Jenny and John: Jenny and John in Brittany
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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.
Let me introduce ourselves, I’m Jenny, I’m 42 in my previous life I was a Quality Management Consultant (great title, I know and roughly translated it meant that I inspected adult social care accommodation). I left work full time approximately 18 months ago to work with John as his labourer come dogsbody, so my family thought I had already had my midlife crisis before setting out on this one.
John is 48 and 4 quarters, he’s still not got his head around being 49 (it was a recent event) and in his previous life he had been a self employed builder for over, well let’s just say a very long time.
We met a few years ago in Manchester and had the same outlook on life and easy going nature, which is going to be essential as we moved into a house with no water, electric or other essentials in France on the 4th August 2012.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging as soon as we received the keys to the house, as I wanted to share the experience with all those who are considering a similar move or just enjoy reading about it, I also wanted to give people a reality check, which very few of the TV programs or finished magazine articles seem to do, it isn’t all rosy in the garden.
The blog is an excellent way of keeping in touch with friends, family and work colleagues left behind.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The beginning is still one of my favorites.
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?
The main difference is not being able to call round to see family or friends; it is really difficult not being able to visit your children, made even more difficult by the fact that my only daughter is heavily pregnant.
The language barrier is also difficult but being immersed helps you to learn more quickly. The main culture shock is the lunch hours and everything being closed on a Sunday. Manchester is a 24 hour city, a small French town isn’t.
Learning to relax is a culture shock.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We would not change any decisions, other than bring some sturdier camping chairs.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
- Stranger in the house: We have an early night and are in bed by 11pm, at 4am we are awoken by footsteps and a voice, thinking it was Andy we weren’t too bothered until we realised it was actually a French voice that we could hear! Heading up the stairs to the top floor (at this point all French words leave your head!) John asked who it was, and if they were police (he didn’t sound aggressive) couldn’t understand each other, so got up to investigate, with our trusty baseball bat. Checked all the rooms on the way down and there was nobody there, at this point my over active imagination kicked in with thoughts of ghosts etc. Got to the ground floor and saw that a window had been forced open. Nothing was missing, and as we had left our new bank cards (along with pin numbers) and the car key sat on the chair realised it was definitely not a robbery. Looked all around and there was no sign of an intruder, so John went to get dressed and I put the kettle on (we are British after all!!!). I heard a noise as I fired up the BBQ (everything is cooked on this including the kettle) and looked behind to find a man crouched there, I let out a shout, John asked if I was OK thinking I’d burnt myself, I realised the intruder was only about 19/20 and looked quite scared, so I shouted back that HE’S OK, John thought I’d shouted back that I was OK, when John came into the kitchen I don’t know who was more surprised the lad to see a giant of a man holding a baseball bat or John seeing me talking to a random bloke. We tried to find out who he was, but he spoke almost no English and at this point we spoke NO French. His hand was swollen as though he had been fighting, so tried to check that he was OK he could only say brother so we sent him on his way, an hour later we heard him walking past with another lad (we assume his brother who had been looking for him) so all was well. The house had been empty for years so he must have thought it was a safe place to stay, what a shock he got!
- First hot bath: I actually had a hot bath tonight, not warm but hot enough to go ooh ooh when I got in it, John ran it for me and even lit me a candle, once in it was soooo nice, it’s amazing what a little luxury can do, I closed my eyes and imagined a nice hotel room and promptly fell asleep, waking when it was cold again! Bugger bugger bugger back to reality!
- The wild cat: We were sat in the upstairs lounge, John arrived with the wine and Andy was getting ready to serve dinner, when we heard a massive clattering of plates and assumed dinner was on the floor, jumped up to go and see if he was OK, when a cat ran past me and dived through the hole under the bath, again not sure who was more shocked, me or the cat! It turned out that Andy hadn’t dropped dinner but the cat had ran around the kitchen jumped up on the work top and managed to run across every plate before running up stairs. I saw him dart into the bathroom and into the hole under the bath, the poor thing has obviously been trapped in the house since yesterday, which now explains the poop and the scratching that John heard during the night (but thought it better not to tell me which was probably a good idea with my over active imagination, a cat would not have been my first thought). The cat will not come out so I have left a trail of meat to the top of the stairs and we will be leaving the door open tonight, its sods law, we finally have a safe and secure house and are going to leave the doors not only unlocked but open to let the cat out!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?
- Be prepared, you may have a very set idea of what you want and what you are going to do, but things will have a habit of changing.
- Be prepared to learn the language, even if you’re not very good the effort will make a big difference
- Make friends with the locals not just other expats. You’re experience will be much better
How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a large expat community in Brittany; we had no problem finding like minded people from many different nationalities.
How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?
The biggest roller coaster ride we’ve ever been on, and it’s not finished yet!