How to live in France without becoming a miserable git

Rural France is paradise, right? Everyone knows it. Your friends come back from the Dordgogne gîte at the end of every summer and bore you rigid droning on ad nauseam about the wonderful lifestyle, the cheap wine, the endless sunshine, the fabulous fresh produce.

No, you can't have one. It's for your own good.

It might surprise you to find out that all this changes the instant people actually move here. All of a sudden the French are rude, that idyllic rural retreat is miles from anywhere and you can’t get a Pot Noodle for love nor money. They start complaining about the weather, ordering all their shopping from ASDA and clustering together with other expats for whinge-ins over mugs of PG Tips and imported digestives. They’re always ‘expats’, notice, never ‘immigrants’ in the way that, say, Poles or Pakistanis are immigrants. And certainly not ‘economic migrants’, which is Daily Mailspeak for illegal immigrant. Because they definitely aren’t illegals, not even the ones who’ve been working for tour operators for the past 15 years, are still earning in sterling on posted worker contracts and haven’t paid any income tax since 1993. You know who you are.

It seems to come as some surprise to many of them that tiny Spar shops in remote mountain villages don’t stock baked beans and Marmite. Or that the local economy was doing just fine before they got there and bizarrely is not actually crying out for former local authority political correctness audit executives who fancied ‘downsizing’ and don’t speak a word of French.

Goats. Possibly more trouble than you need.

It always amazes me how many of them lumber themselves with huge building projects, small businesses and hordes of animal life all at once. I’m quite partial to goats myself, but I’m also aware that keeping livestock involves a whole lot of bureacracy these days (added to which my outdoor space consists of two balconies, which isn’t all that practical, goat-wise). I also know what’s involved in running a hotel here, which is part of the reason why I have not yet embarked on that one either. In fact, one very small building project was quite enough to be dealing with, thank you very much.

Admittedly we didn’t just up sticks all of a sudden and move to a derelict barn in a medieval hamlet consisting of a dozen interrelated pensioners and a three-legged dog, which is the – frankly rather odd – course of action favoured by a lot of Brits. We sort of oozed over here gradually via various seasonal jobs and the fact that JC is technically French, thus spreading the culture shock thing over a period of about 10 years.

But culture shock is no excuse for whining about every aspect of your new ‘dream life’, from prices in the Spar through French administration to the fact that it rains on occasion. It’s not going to be the same as life in suburban Basingstoke (thank God) so you might as well just chill and go with the flow. Having apoplexy every time you’re asked for some irrelevant piece of paper will not enhance your quality of life.

So here are my top tips to add to the mountain of advice out there for potential immigrants to France:

Winter. It might snow a bit.

1. The weather is the weather – get used to it. You wouldn’t move to Cleethorpes on the basis that it was sunny during the three summer holidays you spent there, so why do the same with France? It rains here from time to time, you know. And it gets a bit parky in the winter – bring a jumper.

2. People are not dying to make friends with freaky foreigners. Sorry to break the news, but you’re really quite scary. You’ve just arrived from planet Basingstoke, bought some hovel no-one in their right mind would look at and installed half a zoo. Add to that the fact that you only speak three words of French and can’t explain yourself. Are you surprised people are shy? You’re the immigrant here, it’s going to be up to you to make the effort. Every single time. I know, it’s tiring. Get used to it.

3. There’s a lot of bureacracy. And before you moan about it, ask yourself what it’s like for a foreigner trying to move to the UK and get himself registered and integrated into all the necessary systems. You don’t know, do you? Because you’ve never had to do it. So for all you know, it could be just the same there. Reflect on that before you start in on how crap France is and how much better things are organised at ‘home’.

4. Stop calling it ‘home’. It isn’t. You live here, remember?

5. Let go of your habits. Rather than whinge about how it’s impossible to do so-and-so here, have a look at how everyone else does it. Then copy them. I’ve lost track of the number of Brits who’ve told me that it’s impossible to make a living from running a business in France. I know numerous French people who do just that and they all own lots more property and drive much nicer cars than me. Ergo, it must be possible, mustn’t it? Do things their way.

6. Learn French. I’m astounded by the number of people who gaily move to France and assume that they will get a job/run a business/get building work done when they have a grasp of the language which would disgrace a retarded five-year-old. Are you mad? And stop grumbling that everything is in French. I bet you’re the same people who get all up in arms about local authorities in the UK translating everything into Urdu.

7. Don’t bury yourself in some God-forsaken hamlet with no running water and mule access only. If the idea of living in a small rural community miles from anywhere in the UK fills you with trepidation, why on earth would you think about doing it in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language? Go and live near a town.

