Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)

Aurelia d'Andrea (photo by Sophia Pagan)

When my (crazy) idea of moving to France first came to me ’round about 2005/2006, there weren’t that many practical guides explaining how to make it happen. I found books with titles like “Working and Living in France,” but these were inevitably written largely by and for UK residents.

As all of my North American expat friends can attest, a vastly different set of challenges face those not already wielding an EU-passport.

That’s why it’s lovely to see a new book (released Valentine’s Day – aww) written for a more North American audience.

Aurelia d’Andrea is a freelance writer, former magazine editor, and professional Parisian dog walker (!) who has put together a useful guide to Living Abroad in France (conveniently, that is the title of the book, too!)

D’Andrea hails from San Francisco, but has successfully navigated two different long-term stays in France. Her book covers everything from planning a fact-finding trip to moving with pets, the different types of visas and their associated requirements to renting or buying an apartment.

The guidebook is engaging and accessible and packed full of resources. Besides admiring the work it takes to put together such a guide, I’m also relieved to have an easy title to point to now when others ask me how they too can live in la belle France. “Get this book,” I can now say. (Phew, I’m off the hook!)

It takes real perseverance to make the dream of living in France a reality, but as d’Andrea proves – it’s possible. And so worth it.

I’m happy Aurelia agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.

I was stunned to learn that you researched and wrote this entire book from scratch under a very tight deadline. The book gives an overview of everything from French government to getting your kids into school, handling administrative hurdles to mapping regional geography. How in the heck do you even approach putting together such an extensive guide on such a large topic as “Living Abroad in France”?

Thank goodness for outlines! I’m not the most organized writer on the planet, but taking that preliminary step made the information-gathering and writing processes so much smoother. Also, Moon Living Abroad in France is one title in a series of “Living Abroad” books published by Moon Guides—there’s one for Costa Rica, another for Spain, China, and so on—so I was able to follow the tried-and-true structure established by previous authors. Fleshing out that blueprint was another story altogether. It was sort of an all-day, every-day affair for four short months. Even while sleeping, I couldn’t put the project down. It’s such a relief not to be dreaming about Carla and Sarko anymore!

You’re a true Francophile, but you seem to have a realistic, well-rounded picture of France. What were the biggest adjustments you had to make yourself when you left the States behind for Paris?

Because I’m not fluent in French (yet!), the hardest part of the adjustment process—and one that’s ongoing—is struggling with verbal expression. I really took that for granted when I lived in the United States! Here, things really do just get lost in translation sometimes, and being misunderstood on a regular basis can be so very frustrating. When I get flustered trying to communicate in French, I break into Frenglish, and it’s not pretty. It generally leads to more confusion, too. One message I underscore throughout the book is the importance of learning French while you’re here. The more you know, the smoother your transition will be, on so many levels. Plus, it’s empowering! There’s a real sense of pride that develops when you realize you can, in fact, break that language barrier.

You pepper the guide with short first-person accounts of expats living in different parts of France. Do you notice any qualities that people who have successfully made the move share?

Building friendships with people that you can share the joys and frustrations of expatriate life with definitely serves a sort of therapeutic value, and seems to support a successful living-abroad experience. It doesn’t matter so much whether the friends you make are locals or fellow Anglophones—it just matters that you build that support network and utilize it. The majority of people I meet who appear happy with lives here are outside-the-box thinkers, often creative-types who embrace adventure and aren’t afraid to take calculated risks. That sort of go-getter spirit thrives in a place like Paris—and probably in other cities throughout France, too.

Your guide offers overviews of many prime living locations in France including Provence, Brittany, and Lyon to name a few – yet you chose the City of Light when it came to your own adventure. What drew you to Paris and what keeps you here?

