Dublin to Cahors, the adventure continues…
Having arrived in France and settled in our rented home in the Cahors area, we needed to set up a bank account. However, having spoken to most of the banks in Villeneuve sur Lot that also have branches in Cahors and not having found them to be particularly friendly or helpful we tried Caisse D’Epargne in Cahors. What a difference, we were welcomed with open arms and treated like clients. The mention of having some money to open an account may have made it easier but we did try the same approach in other places to no avail. Caisse D’Epargne have a bi-lingual account manager in Toulouse who arranged to meet us in Cahors and explain the workings of the bank and our account. This was a big help to us as our French was not nearly as good as we had imagined when we left Ireland and we were desperately struggling to get to terms with everything.
We received some very straight forward and sound advice from our bank, which helped us to realise how we could better use the funds we had. Number one rule – don’t blow all your money on buying a house, get your income sorted first, whether you are going to be an employee of a company here in France or whether you are going to set up your own business.
Unless of course you are fortunate enough to have sufficient funds to buy a house and retire, in which case, we salute you. We were also able to get our house and car insurance sorted through the bank, the car insurance was difficult and lengthy as French driving licenses are perpetual, Irish driving licenses must be renewed every ten years so we had a lot of tooing and froing to do with our insurance company in Ireland to be able to prove our full license histories.
A condition of the car insurance was that we had to re-register the car in the Lot!! We were issued a temporary insurance certificate until the car re-registration was sorted and so we set about getting the car re-registered. We had to visit the Prefecture du Lot in Cahors and found that the process was quite straightforward and that the cost, compared to Ireland, was not punitive. You simply need the CEC (Certificate of European Conformity) available through your original dealership, original registration documentation and proof of purchase of your car in your name; if your car is more than four years old you will be required to have a valid CT (Controle Technique) which is similar to an MOT.
You then take all the documentation to the prefecture, fill in a form and wait in line…come on it’s France; everything involves a queue of one sort or another. After a while you get to the validation desk where your forms are checked and if all is ok you join another queue where you pay your fee. About two weeks later you will get your new registration documentation (the Carte Grise) you then take it to any of the many places around Cahors such as LeClerc Auto, Vulco Pneus etc. Show them your new Carte Grise and order your new number plates, they will fit them for you of you wish. When you have done all this you then contact your insurer and provide them with a copy of your Carte grise after which you will receive your insurance certificate proper.
Then we sorted the mundane things like the EDF electricity account and France Telecom for the phone, both very simple and easy. So here we are, well settled into the Cahors area and discovering new things about Cahors every day that are so convenient for us e.g. an excellent Veterinary practice that looks after all Gizmo and Kaceys’ needs. We were surprised to discover that vet fees and vet medicine in France are about half the price they are in Dublin.
We had heard many stories about the French sense of humour and had our first encounter with a real French character in a supermarket in Cahors. We were going about our business shopping for the weekly groceries when I was dispatched by my good lady wife to find six fresh eggs. I found the aisle where the eggs are displayed and was literally standing there scratching my head wondering which one to choose, I had never seen such a huge choice of eggs in a supermarket before, when I heard this very strongly accented voice ask me ‘Monsieur, Cherchez vous les oeufs carée?’Translation: ‘Sir, Are you looking for the square eggs? I looked to my right and found this old gent standing beside me with a wicked twinkle in his eye and a half smile breaking across his face. So I responded ‘Oui monsieur, je cherche les oeufs carée pour le pain carée’ at which point the old gent cracked up laughing and we shook hands.
It turns out that he had recognised me from church in Lalbenque, where we attend Mass most Sunday mornings. The following Sunday morning we saw the same man in the church at Mass and he was all smiles & “bonjour Madame et Monsieur”. Oh, bye the way, if you want to see a fantastically enthralling spectacle make your way to Lalbenque for the Marche des Truffes (Truffle Market). It is like a piece of theatre in its own right, full of intrigue and mystery. Who has the best truffes and who will they allow to see them? Quite something to behold!
