Brexit: Borders, Benefits, Bureaucracy

ukeuropemap (2)I’ve lived in France for 10 years now but I still watch UK television. I tried French TV for a few weeks and in French hotels, I still get a dose of it for a few hours and I’m afraid it just doesn’t do it for me. I think the last straw on the back of my camel was an episode of French Countdown, ‘Des Chiffres et des Lettres.’
Therefore, the next few weeks’ television will consist of debate after debate; news item after news item; documentary after documentary about the so-called Brexit. Most supporters of the exit will (quite wrongly, in my opinion) concentrate on the 3 B’s above. They are by far the most emotive words bandied about by mainstream and social media alike.
I suppose I have a vested interest that is somewhat different to those still living in the UK, in that I will still be living in Europe if the UK decides to leave. But I will still have a British passport and I will always have one; I have no intention of changing that.
I’m going to have a go at suggesting what it might mean for the current British expat; nobody is absolutely certain what it will actually mean. I won’t discuss the people who are thinking of becoming expats, nor for those giving up on the life and leaving France. The status of the former group is even less certain but for the latter group, they will be subject to the same benefits (no, not that word!) or problems of suddenly being outside Europe. I say suddenly but I’m fairly sure that the exit will not be immediate; I believe it could take up to 2 years to ‘leave the building.’
I suppose that those wishing to return right now may find it difficult to sell up. It depends on the type of property they are selling but potential buyers in the UK may be reluctant to take the plunge at this point in time. The same obviously doesn’t go for buyers from other EU countries. But bon chance if that is what you are trying to do at the moment.
I don’t know the exact number of British expats living in France but the number seems to be approaching the 200,000 mark. Let’s split up these numbers in terms of demographics; retirees and those of working age, with or without children. I am not going to attempt to give financial advice to anyone, I am nowhere near qualified; I’ll keep it as simple and as uncertain as it seems to me.

• When I say retirees, I really mean those receiving pensions – I feel it is a kinder word than pensioners. At the moment, the state pension can be paid into your UK or French bank account. If it is a UK bank, there will obviously be no change. The change may come if it is paid into your French account. It will still be possible but will bank charges be higher? Will exchange rates be better or worse?
• One partner is claiming a pension and the other still working and you are therefore paying income tax. There is currently a ‘Double Taxation Convention,’ an agreement between France and England which ensures you will only pay tax on income once. So if you are paying tax on your UK pension in the UK, there will be no more to pay in France. I know this seems obvious but the point is, you can choose the country in which to pay your tax at the moment and it is this that may change.
• You are employed or you have your own business in France. Scaremongers have said that this will not continue, expats will not be able to have a French business. Our value to the French economy means that this is highly unlikely. Similarly, I’m quite sure that employees of French companies are just as valuable to them.
In all cases though, we may have to revert to the old way of registering our French residency, the so-called carte de sejour. This ought not to be a great hardship, I know a few American citizens who need to go through this process at the moment.

I have not tackled the subject of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for those not working in France and for those in the French health system who fall ill when spending time in the UK. I’m assuming that there will have to be changes as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is only valid in EU member countries. This is one of many current agreements that will have to be renegotiated.
To summarise then, a “Yes” to exit the EU will mean some changes, but I think that these will take some time and won’t be too drastic. I think. I hope!
For what it’s worth, and this is my personal view, not just from the point of view of an expat; I will be voting to stay in. I may well follow up this article with another, nearer the time, to explain why. What I need to do first is to fully research the real issues involved – ALL of them! I urge you all to do the same before you vote.
I will use this method:
Any British citizen who has lived outside the UK for less than 15 years can vote.
Another way is this:

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Mange Tout Rodney, Mange Tout…..

Mange Tout Rodney, Mange Tout…..

Mange Tout Rodney

Mange Tout Rodney

I thought I’d share a few of my observations with you on “La Belle Langue”.
When we decided to change our lives, France was always the favourite, for many reasons, one of them being because I had a head start in the language, taking French, German and Latin ‘A’-levels, he said, showing his age.

With that head start, I’ll soon sound like a local, won’t I? NO!
But I have a few excuses, err, I mean reasons.

1. Age
I’m not a kid any more and more’s the pity as they seem to pick it up so easily. Many adults go to conversation classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, taken by expat or local French teachers and that can help.

2. Location
In our little hamlet, we only have one resident French neighbour, with a superb, gruff local accent that I can still barely make out. We hardly see him or his wife and although polite, they seem far more interested in seeing their family than us, which is fair enough and usually the case in rural areas. If you’re based in a larger village or town, day to day contact will help much more.

3. Work
Or for that matter school, if you have children of school age, contact with other parents will help. Unless they are teenagers, when they won’t want you to come within a country mile of the place and embarrass them. If you work with or amongst French people, progress will be far quicker. Most of our gîte guests are British as well, so that doesn’t help us much.

So if none of the above is helping you, what can be done?

You can make a start before you come out. I tried to brush up my ancient French with a CD-based learning course, which did remind me of a few things that I’d forgotten. However, it is when you get out here and try in real time that you really start to learn.

