Fiona (known as Fifi) and Barry Alderman moved to the Dordogne in Aquitaine, southwest France from Glasgow, Scotland in 1999.
Their journey is one of falling in love with France, starting a new life and a new business in this beautiful area much loved by the Brits and often called “Little England”. Although there is a high proximity of Brits in the area, in reality they only make up for a small percentage of the residents of this very lovely part of France.
When they took the decision to move to France, Barry came out to look for a house while Fifi remained in Scotland where she was a contemporary dance teacher and dancer. Barry saw many houses but mostly with a lot of repairs and restoring to do but their main requirement was to find a house that was immediately habitable. Fifi tells their story:
We had always loved the Dordogne, the lush green countryside, the very pretty small villages and the climate. Barry was on his very last day after seeing 40 houses to no avail; having almost given up, the very last house on the list was exactly what we’d been looking for. It was in Salignac-Eyvigues, a medieval village, over 800 years old. There is a château practically next door and the house was at one time part of the chateau used by the servants. There is a network of tunnels deep within the ground leading to the château.
We especially love the golden colour of the stone buildings in the village, they look really beautiful in the sun. Some of the roofs are of heavy stone” lauze” weighing about a ton a square metre and are particular to this area. Builders nowadays cannot easily replace these roofs, as it is both very expensive and the know-how of skilled workmen is being lost as the years go by.
Barry loved the big cellar of our house as he saw the potential to use it as a dance studio. I came to see the house, it was a weekend in February, and I went with the owner, his partner, the estate agent, Barry, and two friends of the owner – but all was a haze because so many people were watching me for my reaction!
Well my reaction wasn’t very good at all, I didn’t immediately fall for it as Barry had expected. I needed to see it on my own and try and visualise how it might be with all our possessions. Barry was very relieved that my personal viewing went well and we went to sign the paperwork at the notaire’s office to buy the house. Everything seemed to move at such a fast pace which I found really concerning, but the long and the short of it is, we bought the old house and have never regretted it.
The beauty of the Dordogne is not just its landscape but the gastronomy. I live in the area known as the Perigord Noir – we are lucky to have fabulous local produce like truffles, duck, foie gras and walnuts and great wines from Bergerac and Monbazillac. We have a local market which runs from April through to September and it is lovely for fresh vegetables, fruits, local cheese” le cabecou”, a wonderful goat’s cheese often spread on toast with honey over it!
I feel we have integrated fairly well to the life of the village though obviously we need the command of the language to be fully accepted. This is especially important when you deal with French administration. A few utterances of “merde” go down quite well I have noticed when dealing with the “fonctionnaires” i.e. civil servants which seem to be the highest percentage of the workforce in the world here in France.
A year after we moved to the Dordogne, we started The Salignac Foundation offering dance and film courses. Starting a business in France is very different to doing it in the UK. First, we needed to take our plans to the local mayor. It is considered courteous and, as he is an important person in French life, he has to approve or disapprove. Monsieur Dubois, our mayor, happens to be a very attractive man and I still blush when he comes near! We are at the kissing stage now, so it is even more apparent. When and how do we decide to go for a handshake, to the kissing, three times cheek to cheek? It’s a curious system that takes timing and understanding to comprehend. Our mayor was very welcoming of our business and has supported us throughout the years!
Barry is a freelance film cameraman and photographer and in addition to teaching dance, we also offer Dance for Camera short intensive courses developing site specific choreography utilising the beautiful mediaeval buildings nearby like the château and the winding cobbled streets.
I have also been developing English classes at home calling it “La Plume de ma Tante” and have quite a few students at all different levels – just for conversation and lots of grammar. They ask me why it is called “La Plume de ma Tante”? Well I remember when I was first learning French at school and we learned this phrase. I don’t know why as I have never used it once here! The French have a similar one learning English “my tailor is rich”!