So next on the agenda for us was looking at how to go about setting up a business. We decided that our primary business was going to be Carroll Property Services and that we needed to understand the requirements for setting up a business in France. This is much more complicated than we had imagined and the tax system is completely different as well. We were lucky enough to be introduced to a ‘comptable expert’ (accountant) who very patiently explained the workings of the French tax system to us. We needed to contact the Chambre des Metiers in Cahors and arrange to enrol in a Stage de Preparation (obligatory for our service based business) before we could register the business. We soon understood that the most intelligent thing to do is make sure you have clients before registering a company (in France you become liable for certain taxes as soon as you register your company) as you will receive a tax bill within two weeks of registration.
November in the region was a surprise to us, George had advised us to fill our central heating tank before end of October, as it could get a bit cool in November. Boy! Was he under-estimating the change in weather? At the start of November it was as though someone had turned off the sun, it got so cold and remained cold until the end of February 2006. We thought we had made a wrong turn on a motorway somewhere along the way and ended up in Norway!
At the end of January 2006 we had the huge snowfall, the biggest snowfall in 30 yrs. And it just so happened it fell during our first winter in the Lot! Is that Irish or what? The snow was up to 2 metres deep in the region and along our laneway it was more than 1 metre deep. It was incredibly beautiful, although we were unable to get the car out of the drive for about three days, luckily we had been shopping on Friday morning before the snow started falling. While we were shopping we noticed that most of the supermarkets had stocks of snow shovels and snow chains for cars and we wondered why? After all, this is South West France isn’t it?
We of course hadn’t checked the forecast for more than a week and were unaware of the impending weather coming our way! So we settled in for the duration and were relieved to see the storm abate after about two days, at least we could get out of the house even if the car was stranded. January 2006 will forever be remembered as the time when we fulfilled a long held ambition, we made Snow Angels for the first time in our lives, honestly it’s true. We were mucking around with the snow and decided ‘what the heck, the snow looks deep enough and you only live once’. So we let ourselves fall backwards into the beautiful soft snow and swung our arms and legs in arcs forming perfect snow angels. We felt especially pleased with ourselves until we realised that we were being watched by our neighbours who were beside themselves with laughter at our antics. The embarrassment of it all, no such thing, they got just as big a kick out of it all as we did. Eventually they gathered themselves together and continued their trek along the laneway on skis!!
It was around this time that we found French Entrée Lot & Quercy. We contacted Colin and he was very helpful in setting up our advertorial on the French Entrée website. We have been delighted with the response that our advertising has generated to date and indeed we have found all of our clients thus far directly or in-directly through the site.
Since moving to the Cahors area we have found some really great clients (if any of you are reading this, you know who you are and thanks again for your support) and some truly great friends; every time we get together there is guaranteed to be a lot of laughter and merriment as they are always up for a drop of the black stuff, no not Guinness, the French black stuff, Cahors vin Rouge, as are we. We were invited to our first Repas du Quartier last August and what an evening that was. Food, more food and then just to be sure, more food again! There were about eight courses in all accompanied by oceans of wine, Cahors AOC of course and the usual laughter and craic. We tried foods we never imagined we would try; Magret de Canard is now a firm favourite, cooked on a gentle BBQ of a summers evening with the obligatory Cahors vin Rouge in hand. Being able to use the BBQ most of the time from April through to October is one aspect of French life we really enjoy. French people really understand how to enjoy long relaxed meals and are very generous in sharing good food, good wine and good company with friends and family. We discovered that the older generation in France are wonderful characters who really enjoy sharing their stories and experiences with you.
For 2007 we have enrolled in a French language course at the Chambre de Commerce et Industrie du Lot in Cahors and have found it tremendously beneficial in helping to re-learn the French language as it is spoken on a daily basis. The course is also great for meeting other people that have made the move to the area and who also struggle with the local dialect.
The best thing of all about our life in the Lot is that we get to spend so much time together, working, laughing, talking, walking, meeting new people and making time for new friends. It’s great to be able to take the time to enjoy the little things in life and experience the pleasure of the simple things life in rural France offers. Each day is exciting, challenging, exhilarating and most of all thoroughly enjoyable. All things considered was the move to France worth it? You bet … Vive la France and long may the adventure last!!
©Niall Carroll 2007