A year on: Reflecting on our decision to move to France

When my now-husband and I woke up in a corporate rate hotel room on 24th June 2016 before going to work in our past lives as mobile IT consultants (this isn’t as salacious as it sounds, we were already living together and engaged…) little could we have known that this moment in history would set us on a journey which would change our lives to a completely unrecognisable degree.

I have always been a francophile. I’ve loved France ever since childhood. I visited Brittany with my secondary school when I was about eleven years old, and I just knew that I was supposed to be in this place where the people valued bread as much as I did. My husband, not so much. He did visit France as a child but only fell in love with it (and the bread) on a holiday to Paris early in our relationship. We talked about moving to France one day when the timing was “right”.

Pretty Bristol

The referendum result was a shock. I remember being stood in my pyjamas in that hotel room, watching the result on TV open-mouthed. I was dumbfounded. So was G. I felt a deep sense of sorrow at the result for much wider reasons simply than the knowledge that British people would lose freedom of movement within the EU, but given our hopes to live in France one day, I eventually became acutely aware of the limits this would put on our dream. Still, life carried on for a while. I quit my career of more than a decade in IT with no love lost and transitioned into working self-employed as a talking therapist which I’d been training to do for years.

I can’t remember when it was exactly, but I think it must have been early 2017 when we started to have doubts that Theresa May was going to secure a deal with the EU leaders. We became worried that if we didn’t get to France soon, we wouldn’t be able to go at all.

I should say now – I am a very impulsive person, and this is somewhat dangerously supported by an innate belief that I can do anything (within reason) if I just try hard enough (thanks Mum and Dad!).

Our Bristol home

G and I decided that we would move to France. We had been taking numerous short breaks to the Cote d’Azur for a few years, and naively thought it was an option. Of course, dear reader, it was not. One only has to have an ounce of sense to realise that somewhere so adored by thousands of tourists each year would also fetch a hefty price-tag if one were so inclined to make it their home. We worked out we could just about afford a studio with a balcony somewhere near-ish the sea. With my beloved cats and a growing interest in gardening fuelled by a modicum of success growing things in our respectably sized garden in Bristol, this was not going to cut the mustard, no matter how lovely the beaches of Nice were.

We decided to start researching location options – it needed to be somewhere which had decent connections to the west country in the UK so that we could still visit our family, and they, us – and crucially it needed to be cheap. My husband had tired of the corporate rubbish he’d been putting up with for decades, and so he was happy with the prospect of changing vocation for something completely different. I was faced with closing two successful businesses that after a few years of incredibly hard work, were enjoying a modicum of success. The bottom line was, whilst we knew that we would have the proceeds of our house sale in Bristol, it was heavily mortgaged. Plus we had no idea how we would make money in France. But remember that – perhaps borderline pathological – impulsivity I mentioned? It could not be quelled.

The Cote d’Azur was beyond our budget

So, we decided to choose an adventure – even though the risk of failure was high. Minimising the spend on the place we would live seemed a sensible option, after all, we bargained that if we couldn’t find work, we’d have time on our hands to renovate it (I’m just taking a moment here to laugh out loud and cast an eye around this undecorated office…). Never underestimate the abilities of a unique blend of millennial and IT graduate to do some sterling internet research – so within a week, we had narrowed down the area upon which we would focus our house hunting to the Limousin.

The Limousin is quite like Devon, where I am from. There’s a lot of green. Things are often green because there’s a lot of water falling out of the sky, so I kind of knew what to expect in our new area. But I could not have known just how difficult and exhilarating this past year would be in terms of adjusting to a whole new country’s culture and language.

Our one-day bedroom overlooking all the green stuff

This blog is full of my writing about specific events, shopping opportunities, how to save euros with informed spending – and it also talks honestly about how hard moving to another country is. We are now immigrants, and from my previous place of privilege as a person who spoke the language of the country I lived in as my native tongue, I did not appreciate how incredibly hard it is to integrate into a country where you haven’t the faintest clue what banal things people on the street or in the post office are saying to you. If you meet someone in your home country working in a job that requires them to speak a second language, I implore you to take the time to watch in awe as that person’s brain works 50% faster than yours at any given moment, because the task of in-the-moment translation is HARD.

We started French lessons within a fortnight of moving here, and I already had an okay amount of French from Alliance Française classes in Bristol and Exeter, as well as a solid A* at GCSE (I talk less about how I dropped out of A-Level at college… ahem). If you’re moving to another country and looking for a top tip – this is the one – learn the language of the culture you are joining. It will help with EVERYTHING. Yes, it costs money and potentially your ego, but it is priceless to be able to connect with others when you are so far from the places, people and things you knew before.

Our mini-moon in Bordeaux involved LOTS of wine, bien sûr

We took two viewing trips to find our house. We probably only saw a dozen houses total. If you read our story in French Property News magazine earlier this year then you’ll know all about our cancelled flights and the mad dash across the country to view the places we had deemed to have potential. The fact that I’m sitting in the house we should never have viewed since we missed the appointment and the French agent decided to show us around on a Sunday (!!!) only solidifies for me that this place is the right one for us.