Ever since high-school French class, I dreamed of coming to France. Fashion! Culture! Cute boys! I’m a city girl, so Paris was an obvious choice when I finally decided to follow the dream. The same things that drew me here as an adult are what compel me to stay: access to municipally supported (read: affordable) art and culture, the physical beauty of the urban landscape, excellent transportation system, work opportunities. I love living in Paris—language barriers and all! I sometimes dream of moving south, near the sunny Mediterranean, but then I wonder: What the heck would I do there?! I know it’s do-able, but I need to sit down and start plotting if I really want to make it happen.

Your whole book can be seen as helpful advice so it may be unfair to ask you to boil it down to one concise answer, but I’ll ask anyway: what would you say to people with a passionate desire to live in France but overwhelmed with how to make that dream a reality?

Invest in thoughtful planning, and keep your optimism intact. That’s imperative! We can all make our dreams come true if we commit to it, but without belief in our ability to succeed, the challenges we face can be daunting enough to send us packing our bags and hopping the next plane for Poughkeepsie, Portland, or wherever we call “home.” Before moving to France, the question everyone should ask oneself is, “How will I support myself financially?” There are many, many options: Teaching English, working as a freelancer, au pairing, landing a position with an international organization. Figure out how to do that–and how to do it within the French legal framework–and you’re nearly there. Now, you need to go out and learn some French! That’s the essence of it.

Now that you’re settled in Paris and have written a book about how others might do the same, what’s next for you? 

Well, every day in France offers adventure in some shape or form, and as a writer, that’s a good thing. There’s a never-ending supply of material to work with! Turning that material into euro to support my Bordeaux-and-dark chocolate habit is a daily preoccupation, but right now I’m working on another guide to France, only this one has an animal- and eco-friendly angle I hope will appeal to others like me who love to eat well, travel in style, and have fun without compromising their green ethics. That said, it’s very un-French to talk about work, so to get into the spirit of the place I now call home, I’d say that’s what is next is un grand mystère. I love the potential embedded in that idea, and it just feels so French to say!

Thanks, Aurelia! Check out the Moon Living Abroad in France page if you’re interested in picking up the guide.

Now…READER POLL! I’ve gleaned some of your stories through the comments, but I would love to know your connection to France. Did you study here? Live here? Do you visit or dream of visiting? Are any of you trying to make the move? Or do you just like dropping by to see me in this corner of cyberspace? (That’s a great reason, too!) Looking forward to hearing your stories.


45 Responses to “Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)”

  1. 1 Jessica Keener February 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Enjoyed hearing about Paris and France. I’ve been several times and loved every visit. My husband and I spent 2 weeks in Paris in October in the 1990s. We thought 2 weeks would give us a good amount of time to explore and see all but we discovered so much more to do. We needed at least a year. One of our favorite discoveries was the Natural History Museum and the botanical garden nearby.


    • 2 paris (im)perfect February 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks for stopping by the blog, Jessica! Yes, that tends to happen with Paris – one little visit and you get totally sucked in. Not enough time, we shout! That’s kind of how my first 4-day trip turned into a later 1-month vacation that later turned into…well, 5 years and still going 🙂

      You know what’s hilarious? I’ve actually never been inside the Natural History Museum. (Sort of like I never went up to the top of Rockefeller Center when I lived in New York, but did as a visitor). Next time I go to Jardin des Plantes I’ll have to actually go to the museum! Thanks for the reminder.


  2. 3 Joan von Ohlen February 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I came to France for what I billed as ‘my much delayed junior year abroad’ (and took early retirement to do it). A year clearly wasn’t enough and almost 5 years later I’m still here! Once my kid was out of college every penny I’d previously been using for his education went into my France fund and once I got here serendipity did the rest!


    • 4 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      Joan – how wonderful! Early retirement to Paris sounds like a great idea! Also, serendipity is not only one of my favorite words, but also one of my favorite ways to live life. I’d say I’m on the Paris serendipity plan, too ; )


      • 5 Joan von Ohlen March 4, 2012 at 10:18 pm

        I neglected to weigh in on the utility of your book – apologies! It was also my experience when planning my much delayed ‘junior year abroad’ project that the available books didn’t really address many of the issues/questions I faced. So bravo for your effort – others will have it an easier time of it! And just to be in the know I plan to check out your book!


