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
Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved