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: https://www.gov.uk/apply-vote-proxy.
Any British citizen who has lived outside the UK for less than 15 years can vote.
Another way is this: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-postal-vote.

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Identity crisis: the perfect combination of French and British?

“Mitigé” Adj: Mixed, combined, confused, complicated.

I have had a nomadic upbringing living in France, England and Africa as a child, which has given me what you could call eclectic tastes as well as a strange character.

I have now lived in Scotland for over 20 years and confess to being confused as to my roots and nationality! I see myself as a “European” rather than anything else. Not because I’m a great fan of the EU but because, being brought up in France I have very strong French characteristics as well a English and Scottish ones – and its probably true that they don’t always sit well together! There’s a reason why the Brits and the French have this long standing love/hate relationship – they’re poles apart, yet totally fascinated by one another.

 If as a Brit you have any kind of  interest in France – or indeed if as a French person you find something fascinating about Britain –   you should read “The Secret life of France” by Lucy Wadham.  Here you will to get a better understanding of the intricate, confusing and often infuriating relationship between these two nations! I discovered recently that my brothers, who are identical twins, hold different nationalities – one British the other French – says it all!

French characteristics such as a penchant for enjoyment rather than the serious, passionate temperaments, a cavalier attitude to time keeping, a love of all things aesthetic, the worshipping of food, affect mixed blood children in different ways. Traits differ among my siblings and me, with my sister being the most British of us all – efficient, organised, pragmatic, serious (dare I say it boring?) but we clearly all still have a strong Gallic line. 

Now a mother of three, aged, 17, 15 and 12, it’s fascinating to see how my children have picked up on this love of France, one in particular, and now that we will be able to spend more time there I hope their passion will grow. Appreciation of food has always been a great thing in my family and wondering around the markets and sampling strange things is a popular pass time.  Dare I admit that even shopping in the giant Leclerc in St Foy La Grande, fills us with joy and amazement as we gaze at the assortment of butters with an entire chilled isle to themselves let alone the cheese and fish counters . We have made sure our kitchen at Les Galineaux is well kitted out to help cope with the foodstuffs that bombard our senses.  A love of cooking is a great thing to cultivate. Even my son is a keen chef!

Panacotta with strawberry coulis.

Panacotta with strawberry coulis.

We are now fortunate enough to have this lovely big house in Aquitaine, South West France where we can indulge our love of all things French – not just the amazing food and wines but the relaxed pace of life, the sun, the joie de vivre and the conviviality of being with friends and family. In our house this is what we try to offer, a place to meet up with those you care about, in a simple and comfortable yet stylish setting, and enjoy lazy days in the sun, swimming, sightseeing,relaxing with a book or having an adventure.

Friends and family round the table

A good kitchen for cooking and a huge table for hours of enjoying local produce from the markets, talking, laughing and fun with children, friends, family and even newly discovered strangers – that’s what life should be about!

Aveline

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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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Les Voisins (The Neighbours)

Moving to France is a major step in anyone’s life.  There are always more factors to take into consideration than simply ‘how will this monumental step affect me?’.  For some, it’s the reaction of family members being left behind which is the hardest to deal with; be that grown up children or older generations.  For others, the tough decision can be whether or not to change the lives of those still depending upon them. Since my story is only one of very many, I decided it would be more interesting to broaden the horizon and speak with some of the people I’ve met since moving here in 2012.  I’m starting with Zoe, a 22 year old graduate whom I have recently had the pleasure of meeting and working with…


OVERVIEW

Zoe

Zoe with her French Bulldog, Skunk

Age now: 22

Age at time of moving:  9 years

Education: Degree in Communications from Toulouse University

Situation: Renting with French boyfriend (and French bulldog!)

Works: 30 hour/week contract at French supermarket, plus communications work in spare time – also training to become a wedding planner with me!