I suppose I’m writing this post as a response to those who have contacted me since the most recent election in the UK, those who are scared that they too might miss out on living their own adventure. I’m very conscious that my husband and I were lucky that his children are adults and that we don’t have any, so we didn’t have to make heart-wrenching decisions to divide families where people were still growing up, but we did move away from people that we love very much. We left behind family and friends, careers and businesses, and a property in an affluent city. We withdrew every asset we had in the UK and gambled on France. We are still gambling on France. I can’t say it has been easy, it unequivocably has not been. But I don’t regret it. And I do feel as though I am really living, not just existing. Not dreaming of “one day” when the timing is right. It never will be. I’m proud to say that I live here for many reasons, and one of them is knowing the courageous journey that we (and so many people that we meet here) went on to begin this chapter of our lives.

Margot, our French rescue dog

Plus, being this impulsive, it’s certainly never dull.

You ask: Could I move to France?

Ever since last week when my article was published in French Property News (the June 2019 issue if you’re interested!) documenting our motivations for and the logistics of moving to France on a budget, I have been the fortunate recipient of dozens of emails from people just like me, asking the question:

“Could I do it too? Could I move to France?”.

Of course this is totally subjective and individual to every circumstance, so I’ve been emailing back and forth with some of those who got in touch to talk about the cost of living, what it’s like to work here, what it’s like to set up a business, socialising, shopping, the house buying process – you name it! I appreciate I haven’t been here that long compared to many of those whom I meet, however the process for doing all of these things remains very fresh in my mind and I hope the information I have shared is useful – at least I know it’s up-to-date!

They described me as “young” – success! 🙂
Some familiar looking pictures here, eep!
Upset not to be included in the article, of course

The other pleasure I’ve had this week has been to start noticing the roses that came over with us from Bristol making their way out into the sun. It feels like such a long time since I last saw them in flower, and so very much has taken place since then. They’re a very welcome reminder of the rhythm of the year and how close we are getting to enjoying our first French summer.

Pink is a popular colour with guests, obviously
The climber without anything yet to climb
Brightest of all

In less fun news, after our escapades moving wood, which took over all of my previous post, I, unfortunately, have been the unwilling recipient of aoûtat bites – we must have disturbed some larvae in the woodpile when we picked up the very seasoned wood in our commune – so these tiny red spiders have very rudely been injecting me with their saliva so as to extra-digest my cells and eat me. As I say, rude.

It looks as though I have provided quite the buffet, as the left side of my waist, chest, back of my neck and stomach are pretty much covered in enormously raised red welts which have been almost unbearably itchy over the last week and a half. Last night I had to liberate a bag of frozen green beans from the freezer and use them as a cold compress to relieve the itch, nine whole days in! Anyway, if you’ve ever had this, I sympathise hugely. The only thing I can compare it to is like the intense healing stage of a tattoo – but for the fact that this has been going on for over a week, and I have no promise of a pretty image afterwards. Still, I have seen my skin turn to colours that I never imagined possible, so there’s that. Merci, France.

Bitten to pieces :s

Back to positives though, I’ve also had the pleasure of reading how our story inspired so many of you to put your houses on the market, and some have already sold! I feel like the UK property market has something to thank me for at this point 🙂 But seriously, to all those who made this brave move, I salute you. It’s not easy to take the first steps to turn a dream into a reality, but if I can do it, anyone can. One step at a time.

Standard weekend lunch al fresco
New garden chairs for doing precisely nothing

As I say to all of those who emailed me and anyone who needs advice about their move,

PLEASE DO EMAIL ME

I read and answer all emails and if I think I can give you some useful information or help, I will.

Our latest addition, this was in the garden when we arrived

Happy French househunting!

Laura x

How I know that moving to France was the right choice (for me)

I’m sitting in the garden as I write this post. It’s 22 degrees in April and I’m sipping a rum and coke while listening to birds singing. I’ve just been and collected wood from the woodshed, though it’s unlikely we’ll need a fire tonight. And much like the content of my posts on Instagram earlier this week, I’m feeling really content.

This is why I moved to France.

Ginger asleep in the garden

Okay, I know I joke about bread being the reason – but really what I was searching for on leboncoin for all those months was the prospect of putting down my worries about life, even if just for some of the time.

I’m not retired, I do work. And as much as I love my job it is work, and I try my hardest to do it well. The years of coasting in my IT career are behind me, and as my own boss I work harder for myself than I ever have before.

But that’s okay, because I choose it.

