This is the book I wish I could have read before I moved to France. I hardly knew the country at all, and knew nothing of how to live there. I was carried away by the whole adventure of it. Going to a new place, a strange language, a different culture.
This is the book I wish I could have read before I moved to France. I hardly knew the country at all, and knew nothing of how to live there. I was carried away by the whole adventure of it. Going to a new place, a strange language, a different culture. I was fed up with living in a small village in Sussex where the pub was the focal point of life. I was tired of getting on smelly trains up to London most mornings and horrified at the prospect of spending everything I ever earned on school fees. Even if France wasn’t the answer, it had to be better than where we were.
But why did we pick France? France is the country that has everything: the most romantic city in the world, great food, fine wines, two skiing areas, great beaches, endless countryside, trains that run and roads that let you drive. But above all, it is as far south as you can go before things get strange. Even though I am half Italian, I would not dream of living full-time in Italy. I remember too vividly the hassle my Italian aunt endured when she owned a house on the Amalfi coast. And even though the weather is better in the south of Spain, I just don’t feel comfortable there; neither in the British enclaves, nor in the parts reserved for the Spanish. Spain has the air of having been half-built by a Moroccan in a hurry. France feels solid. British buyers are considering buying houses in more exotic locations—Morocco, Croatia, Thailand. Yet what would I do if anything went wrong? How happy would I feel with this culture? How would I understand the language, laws and customs?
Britain has had a relationship with France for more than a thousand years, even if most of the time we have been enemies. But we are more like members of a family who always argue at Christmas. When I lived in Germany, that felt really strange. People would stop me when I was driving and tell me to turn on my lights. At street crossings, nobody moves until the little green man tells them to. All this felt very alien. In contrast, France feels familiar. Many of the words are similar; the people are courteous, even if sometimes difficult. There is a bad bureaucracy, but it is a bureaucracy that works. France is both familiar and foreign, I thought.
In retrospect I was naïve. We showed up in an isolated house, with a water system supplied by a spring, an electricity current that kept going off, all the while speaking only a few words of the language. In addition, I was about to give birth to our second child. It is only through good luck that things didn’t go horribly wrong for us.
What I have tried to do here is to cover the topics that are essential if you are to make a success of living in France. I have had the help of many others who have been very kind in sharing their success and failure with me. Things that I wish I had known before we moved and things I found out through (sometimes) bitter experience.
If a second house or new life in France isn’t yet an option for you, I hope this book will give an idea of the exhilaration and challenges that are involved in moving abroad. There is nothing wrong with a bit of armchair emigration—there are certainly fewer forms to fill in!
Helena Frith Powell