French Connections

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  • 'Urricanes 'Ardly 'H'ever 'Appen...

    There are many obstacles to making yourself ?understood? in France. One of the important ones is your 'personal identity', which includes what you want to call yourself. The French will have many suggestions for you.

  • A chilly welcome

    George Bernard Shaw once said that ?It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him?. In France he doesn?t even need to open his mouth. Forget the French demonstrating in Brittany. The

    George Bernard Shaw once said that ?It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him?. In France he doesn?t even need to open his mouth. Forget the French demonstrating in Brittany. The coldest welcome when you move to France will be from the Englishman next door, who will hate you on sight.

    ?Some Englishwoman has just moved into our street,? a friend of mine told me recently. ?She came to introduce herself and say hello. Of course I immediately loathed her.? Another family I know complained that their new neighbours are from Sunderland. ?Why on earth would we want to live next door to people from Sunderland?? they asked me. ?Because you can understand what they?re saying,? I was tempted to reply.

    I find this the strangest thing about our life in France. The Brits that are here don?t want any more Brits to join them. This despite the fact that most of them, according to the French I talk to, make no efforts to socialise with the locals. ?I would say that 90% of them don?t speak French and don?t integrate,? says a policeman I met in the Dordogne.

    This antipathy towards other Brits has haunted me since we moved here. If I had a pound for every time someone has said to me: ?Oooh, I hope you?re not going to do a Peter Mayle on us and bring lots of Brits to the region,? I?d be as rich as he is. After I wrote a column which described the region I live in I had hate mail from a woman living here saying she had been here for 10 years but had the good sense to keep the place secret. Hello? The South of France a secret? I don?t think so.

    Anything that is seen to encourage the Brits to move to France is frowned upon by other Brits. In fact anything remotely British is despised. There is to be an English grocery store in our local town. ?We think it?s terrible,? says one Brit living here. ?A totally retrograde step. We didn?t come here to eat baked beans.?

    Maybe not, but this total denial of one?s culture seems a bit forced to me. Rather like a Londoner moving to Cornwall, picking up the local accent and refusing to speak to his townie friends. I have an inexplicable addiction to most things English, so am delighted at the news of the grocery store. No longer will I have to harass visitors to bring stocks of oatcakes and Horlicks with them. In fact, I can now stop inviting people to stay.

    Another thing that you will find if you move here is that if you go to a restaurant and there are other English people there, they will continue their lunch in hushed whispers once they?ve realised you also come from Blighty. I asked a friend of mine why this is. ?I didn?t move to France to be surrounded by English people,? she said. ?Another table of English ruins my lunch.? If avoiding Brits was your reason for moving to France then you picked the wrong country. Go to eastern Germany. There are no Brits there. In fact I?m not sure there are even many Germans there.

    I think the fundamental cause for this antipathy is that when people move to France they can reinvent themselves. Here they can be whoever they want to be, because the French have no idea how to pinpoint their background and education from the way they speak. They don?t want to be pigeonholed. Back to George Bernard Shaw.

    But this Utopian dream of a little French paradise where you are totally removed from the outside world is no longer achievable, unless you go way into la France Profonde. And why is it so desirable? Would you really want to spend the rest of your days eating nothing but French food and trying to crack jokes with French neighbours who find your accent and sense of humour incomprehensible?

    The good news is that despite press reports of anti-Brit feeling, the French still seem to like us. ?I love the English coming here,? says Guy de Saint Victor, a wine marketing executive based in the Languedoc. ?They revitalise our villages, do up all our old houses and buy lots of Languedoc wine.? Another local resident agrees. ?We French are far too insular,? he says. ?I think it?s good all these foreigners are coming, they make us more open minded and receptive to change. And now that there is an English grocery store opening, it will be possible to have a decent cup of tea this side of the Channel.?

    The key to a successful life in France is, as I have often said, learning the language. An unforeseen bonus to speaking French is that when your new English neighbours turn up on your doorstep, you can pretend to be from Brittany.

  • A good time to buy a holiday and letting home in France

    It’s peak time for summer holidays in France. Have you ever dreamed of buying a French property for your own holidays that would help pay for itself through holiday lets?

    For many people this combination of lifestyle enhancement with financial investment seems ideal – and if you are thinking about taking the plunge, then the good news is that this can be a really good time to buy.

    Savings are attracting a pretty poor return at present and properties in France are relatively good value, so there’s the chance to grab a bargain and get more for your money than in Britain. Also, sterling is stronger against the euro, so exchange rates are good – and there’s the possibility of rate fixing if you plan to purchase property.

    If you buy judiciously, market professionally, set realistic prices and offer attractive facilities then it is definitely possible to attract rental bookings sufficient to offset running costs and make a small profit.

    Renovation is pricey these days so it’s better value to buy a finished property which may even have a letting history. Choose a location that’s accessible by air or road and not too far from restaurants and shops. Look for a property with ‘kerb appeal’ that’s in a peaceful spot with a good view and get a feel for the local community. In France, a small rural town might actually offer more of what you’d expect from ‘village life’.

