Expatriate’s story from Diane, living in the Brittany region in France.
It all began in 1998 when the world cup was being televised and the cameras panned around the French countryside. This was where the games were being played. My husband turned to me and said he would like to visit France for a holiday. Well the rest is history because we came; we saw, and fell in love.
By October we had seen a house that my husband was going to make in to our very own “Shangri-la”. Sounded so simple! Just one problem, as the project was beginning to unfold and our dream was becoming reality the returns to England were getting harder. But we needed to return to earn the money to complete our dream.
On one such return visit we spent the entire sailing deciding what should we do. By the time we docked at Plymouth it was Utopia! We were going to take the gamble and take early retirement. Monday morning I made the phone call to the estate agent for a valuation on our bungalow and put it up for sale. The papers and pencils were busy working out sums as to how we could be financially viable as we were retiring three years early before any pension would begin. We discovered we could spend as little or as much as we liked, we did not have to eat in restaurants three times a week because we were stressed out from working all day, we did not have to do anything we did not want to do. Live stress free, a dream come true.
Our main worry obviously was the language and culture and as the house project was taking all my husbands time it was decided that I would be the one to be the student. (Not easy when you are in your sixties) I bought every book, cd and dictionary. I was Amazons best customer but there is no better way to learn than conversing with your French friends. Fortunately for me I saw Céline’s web page. Knowing the language opens all kinds of doors, you will be able to converse and mix freely. English people are very lazy when it comes to languages they expect everybody to speak English. Our attitude has to change. As we come from cosmopolitan London, we knew the pit falls of being a “foreigner” in a foreign country. We made every effort to integrate; we never turned down any invitations even if we were unsure what was expected of us. We went with big smiles, good firm handshakes introducing ourselves “oui and non” in hopefully all the right places. One of my first gaffs was when I was trying to explain that “I had fed the dog” belonging to a very old paysanne who had been taken to hospital. I apparently was telling everyone “I had eaten the dog” Lucky for me my French friends realised what I was trying to say. But they were proud, not only that I was feeding the dog but also trying to speak their language. Our friends are all-comfortable in visiting our “Shangri-La” for aperitifs and trying English cooking, we have introduced them to cheddar cheese and Branston pickle. We talk, gesticulate and they try the odd English word. My husbands attempt at French and very “Del Boyish” “Mange tout” “Sacre bleu” along with “Ooh la la” were and still are good party pieces. It is very important to understand the French culture and not to criticise, which many foreigners want to do, don’t try and change it. Come and enjoy the ambience, the food, the wine, become part of their culture enjoy the tranquillity, affability.
This is post war Britain.
If you are serious about becoming an expat research it thoroughly as each person is an individual and their needs different. It has worked for us because we worked at making it work. Peace of mind is something money cannot buy. Check with Department of Working Pension, as medical care is another issue we had to be aware of. This was obviously can be a worry because your needs for medical help increases with age. But we qualified for the reciprocal medical care between England and France. Both my husband and myself have had surgery since arriving here. No waiting lists and no severe infections in the hospitals which is very reassuring, that you leave the hospital having been given the best medical treatment available.
People ask, “have you any regrets?” the answer is “yes we should have done it sooner” What do I miss, I miss my 86 year old Mum, however she is a frequent visitor and would live here but she says she is to old to make the changes. We say she is not. And yes, I miss M & S. (Marks and Spencer’s).