A reader recently bemoaned the fact that they had not heard in advance about an event on which I reported. I sympathise. Keeping up with what’s going on is not easy and, dare I say it, the French aren’t always very good at publicising things. Sixteen years ago, we were constantly finding out about fêtes or concerts we had missed. Things have improved but hearing about forthcoming events is still a lottery.
In summer, you can’t avoid the flyers embellishing your car windscreen or the posters affixed to every possible hoarding. Winter is different: you could be forgiven for thinking that the cultural life of southwest France is somewhere on a par with Outer Mongolia. Less goes on because the population is no longer swelled by holidaymakers and second homers. But culture and entertainment are still to be had. You just have to find out about them.
When we first moved here, few people had email and websites were in their infancy. Bouche à oreille (lit. mouth to ear) or word of mouth was one of the principal means of publicising events. Communications are now more sophisticated, so here are eight ways of keeping yourself informed. I’ll be pleased to hear of additions to the list.
I should add I am not endorsing any of the content published in media mentioned below.
1. Local library/Médiathèque
Many communes have one, even if they are under financial pressure. Some run cultural events in English and French, so get onto their email mailing list. As they are focal points in a community, they are also good places to pick up flyers or leaflets.
2. Tourist Offices
Like libraries, they are short of cash and, out of season, have restricted opening hours. But they usually know what’s going on; some publish weekly bulletins of local events; and the bigger ones have websites with what’s on sections, normally under the tab ‘agenda’. Just Google the name of the town or village.
3. Newspapers and magazines
French regional newspapers, such as La Dépêche du Midi, usually have local supplements with news from the communes and a what’s on section. Le Villefranchois, published in our nearest sizeable town, Villefranche-de-Rouergue, covers mid to west Aveyron. It even tells you what’s going on ‘over the border’ in neighbouring départements, which is unusual.
In English, there’s national monthly, The Connexion. You can sign up for their free weekly email newsletter. As a national publication it’s less likely to carry info about local events. But it has interesting news items.
Locally, The Quercy Local, is published five times a year and covers a fairly wide area. It’s available in shops and libraries free or delivered for a subscription. Back issues are available online. [2021 update: this publication no longer appears to be produced.]
I’ve already mentioned tourist office websites. Expat websites are legion. Sometimes, they have sub-sites that cover a region and include local information. They normally have forums or specialist groups. Here’s a very small selection – but just Google ‘expat’ and see what comes up.
Some enterprising souls run their own ‘news and views’ websites. Around here, not much gets past the notice of Val Johnstone, who runs Taglines. People increasingly publicise their events on her site, which covers parts of Tarn-et-Garonne, Tarn, Lot and Aveyron.
Got a Twitter account? I know it can be irritating to read what someone just ate for breakfast or that they have watched the latest episode of Downton Abbey. But these less-than-helpful tweets are fewer than they used to be. Search for and follow people in your area who provide useful information. You can always unfollow if they’re not useful.
6. Newcomers’/expats’ organisations
These were thin on the ground in 1997 but, with the influx of Brits in the 2000s, they are more numerous. In our area, FiFi (Friends in France International) is aimed mainly at women but they run a variety of events and have a broad network, so are a good way of staying informed. Similar organisations exist in other areas, some with the primary purpose of helping newcomers to settle in.
7. Cultural Associations
Cross-cultural organisations bring together expats and French people. The Association France-Grande-Bretagne has 34 branches in France that organise various events and outings. You have to be a member to take part. [Note: the website no longer exists, it appears. December 2020.]
Some communes have cultural associations that run events such as cookery workshops, historical talks, themed walks, films and theatre evenings. You don’t always have to be a member to join in. Locally, Parisot’s ‘Rencontre et Partage’ runs a programme of events throughout the year.
8. Personal contacts
Since I am involved in various local events, I email all my contacts with information about them. Some might get thoroughly cheesed off with this but no one has said so yet. And they can tell me to remove their name or just delete the email. Similarly, I am on several ‘unofficial’ mailing lists. Ask friends and contacts to email you regularly if they find out about events you might be interested in.
Following up all this, of course, involves a time element but you quickly identify the best sources of information. And there are bound to be things that fall through the net. A key message is that if you get involved in things you’ll find out what’s going on.
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