Janine: The Good Life France
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to France, etc.
I was born and worked in London all my life though I’ve travelled the world in the course of my work as a journalist and project manager. I bought a house in France a decade ago. Since I moved here I’ve developed a passion for learning to become self-sufficient, growing all my own vegetables and fruit and poultry. From never having an animal in my life thanks to living an inner city lifestyle, I now have three stray cats, three stray dogs, 20 chickens , two geese and two pigs are due to arrive soon. I am fascinated by the differences in the life of the French to the English and I could talk about it until the cows come home!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
When I moved to France I was a novice, I had no idea where to buy wood to keep us warm through the cold winters, how to order building supplies, what the French for breeze block is, what was the etiquette for dining chez friends – but I learned, usually the hard way. After a few years, other expats in the area started contacting me to ask for advice and information about all things French, friends starting emailing me about what I’d done that day/week and pestered me to keep them updated. At the end of 2011 I decided to set up a site to blog about my life and provide guides to French life and things to do and its early days but I’m absolutely loving this form of communication.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I really enjoy writing all my posts and I write something pretty much every day but when I posted my blog about French drivers on Twitter I got quite a reaction: Regulation = Red Rag to French Driver and the one about the difference between how crime is treated in France to the UK called Burglars Will be Shot got a lot of feedback!
Tell us about the ways your new life in France differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I live in a tiny rural village in France – population 146 – I used to live in the centre of London – population 8 million, it has been a huge culture shock. In London you’re never far from someone else, a shop, a bar, public transport. Here I can drive for miles and pass one tractor. There are no shops in the village, bread is delivered by van, if you don’t have your own transport it’s a long walk to the next village. You have to get on with your neighbors and be more accepting of people here – in London I never even knew my neighbor’s name after 5 years! I bought a dilapidated old farm house needing a massive amount of renovation after I’d been used to all mod cons and that has required an awful lot of getting used to!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I don’t think I was fully prepared. Although I’d spent holidays at the house and weekends - it was usually in the summer months; I had not at all considered how cold it could get and what it would be like to live without proper heating. The first year we were here the cold really got to me, pipes froze inside the house, we were snowed in and I really felt like chucking it all in and going back to London. If I had a chance again I would definitely have prioritized work that provided comfort at an earlier stage.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Most people tell you it can be difficult to meet people when you move to a completely new place and don’t speak the language well – not so for us thanks to a disaster early on in our adventure. We don’t have mains sewage in our village, everyone has septic tanks – ours decided to get completely blocked up two weeks after we moved in. One of our neighbors, a lovely farmer called Pierre rushed to our rescue with a machine to unblock the tank. Unfortunately he pushed the blow button instead of the suck button. It was total mayhem but neighbors started coming into our garden from all over the village to see what the commotion was about, I dished out beers as we all stood around contemplating how long it would all take to subside. It’s probably not how I’d have chosen to introduce myself but we certainly made ourselves known to the neighbors.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?
- Finding work is not easy; if you need an income make sure you sort out a job or a means to earn money before you come to France.
- Don’t be afraid to visit the town hall (mairie) and ask for advice – it’s what they’re there for – I’ve never ever heard that people went to a town hall and didn’t get advice – in fact the French hate to say they don’t know something! We’ve had help explaining bills, sorting out an architect, getting planning permission– the town hall staff have made phone calls on our behalf and explained how we should handle things – they are immensely helpful.
- Never tell a French person you bought your house or moved to France because it’s cheaper than in the UK or anywhere else. They take this as an awful insult. The fact is you probably didn’t buy just because property is cheaper in France. You could most likely buy something in Peru or Thailand that’s way cheaper so it’s obviously about more than the money. If you tell a French person you moved there because you love the way of life – they will be much more accepting of you! I made the mistake of telling my neighbor that I could never have afforded the house and land I have in France if I was still in the UK – he has never forgiven me. These days I talk truthfully about how I appreciate the French love of their traditions and culture, their patriotism and love of good food and wine, how I can go to a different market ever day of the week and buy fresh produce – I get a far better reception for that!
How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in France is great. In our very small area there are Brits, Americans, Greeks, Australians, South Africans and Dutch and we are on the whole welcomed by the locals. Some councils appoint expats to their committees to facilitate communication where there are high numbers of expats. I don’t go out of my way to meet expats but somehow when people bump into each other you get talking and friendships can form (or not) and the internet is a great medium for finding sites and groups dedicated to linking expats together.
How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?
I arrived as a stressed out corporate business woman – I will leave as an animal loving, welly boot wearing gardener with an understanding of what the joie de vivre really means.