    When setting your budget, don’t forget to allow for buying expenses, furnishing and equipping the property and marketing online to advertise the holiday home and draw in business. Check out our comprehensive Buying Guide.

    We have hundreds of properties listed in the ‘Property for Sale’ section of our website, from a house ready to move into at just £35,000 to some stunning chateaux and wine domaines for a little over £1 million – and plenty in between. Our photo shows one example near the beautiful village of Najac. Often owners are selling direct, which saves on agency fees. You can search by area, size and price to help narrow things down!

  • A Good Walk Spoiled by Rules...

    There are at least two places you will find snails on a French golf course. One is in the restaurant, where they will be marinated in garlic and served hot. The other is on giant posters on the golf course, encouraging people to play faster. While

    There are at least two places you will find snails on a French golf course. One is in the restaurant, where they will be marinated in garlic and served hot. The other is on giant posters on the golf course, encouraging people to play faster. While players tuck into the snails on their plate, they ignore the signs on the fairway. The French are adapting slowly to the game of golf.

    Horror stories from Brits all over the country reach me. French players are pushing in, wearing strange clothes and even driving their golf carts into the bunkers to take shots. “They have a typically French attitude towards rules which is to ignore them,” says one exasperated Provence-based golfer. “For example if they miss the ball, they don’t count the shot.” Another Brit based in the Languedoc complains that they play winter rules all year round. This sounds heinous – but what does it mean? Apparently it’s all to do with the rule that you can pick the ball up in winter to wipe mud off it without counting it as a shot. The French, however, do this in the summer as well, when there is no mud on the ball. Worse, they are also accused of picking up balls in the rough.

    I visit Souillac Country Club in the Dordogne to investigate these slanderous accusations. The club is part-owned by Brits, but has 250 local members. According to club President Sylvie Delcamp, they are trying to follow the rules. “But it is really something you invented and we try to follow,” says the glamorous Madame Delcamp (nicknamed Golfing Barbie by the male members).

    Sylvie admits that the French aren’t so hot on dress code and that their manner can be a bit more laid-back than your average British player. They often wear shorts and T-shirts, although Sylvie tells me bare chests are frowned upon (unless it’s hers I presume).

    During competitions the locals repeatedly have to be told to take things seriously and not to cheat. The French golfing association even runs courses to teach players etiquette and instil in them the importance of replacing divots. “But the upside is that we don’t have your snobbish attitude and ridiculous rules against women,” says Sylvie. “In Britain it is a more macho game.” In France 40% of registered golfers are female, compared with only 20% in the UK.

    I talk to Pierre, a local farmer, who has been a member of the club for two years. He plays once a week and is astounded by the Brits on the course who show a dedication to the game he has not seen among his compatriots.

    “They are on the course at 8.30 and they leave at 17.00,” he says. “They don’t even stop for a proper lunch and what’s more they do this every day. Even on weekends. It’s incredible.” If you want to ensure an empty course in France then you should play at lunchtime. The French see golf as something to be done before and after food, not during it.

    A local agent I speak to says golf is one of the reasons people move to France. “They can buy a house next to the course and play golf all the time,” says Melanie van der Meer from Vallée de la Dordogne. “There is really no reason for them to leave the club at all.”

    Mike Connor, a solicitor from Manchester, bought a three-bedroom cottage at Souillac in September 2002. He paid €200,000 for it. He and his family come out for all the school holidays. “For us it’s not really the golf that attracted us, it was the fact that we could have a house that would be looked after when we’re not here and also see the same people and their kids every holiday,” he says. “It’s great for the kids and totally safe.”

    Brian Groocook, an agent who is based in the Var and specialises in properties on golf courses, says there is an increased demand for them. “This is due to the fact that you can literally just lock up and go without organising maintenance and also the fact that security is so good. The course has to be protected all the time, from the wild boar among other things, so your home is going to be safe,” he says.

    I ask Pierre of he can imagine living at the club. “Oh no, I would miss my cows,” he says. “It’s a nice course though. Apart from the Brits complaining about us pushing in.”

  • A lesson in trimming hedges and building walls the French way

    I have been living in France for more years than I would like to admit, and I have often wondered why. Obviously there was something that I had to learn, because the purpose of Life, so I am told, is to improve myself or to be “improved”. This week I have understood one of the lessons that I am supposed to have learned during my sojourn here.

  • A Plot to Overthrow the Village Mayor

    An hour is a long time in French politics. Two hours feels like for ever, but that’s the total length of time I have been in the business. My husband says the only reason to become a politician in France is so you can get your hands on Carla Bruni, but I have loftier aims...

  • A worm at one end and a worm at the other

    Pity poor Sting. Half a mile from his 17th century manor house in Wiltshire a small wooden fishing hut has been erected without planning permission. The singer is not so much dancing on the moon as hopping mad. He should never think about buying a place in France. For here in France people can put up huts as and when it suits them...

  • About the book - More More France Please

    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.

