Seth Hanson Expat to France

Every month, Fluency Corp reaches out to clients, friends or even family, who have relocated to another country for a job, in order to ask them why they moved, how they moved and how they made a new home for themselves in their new country. We are fascinated by their resilience and we want to support others who will be moving in the future. In these interviews, you will find authenticity, humility and also tips for how to make your relocation smoother. This month we spoke with Seth.

Meet Seth: A France & England Expat

Where are you from? Where have you moved to? And how long did you spend in each country?
I’m from Northern California, born and raised. Now I’m in La londe Les Maures, a small town in the South of France. I’ve been here 3 months. Before this, I spent 7 years in London.

Why did you move to London?
By default if I am being honest. My wife and I were in Texas, big home, good jobs, white picket fence, the whole American dream. However I was in my late 20s and felt a bit claustrophobic being in the middle of Texas in the middle of the US. We decided to travel for about 9 months going through South America, SE Asia and India and landing in France with the idea of permanently staying there. After trying to find a job and it being unsuccessful (mostly because I did not speak French) we packed up and flew to London.

What job did you do in London?
I had been in retail banking for 10 years, so I didn’t want to do that. I started looking in hospitality. I had always had a thing for it. I thought I could do it well, and I liked the human interaction. So I started with Oakwood who at the time was the global leader in the temporary serviced apartment industry. I was with them for 9 months in reservations and then supply chain for the next 5 years. It was an amazing experience. Then through connections, I got a promotion at Synergy Global Housing as the Supply Chain Manager and led the EMEA supply chain for a year and a half, and then 3 months ago we moved to France. That had always been the goal long term and believe it or not COVID was the instigator to make the jump.

Working in the U.S., UK, and France

What do you do now?
Through a series of personal situations and personal decisions, we moved to France and now I work at Situ who is silently leading the pack in the industry with regards to technology, innovation and company culture. I manage the global supplier network alongside some very talented people.

Tell me your thoughts on the differences working in the US, UK and France.
US and UK differences: it felt more relaxed and laid back in the UK, but i think it was because I changed industries.
UK and France: I work from home 5 days a week now, so it’s hard to compare. I’m not going to a French office on a daily basis. But I can say that the commute in London, the pace at which people move, the lack of human interaction, is different than what I’ve seen here in my small community here in France. It’s friendlier. It’s about 20,000 people now and I can see in offices and shops how happy people appear.

Any differences socially?
I don’t feel that foreign to be honest. I feel like I fit into the French culture. Maybe not the strikers, haha. But at the end of the day you go to the port and you sit and look at the sea. You go to your neighbor’s house and have an aperitif. It is difficult though because my French is still so weak. I can do only one on one conversations. Groups are hard because I can’t follow the multiple conversations.

What you say reminds me of Northern California. Do you think you like your current life because of that?
Maybe. The terrain is the same. The pace of life is even slower here though. It’s hard in the states – living with the lack of medical benefits, the lack of holiday with your career, and the hardcore focus on your career. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard and I work a lot of hours. But it doesn’t define me like it does for a lot of my friends back home I feel.

Challenges of Being an Expat in the UK and France

What were the specific challenges you’ve faced as an expat?
A lot with the language. However, it hasn’t been too bad because my wife has been here to help me with all the admin stuff like getting visas, getting into the social system, buying a car, a few other pending things. And then the typical French things like not getting back to me quickly. The admin side of things, they take their time, haha. The office of foreign immigration… it’s been 3 months and they haven’t responded to me to confirm I’ve gotten my social status. I should have taken French classes, taken medical exam by now, etc, but it hasn’t happened.

How did you prepare for your move? Any tips for other expats?
Cost of living was huge for us. I’ve done it in Northern Cali, Austin, London and now I know what I’m comfortable with. To come here, I definitely did a cost comparison: homes, groceries, etc. We moved for a way of life, so we wanted to identify places where we wanted to live. We made a list. We’re between Nice and Marseilles at the moment and want to stay in the South. We had 10 towns on a spreadsheet and scored them 1 to 3 and found an average. Things like; Is it near an airport? Near mountains? Cost of rent? Near water? Close to family? How close? Then ultimately came out with the top few locations we want to settle in.

What about social life?
It’s mostly my wife’s friends so far and the neighbors. I might be in limbo because I am concentrating on my new job and in a way waiting until we move somewhere to join a CrossFit gym – that will be the quickest way to meet people. However I did build a petanque field in an area just near us and as I work on it or play in it now with family, neighbors stop by and we have a chat…very French. One set of neighbors even bought a set of their owns balls to start playing with us!

What did you expect when moving to France that didn’t turn out to be so?
It’s taken me awhile to find my marks. When I moved to London I felt comfortable almost immediately. Here, I didn’t have a car at first, so that restricted me quite a bit. I didn’t have that driving freedom at first. Finding my comfort zone in getting around took awhile. In this town no one speaks English, but that wasn’t a surprise to me. I was expecting that. Of course, maybe a few people do, but it’s not common. In Cannes or Nice, at least most people have a basic knowledge of English, so it’s nice to be able to talk at least on a basic level with people. People are so understanding of my bad French. So when I say tu instead of vous (the familiar family word instead of the stranger, formal ‘you’) people are easy on me and don’t get upset about my mistakes.

Looking Back

Do you have a funny expat story? Or another funny language story where something was misunderstood?
I was walking my dog with my mother-in-law and we split up for a moment, then I asked her ‘did your dog already go to the bathroom?’ she responded quickly, but I didn’t catch it. So I thought she asked me, ‘yes, and did you?” but that’s obviously not what she asked, as I was not using the bathroom on the walk. It was a big laugh between us.

That first year in London, from 1 to 10, what would you score it?  7
Second year? 5
Your last year, which was your 7th year there? 2
Before I totally alienate all my friends and work families in London with my scoring, it is just a reflection of my personal preference, being from a small town and living in a city of 9 million put me out of my comfort zone. I did it for 7 years because there was so much to do and offer in the city but by the end I was craving that smaller town way of life.

Your first three months in France?
9.5 — a breath of fresh air!

What are the three top characteristics needed to be a successful, long-term expat?
Culturally sensitive. Open-minded. Patient. It’s not just patient with your job or people, but patient with yourself, let yourself adapt, give yourself time. You’ll be okay.

What role did language play in the success of your moves?
Because of my wife, it hasn’t played as big of a role because I can lean on her language skills. But moving to France, language is super important. I was in a store, and I couldn’t ask properly if there were other kinds of sugar. It‘s REALLY frustrating not being able to speak French. So it plays a really big role if you are on your own.