Life on La Lune: Moving to France – a cautionary tale
Vanessa Couchman advises potential newcomers to do their research and prepare thoroughly before taking the plunge.
Life in France is wonderful, isn't it? Well, up to a point. If you come with certain preconceived ideas you are bound to be disappointed. I just want to tell you a story I heard today, which underlines all the advice about doing your research and preparing thoroughly before taking the plunge.
Naturally, I have anonymised the names, circumstances etc. of the protagonists. But you could probably substitute your own. People come to France on holiday and think that's how it is all the time - land of milk and honey and, of course, wine. And wall to wall sunshine.
Archibald and Hermione lived and worked in the UK. Archibald came to south west France on his own, saw a house for sale and bought it without consulting Hermione. He returned to the UK and persuaded Hermione to leave her job and move over full-time to la France profonde.
Hermione hated it on sight. Deepest France was devoid of any attraction. It was full of French people for a start. There weren't enough British expats (hello? The place is crawling with them). They didn't want to learn French - thought they were too old. Equally, they didn't socialise with British people living locally.
The whole thing was a disaster. So, after about a year, they decided to put their house on the market and move back to the UK. Problem: the market is somewhat depressed now and they'll be lucky to recoup their initial investment - assuming someone wants to buy their place.
What is it about France that makes people do things they would never consider doing in their home country? Here, I have to admit that we made a leap in the dark when we moved here, despite the fact that my husband had lived in Limoges for several years in the 1970s before moving to the UK. We did a certain amount of research but probably not enough. For us, it has worked out well, for which we are eternally grateful. But we had our own illusions about the place, of which we have been disabused over the years.
Here is a list of common misconceptions:
- The sun always shines in southern France.
- The ruin you have bought just needs a few cosmetic improvements.
- Your flagging relationship will be pepped up by moving to France.
- You'll pick up the language in a trice.
- The cost of living is much lower in France. You'll spend next to nothing on heating in the winter.
- You can spend every evening sipping apéros on the terrace.
- You'll walk into a ready-made social life.
- You can convert the ruined barn in the garden into a gîte and turn over a nice profit without doing any work.
- You don't need to declare income earned outside France, do you?
- If you need to move back to the UK you can make a whacking profit on the house sale.
Need I say more?
Reprinted with the permission of Life on La Lune.
Vanessa Couchman is a freelance writer living in southwest France since 1997. As well as writing research reports and magazine articles she also blogs about France, aiming to show life there as it is, warts and all.