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Another country, another home

November 8, 2021

Like thousands of Brits before us, we have succumbed to the lure of France and bought a holiday home. No matter that we can only spend 90 out of 180 days here. No matter that our national politicians are cat-fighting about fish, submarines and Brexit. No matter that the farmer down the road doesn’t like the English (apparently).

The cheeses are still magnificent, and the Saturday markets are thriving. Even though it’s as cold as England and there’s no central heating in the house, an outsize wood-burner and several years’ supply of wood in the barn keeps us warm. Shame on us, but there you go.

We arrived a few days ago to meet with the notaire and complete the purchase. In France, the notary, a public official, handles both the purchase and sale, so no solicitors. Oh joy. Just one office, and much of the fee goes to the local commune.

There’s a sizeable year-round British population here, but in the winter a distinct lack of what the expats rather grandly call “the tourists”, as you would expect. The Brits who live here seem to have a pecking order that depends on the length of time you’ve been resident. They all have their newly-required residency permits. Some have taken French citizenship. Most of them are retired. They keep themselves busy with activities like line-dancing and pilates classes, neither of which appeal to me. Last time I went line-dancing, many moons ago, I was kicked out for performing a Springtime for Hitler routine. I couldn’t do that now – my legs don’t go high enough.

Since we are unlikely to be here longer than a few months a year, I suspect that we shall never rise more than one notch above the tourists – the lowest of the low – in the estimation of some of our British neighbours. So no doubt we shall have to put up with more people like the guy in a restaurant the other day who let me struggle away in my eccentric French before revealing himself with a sardonic smile to be a native English speaker. Fortunately, he’s not typical. We also have a number of new neighbours who have been very kind and have served as a mine of information.

As for the cliques, hey, that’s the Brits. I’ve spent enough years of my life as an expatriate to know their little ways. In case we’ve forgotten, the French own this country. I for one get as much value out of speaking to them as from listening to crusty old expats telling me how things were here twenty years ago. Yesterday afternoon, over a long lunch, we happened upon a couple who were in the local town to buy some pottery. He was an executive with Dassault and subsequently the French Civil Aviation Authority. We spent some time discussing the cancelled submarine deal, he with great knowledge and me with a measure of sympathy. He was courteous, measured and remarkably objective about an issue which, if the English media is to believed, has been taken as a national humiliation.

Our first few days as property owners in France have been taken up with nitty-gritty stuff like finding out how to get the token that allows you to take stuff to the local dump, getting the electricity meter read (all digital as we discovered – none of those little discs whirring around as they do in England – the electricity company does the reading remotely), turning on the water and coming to grips with the former owner’s Fort Knox-like security arrangements. Next week, we intend to pay our respects to the local mayor. Should we bring flowers or Cadbury’s chocolate? Probably not. These are questions you don’t have to face if you come down once a year to stay in someone else’s place. There are a few ropes to learn.

That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is an adventure thirty years in the making. Every year we come to France we talk about buying somewhere. Finally we’ve gone and done it. It’s a delight that gets better every time we step out of our little house on a hill and look out on 360 degrees of rolling hills and valleys. Not to mention at night, when the Milky Way shines down on us and the only sounds to be heard are of hooting owls.

After years of visiting France, I’m not naïve enough to believe that we won’t encounter niggles, frustration and endless maintenance. But to own a small piece of this beautiful country, to have somewhere our kids can visit with their kids and a place to invite close friends and family, is deeply satisfying.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I find no shortage of things to moan about – particularly on the political front. But as I sit writing this at an oak table beneath ancient beams, with no TV and only my beloved and Mozart for company, I feel blissfully lucky.

From → France, Politics, Social, Travel, UK

7 Comments
  1. rohini99 permalink

    Nice. Had the time to read a post after a long time

  2. Sally permalink

    Bienvenue…..where did you choose ?

    • Thanks Sally. About 40k south of Bergerac. Not so close to you, unfortunately, but closer than England!

  3. Margaret Richardson permalink

    Steve & Paula

    I wish you the very best in your ‘new’ second home. In France. I’ll await the invitation!

    Que tous tes désirs se réalisent !

    Margaret

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