Seven years ago, Gee Backhouse gave up her job in computing and moved from the Cotswolds to the Minervois (Languedoc-Roussillon) where she set up Rock Water Studio as a jewellery designer. Here, Gee tells FrenchEntrée how she and her husband realised their dream of settling in France…
What preparations did you make before you went out?
Translations of all significant documents were made and there was much swotting on how to set up a business in France. Our dogs received the necessary jabs and chips, we trimmed down our possessions, sold our home, closed businesses and booked one-way tickets.
How did you go about finding your home?
We rented a house here whilst we searched. Having looked at 30 or so properties, a French friend actually found this one for us after 4-5 months. In between times, we experienced French estate agents who take you to the property you want to see and then proceed to show you several more that you didn’t!
Did you have to do much work on the property?
The first thing we had to do was arrange for a completely new roof. We still have much work to do on our home – it’s a living project. There’s no rush and as we’ve really lived in the property, our ideas for how we’d like it have evolved.
How have you improved your language skills?
Learning the language was a mix of brushing up our French from school, conversation lessons, and diving in; making lots of mistakes and asking people to correct us. Shopping, visits to the vet, getting the car fixed, arranging for a phone line to be installed and registering a business; these all happen without poring over a dictionary beforehand. The accent is heavily influenced by Spain, so pronunciation has been learned along the way.
What have been the main challenges about the move?
The only thing I think I would have done differently would be to have off-loaded more possessions rather than shipping them over with a removal company. That part was a bit of a nightmare.
Have you found it easy to integrate into French life?
We feel privileged to live in France and have joined associations where we’re the only English speaking members. In terms of integration, we feel entirely welcomed. Choosing to make the effort to speak French has played an enormous part in this.
Describe a typical day.
The day starts with waking up to a beautiful morning to walk the dogs. It is said that the Languedoc enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year and I can believe it! An abundance of tracks means there is always somewhere to stretch our legs and a view of the Pyrénées thrown in.
The lion’s share of my day is spent designing jewellery in my workshop. This is where I lose track of time. We eat lunch in the garden whenever possible. Administrative tasks receive my attention in the afternoon. This often means working on photos and descriptions of my creations before uploading them to my website.
What were the reactions of your friends and family to your move?
I don’t think our decision was taken very seriously at the beginning. Friends and family shared our excitement and enjoyed talking about our plans. However, when the time came, many seemed shocked we were leaving! Perhaps a handful expected us to return in a couple of years.