Expatriate’s story from Marion, living in the Cevennes region in France.
Walking holidays enticed us to different parts of France and circumstances resulted in our move to the Cevennes three years ago. We knew the climate was sunny, the scenery spectacular, the environment largely unspoiled, the local history fascinating. We experienced many cultural differences and liked what we found.
This continues as we feel comfortable in our village where everyone recognised us from the first week, although we didn’t know them! Everyone watched as we undertook the labour of Hercules in the renovation of our house. Our policy was to buy everything possible locally and to use local artisans as we wanted to share out the work to as many as possible. This has paid off and was appreciated, resulting in a useful network of contacts. We have been included in all the activities arranged for the over 60’s and our language skills improve as we enjoy lively and sometimes ribald banter with local characters. We admire the social graciousness of the French, the “bon appetit” from fellow diners, the daily greetings and bises on our way through the village, the friendliness of the local children who receive affection from family and friends with quiet dignity and confidence, and the importance attached to the family which is so essentially French. It is the many everyday little things which make our life here so joyful. We find one of the best ways to improve our French is to ask friends to eat with us when I can also demonstrate that the English have good food too.
So far we have not found any serious downside to our life here. The Health service is far superior to that of the UK, although it is best to avoid being ill in July and August when everyone is away on holiday!
We vowed to be patient over the French bureaucracy and to treat it as a necessary learning experience and in fact received kindness from many helpful officials. We like the local accountability of the Mairie and its system and have benefited from advice and help there too.
I miss my friends of longstanding and our shared past. So letters, e mails, phone calls and visits are very important. But life continues developing and new friendships are being forged and that’s exciting and stimulating. Our visits to the UK are made under sufferance and as little as possible and we prefer people to visit us here. As we lived in a remote part of the UK it is now easier and cheaper to visit us in France and there are all the additional joys of good weather, in season fresh fruit and vegetables, eating out at sensible prices, interesting and cheap wines, the village markets and a child friendly lifestyle to be experienced.
So what are the snags? Nowhere is perfect I would answer but I focus on two things. We cannot understand why charming French people become Attila the Hun once behind the steering wheel of their car. We have adapted our approach to driving to accommodate and so far continue to survive. And what about the language? It is not an insuperable problem unless you choose to make it one. Our desire to participate as fully as possible in the French way of life has been our chief incentive. We listen to what is going on around us, we watch only French TV, I go to a craft class where no-one speaks English. You have to be brave and jump in! Your efforts are appreciated. Each contact brings a small success, a little more understanding and we build on this. Our weekly lesson with Celine is an essential and very enjoyable part of our progress and so we have made another new friend in France.