Im sitting here thinking about what it is that France gives me that has made it so easy for me to find contentment after only four months as a French resident. Part of it is no doubt the beautiful countryside and lovely weather, even in spring. But I think actually it’s the more subtle differences that are impactful – like the fact that every person I meet beyond the threshold of my front door says “bonjour” to me. That neighbours have been so welcoming and polite – stopping to speak or doing favours instead of avoiding eye contact on the front drive or worse – and this happened in Bristol SO much – totally ignoring us even when we said hello. I feel valued here. Even by strangers. I don’t think I have felt that before, which is a terribly sad thing to think when I have lived all over the south of the UK in cities, towns and village settings. Maybe I should have been in the north.

Haute Vienne countryside

My friend visiting last week asked “Is it enough?” referring to our very rural, quiet lifestyle. And I can honestly say, yes it is. I get to spend time with the person that I love every day. We get to eat meals together – something I was never able to do with our conflicting work schedules in Bristol – we have every weekend off. We don’t aspire to spending 24/7 with each other, but it’s nice to have the choice. I get to speak French everyday, something which I have longed to do always. I get to drive on quiet roads, listen to my music really loud. I get to host new friends for dinner and drinks, I get to spend time in my garden and eat outdoors almost every day at the moment. I have my work which gives me purpose and I no longer have a life that I need holidays to escape from.

I really love my life now. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But it’s good enough, and I’ll take that.

Me, feeling very content living in France

The never-ending list of jobs when renovating a French home

We’ve now been in France for just over three months.

We are officially exercising our treaty rights (I would argue we have been since day one, but for the benefit of the unconvinced…). I’m working. More than I thought I would be. Much of my work time is the behind the scenes running of the business – the stuff that doesn’t directly earn money. Be that emailing, tracking, invoicing, researching, marketing – oh and performing. It’s a long list, but it’s great and I love it. I’m incredibly lucky to enjoy what I do and it took me a long time to get here with many a crappy job along the way.

A long list of jobs

So when I’m confronted by the list of jobs that need doing on the new house, some small like putting up a hook, right through to deciding whether or not to convert the grenier (attic) into a whole new floor with the same footprint as the house we currently live in, sometimes the list of jobs feels so long it can be paralysing.

Decisiveness has never been something I’ve struggled with (hello kneejerk reaction to Brexit and a new life in France!), and for better or worse, I am capable of decision making even under the greatest pressure. But this is different, this is like having a hundred options in a sea of decisions and knowing that no matter which one you choose, there will always be 99 more waiting for you to attend to them.

I mentioned this feeling on my Instagram feed this week and it got a big response from people who had shared the same experience upon arriving in a newly adopted country with a home in need of work. It was comforting to all be able to share our experiences and acknowledge that all the jobs will all still be there tomorrow (in a good way) and be sure that to take time for ourselves and enjoy the process is absolutely necessary.

So I’ve had a few days of luxuriating in my decision to do less, which has culminated in a VERY full Friday. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I’m definitely noticing lots of things about myself in this new life, my avoidance of certain tasks and how far I’ve come from working pretty much non-stop when we lived in Bristol being just two.

So now, time to move onto my third piece of writing for the day, and one which I thankfully have the weekend to attend to. But with a trip to the cinema and dinner at neighbours’ planned for tomorrow evening I had better get a wriggle on.

A bientôt!

Laura

We did it! Now we live in France (frugally!)

Even stranger to type!

We’re here, nestled in the Limousin countryside (or Haute Vienne as it’s now known) on this grey Christmas Eve watching films in front of the wood burner, both cats installed in their respective beds of choice.

But let’s go back to just over a week ago, to completion of the sale of our UK home. After sleeping on the floor of our bedroom (having put our beds into storage the day before) we rose knowing that this day would be the culmination of well over six months of effort and stress. The final packing of the car had to be done – including getting the cats into their travel crates and fitting in our last few bits.

Reader, it was horrible.

The big new/old car could not contain the massive amount of things we had hoped (the cat crates were huge, but with such a long journey they needed to be). The night before we had played an interesting game of Tetris with our various possessions and managed to get most in, however we were forced to concede that no plants whatsoever would be able to come with us, and bulky things like our duvet, pillows and blankets, the Hoover and a few boxes from the kitchen would have to stay with our lovely and generous neighbours (who’s house we have filled with stuff and we owe them dearly).

Once that had been attended to we were ready to go, at 8am on the dot. My partner drove the first UK leg and we managed to get to Folkestone for our channel crossing early. By noon we were onboard and enjoying the thrill of knowing that we would only be going one way this time.

Personally I’d never been on Le Shuttle before but it was a perfectly easy and quick experience, if at a pricey £154 for two adults, a car and two cats. We were soon out the other side and crucially, in France.

We stopped briefly for a quick espresso, then drove on to continue our journey. Around 10 hours of shared driving later having passed some gorgeous french countryside we were still driving but soon to arrive out our intended location: our rental gite for the next two months while the purchase of our house goes through.

And that’s where you find me now. Sat in front of the fire about to pour myself a Baileys and watching reruns of River Cottage.

Wishing you all a very Joyeux Noël and I shall have more updates in the next few weeks as we get really settled, and crucially complete the purchase on our french house!

Au revoir!

Laura x

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