The Good Life France

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Not all expats in France live the Peter Mayle lifestyle

Glass of wine in a lavender field in Provence

Peter Mayle wrote about life in Provence, drank wine, sold books and inspired thousands of followers

So how does my life in France compare with his?

First the similarities. Mayle wrote about quirky neighbors, exotic meats stuffed with truffles, drinking copious amounts of red wine, dealing with brain-numbing French bureaucracy, and a neighbor’s frustrated donkey.

Et Moi?

I have quirky neighbors. My first conversation with one of them took place while he was tapping an upstairs window with a long stick on which he’d taped a stuffed monkey eating a banana. Another one plays karaoke day and night and, even after the walls of my apartment were soundproofed, I can still hear his music. And some village garçons decided to go fishing . . . in my goldfish pond.

I’ve also eaten truffles and drank gallons of red wine (not all in one evening). And I have a Carte Gris, a Carte Vitale, and a Carte de Sejour which has given me more than enough experience with French bureaucracy, thank you very much.

And don’t get me started on the moans and groans and braying of a couple of apparently sex-crazed donkeys who live across the road.

Like Mayle, I love France. I moved here nearly nine years ago and still think it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

So back to Mayle and his account of the French experience and how it differs from my own.

Mayle was a successful London advertising executive when he decided he’d had enough of the rat race. With his fourth wife, he moved to Provence where they bought an old farmhouse and spent a lot of time, and presumably money, fixing it up.

After my mother died, a few months after her 100th birthday, I moved to France alone. Rented an apartment I could afford but didn’t like. Then found a two-bedroom apartment I both liked and could afford. I still live there.

Mayle was excited about his French adventure; curious, engaged, eager to learn more about his newly adopted country.

Me too.

But Mayle had money and I don’t which makes a bit of a difference.

So while he and his wife lived in ritzy Provence in their house of honey-colored stone with a cherry orchard in the back, I’m in neighboring Languedoc, otherwise known as Poor Man’s Provence. Other than fields of lavender, Languedoc has everything Provence has . Sunshine, Mediterranean beaches, quaint villages, etc., but it is less expensive.

Which for me, is all-important.

While Mayle appeared to have few, if any money problems, I struggle financially. I’ve lived on lentils, scraped black mold from carrots, and belong to a Facebook group where members swap budget conscious recipes and share money-saving tips.

I do eat out once in a while, usually lunch because it’s less expensive than dinner. Still, Mayle’s lip-smacking, gastronomic descriptions of lobster mousse and hand-picked cheeses, which I doubt were washed down with a pichet of table wine, conjure up a very different kind of dining than anything I’ve experienced.

Mayle’s book, published in 1989 when French real estate was more of a bargain, even in Provence, than it is today, continues to inspire thousands from less sunny climes to move to France. They dream of buying some charmingly dilapidated dwellings. They use what seems to be their unlimited financial resources to transform it into the perfect blend of bucolic charm and modern convenience.

Yes weve preserved all those maahvelous old doors. Just look at that intricate detail. Such exquisite craftsmanship back the. But, haha, we had to put in an icemaker and a dishwasher so the entire kitchen had to be replumbed and . . .well, modernized. But from the outside, you wouldnt know it from any other village house, would you?”

And then like Mayle, they write memoirs.

I’ve picked up a few. Skimmed through the trials and tribulations of transforming the once uninhabitable barn, tumbledown windmill, horse barn whatever, and wondered if anyone ever has any issues with money. Is renting ever an option? Oh please. Only while they search for a suitable ruin to take apart and reassemble.

No one gets turned down for a loan, money flows, probably from the elaborate robinet de cuisine in the kitchen, and then it’s off for a night out — at a Michelin starred restaurant of course.

Although marriages might get a little frayed, what with all the construction dust and unreliable French workman, described in great detail in the memoir, all is forgiven and there are drinks on the terrace as the sun sets on yet another day in paradise.

Bah humbug.

Enough of the Mayle imitators, I want to write a different kind of memoir about living in France. One involves a sprightly older woman who can only afford to rent. She doesn’t have a husband to assure her that everything will be fine. And she sometimes lies about her age although she tries to kick the habit.

Stay tuned, it’s in the works.

Janice Macdonald still lives in France where she writes at janicemacdonald.medium.com and on youtube.com/c/JaniceInFrance

Read My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh – how a day trip from London to buy cheap booze in Calais led to buying a house that cost less than a posh handbag, taking a huge risk for love  – and a lifetime of DIY on a miniscule budget with no workmen involved, though wine does feature!

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