Moving to France – a Cautionary Tale

Always blue skies like this?

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 worked in the same organisation in the UK. He came to south west France on his own, saw a house for sale in a hamlet 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 invite back the Brits who had invited them.

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 the SF 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 delusions 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 less 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?

See also my post on 10 top tips for surviving in France.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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17 Responses to Moving to France – a Cautionary Tale

  1. Pingback: French Women Don’t Eat Cake – Or Do They? « Total Immersion – French Style

  2. Excellent post Vanessa. There are so many Archibalds and Hermiones out there. Like you, we did a lot of research, but still not enough, but if you’re flexible and have budgeted wisely, all being well things work out.

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    • nessafrance says:

      It’s a shame there are so many. Of course, however much research you do, there are always things that take you by surprise. As you say, the key is to be flexible and know where your income is going to come from!

      Like

  3. Kate says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    Sorry, it must be an Aussie thing, yes it’s just a saying for hard work.
    I’ve come across lots of French “sayings” that don’t quite make sense to me that I’m sure people use everyday (like “quoi de neuf “..?!) I’ll try and pop in a few more Aussie ones , I find it rather fascinating!

    Kate.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the explanation – no need to apologise, I love collecting expressions. Quoi de neuf just means, “What’s new?” but there are plenty of others that are more impenetrable. The French seem to specialise in them, like “tomber dans les pommes” (fall into the apples) means to faint!

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  4. Laura says:

    Some people are so thoroughly unprepared!

    Like

  5. Paul Diamond says:

    As we also live on a small island in the Caribbean, I have seen this exact same things quite literally more times than I can count. People come here for 2 weeks hols, love it, and sell up everything to come down, without doing even basic research. All the the things they love on hols, invariably drive them absolutely crazy when they live here ie) ‘Island time’…no one rushes and no one cares…great for a holiday, not so good if you are trying to start up a biz and/or build a house. Its nice and quiet…yes, coz it costs and arm and leg and a couple of days to get here from the UK, so friends/family wont be visiting you all the time. And yes, groceries really do cost 3 to 4 times what they cost in Uk, as does power, internet and phone….when they are working, often they arent. Yes, there are only 3 decent affordable places to eat on the island, and the menu’s never change…and 2 of them are Chinese. No we have no books stores, computer shops, cinemas, or large home improvement shops, you will have to arrange for absolutely everything to be shipped in from the US, and pay and extra 50-80% duty on it, plus shipping. I could go on, but you know the story.

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    • nessafrance says:

      As you rightly say, all the things that captivated you on holiday are those that irritate you when you live in a place. In the circumstances you describe, which are not too different in some respects from la France profonde, you really do need to have other activities/job to keep you occupied. The dark days of winter can seem very long here if you don’t.

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  6. Sue Whatmough says:

    I do so agree with you on this. People simply don’t do their research and then run back to UK with their tails between their legs. Did they ever really want to leave home anyway? I think to live in France you have to be a Francophile (warts and all). As for not learning the language – lazy, crazy and very rude!

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    • nessafrance says:

      I think one of the saddest things is when people think moving to France will mend their ailing marriage/relationship. Since moving house – and by extension, country – is one of the most stressful life events it’s not a surprise if the relationship falls apart even quicker.

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  7. I can add a few more;
    The house was cheaper to buy than in the UK therefore the renovations must be a fraction of what you’d pay in the UK too.
    The things that make the house so nice for holidays – isolated, no neighbours, miles from anywhere, down a little rustic track – are what you want in a house you live in full time.
    You can make a living from a single gite
    They tell the truth on those Moving To France property programmes.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Good ones. I stopped at 10 as a nice round number but there are plenty more. I think those ‘Living the Dream’ property programmes should be banned.

      Like

  8. susancarey says:

    Hermione and Archibald, I love the names you gave them. It’s amazing how naive people can be about moving abroad, isn’t it? The language element is so important, although I have a few long-haul expat friends who have never mastered Dutch. Now with social networking it’s so easy to find expat groups and form a social life totally independent of the country you live in, learning the language is less urgent. It’s a huge hurdle though if you don’t speak Dutch and is a barrier to long term integration.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      I wanted to make sure they were thoroughly unidentifiable! Archibald I got from Jo’s latest chapter on WA. The French language skills of ex-pats around here are variable, to say the least. I also think it’s a real disadvantage if you can’t speak the language to a reasonable level of proficiency. A sort of parallel society is developing down here because of it – and because of other cultural differences, too.

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      • Kate says:

        Thanks for an interesting and humorous post about the realities of buying in France, it’s so true. I for one am a self-confessed Francophile and can see myself doing the hard yards in the (very distant!) future. I’ve just spent over a year organising a trip to France in April next year and still feel somewhat ill-prepared!! Research really does matter!!

        Kate

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      • nessafrance says:

        I hope you enjoy your trip next April. It’s certainly worth doing the research. I’ve never come across the expression “doing the hard yards” but I can guess its meaning. This is what I like about blogging – you constantly learn new things from readers!

        Like

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