Joanna Leggett, director of marketing and public relations at Leggett Immobillier explains the best ways to integrate into French life, beginning with the importance of learning the language and adapting to the culture.
Every now and again, as I travel through France, I have to stop and pinch myself. I am actually living my dream! All the magical places I’d read about for so many years are passing by my window.
France seduces your senses:
The warmth of the sun on your back; smells of fresh bread and coffee from the local boulangerie; the scent of flowers – you only have to sniff lavender oil to recall the fields that turn the south of France purple. The countryside is peaceful, from the verdant landscape, where luscious vines spill over their supports, to the coastal resorts and pretty fishing villages.
And the French certainly know how to eat well: oysters and fresh fish from the coast; truffles from the Dordogne; salt-marsh lamb, tender Limousin beef, and of course, the cheeses.
Am I waxing lyrical? Mais oui, bien sûr. Living in France means much more than indulging your olfactory senses. It’s not an extended summer holiday, and it will take some time to adapt to your new life. There will be ups and downs – but, to my mind, it cannot be bettered. So how should we adapt to life in France? In my opinion, the two basics are language and culture.
First, you must try to learn French. Communication really is key. In the UK we wouldn’t expect to switch languages to converse with a new neighbour. The French are extremely courteous and polite. You need to be able to converse so that you can be courteous in return. At first you may find your language skills limited to the needs for materials for the travaux (renovations) on your house, and the weather; however, it won’t be long before you want to discuss the matters of the day and to make friends.
Language classes, French radio and television will help in your quest to settle here. My school-French was pretty rusty, so I went to language classes when I first arrived. We listen to French radio in the car and watch the actualités (news) on French TV – though we do turn over to British TV for Downton! Your ‘O’ level French might need brushing up: language does change over the years, and what you learned at school is not necessarily the French you need today.
Many French people speak a little English, and shop staff often go out of their way to help foreigners. The local tax office might even have someone who speaks English to help you ‘arrange your affairs’, and the EDF electricity board have an English-speaking helpline. However, this isn’t enough to make you truly happy in your new environment. You must mix with French people whenever you can. Perhaps you can join the ‘Comité des Fêtes’ in your village. Help out in your community as often as possible; it will be noted and appreciated – and your French will improve enormously.
The culture in France is subtly different to UK culture. The French have a different way of doing things: they think differently and have different values; they prioritise differently and live quite differently. For example, you have to get used to the long lunch hours, when banks and shops close.
The Cost of living and every day life
Many expats fail to realise that they must still deal with the everyday chores, hassles and problems life brings anywhere.
You may wonder how much everyday life is going to cost. This depends: what may seem a perfectly reasonable standard of living for one person could be incon-ceivable to another. Talk to people who live in your target area to get an idea of their monthly outgoings. Ask your estate agent for details of rates, but don’t forget to account for electricity, heating, telephone and food costs.
Many people use wood-burning stoves for heating. In autumn, your woodsman will arrive on his tractor to deliver the cubic metres of logs you ordered. You then get to stack them. The delivery can be hilarious: while the woodsman is being charming to you, he could well be shouting profanities to his apprentice as he fails to negotiate backing into a tight driveway.
Then there is the paperwork: be prepared
You will amass a dossier of essential papers. You’ll need birth and marriage certificates and, although current EU law says this is not required, you may have to get them officially translated. Keep all your paperwork to hand and go with the flow.
While administrative red tape might seem infuriating at times, remember the French find it infuriating too. As an outsider, you must adapt to local ways; do not expect local ways to adapt to you.
Time is measured by the seasons. People greet each other in the street; they talk about the mushrooms they found in the woods. They watch for the cranes to fly over and discuss the return of summer. I would not live anywhere else.
See www.frenchestateagents.com for thousands of properties and advice for finding your dream home in France…