The Ups and Downs of Life in La France Profonde

 

Ruins like this are not uncommon in the French countryside

Ruins like this are not uncommon in the French countryside

I spent much of last week in London, which led me to reflect on the differences between urban and rural life. As it turns out, this was quite timely, since the French government had been carrying out a charm offensive on rural voters in advance of last Sunday’s cantonal elections. On the menu was improving access to public services, health care and telecoms.

I’m not a city dweller by temperament, much preferring the open spaces, absence of crowds and tranquillity of the countryside. However, even I am prepared to admit that aspects of country life don’t always stack up with the rural idyll that all we Brits imagine before we move here.

Two different planets

The French countryside is actually two different planets: Summer Countryside and Winter Countryside. Summer Countryside is more densely populated, the weather is usually warm and sunny and there’s a lot going on. Winter Countryside is more sparsely inhabited, the weather can be bleak and cold and there’s very little going on.

Summer Countryside is the one we fondly imagine we are moving to all year round; Winter Countryside is the one we actually live in for six months of the year, or more.

French rural depopulation

Rural depopulation in France is well documented. Over the space of 75 years or so the mechanisation of agriculture and the exodus to the towns, plus a World War that cut a swathe through the rural male population, was responsible for emptying the countryside of people.

In its heyday in the first half of the 19th century, our commune had a population of around 5,400. This had dropped to a low point of around 1,300 in 1990. It has now increased a little to just over 1,500, possibly because of the influx of foreign property owners in the 2000s. Nonetheless, this is still only just over a quarter of its former population.

Lack of amenities

The net result is that the French countryside has often missed out on some of the advantages enjoyed by urban areas. In our area, we are fortunate to have good access to doctors, medical centres and hospitals. In fact, you are probably more likely to get an appointment with a specialist down here than in many towns. This is not the case in some other rural areas, where they have difficulty attracting general practitioners.

Public transport is pretty hit and miss. You really need a car, unless you live in a large village or a town with all amenities. Elderly people who don’t drive – and I have personal experience of some of them – rely on other people to ferry them about. And with the rationalisation of smaller shops into much bigger ones, usually in the larger towns, you can’t get everything you need in a village any more.

The downside we notice the most is the lack of access to high-speed internet. We have had to install a connection by satellite, which is not always responsive and costs more than the broadband equivalent. But there are still 169 ‘zones blanches’ in France where they don’t have a 2G connection. Some of those don’t even have telecoms at all.

All parts of France are promised fibre-optics by 2022. We joke (?) that we will be among the last. In fact, I find it hard to see them investing in bringing it to a lane with only three houses, two of which are maisons secondaires.

Despite all this, I would find it very hard to go back to urban dwelling. I get my fix of culture when I go to London or one of our regional cities. For us, the advantages of living in la France profonde outweigh the shortcomings. Not everyone can say the same, especially young people who need jobs, affordable housing and access to services.

You might also like:

Surviving in France: Ten Top Tips
Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 1, the Positives
Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 2, the Negatives
French country life a century ago

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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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6 Responses to The Ups and Downs of Life in La France Profonde

  1. Pingback: 20 Years of la Vie Française | Life on La Lune

  2. Pingback: Noises Off on a Country Evening | Life on La Lune

  3. Osyth says:

    Like you, I actually like the distinction between Winter and Summer too … I am prone to be a hermit so the quietude and lack of things to do is generally acceptable. But I think a lady taxi-driver taking me to pick up my wounded car in February last year had it right … she described here (and it applies to any rural part of France) as ‘un peu triste’ – certainly for the unprepared that can be a shock, I am sure. I think it falls to what a friend of mine said when I announced I was marrying only 3 months after meeting my husband … live through each of the four seasons, then decide. I was fortunate, because I had spent a lot of time in all of the seasons here before I moved permanently but I suspect that many have not done that. I’m interested in your comments about Auvergne and I know the Government are trying to inject some life into it but with very little success. And the migrants wanting to leave? Well I am sure all the reasons you give contribute in some degree or another … you know far better than I, after only 18 months, the challenges of being a non-native in any country. Overall though, I would rather be here in France than in the overpopulated south of England.

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    • nessafrance says:

      We had certainly only seen SW France in the summer (and the Alps in winter) before we moved here. But, like you, I can be a bit of a hermit and need to be prised out of the shell from time to time. I couldn’t agree more about rather being here than in car and people-ridden southern England. It suits me here much better, but people need to know that life in rural France is not always what they expect it will be.

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  4. Osyth says:

    Very good round up of what it is actually like rather than the dream … you are so right – summer vs winter are two entirely different propositions. Here in Cantal, we have all the same problems though internet is generally very good indeed courtesy of I know not what. We also notice that there are a large number of Belgians and Dutch selling up in the Departement having moved here in the 90s and noughties … whether it is a case of them feeling that it is too remote for old age or just what we don’t know. But the second homers seem to be depleting just as the indiginous young are migrating to the big cities (we don’t have one) for work …

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    • nessafrance says:

      In a lot of ways I like the distinction between winter and summer here. But, before you move here, there is a tendency to assume that summer persists all year round. And nobody tells you how cold it can be. I think the Auvergne has been the subject of various government initiatives because of its remote nature and the fact that industry is almost non-existent while agriculture is very difficult. Down here, we’ve seen a lot of Brits trying to move back to the UK (language, family, fear of old age in a foreign country?), although many have had difficulties selling. As for big cities – Toulouse is 90 minutes away while Bordeaux is 2.5 hours, so we don’t get to them often!

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