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

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

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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.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Romano posted:

    on 29th April 2017, 12:24:05 - Reply

    I am sorry for your bad experience, however if you have not been born in the south, life here will not fit you. It is the same for me, an Italian coming from Toscana, to try live in the UK. Trust me, it is so boring and very costly to live in the UK after you leave north Italy. You must think about positive aspects you get in the south that you cannot get in the UK : having a real beach in the proximity, living in a sunny place most of the year, the possibility to grow your own greens all over the year, have great food and even establish a small vineyard. Life in South of France is not that complicated if you think basic. You don't need over-sophisticated cities to make a living and live your life BETTER. This is what you did not understand - you just kept comparing the "outstanding" British living conditions to the local French simple but more healthier ones. Believe me, I am a cook and I earn 2000 Euros per month. I have bought a 2000 sq meter land where I have built a nice house in time - step by step, over a period of 5 years. I have set a personal vineyard of 100 grapevines, I plant my own salads, greens and stuff; I have also a greenhouse that supplies my greens during winter time. I keep rabbits, chickens and meat-pigeons(squabs). In the back of the yard, I've got 20 big olive trees that provide me with daily "kalamata" olives for all the year round. I go to work from 8 am to 8 pm and when I return from work I sit on the terace that is in the middle of the backyard where I have roses and many other flowers surrounding me. It is a complete relaxation to gather friends here for some barbecue and wine. The beach I visit twice per week, I have the full sun healing my skin and the salty water refreshing my lungs with health. I go fishing by the sea once per week and get some fish for the barbecues I have with my family, neighbours and friends. That is LIFE! I must let you know that the REAL cause of failure in your case was your typically conservative British attitude. We, the southerners have a different approach to life: be free, live worry-less. You have one life to live, so each day should not be wasted on thinking what would be wrong in the future. Today is a gift! Tomorrow is another story. Just live your life, don't think about pension since you might not live to earn it. Now is your life. Now is present. It you think like that, you will have a great life. Embrace the southern life, with many friends, a barbecue and a glass of wine. Life happens once.
  • Angela Hales posted:

    on 6th November 2012, 21:00:10 - Reply

    Sorry, my husband's retirement was in 2001, and we reurned to the UK in 2011. Don't know why they are wrong above.
  • Angie Hales posted:

    on 6th November 2012, 20:54:28 - Reply

    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!!