So how did you come to be in France? My parents moved over when I was 9.  My dad had a car accident when I was 7 and ended up with brain damage which meant he couldn’t work anymore.  Mum had to cope with both me and dad.  As they had friends moving out to France they took it as a good opportunity to join forces in opening a B&B so mum could work from home whilst looking after us. Gosh, that sounds tough.  Were you sad to leave your friends? Yes – I cried for about 2 years!!  Although it wasn’t just my friends; I also really missed my family in England. It must have been difficult to start a new school at 9, especially in another country.  How quickly did you learn French? It took about a year to get the basics, and then you continue to learn vocabulary all the time. Are you still learning now? Yes – I get masculine and feminine nouns mixed up all the time because there’s no rule.  I also learn new local expressions practically every week. Oh really?  What’s your favourite local expression? ‘Boudu’ – it means ‘oh my!’ but only the really old countryside women ever say it! How long did it take for you to feel integrated? When I started high school I found it easier to make friends as everyone was new.  Although everyone was friendly before, this was when I started being able to socialise a bit more as I’d picked up some of the language.  It also helped that I made friends with an English girl who spoke French and could help me to understand what was going on until my French improved! That must have made a huge difference!  How does the French education system compare with English schooling? School is much harder in France.  Without generalising, I find that the level in maths is much higher, and they work more on grammar (French) and verb conjugations.  I definitely know more French grammar than English! They have longer school days here, but they do have the Wednesday afternoons off to make up for it.  However, this is supposed to be used for extra-curricular activities, such as sport and music. At lycée (sixth form) you study up to 11 subjects to form your baccalaureate, in comparison with three or four A Levels in the UK. One great thing is that university is considerably cheaper in France – if you go to a public university [the majority of universities in France are public] you pay a fee to ‘inscribe’, of around 400-500€, and this is all you pay! What, no tuition fees? Nope – just the initial entrance fee! Boudu!  So what’s the best thing about growing up in France? The freedom!  Growing up in rural France meant I could do pretty much anything I wanted!  It’s was very safe – the bigger towns have got a little less safe in recent years but the countryside is still safe.  I could walk around my town alone at midnight and I wouldn’t be worried. And the worst? Being far away from family and my English friends.  I also miss some English foods. Like what? Baked beans and Dairy Milk! How often do you go back to England I go back at least once a year.  I’d like to go back more because my Grandma is 96 so I like to see her as much as possible. Now that you’re grown up, do you have any plans to return permanently to England? I’d like to spend some time in London, but Paris would also be cool!  Having lived in Toulouse for university I miss the city atmosphere.  I do love coming back home though and so, if I did move to a city, I would definitely look forward to spending a nice weekend in the countryside from time to time!  Having said that, whilst it’s really buzzing in the summer, the winters here can be a bit long and boring. With the temperature outside reaching highs of 5 degrees this week, chapped lips and cracked hands aplenty, I definitely concur!


 If you have any questions you’d like to ask Zoe, please direct them to the email address below and they will be featured at the beginning of next month’s article.


Sarah runs …and then we got married, an international wedding planning service based in the Aquitaine region of France.  Contact Sarah…  sarah@andthenwegotmarried.com | www.andthenwegotmarried.com

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Rod Bailey joins the team at The French Property Place

Rod Bailey joins the team at The French Property Place

Rod (62) spent over 40 years in the hospitality industry successfully developing a number of businesses in the Hotel, Restaurant and Public House sectors.

Angela (52) worked as an Operations Manager in Restaurants and Public House groups overseeing a number of key developments she also has extensive expertise with companies advising on services and property maintenance.

He and Angela, purchased a holiday home in a small village about 90 kilometres from Bordeaux in Lot et Garonne 12 years ago after enjoying several holidays in France.

In 2011 after changes in both workplaces and a period of poor health for Angela they sold their house in Kent and moved to France permanently feeling it would offer them a more relaxing and better lifestyle.

They run a Chambres d’Hôtes, organise trips to local Vineyards, Markets and places of Interest and provide a Property Maintenance service assisting people with all aspects of starting a life in France.

Rod and Angela share their life with a highly energetic 3 year old English Setter called Humphrey, they regret not making the move 10 years earlier.

Rod will be writing a regular column for The French Property Place starting from next week.

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TIS THE SEASON

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.

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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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And Finally We Arrive at the Dordogne – BUT…

What is the BUT – I hear you cry – why has she written a BUT – we know they live there now so what on earth can go wrong this time……….  well my friends several things can..

The Dordogne was the most expensive region we had searched – which meant that properties were smaller for the same amount of money as in, say, the Charente, but we had fallen in love with the area and so we decided that it was there – or no where.  So after several visit and several heartbreaks later – we had still found nothing.

The Dordogne is split into four distinct areas, The Green Périgord the most Northern part of the Dordogne filled with trees and green pastures,  The White Périgord surrounds the capital Périgueux, a city made up of white and grey limestone. The Black Périgord – which is home to dramatic cliff-hugging villages and towns including the spectacular Roccamadour and town of Sarlat.

