Based on personal experience and the anecdotes of others, here are some of the golden nuggets our family wished we had known before moving to France.
1. Buying a property with land has its downsides!
If you are looking to buy rurally, often properties can be vast and come with much more land than you may be used to. It may sound obvious, but you do need to maintain that land. Are you happy to sit for hours on a tractor/lawnmower? Do you enjoy weeding? Or, do you have the means to employ a gardener, and if so, have you actually researched how much these services are likely to cost?
2. How rural is too rural?
Many of us want that rural idyl. However, if you have children or are in advancing years, how rural is too rural? How far away are shops, services and hospitals? You may be in full health now, but if that were to change, would you be close enough to good health care? Can you see yourself happily hopping in the car each week, whatever the weather, to take a long drive to the nearest shops?
Children enjoy sporting clubs and want to socialise with friends – are frequent long car journeys something you have considered? With rising fuel costs, this might need to be taken even more into consideration when choosing a property.
3. The view looks different in winter!
With the sun shining, the sunflowers smiling, and the vast clear blue skies, it can be quite difficult to remove those rose-tinted spectacles. But your countryside getaway might feel more ‘castaway’ in the long winter months! Try visiting in the winter to see the local town and how the landscape, activities, and weather change before making your decision.
4. You can hire your own notaire
The estate agent may advise you ‘share’ a notaire with the vendor to push the sale through more quickly if time is an issue. Notaires in France are independent and work for the government rather than the individual, so this isn’t always a problem. However, you can appoint your own notaire at no extra cost (the fees are then split between the two notaires), so why wouldn’t you?
5. Your DIY skills might not cut it!
If you are considering some DIY in France, do your research first. Although your UK skills will stand you in good stead, every day is a learning day when moving to France. Firstly, do not assume that UK prices (of both materials and workers) in the construction trade will be roughly the same.
Secondly, make sure you understand how the house you have bought has been constructed. The ‘anciennes maisons’ need to breathe and have an air flow. If not, you could find yourself with a humidity problem. UK building methods may not be as transferrable as you might have first thought when dealing with a house without foundations and built from porous stone. Take note from the locals and ask an artisan builder if in doubt.
6. Not speaking French can be disempowering (but you will eventually get there!)
Even the most resilient and resourceful individual can eventually succumb to a crisis of confidence when a language barrier is involved. While it is true that many people speak a modicum of English, to find yourself in a daily position where you cannot converse with those around you freely can be quite isolating. In some cases, if your spouse can speak the language slightly more fluently than you, you might feel like you have lost your ‘role’ within the family, feel a loss of confidence or even feel depressed. That said, many ex-pats survive happily in an English-speaking enclave.
Rest assured that if you commit to learning French, it will come with time. However, it is a good idea to take French lessons before you arrive to ensure you at least have the basics to get by. You might also want to swot up on specific vocabulary that you will need too, such as DIY and building terms, for example.
7. Making friends can be more challenging in France
Culturally, rural France is very different to the UK. In England, our lives revolved around children’s clubs and weekly children’s birthday parties. It was hectic. We had weekly family schedules to keep up with our various commitments.
The reality of life here is that it is very family-based, which is wonderful and exactly what we wanted. However, our family is scattered across the UK…
As French life revolves so much around the extended family, be prepared for friendships to take time. This is not a bad thing: this is how true friendships are made, but it can be hard to adjust at first. Be patient and stay true to yourselves.
8. Immigrant? Ex-pat? What is my identity?
Most never think of themselves as an immigrant in France. We all come to this amazing country for a myriad of reasons and mostly for a different, better life. There are times when it’s worth considering how others might see you and how you see yourself. Take the time to consider your future identity.
In your former life, you may have been held in high regard, and have had a career which you worked hard to achieve. Are you ready for your next chapter? Moving to another country is indeed a fresh start, but have you ever considered that your previous identity may not cut an awful lot of mustard in your new life?
To be considered by some as an ‘anglais’ first and foremost can be irritating, to say the least! Being accepted for being you takes time – especially in small, traditional communities but once you are accepted, people will take you into their homes and hearts as part of their extended family.
Much depends on the way in which you see your life here and whether you wish to fully integrate into the local community or whether you’re quite happy ploughing your own furrow.
9. Your kids may need extra help to integrate into their French school
Private education is not quite as expensive as you may think and may be worth exploring in your area. Depending on the ages of your children, consider a French tutor to give your children that extra boost to help with their self-confidence if they are learning the French language. If you are an English-speaking home, consider ways in which your children can access the French language, especially over the holiday periods. Do you have French friends and French television?
Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping up French during school holidays, too. If children are speaking solely English for six weeks or more, it is reasonable to assume this will impact them and their studies each September when they return to school. Can you continue with the French tutor in a more conversational/less formal manner over the holidays? Or perhaps you could buy a ‘Cahier de Vacances’, a holiday homework book sold in virtually every supermarket.
10. Healthcare isn’t always easily accessible in the countryside
Having children and an ageing relative, a hospital within a short drive was on our checklist when we moved to France. It may be worth considering the ‘draw’ of your area for competent healthcare professionals and their particular specialisms.
It may be the case that you will need to travel to a larger city for treatment which is a point for your consideration.
11. French bureaucracy is frustrating… but don’t be afraid to ask for help
As frustrating as the French paperwork can become, remember this keeps someone in a job and keeps the wheels turning! Stay calm and polite, and ask for help whenever you need it. The local government departments are usually very helpful if you need something explaining, and there is always the secretary at your Mairie who may be willing to help if you are in desperate need. There are also companies and individuals who specialise in assisting with French paperwork – just make sure you thoroughly research their credentials.
So, now that we know all that we know now, would we still move to France?
Every trial and tribulation has been absolutely worth it. Would we do the same again if we went back in time? Absolutely. Life is but an adventure!
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