  3. 6 sharoninavolvo February 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I was probably hooked on Paris before I even got there, though not so much (I admit) on speaking French–but my 1st trip was with the spouse for a few days, as we were going to rent a car & drive out of Paris thru wine/ champagne country & onward into Germany at the time…
    Then my 2nd trip I went with a friend who had never traveled abroad & we had a mutual friend who was living in Paris with her French husband – that time we stayed a week & were intense tourists (this was when I fell in love with visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery & watching the Eiffel Tower light up at night from my friend’s kitchen window…)
    The third & last trip so far I was living in Norway & came back over for a week to my friend’s in Paris again – who now has another home in Southern France nearer the coast, so will have to make plans for my next trip to visit her there instead (she’s in the village of Pomerols…)
    Her husband was off on business so we did some tourist things she hadn’t done in awhile & also got to do ordinary everyday things, which I think I liked even more–the twice a week street market for one, going to the post office, a visit to the doctor’s office, meeting some women’s group friends for lunch…
    So for now I love to plan visits & just dream about ever living there, if there were ever an Int’l assignment we get again to be there or nearby enough to fly/drive to France then I’ll be all over it?!
    Now for more inspiration I think I may have to buy Aurelia’s Moon Guide to Living Abroad in France – then will pass it on to my friend in Paris/Pomerols after I’ve read it…
    Thank you for sharing this & especially for interviewing Aurelia?!
    Kiss Kiss on each cheek to you both ox :o) ox ox :o) ox


    • 7 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks, Sharon. So great that you had many different ways to experience Paris. I agree that it’s wonderful just doing the “daily life” stuff here.

      An international assignment sounds nice ; )

      Thanks for stopping by to say hi to both me and Aurelia!


      • 8 sharoninavolvo March 2, 2012 at 6:52 am

        I don’t know what I stirred up in the universe but I ordered Aurelia’s book & it arrives next week – then out of the blue this week my husband tells me we have to use our miles for Air France before July & why not April we’ll go for a week–back to Paris?! Tickets were confirmed today & I’m on cloud nine with a multiplying list of what to do while there–or if we should get on a train & go elsewhere in France (but a week?! I need weeks or months or years?!) :oD


      • 9 paris (im)perfect March 2, 2012 at 10:56 pm

        Hey, that’s great! “April in Paris” (insert song here) 😉


  4. 10 Paris Karin (an alien parisienne) February 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I love Aurelia so much. I met her because of mutual blog friends, and getting to know her over the past 18 or so months (coming up on two years, I believe) has been really a gift. I appreciate her so much. I also appreciate this interview of yours — great questions! You know, I was following her in the entire process of the writing of the book (she interviewed me, and I am on page 23 🙂 ), but you got information that even I did not know about, like the fact that her deadline was so very tight. I knew she was writing like crazy and I did not hear from her for a while, but MAN. Four months? That really puts things in perspective.

    I have read the book and am amazed at how comprehensive it is in scope. There is a lot of good information inside.

    Kudos to Aurelia for undertaking this project! I am really proud of her. 🙂

    And reading that comment up there: I have been wanting to go to the Natural History museum for a long time. Would you like a visiting partner to go with? I would totally be up for it!

    Take care, Sion.


  5. 13 Amy Kortuem February 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    “We can all make our dreams come true if we commit to it, but without belief in our ability to succeed, the challenges we face can be daunting enough to send us packing our bags and hopping the next plane for wherever we call “home.” – WOW. Thank you so much for this interview and this information on Aurelia and her book.

    My France story? My Mom forced me to go to Paris with her in 2009 after my house had been broken into for the 2nd time and I was totally depressed. I didn’t want to go. Had no interest. Was whiney about the whole thing. Then once I got there, though, I totally woke up. Fell in love with the place. Met a “someone” I went back to visit that fall….with particularly disastrous results. Went back two more times. Dreaming of going back again…to live. You know. So I’m ordering this book!!!