  • Am I English or French?

    I recently read an article about a woman called Louise Clarke who woke up one morning convinced she was French. She started speaking French all the time and demanding croissants. To us it might sound quite amusing and also a rather convenient w

    I recently read an article about a woman called Louise Clarke who woke up one morning convinced she was French. She started speaking French all the time and demanding croissants. To us it might sound quite amusing and also a rather convenient way to learn French, but Ms Clarke says it was no laughing matter. "It might sound funny to others," she said, "but suddenly thinking you're French is terrifying."

    After three months of tests Ms Clarke was eventually diagnosed with a rare disorder called Susac's Syndrome which can result in personality changes and bizarre behaviour. Although she is doing her best to control her Frenchness with steroids and other medication, Ms Clarke has been told this could go on five years.

    I am sorry to break it to her, but speaking French and eating croissants are the mildest manifestations of this cruel illness. Turning into a Frenchwoman has many more dire consequences. I should know, I have lived here for over six years and observe them on a daily basis. For example, Ms Clarke will soon find she is unable to leave the house without wearing matching underwear. Suddenly her M&S smalls will seem inferior and not nearly seductive enough. She will be drawn to underwear shops like a bee to honey where she will spend half her monthly salary on bits of matching lace.

    Ms Clarke will also notice a new revolutionary streak that the British lack. On New Year's Day I was in the park with my children. A chic French woman dressed in a tailored cream coat approached the pond where we were watching various waterfowl swim around. She stopped in front of a tree and started feeding the birds with bits of bread from a small plastic bag. When she left I went to inspect the tree, I wanted to know why she had chosen that particular spot. It was as I suspected. On the tree was a sign in big red capital letters saying it is forbidden to feed the birds.

    If she is married, this sort of rebellious behaviour will extend to Ms Clarke's personal life. She will pretend to be a perfectly normal wife and mother but will of course be having affairs all the time. Mainly with the husbands of her closest friends. She will do this just in case any of her close friends are having affairs with her husband, of which there is a higher than likely probability if any of them have contracted her illness and think they are French too.

    Ms Clarke will also cast aside her copy of Hello Magazine in favour of Proust. Next to matching underwear there is nothing as important to a Frenchwoman as her reading matter. Even Elle Magazine, known in France as "the bible" and issued weekly, has a serious books section and fashion articles include ones on how to dress like Simone de Beauvoir.

    Her friends may notice a slight intransigence creeping into Ms Clarke's behaviour. This is something that can happen even if you don't suffer from Susac's Syndrome but simply live in France. During dinner on New Year's Eve my daughter Olivia was asked by my Italian aunt if she would move to come and sit next to her. Predictably my aunt had fallen out with my father and wanted a barrier between them. Olivia looked horrified and replied: "Je ne change pas de place."

    The other thing that will happen is that although Ms Clarke may be asking for croissants, she won't actually eat one, or at least not a whole one. Most French women are thin, some of them painfully so. If Ms Clarke is of your average British build and her symptoms continue, she is going to have to buy herself a whole new wardrobe (starting with the matching underwear of course).

    If Ms Clarke thinks her experience was "terrifying" imagine how scary it would be for a French woman to wake up thinking she is English?

    "Suddenly I woke up speaking English and demanding one rum and coke after another," I imagine the unfortunate woman would say. "All I wanted to do was watch Celebrity Big Brother and pierce parts of my body. All of a sudden Flaubert seemed so last week and I craved glossy magazines. The scariest thing of all though was that after all that rum and coke and those packets of crisps I could no longer fit into my matching underwear. But that didn't seem to matter, as for some reason I no longer wear it."

    For men on the look-out for signs of Susac's Syndrome there will be fewer manifestations. On the underwear front your average English gentleman may find a pair of Speedo-style pants no longer seem quite as offensive as they once did. They will confuse and irritate their wives by demanding a cheese course with every meal (which by the way has to be at least three courses and should ideally involve the whole family sitting down together). He will cause hilarity in the local pub when he goes in and asks for a "glass of your finest Burgundy and some olives stuffed with anchovies". He will surprise his female colleagues by paying them compliments, looking at their legs a lot and insisting on opening doors for them, something an Englishman barely dares to do for fear of being called sexist. A Frenchman has no such fear. He grew up in the shadow of the original sexist; Nicolas Chauvin, who was a war hero before his name gave us the word chauvinism due to his excessive patriotism.

    "France is the thriftiest of nations," said the American writer Anita Loos, who wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. So your Englishman afflicted with Susac's Syndrome may suddenly display an alarming lack of generosity. But there is an upside. As Loos also points out, the French are very logical: "To a Frenchman sex provides the most economical way to have fun".

    A Frenchman suddenly waking up English will experience two main symptoms; an obsession with sport and a penchant for warm beer. At least the diagnosis will be simple, even if the cure is not.

  • Anyone for a game of… Pétanque

    When I lived in Southwick near Brighton (near ‘Hove Actually’) my mother decided to join the Bowling Club...