Image

And then we have The Purple Périgord, the wine producing region that gets its name from the colour of the grapes. Home to “bastides” (fortified villages), beautiful rolling countryside covered in vineyards, and fields of Sunflowers… – am I bias (YES)….

Anyway – back to our house hunt  –  I love Estate Agents (bit random I know) but why oh why were we shown properties that we would have bought but which were out of our price range – sometimes by nearly 100k euros… did they think the seller would drop (which is what we were hoping for) or did they think we had a money tree down the bottom of our English garden that would produce more dosh – I don’t know but we did see several properties that were beautiful but we just couldn’t afford – hence the heart break…

Then we found one – one I thought ‘could be the one’ – an established B & B.. not in a great area but it was OK, no pool, didn’t have an attached garden – but hey it was an established B & B….  then via some stern words from Nicholas – the rose coloured glasses fell from my eyes and I woke up to reality… lovely as it was, established as it was (even had heating) – but it wasn’t the one……..

 

I think we both felt the same – both felt as though we had spent years and years coming over to France looking for something special, for something we could call home and other people would enjoy visiting…all to no avail… All of that money spent on planes, trains and automobiles… if you add it all up we could have blinking built a small house……….  No more

Broken we returned to the UK – we had given up – we would create a new dream – France had beaten us  –   or had it…………………….(well you know it hadn’t but that’s not as dramatic)

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5 things I did, which you shouldn’t do when you move to France

Since moving to France in 2012, I have gained many things:  an array of gardening tools; seven rabbits; my beautiful step-cat, Chouchou; an even greater appreciation of wine and cheese; a reasonable level of French and the ability to be late for everything (including this article, which was due the week before last).

I’ve undertaken, with varying degrees of success, many different jobs since coming here.  At one stage, I had 11 going at the same time…  It wasn’t always so easy to find work, though.

Before I moved, I set about asking anyone and everyone for help.  I was visiting the area for 16 months prior to moving and, for at least 12 of those months, I was actively seeking work.

I handed out my CV to anyone willing to take it, and there were a few takers, actually.  All promised big things – “I know someone who works in the music industry who’s based around here, he’d love you!” – “My mum knows loads of people who could help you, I’ll get her to hand it out to all her friends”…

Six months before my move date, I still had nothing sorted out.  I had been able to save a bit of money, but wasn’t going to have enough to keep me in France long without a job.  I had already delayed my move once and had no intention of doing so again.  Something needed to be done.  Of course, all the promises of wonderful jobs had led to nothing.  I’d made my first big mistake: only I cared enough about my move to ensure it was successful.

1. If you want something done properly, do it yourself.

Finally, after months of researching, emailing and writing letters, I came across the lovely Pete & Lorraine from Affinity Property Management1, who gave me my first break here.  It was gardening, and self employed at that, but it was an income and I was as grateful as I’ve ever been for anything in my life!

I took the quite intimidating leap into the world of the self employed and started my new business, aptly named Les Jardins du 47.  The number ‘47’ represents the department in which I live – the Lot & Garonne.  That was my second mistake.

2. Never give your business a location-specific name. 

Within three months I secured a gardening position at a beautiful chateau in Saint Emilion.  Saint Emilion is in the Gironde.  The Gironde is represented by the number ‘33’.   Not long after, I bridged the gap and added clients in the Dordogne:  department number ‘24’.  Les Jardins du 47, 33 et 24 doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…

My job as a gardener led to lots of other things.  The English speaking community here is a small one and it seemed everyone knew each other.  In addition, I discovered the most important resource for a British expat in France:  AngloINFO2.  Through advertising and constantly reviewing the jobs offered section on their classifieds pages, I was very quickly receiving calls from people wanting me to do something or another for them.  Having gone from a silent telephone to one which was constantly ringing, I just couldn’t bring myself to turn down any of the opportunities.

Very soon I was teaching English literacy and English as a foreign language; running a choir; running a toddlers’ music & movement class; teaching private music students; performing in concerts; playing the piano for private events; designing merchandise for an animal rescue charity; cleaning; gardening; maintaining swimming pools; telesales and wedding planning.  This was all alongside studying the flute and preparing for an ABRSM diploma in piano teaching.  My gratitude for being in demand led me to making my third mistake:

3. Don’t be afraid to say no.

I wish I’d read this article last Easter because, very soon after, I had the closest thing to a breakdown that I ever wish to experience.  My poor music teacher was the unfortunate witness!  I’d taken on far too much and I just couldn’t keep up.

