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Life on La Lune: Moving to France – a cautionary tale

2nd November 2012, Comments2 comments

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:

  1. The sun always shines in southern France.
  2. The ruin you have bought just needs a few cosmetic improvements.
  3. Your flagging relationship will be pepped up by moving to France.
  4. You'll pick up the language in a trice.
  5. The cost of living is much lower in France. You'll spend next to nothing on heating in the winter.
  6. You can spend every evening sipping apéros on the terrace.
  7. You'll walk into a ready-made social life.
  8. You can convert the ruined barn in the garden into a gîte and turn over a nice profit without doing any work.
  9. You don't need to declare income earned outside France, do you?
  10. 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.

2 comments on this article Add a comment

  • 6th November 2012, 20:54:28 Angie Hales posted:
    I could not agree more with this article.
    My husband and I returned to the UK in 2012 after 10 good years spent living in rural France not too far north of the Dordogne, the setting for the ITV programme "Little Britain". We had moved after my husband's early retirement in 2011 from teaching French and German, so we knew we would have no problems with the language. We did a lot of research into what to expect, when moving to our new life, and into the differences in purchasing a property.
    We eventually bought a stone farmhouse, which had been partially restored and settled into life in the hamlet, where it was situated. We witnessed the arrival of more and more British families over the course of the next 10 years, and my husband found his linguistic skills in demand as these newcomers stuggled with the bureaucracy of their new lives.
    For the most part we got on very well with our French neighbours, although there were problems with some young people, who rented the property next door for a while and who resented the English invasion with a vengeance.
    As the local population of British expats grew and the local restaurant was bought and saved as a focal point for the community by an ex chef for the British army, a non French speaker, La societe Lebeugnonaise came into being and my husband became the vice chairman. It bought together French and British local inhabitants to organise events, which would benefit the whole community. So we found ourselves at the heart of a rural community with all its warts and intrigues.
    We spent some good years in this community, but we did find on a number of occasions that French civil servants can be inflexible, unhelpful and frankly very, very annoying. Even though my husband has fluent French on one occasion we were threatened with expulsion from CPAM, the local Health Service, because our local tax office had lost my husband's tax return, and we were unable to provide CPAM with details based on this. It became an impasse, and we felt like we were banging our head against a brick wall. It was only because my husband sought the help of our local insurance agent, who luckily knew personally “une dame tres sympa” at the local CPAM office that anything was done for us and the matter resolved. You must be prepared to find yourself in situations like this.
    During our time there British couples came and returned to the UK, often unable to survive without a proper income. We had my husband's pension, but still noticed that we increasingly had less to live on each year, as the cost of health care rocketed. Do not be fooled that your money will go further. It will not. It did in 2001, when we moved out, but on moving back to the UK in 2011, my husband maintained that he is nearly £200 per month better off than he was when we left France.
    Be prepared to miss your family, the main reason we moved back. A return journey took us 2 days each way and cost about £400 each time.
    We were lucky. We bought our property in France in 2001. We sold it cheaply as a result very quickly. We did not lose any money, but neither did we make any. Others are not so lucky, having bought, when prices were higher and are now stuck in a life they no longer enjoy!!
  • 6th November 2012, 21:00:10 Angela Hales posted:
    Sorry, my husband's retirement was in 2001, and we reurned to the UK in 2011. Don't know why they are wrong above.
 

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