Friday, 1 February 2013

In pensive mood

Various things over the last few days have got me thinking about how I might try to explain the lure of living in this part of rural France.

Firstly, in an article in the latest issue of our English magazine The Deux-Sevres Monthly I read that, while France is still popular for people like us who want to spend our retirement in a country where the pace of life is so much slower, it's becoming as popular with younger folk moving out here with young families.

Then, yesterday morning I drove over to my hairdresser who lives and works in a village called La Chapelle-aux-Lys which happens to be in the department adjoining Poitou-Charentes to the West, called the Vendée.  It's about a 20 minute drive, part of which is through a small forest, which was shrouded in fog.  A couple of hours later (with grey hair roots suitably disguised!) I drove back in glorious sunshine!  Amongst other things, my hairdresser and I had been discussing life in France, how and why we came to be here and so on.  She has young children (one of whom is a 15 year old teenager actually) and she's been here 12 years now. 

And earlier this week, on Wednesday at the Craft Café, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of older ladies who spoke of how they are sourcing patterns and materials on the Internet.  

It never ceases to amaze me, as I meet all sorts of people, of different backgrounds and ages, some who work and others like us, retired, that so many of us have at some point in time, made the decision to leave England, family and friends and make a completely new life in France. It almost makes you feel vindicated; like it's okay, we're not barking mad after all, other people feel the same way we do.

These things over the last couple of days started me thinking about the way of life here and how difficult it is to explain why we love it so much here.  As part of our research before moving here, we went to a few exhibitions like The France Show in London. It was at such an exhibition that we met a lady who had emigrated to France some years earlier with her husband and four children, all of whom were under 12 years old. She told us that if she had to sum up what life was like in rural France (she lived in the Vienne department of Poitou-Charentes) she would describe it as "England, 50 years ago".

That is an accurate description but not in every way because 50 years ago in England (when I was only 10 years old) my family didn't have a car, a phone, a TV or even such things as a washing machine or fridge!  It's true that we were a poor family but I would say that we were not untypical.  In the modern day France in which we live, even in such a rural area like ours, we have all the trappings of modern Western life.  We have the Internet, mobile phones, satellite TV and even an X-Box!!

It's also true to say that having today's modern communication technology makes it much easier to be far away from your family and friends. (And, thanks to the Internet, Amazon and e-Bay to name but a few, we can get pretty much anything we might want or need).  Add to that the fact that modern transport, budget airlines etc, make the UK so easily and quickly accessible.

But in this pensive mood of mine, trying to analyse what makes life so different and so pleasing here, I've come to realise that while the UK (I can't speak for other countries where I have friends) has embraced all the trappings of modern life, somewhere along the line, basic human and family values have been lost.  I don't know why or how it's happened but in the UK, these values have been replaced with much more shallow values.  So, for example, what you have and/or what you look like are all important.

This seems to me to be the fundamental difference here.  Families and family life are all important.... it's so common during the spring and summer months to see several generations of a family gathered around the dinner table together.  It's still rare to find shops open on Sundays and as shop employees are required to have two consecutive days off, it's very common to find smaller shops closed on Mondays too.  The Brits may joke about the French people's penchant for long lunches but doesn't it mean that people matter?  That is, it's fundamentally more important that they have and enjoy a proper meal and a real break during the day.  When I think back to when I worked, I rarely took a proper break, snatching a quick sandwich while I sat at my desk.  And that, I think, is what my boss expected, neither of us realising just how counter-productive it probably was! 

I can't say it didn't take some getting used to; having to plan any shopping trips around the lunchtime closing and not being able to pop out for just about anything at any time of any day!  But I have learnt to accept it and moreover, to value what it represents.  Because I realise that it IS more important that an employee in a particular shop should have proper breaks and proper time off with their family than me being able to buy something whenever the fancy takes me!

As well as human values, there seems to be an inherent pride that the French have for the villages and towns in which they live. Gardens and hedges are kept neat and tidy and common areas like the hundreds of tiny country lanes we have are well maintained. Litter is seldom seen and graffiti very rare. As you drive through villages you see beautiful tubs of flowers and well kept plant borders at the sides of the road.  There seems to be an understanding and an appreciation of nature (which is probably understandable in a rural area) and in fact, I had a  conversation (somewhat short but in French) with the lady who runs the newsagents about the weather.  I was saying that I don't like winter and her response was the French shrug and the comment "mais, c'est nécessaire".  And it's true, isn't it, whether we like it or not, each of the seasons is necessary in the countryside?

I apologise for being in this dreamy sort of mood but as I said at the outset, a few things this week just started me thinking and these ramblings are the result.  I hope it helps to explain what attracts us to the lifestyle here.

And tomorrow.....
...we're off to have a look at a fireplace and wood burner that someone is selling and which we hope will be suitable for our lounge....I'll tell you about it next time x


  1. Hi Roz, this is a really well written piece, and I whole heartedly agree with you. In addition I have to say that I also love the culture of respect and politeness that the french have, they treat each other and us foreigners well and it's a really nice way to interact with each other. All these things put together make France a really great place to live.

  2. Hi Roz - agree with Donna. I will be interested to know what you feel in 6 months. That is why blogs are so important - they are our histories.

  3. Hi Donna and Jo.... yes, the respect and politeness was something I neglected to mention. I simply love the way everyone takes time to smile and say 'bonjour' wherever you go. We have been made to feel so welcome here and I think that as long as we try our best with the language and try to accept some of the things we find difficult to understand (like the bureaucracy!) the French in turn will try to help us as much as they can. Well, that has been my experience so far!