I took her much needed advice and took a step back.  Charity work is a wonderful thing to do, and I fully endorse it, but not at the expense of one’s own health and, as for the paid work, the saying is true:  there’s no glory in being the richest (wo)man in the graveyard!

Speaking of riches, at the time of my move I had enough saved up to keep me going for just over a month without a job.  What hadn’t crossed my mind back then was that I would need this as a minimum, even with a job.  My first paycheque didn’t arrive until the 15th of my second month here… so, despite the fact that I was working from my second day in France, I still used up all of my savings within the first six weeks!   This leads me to mistake number four:

4. Don’t move here with inadequate funds.

Life in France is deceivingly expensive.  There are some great economical advantages.  The low price of diesel will never cease to amaze me; good wine, too, is incredibly cheap (less of a surprise).  However, life in general is not as low-cost as I’d originally thought.

Let’s start with the basics.  Being semi-vegetarian, I wasn’t keen on any of the meat I found in the supermarkets.  I was delighted to find some vegetarian food in the bio (organic) section of my supermarket.  Unfortunately, I was less delighted by the price.  Likewise, going out for dinner is a once-a-quarter treat for my boyfriend, Guillaume, and me as the cost is just so high.  He assures me the reason is that we’re in the gastronomy capital of the world.  I still miss a nice cheap pub lunch every now and then, though!

Of course there is also the cost of trips back home to visit family and friends.  I’m averaging around six trips a year at the moment.  This is the minimum for me as I miss my family and want to see them regularly.  However, our loyalty comes at a cost.  This year, Guillaume and I didn’t get away for our summer holiday until late October, when we spent just one night in Biarritz!

Even with RyanAir’s bargain offerings, regular trips back home don’t come cheap.  Catching up with friends is the biggest culprit.  Trains, taxis, lunches, dinners, concerts, and all the other things we could once afford but, sadly, no longer can.

My final piece of advice will probably seem obvious to you, but do read on all the same…

5. Never assume anything.

I’m not talking here about the simple things.  We all know the French speak French.  We all know they drive on the right hand side of the road.  However, did you know, for example, that if you don’t stop at a stop sign in France, you could receive 4 points on your licence and a 90€ fine?  Even if the sign has fallen over?  No joke!  When I say stop, I mean a complete stand-still by the way.  0km/h.   What about the priorité à droite rule?  Any takers?  The number of British cars I see breaking these rules is scary.

I was lucky enough to be moving in with a Frenchman who educated me pretty extensively on the finer points of the French culture, including driving laws.  However, here are just a few of the many incorrect assumptions I have made over the last couple of years:

5.1. Incorrect Assumption No.1: Buying a car would be pretty much the same deal as in England.

Not at all.  Do you know about the contrôle technique (CT)?  This is the French version of the British MOT.  It lasts two years, not one.  Great!  However, take note that a car must have a CT 6 months or younger in order to be sold.

Because of this requirement, vehicles are often sold on a ‘buy the car and then I’ll do the CT’ basis.  Meaning, you can very rarely view a car, hand over the cash and bring it home on the same day.

The carte grise (grey card) is another car related document.  This handy, three-paged card contains all of the information about a car and its owner.  You must apply for this, yourself, in person at the prefecture, after purchasing your new vehicle or when importing a vehicle from abroad.  The carte grise costs money – especially for an imported vehicle.  The carte grise for our British-born Mini Cooper S cost almost 500€!  Even the carte grise for my ancient VW Passat cost well over 100€.

French cars themselves are also horribly expensive.  My Passat, as mentioned above, is from 1998 (although the salesman told me 2000) and cost 2,800€.  It already had 229,000km on the clock when I bought it back in March, it was missing a hub cap and had a pond, cleverly hidden, right under the driver’s seat.  When it rains, my feet get wet (no doubt the source of the aforementioned pond), and for some reason the front passenger door doesn’t unlock.

You couldn’t GIVE it away in the UK.

5.2. Incorrect Assumption No.2: I would know my way around my new home town immediately as I’ve been visiting for well over a year.

My first test as a French resident was to meet Pete & Lorraine at the Buffalo Grill restaurant for my induction as a gardener, the Monday after I arrived.  I chose the location, as I was sure I knew where the restaurant was.