    Currently working on a memoir about the whole experience. 200 pages in. Loving writing every word I get written in edgewise (the harp is a jealous mistress – she demands to be played anytime somebody asks me to!)


    • 14 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Amy, what a fabulous story. Can’t wait to hear about it! We’re similar in that before I visited Paris I wasn’t that interested. Then I got here and was like, OH, this is what the whole world is on about ; )

      How wonderful that you’re enjoying writing your memoir. I wish I enjoyed writing more. I LOVE having written…but the writing itself…not always a pleasure ride. You have the right attitude!

      I saw on FB you are thinking about the Paris Writers’ Workshop. Good excuse to come on over, don’t you think? Hope we’ll meet someday soon!


  6. 17 Amy Kortuem February 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    And off topic – but I had a “VISON” about your last post about Madame – Mademoiselle. Seriously, I was standing at my kitchen window with a mug of hot tea in my hand, looking out at my frozen garden, my cat Harry twining around my feet, and I saw this complete image of you writing a memoir sparked by this topic – an exploration not only of your time in France, but also your “status” in life and how you/other women identify themselves in today’s terms.

    I really saw you with a published book, Sion. I did. You were beaming, just radiating light. Call me crazy (or dehydrated and weak from having the flu for more than 2 weeks)…but it was so wonderful for you!


    • 18 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      Amy…I LOVE your vision. Let’s not call it crazy. I see that vision, too. If other people are having visions about my book, it must be true! ; )

      Do you know the Dear Sugar column on the Rumpus? One of my favorites. Anyway, she said in one of her columns that our books have a birthday…we just don’t know when.

      So yes, I believe. Another mentor said it’s often a mysterious and roundabout way to publication, but books find their way into the world eventually and he believed mine would, too. Oh, fingers crossed!

      In any case, my novel is still trying to get out into the world and meanwhile, it’s true: I think the next book might be nonfiction!


  7. 19 parisbreakfast February 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    sounds very informative! I’d love to take a look..
    a book for arm chair dreamers too


  8. 21 Cara Owens February 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I lived in Paris from September 1991 to June 1993 and loved it. I went on a wonderful exchange program (MICEFA) between Paris Universities and California State University system. I got to study in Paris at CSU fees!

    Now with a wonderful husband and four-year-old daughter, dog, and cat, I wonder how to get back for a visit. Somehow, since I teach academic writing at San Diego State University, I dream of teaching English in Paris for a year while our daughter is still elementary school age……


  9. 23 Chez Loulou February 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    I applaud Ms. d’Andrea’s bravery in taking on such a daunting subject and I think it’s wonderful that she highlights the importance of learning French in order to thrive in France.
    Even though I’ve been living here for almost a decade now, I still would like to read this guide and look forward to being able to recommend it.


    • 24 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Jennifer. Yes, learning the language is so important. I simply can’t imagine living here without knowing French. Of course, I can talk about the full journey of learning it – I barely knew French when I came here so I went for the immersion method ; )


  10. 25 Rob Folendorf March 1, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I left college after my first year and went to Paris. I was 18, lived a fun life in California, and wanted to be an artist. I was a male au pair to 3 kids in the 19th. I taught them swimming ( in English ) and Spanish. I stayed with them for a year, traveled for another year throughout Europe, and then lived in a basement room for 3 yrs in Paris. Now I’m 65, an artist, and travel to France alot, looking for that special village to move to. This guide will answer so many questions about that process. Thanks for turning us on to it.


    • 26 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Rob. What a cool journey! (Also, a shout-out to the 19th!) How wonderful that you have the chance to travel to France a lot in search of your preferred village. Sounds like a great way to organize your trips!