Must be lunchtime. Or Sunday. Or possibly Monday.

8. The shops will be closed sometimes. There’s no point in rambling on about the relaxed pace of life one minute and then demanding that the shops open 24/7 the next. Consider that the opening hours (or lack of them) may be closely related to that relaxed pace of life you profess to admire so much, and if you change one you lose the other. Besides, you lot are the only people out there who want to spend all of your leisure time in some sort of retail emporium. Go home, have some lunch and get a life.

9. No, you can’t get Pot Noodles. Or baked beans, or Cadbury’s chocolate, or those nasty teabags you’re all so fond of, unless you live in a tourist area and are prepared to pay through the nose. This is because they are imported foreign products and nobody else wants them. Trust me, there are plenty of other (and much nicer) things to eat. See point five above.

10. Don’t try the andouillette. Seriously. There’s such a thing as taking integration just that little bit too far.

And finally …. when you’ve calmed down, started eating proper food at the correct times of day and leaned to say ‘pof’ like everyone else does when faced with intractable fonctionnaires, don’t turn into this sort of smug expat. Because they are definitely people with what the French call a tête de claque.

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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38 Responses to How to live in France without becoming a miserable git

  1. Wow. I regret wasting my time reading that link to the ‘smug expat’. Does he/she not get the ridiculousness of judging people because they’re judgemental? Two months in a different county means you know better than everyone else, apparently!

    Now YOUR post is very funny (and accurate!). By the way, paperwork in the UK is a pain when you arrive, but I can vouch that the French paperwork system is, at a minimum, ten times worse. My Carte Vitale was put on hold because I’m an ‘etranger’ – only taken off hold after FOUR (no less) calls over the course of the year that it took to arrive. A woman actually admitted the on hold thing over the phone, then realised she’d said it out loud and tried to cover it up!

  2. Pete says:

    Heard it all before, what the failures usually say.

  3. David says:

    ‘Does he/she not get the ridiculousness of judging people because they’re judgemental? ‘

    Exactly what the author of this missive is doing!!!

  4. Newminster says:

    I recently read a story of a man who had lived in France for several years and still would go into the ironmongers with a photograph of a screw (nut, bolt, hammer, whatever), hold it up and point at it while saying “avez-vous …?”

    You seem to have hit a nerve if David’s comment is anything to go by!

    • Oh, I expect to be flamed to a crisp. I sit here in an asbestos suit as we squeak.

      • Oneathome says:

        I think you mean you WANT to be flamed to a crisp.

        After all it is attention, is it not, and isn’t that what blogs and self publicity on forums is all about?.

      • I don’t mind whether I get crisped or not, really. It’s giving everyone something different to complain about for a change, you have to admit.

  5. Ron says:

    Good article well observed and obviously rattled a few cages. Makes you laugh that people measure and complain about French bureaucracy by how quickly they get their carte vitale (CV) as if its some measure of efficiency. If they bothered to find out an iota about the medical system they would know that the CV is a payment card and not an entitlement to anything!! They never post about getting their attestations the same day do they?

    • Ouch! Actually, I paid more than €3,000 for a year without seeing the card, and still having to pay for all medical expenses which I was then able to claim back later. I’ve now paid another €4,500 for this year, so no, it’s definitely not free. I’m self employed: I’ve done the research and the paperwork thanks.

      What attestations? Not a clue what you’re talking about.

      • It appears that if you’re self employed the deal is that you pay lots of money and get bugger all (ask a ski instructor), which does seem a tad unfair. Easier for us wage slave minions.

  6. bex says:

    Well that amused me for a minute, and that’s all I really ask of a blog. I’m going to France on Sunday to stay with some Jersey ex-pats. They have small livestock and everything. I’ll be sure to pack some proper teabags and a phrase book 😉

  7. Beau Gart says:

    But what if you are already a miserable git?

  8. Actually, I quite like the miserible gits. They provide a nice counterpoint to my own, rose bespectacled existence.

    • BACs and BATs, very funny. But I scored for three pages of pompous abuse over this while you appear to have got off scot free!

      • Ah, well, pactically no-one reads what I write which does tend to cut down the level of negative comment. Im just allowed to sit in the corner with the safety scissors, dribbling to myself. I do manage to annoy a few people though.