I decided to drive there the night before to make sure I definitely knew the way.  Guillaume directed me.  When we got back home, I admitted to being none-the-wiser regarding the location of the meeting place, so we went back again, two more times!

The next day, by some miracle, I did actually make it to the meeting on time.  I think I used my GPS (it is a 5 minute drive).

Now, 18 months on, I average 1,000km per week and regularly cross three departments on a daily basis.  I drive recurrently to places Guillaume’s family have never visited in a lifetime of living in my town.  I’m very proud of my knowledge of the area, but this did not come quickly.  That first week was really tough.

5.3. Incorrect Assumption No.3: The French don’t like the English

Not true.  99.9% of French people have been a dream.

I think the secret to my success is not difficult to identify:  I have made the effort to integrate myself.  I admit, this is easier when your partner is French.  However, hour upon hour spent learning French prior to moving has definitely helped, and would help you, too.

I’m going to tell you a secret – you don’t just pick up a new language by living in a foreign country.  The number of people who assured me “oh you’ll be fluent in no time when you live there – my friend John/Bob/Fred/Patrick became fluent in Japanese after only two weeks in Tokyo.”

Of course he did.

I know plenty of people who have learned very little since moving, because they spend the majority of their time with English speakers.  You really must make an effort to learn any language – it is not easy.

This said, learning enough to get by is not terribly difficult and, in my opinion, is the minimum requirement for anyone living in a foreign country3.  I remember last year, Guillaume and I were at a village fete and I watched, with absolute shame, as an English man shouted: “BOTTLE.  OF.  WATER.” very slowly and very loudly at the poor, 16 year old French boy looking after the bar.  I very much doubt he’s received the same warm welcome that I have…

References:

Sarah runs …and then we got married, a wedding planning service based in the Lot et Garonne, and operating across the Aquitaine region, London and the South West of England, and The Tournesol Club, offering music and literacy classes in the Lot & Garonne and south Dordogne.  www.andthenwegotmarried.comsarah@thetournesolclub.com

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And Then there was the wonderful Vendée or is it Vendee ….

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If you Google this beautiful region of France you will see that some call it The Vendée and others the Vendee – either way we loved this region.. having it’s micro climate and offering us nice sunny weather without the South of France price tag…  Still in easy driving distance to the ports and euro tunnel this was a perfect destination…  We went to this region on three separate occasions searching for our future home and at one stage we thought we had found it.

I’m a huge Sunflower lover so image my delight when we came across field upon field of large bright yellow faces holding their heads up high like a army of ‘suns’ greeting us as we drove through the country lanes…just loved it… had to stop to take this picture…

Property  –  The property we viewed was a mixture of the amazing to the ridiculous..  Every estate agent we met knew our criteria, what we wanted the property for, i.e. a Bed and Breakfast, 5 rooms that could be used as bedrooms,  the sort of location we wanted (i.e. easy to find) and our price range..  so why or why did they take us to view properties that were well off the beaten track and that would never in a month of Sundays be able to be converted into a B & B’s I just don’t know…

However, located in the village of Vouvant, a self appointed member in the ‘prettiest village in France’ club…(have you noticed that there are hundreds of villages throughout France that have appointed themselves to be ‘the prettiest village in France’) (but Vouvant did deserve the title because we did love it).. we came across a property that was (and probably still is) amazing.

An established B & B with 3 gites and a 4th unfinished.   It was here we met Carol.. a woman who spoke pure Cockney and hardly any French.. A self made woman with a bad limp who could turn her hand to anything.  She had created an amazing B & B and who, single-handedly, had converted the outbuilding into comfortable gites..that is until she was working on the 4th gite and had fallen through the ceiling and broke both of her legs.. she crawled through the door to the outside screaming for help before passing out… OMG Wonder woman or what…

So ‘why didn’t you buy this property’ I hear you all ask – well we tried.  The price was above our price range but we did the number crunching, took us well outside of our financial comfort zone, and put in a cheeky offer which she rightly refused… and, for us, it was a blessing in disguise as only weeks after we would have committed ourselves to a huge over stretch, the world changed – the euro crashed, the uk property market went into a downward spin and the money we had to invest halved… the World Economic Crisis had reached our pockets..

However our determination to live in France did not waiver – we had heard of great property prices in the neighbouring Charante… so guess where the next report will come from………….

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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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