Sun Sep 25th, 2005 at 03:59:43 AM EST
I posted this Thursdayday on Kos, but I thought it might also find a curious audience here.
General caveat: it's very hard to generalize on the basis of one's personal experience. Lots of good and bad everywhere; different strokes, etc.
Premise: we're dual American/French citizens, and we speak the language; my wife and I moved from Los Angeles to the South of France last January; some have followed our story and looked at the photos on our blog here.
For what it's worth, here is a bullet list of what I have observed since our move:
* the food is better, no surprise there, but good food is a lot cheaper - junk food was cheap, but really good food in Los Angeles was damn expensive; living in a village, we get a lot of local produce (in season) for virtually next to nothing; and the local Carrefour is, to us, the equivalent of a Beverly Hills gourmet store at 1/10th the prices.
* healthcare is no longer a dark cloud looming over our heads; I probably don't need to expand on this, but our national healthcare payment, being based on past income, is very low and a year of additional private insurance costs only a month of what we paid in LA; plus we laugh hysterically when told how much health-related things cost; e.g.: a full gamut of sophisticated blood tests that cost $750 in LA cost us $120 here, most of which we'll get back anyway.
* social services, insurance, utilities, telecom, etc. are cheaper - variably: home insurance, about a quarter of what we used to pay; utilities, phone maybe 10%, 15% less, etc. (in California electricity is expensive); post office is more expensive though.
* gas is a lot more expensive (about $6/gallon), but we don't need to drive that much, our village has pretty much anything we need; heating fuel, however, will kick in, so we'll try to be prudent there. In LA we had electric so I lack good comparison basis.
* poverty is real but not as widespread and in your face - it's more like the way the US used to look like in the 70s; those who say the US is starting to look like a Third World nation are right; with Katrina we've reached what I call the "fly on the lips" stage; I can't see any of that here.
* there's more, much more, of a social conscience and caring attitude; by far, the most striking difference; we live in a traditionally "boslshie" area but they do care about the poor and downtrodden; very strong sense of community.
* average guy/gal, the one you meet shopping, etc., seems much better educated on all kinds of topics; I hate to say this but they make Americans seem like morons by comparison; we like to chat with supermarkets cashiers, artisans, anyone really, same as in LA, and we've had conversations about politics, literature, energy, science, that we never had and couldn't possibly imagine ever having in California.
* there's also far fewer "lunatics" (by my definition) in politics and the media; like most of us, Jon Stewart being #1 in stating this, I've grown disgusted by what passes for public discourse in the US - I still don't know about the "Oui" vs the "Non" but one thing that impressed the hell out of us: the level and quality of debate on French TV. Unimaginable.
* taxes are higher, though if you're not rich, not that much, and our property taxes are much lower - then again we're not in LA anymore, Toto (and Prop 13-wise we'd bought in '85 - I shudder to think what new buyers are paying).
* starting a business is financial suicide (they really should reform that) and even running a succesful biz requires making a lot more money just to cover social payments, and the owner gets less out of it; yes, really, France is NOT a small-business friendly place, unless you do a lot of things "black", under the table. Their system is expensive, but socking it to the smnall businesses is asphyxiating a potential source of jobs. But then I'm sure the issue is very complex and I'm talking out of my ass.
* pretty much anything I could buy in LA, I can find here, except there's a lot more useful daily little kitchen gadgets and home appliances in the US; I wish I had a euro for every time a local has pointed to a fancy shoe rack or a kitchen implement and waxed poetically about it; one could make money importing US gadgets here, I suspect.
* French TV sucks like unbelievably bad; thank god for Sky (dish required); no, honestly, why does it suck so bad? Their TV series look cheap, stretching to 2 hours a 1-hour story, badly acted (except for the lead), badly shot, badly lit, corpses twitch, continuity goes out of the window... It makes Canadian TV looks brilliant. (Sorry, Canadians! But the "I... Am.. DAMOCLES!" so justly spoofed by MADE IN CANADA does exist.) I'm not even talking content here, just technical execution. And fiction. Varieties and sports and talking heads and the weather are fine.
* French movies today (compared to 20 years ago) also suck; I yield to none in my admiration of French cinema but virtually everything (or most of everything) I've seen in the last 2 years or so, has been terrible; I wonder why?
* the public is not armed (yet?) so you don't feel any little public spat on the road might result in a blood bath.
* French Police (in my region) is A LOT nicer than "Search & Destroy" LAPD, like the Ponch is a lot nicer than the Terminator; we've been stopped twice on the road, have had several interfaces ranging from local cops to the Prefecture and it's been extraordinarily civil and chatty and pleasant; In LA, I almost got shot for jaywalking on Ventura Blvd in the Valley (I'm not making this up).
* day-to-day technology seems farther ahead, more advanced (cell phones, cars, plumbing, whatever).
* I don't feel like the sky is going to fall (as shown in NOLA, literally); meaning that despite all of Europe's very complex problems, I'm sure, I don't feel like we're on the edge of the cliff; France, I feel, will muddle through, kicking and groaning; the US OTOH, I feel, is going to experience incredibly painful changes. I could be wrong but we do feel a lot safer here.
There, a collection of first-hand, totally subjective bullet points 8 months after we moved.