  9. Suzanne Mackay says:

    As I have now actually read the offending blogticle, I was absolutely right misplaced person..your blog is spot on, as per.. I have never forgotton an English Lady one freezing morning in the Merihell Garage, as I was begging the bloke to look at one of my terrible minibuses, she thought I was French so proceeded to complain to her mate that it was disgusting that she has to try and explain what she needed in French and couldn’t the (garage) company sort out an English-speaking was Meribel after all…she needed her car so she could go to Ikea (pronounced ikk ee a) …we both miss France and we are gutted our girls are not getting the chance to speak French and ski everyday ( what we dreamed of once upon a time) but do not miss Le Roast Beef!

  10. Beau Gart says:

    To Great……I think the point of the article is to piss of pompous, self righteous, Mail & Express reading, little Englanders, who are never immigrants but ‘ex-pats’ (whatever that is supposed to mean?) who have no sense of humour. From your rather brief comment I’ll wager that you tick all those boxes.

  11. iampisspot says:

    Wow Christa, well, you’ve certainly stirred things up a little with this perfectly executed, and may I say, spot on post. Brilliant!

    At least it gave the miserable bloody git’s a reason to have a good old whinge….

  12. Absolutely spot on as usual – although after 20 years, I still haven’t weaned myself off PG Tips and fresh milk. I do give the kids cardboard milk though on the basis that they don’t know any better and it’s a lot cheaper!

  13. flyintheweb says:

    I didn’t expect to find teabags in France…well, there were Lipton’s yellow perils, but they don’t count…so it didn’t worry me.

    I didn’t have rose tinted glasses, either…

    I get into dreadful trouble with those who do.

    • Terribly aggressive about it all, aren’t they? Hilarious considering half of them only spend the summers here and run off back to Slough the minute the weather becomes less than tropical. 😀

      • flyintheweb says:

        I’ve lived in France for about twenty years, here and there, so it is wonderful when these self appointed experts bash my ear about what I need to know about living in France, and how to integrate…

  14. farfalle1 says:

    Okay, I’m hooked. Found you through the delightful statusviatoris, and will be following your adventures too – sigh. Mine is a life wasted in front of a computer screen, but there it is. Blogs like yours and SV’s make it so worthwhile. By the way – it’s the same here in Italy, too. We know people who have lived here 30 years and still can’t speak Italian. What’s THAT about?? They don’t even try. Lucky for them there’s a local store that does sell Marmite… your tips are awfully good advice for people moving to Italy, with the exception that you can eat everything here…

    • I once worked for a chalet company which had operated in Courchevel for 30 years. I was a bit baffled by the complete absence of any network of local contacts until it dawned on me that the company’s owner was incapable of communicating with anyone. Madness.

  15. Chris says:

    How true many a point you have made. I’m self employed, married to a lovely French girl and we have a baby…. You should see the paper work for that lot! Probably about the same as a farmer in the UK deals with every year!
    Never understand why people move over here to France and want life to be like it was in the UK, why did you move then?
    I’ve met many a person who ‘don’t need to speak French’ then complain that the girl at the bank was rude…. Probably because you were shouting at her in English as if she were a three year old……
    Great artical and raises many a true point, you want to move to France for a change of life…… then change…… You don’t like it here then go back to the UK where everything is ‘better’ or ‘easier’…..

  16. ivan says:

    My experience is that most British that come over here looking for a house leave their brains behind. The number that I see that haven’t any idea about how the local buildings, especially the old ones, are constructed and want all things changed then get very upset when, wearing my hat as a structural surveyor, say the can’t have what they want. Usually I hear the cry ‘the estate agent didn’t say anything about that’, to which my usual answer is ‘ did you ask?’ Of course they didn’t – they wouldn’t know how to anyway.

    I’ve been here for 20 years and am still known as ‘the Englishman with the big black and white dog’, a title I was given when I became the first Englishman to take up permanent residence in the village – it stuck and I’m now on my second black and white Newfoundland.

    A walk round the village with the dog takes a long time because of meeting people and sharing what is going on. The postman gives me my mail if I meet him anywhere on his rounds, the village shop saves the stale bread for Storm, my dog and all the children want to see him if we pass the school at play time.

    There is only one thing I miss from England – OXO cubes, the local equivalent are tasteless, but then several people I know that come down for holidays usually bring me some. Other than that I live as the locals in the village do, more or less – usually less because most of them are better off than me.

    • You miss Oxo cubes??! That’s a new one on me – not sure I’d know what to do with one!

      • ivan says:

        They are excellent for adding the extra ‘something to gravy, besides that was about the only way to make it in war time Britain and it has stuck with me over the years – nearly 70 of them 🙂

        Another thing I didn’t mention – I’ve never been to England since I moved here and don’t think it very likely that I ever will.

  17. Pingback: Saturday Evening Posts Worth Reading.

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