were warm fuzzy socks; I’m talking about those super-thick wool ones and I would’ve like to have had them when my toes were freezing off during the winter months. Next time, I suppose…
2. *At least* two umbrellas. Trust me on this: at some point, no matter how careful you are, you’re going to lose your umbrella. Whether it goes missing at a bar or you forget to take it off as you get off the bus (*ahem, that was me), you’ll lose it. That’s why you need a back up, in case it happens. Umbrellas in France aren’t very cheap, and they don’t seem to be of very good quality (which is rather ironic, because it’s almost always raining there), so it’s best just to bring yours from home.
3. Good running shoes. I’m a runner, and also use my running shoes to walk around. I’ve logged so many steps– running and walking– with my shoes that when it came time to buying a new pair at the sports store in France, well, I was saddened. I’m only half-exaggerating here, but it’s true that the shoes I wear in the U.S. are much better quality than those in France. No idea why, but the pair I bought in France after my old American ones wore out didn’t feel as stable or supportive. Plus, they made me slip easily when the ground was wet (usually the case in rainy northern France). No matter what, I couldn’t bring myself to like them. Next time, I’ll have to bring two pairs of running shoes with me, even if it means taking up room in my suitcase!
4. Personal hygiene items. While it’s true that you can get shampoo and conditioner anywhere in France, it’s just not the same as the ones back home. I’d brought some of my shampoo and conditioner with me to France but of course, I used them up within a month and had to buy them at the stores. Yes, the markets in France sell popular brands like Pantene and Dove (which I use), but they are more expensive than other brands, especially those exclusively from France. I was *still am* cheap, and chose to buy the cheapest kind…and it wasn’t very good (of course). I learned to deal with it, but for those of you who can’t stand that sort of thing, just bring a ton of bottles of your shampoo and conditioner, and if anything, just fork over an extra few euros for the same brand at the market (or online).
As for face creams and other beauty products, I would say definitely have enough in stock to last you the entire time while you’re in France. Other things like contact lenses solutions are okay to bring with you, but they can also be found in the local pharmacies (behind the counter, though, so you’ll have to ask the workers for it), so it isn’t as serious as the other items listed.
5. Medication. If you take any sort of prescribed medication, then of course bring it with you. Try to bring enough to last you the entire stay in France, but in the case that you run out, I believe that as along as you have your carte vitale (social security card), you can figure something out with French health care and get a generic brand of your medicine. Other things like painkillers and cough syrup can easily be found in drugstores under their generic names, so you don’t have to worry about bringing those with you.
6. Memorabilia. If you know that you’ll get homesick, then you can bring some small items from home, such as a books, music, stuffed animals, even American snacks (non-perishable, of course!). I chose to bring a couple of posters which I taped to my apartment’s walls, not only for decor purposes, but also for making me feel at home.
*HOWEVER* I totally forgot to bring my posters back with me when I finished teaching, and so they’re still at the place (I’m so mad!) Hopefully, there’s a way that I can get them back again… *crosses fingers*
What not to bring:
1. Teaching materials. Might come as a shock to you, especially if you’ll be teaching assistants, but having brought teaching materials during my time in France, I really don’t think they’re necessary. I never ended up using them, and instead made my lessons completely on Powerpoint. So bringing things like magazines (already outdated by the time you arrive in France), restaurant menus, toys, and other items aren’t necessary; plus, you save space when you pack.
*HOWEVER* I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t bring nothing at all. Perhaps little things like the American flag or your university cap and gown (especially if you teach high-school level) aren’t bad to take with you, and they don’t take up that much space, anyway. Do also get in touch with your professor-colleagues and see if they want you to bring some stuff over from the States; definitely take those into consideration, but ultimately, you can choose what you think is important (and realistic) to bring with you.
2. Hair dryer. I’m sure that many of you, especially avid travelers, know that bringing electric items with you to a country with a different outlet isn’t the best way to go. Even if you use a converter or adapter, it will most likely not work- and it might be dangerous. Save yourself the trouble and just buy it when you arrive in France: your safety is more important than having good hair.
3. (Too many) T-shirts. This goes back to #1 of “things to bring,” but really, I would say bring more long-sleeve shirts than T-shirts, especially if you’ll be living in the north of France. I brought way too many T-shirts when I went as a teaching assistant, and rarely wore them, just because it was too cold outside. Generally speaking, know what kind of weather goes on in your region, and plan accordingly when you’re assembling your wardrobe to wear for the next few months or years.
Also, make sure that your clothes are versatile, and are able to mix-and-match easily, just so you don’t wear the same outfit every day to work.
4. Exercise equipment. Whether it’s your beloved bicycle or weight set, don’t bring them with you to France! Not only are they heavy, but they also aren’t necessary when you can probably find alternatives to stay in shape. Ask your colleagues if they have an old bike that you can borrow or go to the local sports store to stock up on exercise equipment.
If you’re a gym rat, you can try to find some reasonably-priced gyms in your city or town. Do consider, though, if it’s worth paying an extra 20 to 40 euros per month for working out; keep in mind that your monthly pay as a teaching assistant (around 790 euros per month) isn’t all that much. Personally, I didn’t invest in a gym, even though it would’ve been nice. I ended up going out for runs in my town (since it was fairly rural, it was also quite peaceful), and had purchased some gym equipment (medicine ball, foam roller, yoga mat) at the nearby sports store to do some core exercises in my apartment. Also, walking across town to get to the supermarket, bank, and boulangeries were definitely workouts in themselves; it’s true that you walk a lot more in Europe than in the U.S.!
5. Accessories. More specifically, I’m talking about expensive jewelry, formal suits and dresses, and whatnot. There will never be an occasion where you’ll have to dress up. Even the dress code at school for professors are very casual; you can get away with wearing jeans!
Granted, if for some reason you’re invited to a really fancy soirée somewhere in Paris, sure, I guess you can bring those said items to wear. Overall though, you don’t have to; in the end, I chose comfort over looking sharp when in France, choosing to wear casual outfits when I taught at my schools (jeans and a pullover, usually), and nobody cared. Of course, don’t be slovenly; you’re there to make a good impression on your state and country, so while it doesn’t necessarily have to be super formal or flashy, try to project the best image of yourself that also makes you feel comfortable.
I hope that I covered most of the things that are useful to pack (or not pack) for France. Let me know if there’s anything that you would like to pack in your suitcase; I would be curious to find out! À bientôt.