Moving to France isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. Beyond the bakeries, baguettes, and bicycling beneath the sun, adjusting to expat life abroad can take quite a bit of time. However, for those who have the guts to do so, uprooting and moving to France can be one of the most rewarding decisions (if not the best decision) one can make. Get a first-hand look at what it’s like to start a new life abroad through our ‘Expat Diaries’ series. First up: Josh Adler of Paris Wine Company.
Tell us about your first time visiting France.
For many years, my parents had hosted teachers from France on their annual exchange trip to the United States. After my college graduation, we took a family trip to Paris, Dordogne, and Alsace to visit with these family friends. I remember Paris being very crowded. We visited the tourist town of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (southwest France) to visit with one of the families that had come to our town. I recall asking one of the young adults around my age if he wanted to move to the United States. He said he preferred living in France because of the ‘European way of life.’ At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I do now.
What inspired you to ultimately move to Paris?
Surprisingly, it was quite unconnected to that trip. I had met a chef during a previous trip to France and he offered me a job running the wine program at a new gastronomic restaurant he was opening in Paris back in 2009. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.
How did you feel within the first few months of expat life?
At first, I was very excited about opening the restaurant and the neighboring boutique, but after a few months, I became overwhelmed by the challenges of working with people I didn't know very well in a new language, as well as the inevitable delays that happen to all restaurants. At one point, I was quite depressed and spent some time with a psychologist to help me talk through the issues I was dealing with.
How did the psychologist help you? What ultimately helped you snap out of the depression?
I think part of this reality shock happens to everyone who moves to a new country. For me, it was compounded by the fact that I didn't want to admit to myself that I may have made a mistake. The business I was working at was not what I had imagined and my relationship with my coworkers was also not what I would have liked. I think once I recognized that, I was able to confront those issues head on.
What ended up making you stay in Paris even though you weren't initially excited about it?
I had just convinced my wife to quit her new job in San Francisco and move back to Paris after less than a year, so I had already played my last get-out-of-town-free card. Even though it was different than I had hoped, I was fully committed to the restaurant and boutique project, so I never really thought of going anywhere else. Plus, let's be honest, Paris really isn't that bad...
How did you go about building a community for yourself in Paris?
My wife Catherine is French and had lived in Paris for many years, so we had a network of her friends. Additionally, I met many wonderful chefs, writers, and food lovers through the restaurant I worked at and many of them remain great friends today, even though I left that job in 2012 (the restaurant ended up closing a few years later).
Tell us a bit about your company, Paris Wine Company.
We work with over 50 small family-run wineries in France to help them export their wines around the world. Our job is to manage relationships between producers and distributors and do what we can to promote these great wines and great people.
How did you come up with the idea for your company?
I originally wanted to sell wines directly to consumers. We did that for a few years, but I had met a new wine distributor in New York when I was starting my company who asked me if I could find him some good producers that didn't sell to the US. I had built up a small network of these types of producers while running the restaurant wine program, so it seemed easy. Then a few months later, another distributor asked me to help him out too, and word of mouth began to spread. Eventually, it seemed obvious to focus on export and distribution and let other people do the retail sales.
Was it difficult to create a company as an expat in France?
France is actually a very easy place to set up a company. There's a straightforward process and useful local agency offices to help out. I've found it much simpler to do business in France than in the US, once you accept that you're going to pay a lot of taxes, that is.
What inspired you to work exclusively with natural wine?
I simply started working with wines that I found compelling and with people with whom I liked to work. Over time, we've expanded our selection based on requests from our distributors and exciting new domaines that we come across.
How do you choose the winemakers/wines with which you work?
The wines have to be really good and the people have to be great. We try to focus on young winemakers with vision and energy with whom we can help establish their export market and grow together over time.
Tell us a bit about what your bilingual/multicultural household is like.
I have two boys at home. They were both born in France but are [also] American citizens. We make an effort to speak English at home so that they are both fluent, seeing as they speak French all day at school. We have a good mix of international friends, so we're always bouncing back and forth between English and French.
What do you love most about life in France?
You mean besides the food and wine? :)
What do you miss most about the United States?
Of course my friends and family first, but also great customer service. And good tacos.
What are some of the pros/cons of living in France?
It's a much more egalitarian socialist society, which I see as a big plus, especially after living here for over a decade. Everyone has the same access to free or very low-cost quality healthcare and access to social programs. [On the contrary], people can also be very traditional here, which sometimes makes it feel like innovation and change are not as welcome as they would be in the US.
What is a piece (or few) of advice you'd give to someone considering moving to France?
Know what you are getting into. The daily reality of living in France is very different from what you see in movies or experience on a vacation here.