Don’t put yourself under pressure by thinking you’ll speak so fluently that you’ll actually sound French. When you hear someone speaking even really good French, 9 times out of 10 you do know if they’re British and quite often you can pick up from where in the UK they hailed, I myself do a great line in Northern Franglais. Listen to long-time UK residents Arsene Wenger and Raymond Blanc if it makes you feel better, it does work both ways. Yes, mispronunciation can lead to misunderstanding but try to concentrate on the word itself rather than trying to “Roll your Rs”.

Despite the apparent negativity displayed above, I’m quite happy where I am now. Still struggling a bit on the telephone, bottling it and relying on English speaking help lines from time to time but I can get by in most situations.

However, the key to any form of integration is to try, it is always appreciated, no matter how bad your attempt is. Frustratingly though, if you’ve rehearsed your opening salvo and you think you’ve done well, they can really dent your confidence by replying far too quickly for you to understand or even worse, answering in English.

Pois gourmands

Pois gourmands

As for the title, I think most of you will remember the “Only Fools” reference but the weird thing is, the French don’t seem to know them as mange tout, as a vegetarian friend found to her cost when she tried to order some at a local restaurant. I didn’t laugh. Much.



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Or maybe I should now be saying “Twas the season”, Twelfth Night and all that. I was going to write about something else but then I saw the pictures of the Black Friday supermarket madness in the UK. I know it was a few weeks ago now but I wanted to wait and see what Christmas was like out here this year. We’ve been here a few years now but seeing the aforementioned UK mayhem made me realise how differently the French “celebrate” the festive season. We found that more was always made of New Year than Christmas and that still seems to be the case but maybe to a lesser extent. There seems no doubt that certain aspects of life here in the Dordogne are being somewhat Anglicised and I think, let’s call it “Christmas Creep”, is one of them. I certainly don’t remember any houses with all-over lighting displays to keep EDF in profit 9 years ago, but there are a couple near to us. They’re fairly remote too, so I don’t think their intention is to show off, nor do I know whether they belong to French or British people. Either way, I wonder what the other locals make of the displays? I must ask. However, they are still quite rare and in some villages, the opposite often applies. In a local village, which shall remain nameless, a reindeer/sleigh/Father Christmas combo stays fixed on the Mairie wall all year round, just unplugged. We did our pre-Christmas shopping at Périgueux and Limoges and didn’t pay a centime to park. At a time when UK retailers and their landlords try to extract every penny out of you, an indoor shopping centre in Limoges offered free parking in the morning, only 2 Saturdays before Christmas Day. It was quite busy, as you’d expect and I didn’t see one single fight.


Christmas in France or the UK?

Christmas cards are still a challenge. There are no dedicated greetings card shops here, you will usually find a spartan selection in stationers, supermarkets and gift shops, where there are as many New Year as Christmas cards. This is a double-edged sword, you don’t walk into a card shop and spend a fortune but you can’t find any special ones for family members. And to continue with the sword idiom, those special cards in the UK are expensive but the smaller, simpler ones out here are far more expensive than they really ought to be. I suppose though these are being phased out by social media and e-cards anyway. I haven’t even mentioned Christmas culinary differences but my last effort was all about food and I won’t go there again just yet. Don’t want you to think I’m obsessed.

Vive la Dif

Vive la Difference

Now though, we’re all back to work after the holidays, which of course includes call centres. It isn’t only phone users in the UK now that are bombarded with cold calls. French companies are certainly catching up there and they’ve ramped up again after the break! “Vive la difference” is what I say and Bonne Année/Happy New Year to all from Neill and Terri.

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Food Parcels

I like food. I like good food but when push comes to shovel (sic) I will eat anything.

I’m also quite adventurous, I will try things I’ve not had before and I’m rarely disappointed. So I was looking forward to this being part of our French adventure. What a good choice we made, the Dordogne is the perfect place for a hearty appetite.

confit de canard

During our first few months here, we bought a baguette most days for lunch, enjoying this with all the cheeses, cold meats and pâtés that we found over here.

At night, we tried and liked confit and magret de canard, cassoulet, Limousin beef, Cul Noir pork and anything else that we could find that looked even vaguely “local”.

We bought our house and renovated our barn, two years of hard graft during which time, we kept ourselves going on the above quite happily.

When we’d finished all the building work and had a little more time on our hands, we started to long for the occasional bacon or Cumberland sausage buttie. Pâté en croute is nice enough but it isn’t a real pork pie – he states, displaying his Northern roots.

Don’t get me wrong, we were still enjoying French food but some of the old favourites were calling to us. And that’s when the food parcels started.

Summer visitors, friends with holiday homes out here are always asking if we want any UK supplies bringing out with them. We never used to bother, it used to seem a strange question but now memories of HP sauce, bacon and for Terri, PG Tips came flooding back. You can get some of these in French supermarkets but the offer of much cheaper supplies a few times a year got the better of us.

I’m guessing our Irish, Dutch and Belgian expat neighbours have similar culinary urges, “You can take the man out of (insert country as appropriate)…………”.

Bacon buttie anyone?

Don't forget the HP sauce!

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