  11. 27 libraryscenes March 1, 2012 at 6:38 am

    A wonderful interview, thank you. Your blog, and Aurelia’s words make me hear the “tick tick tick” and needing to figure a way to follow those dreams. Paris is on my bucket…I just need to fix the hole in it, so the money quits leaking out! Looking forward to reading the book. ~


  12. 29 Chez Loulou March 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I forgot to answer your poll!
    I moved to France because it was a dream of mine since I was 16 years old. As soon as my husband and I were able to make it work financially, we got our visas and moved,


  13. 31 renaissante March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for this post Sion! I have a dear, dear friend in Chicago who would like very much to join us here in France, and is busily trying to figure out how to make it happen. I’m going to share this post and hope she gets her hands on Aurelia d’Andrea’s book tout de suite.


    • 32 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Great! I hope it helps! It’s not the easiest thing to pull off, but enough of us are here to show it’s possible! Hope your friend finds a way. Gosh I’d like to convince some of my friends to move here, too!


  14. 33 Milsters @ Little Pieces of Light March 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I live here… but I am going through a real nightmare at the moment with work papers!! One day when we finally meet for a chocolat chaud, I will recount this nightmare (and can hopefully – HOPEFULLY! – laugh about it). In the meantime… my god. The bureaucracy never fails to astound me. xx


    • 34 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      Oh Milsters. Sorry to hear that. And believe me, I can relate. No sugar-coating: bureaucracy really can be a nightmare! Fingers crossed that you’ll be able to laugh about it sooner rather than later, too. We can trade our Kafka-esque tales someday ; )


  15. 35 Tart and Soul March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks! I just bought it!


  16. 37 lilie March 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I definitely need this book — have been living here almost a year now, and still feel like I’m only just settling in. I moved here for love (cliche but true)! My French boyfriend “convinced” me to leave California and join him in Paris (he really had to twist my arm, I’m sure you can imagine). Still in the learning French/finding new friends stage, which is sometimes hard but always worth it.


    • 38 paris (im)perfect March 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Hey, some cliches are awesome! I think it’s totally natural to still feel like you’re settling in a year later. Changing countries/cultures/languages/etc is a really big deal! I honestly didn’t feel fully here and happy ’til round about year 3. (I don’t say that to sound dire! Of course I was happy and here before that, too. But there was just this shift where I truly felt present and comfortable here and that took awhile). So, you’re in love and you’re in Paris. Enjoy the ride and know it takes time. I just checked out your blog, by the way – beautiful!


  17. 39 Aurelia March 7, 2012 at 10:46 am

    What fun it has been to read everyone’s story here–and to know that we who dream of building a life in France are in good company, together! I’m grateful to Sion for letting me share my story and talk about Moon Living Abroad in France here, and I hope those of you using the book as a resource will find the information of value. In particular, it is the first-person anecdotes by expats like Karin (hi, Karin!) that I found most personally inspiring, and that I think others will really benefit from. Bon courage a tous, and don’t give up on your dreams!


  18. 41 Shelby March 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I came to Paris as an au pair girl in 1980. Thought I’d stay 6 months and then go on to grad school back in the USA. 6 months turned into 32 years! Even though I’ve been here forever, I still see something new each and every day that thrills me.


  19. 43 Carol March 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I am just about to take my 8th trip to Paris which will be an adventure. I leave in April and I am staying 6 weeks, telecommuting for work while there. I speak just a small amount of French and I will be renting a room from a woman while there. I am so looking forward to being able to just walk leisurely around the different arrondisements and learn more about the history, art and culture. I am hoping I can make this an annual affair. Of course, I am just giddy about it and also in the throes of planning (what to take-keeping it at a minimum, a housesitter for my cats, ideas for things to do while here–aside from the usual adventures of travel,etc.). Aurelia’s book sounds like fun reading even for those of us who may not actually move there long term. Thanks for the interview and the blog!!


    • 44 paris (im)perfect March 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Carol. Have a great time! Sounds like a fabulous way to discover the city. In fact, my first big chunk of time in the City of Light was a month in April…and it changed my life! Be careful…you just might never leave 😉


  1. 1 Faux Pas Friday Guest Post: Newcomer’s Follies « paris (im)perfect Trackback on December 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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