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Retired expats in France – Enjoying every minute!

Poitou Charentes house

Roz Cleavely and husband, Danny moved to France in January 2012 and say they feel anything but retired – there is so much to learn, to do and to enjoy that there is never a dull moment. It’s not all perfect says  Roz, everyone experiences low points, it’s normal, but with determination they can be overcome…

At the time, people kept telling us how brave we were but we didn’t see it that way. We had retired early and were grabbing life with both hands! What did bravery have to do with it? But looking back now, I can see that we were brave! We came to a foreign country, with just my limited, learnt-at-school French and knowing only a few people, mainly gîte owners! Oh, we’d done lots of research, read plenty of books and articles, been to exhibitions… But looking back, I realise that it was a pretty impulsive move all told.  Having said that, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. As important as it is to find out as much as you can in advance, no amount of research can prepare you for the reality of emigrating.

And that reality brings with it a mixture of highs and lows. The first ‘low’ hit us after only a few days. We had been helped in the actual move by two of Danny’s sons and when they went home to the UK, the enormity of what we’d done really hit us. I can remember feeling as if I wanted to go home from a bad holiday but there was no “home” to go to. We had sold our house in the UK and were now in a rented cottage while we house-hunted.  I suppose it was fortunate that these feelings lasted only a few days and gradually we got stuck into the job of house-hunting and the myriad of other things we had to do. We had also made a pact that, come what may, no matter how bad we might feel, we would stick it out for at least two years!

A little over two years on and I wouldn’t change it for the world as I really love it here. We were very lucky and found our ideal house within a few weeks, so by the end of March 2012 we had moved into our own home. We live in the département of Poitou-Charentes, in a small commune in verdant, undulating countryside. Whichever way I face when I step outside the house, I see ‘green’ – fields and trees stretching for miles into the distance.

We are not yet old enough to receive our UK state pension but we are very lucky because we both have a reasonable pension from our respective jobs. Being retired ex-pats brings a mixture of both advantages and disadvantages. Of course, an obvious advantage is that we don’t need to work and our time is our own to enjoy as we will. I think the main disadvantage is that it’s not so easy to meet people. I stress the ‘not so easy’… It’s not ‘impossible’, but it does take an effort. I have joined various groups, both real and virtual…and gradually you do get to know people. In fact, just by going to French lessons I have met a number of very nice people.

view of Poitou Charentes

Having spent years renovating our house in the UK, we decided that we didn’t want to repeat it at this stage of our lives. Against what seems to be the norm with ex-pats, we chose to buy a house that was in good decorative order but to which we could simply add our own touches to make it “ours”, like adding a swimming pool and new kitchen. Generally, instead of “Do It Yourself” we have used the “Get Someone In” method! This has its drawbacks, not least the cost, but also on the dependency on finding good, reliable workmen. By and large, we have been lucky – and the majority of them have been fantastic.

So what is retired life like for us here in France? Well, it’s certainly not sitting around doing nothing. Danny’s jobs include chopping wood for the fire during the winter and mowing the grass on his sit-on mower in the summer. The long hot summer draws plenty of visiting friends and family so I have lots of preparation, shopping and cooking to do for them. There is always something to do in the garden if the weather is good enough (we have about an acre of land with the house) and if not, I am happy to sit and sew, read or catch up with friends. Plus there are always French lessons!

There are things that take some getting used to, for example, working around the opening hours of shops and other businesses. Most are closed for lunch for up to two hours and many small businesses don’t open on Mondays. We live in a particularly quiet, rural area and it’s almost impossible to find a bar or restaurant open in the evenings (not so at lunchtime, when you can get a very good meal, often including wine, for around €13). There is also a lot of bureaucracy to get over, for example, to get into the French healthcare system.

Roz CleavelyBut all of these are small inconveniences to which you do become accustomed. And they are a small price to pay for a life that is slow and gentle; for roads that are virtually empty for most of the time and for the glorious peace and quiet, interrupted only by tweeting birds and noisy insects!

Roz blogs about her daily life at  dannyandrozinfrance.blogspot.fr

Check out the Living in France categories for advice for expats in all areas of French life

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