Kathy and Paul ConnerKathy and Paul Conner moved from Surrey to the Charente-Maritime in search of a more relaxed lifestyle and the opportunity to work for themselves. They read lots of books and magazines and visited exhibitions where they could speak to immobiliers. Kathy then took a course in French for homeowners.

By making an effort to learn the language, which has enabled them to speak to their French neighbours, Kathy and Paul have found integrating into the community relatively easy. “They have made us so welcome and speak a lovely Charentais dialect” says Kathy.

Four years on, the couple feel like locals. Kathy takes every opportunity to widen her circle of French friends. She goes to the local gymnastique voluntaire once a week and the Gems Line Dancing Group – a fantastic way to meet French people and to learn the language.

As expatriates, Kathy and Paul are still keen to befriend others who have come to live in France from abroad and recommend that everyone join an Anglo-French Association. If you haven’t got one near you, why not start one up?

“We joined one in Royan and were therefore in regular contact with English people who had lived in France a few years and also French people, to start to understand and speak the language. We were able to find out more about our immediate area as well” said Kathy.

It’s learning the language that seems to make the biggest difference when trying to settle into life abroad and according to the Conners, taking a French class is important even if your French is brilliant, just because it’ll help you meet people in the same boat as you.

When the couple first arrived, their French was not much more advanced than school level and they knew nothing of the conversational French that they would need the most. Kathy and Paul had to attend classes and four years later are still going, determined to become fully fluent!

Kathy admits, “It has been hard going at times, but the more you speak with your neighbours and in shops, the easier and more natural it becomes. We always welcome French people into our house and there are many where we live”.

But what about their plans to work for themselves whilst enjoying a more relaxed way of life in France? Well, Paul has recently started a shopping business for people living in France who want to buy items in the UK that either they miss or find are better priced.

He offers monthly trips to transport goods to and from the UK and so far, business is going well. The aim is not to bring England to France, just to help reduce costs for people living in France.

Ask Kathy and Paul what they like most about their new lifestyle and they’ll tell you it’s less stressful, they enjoy the customary lunch hour (or two!) and when everything closes down on Sundays and Bank Holidays, they are encouraged to spend quality time as a family.

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