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The Grass is always Greener for some expats


The other day I interviewed an expat British couple in France. They had moved here seven years ago, took early retirement, bought a beautiful country house with a lovely garden in a pretty village in SW France.

We talked about how they find life in France and it started off well. They love the food, being able to go to the market to buy fresh veg and fruit. They love the fact that they can wander down to their local bar and everyone says hello and they feel welcomed to the community. They feel they’ve integrated well, the air is fresh, roads clear, it was the right move for them…

After a little while a note of unhappiness started to creep in and they began to moan. Although retired and able to live on their pensions, they’d like to earn a bit of extra income. They thought about starting a B&B or converting one of their many outbuildings into a gite. However, they found the paperwork to register a gite too difficult and gave up that idea. I was a bit surprised at this. Yes the paperwork is in French, yes it is quite onerous but – nothing ventured nothing gained and there are plenty of people who can ease the work, professionals who can do the translating, register the business, take care of tax forms and all that bureaucratic stuff.

Intrigued I asked if there was anything else that bugs them about living in France?

“Yes – the language is hard to learn”. This is true, for many people it is difficult and most expats will never fully master the nuances and colloquialisms. But, I protested, it’s perfectly possible to get by with a bit of hard work I’ve found. Ah, that was the problem though, they didn’t want to spend time learning, they felt that by living here they would simply pick it up – presumably by osmosis.

What else, I asked.  The man piped up “when we go to restaurants, I always ask for my steak to be medium rare but it’s always too rare”. Why don’t you ask for it to be well done I asked, that way you know it will be more cooked? “Because” said the man “I have always had it medium rare”.

More bugbears? “Yes, in the summer the farmers drive their tractors late at night and its really noisy”.  Oh, says I, didn’t you know that when you live in the country, surrounded by farm land and farms that they would be working late sometimes, getting the crops in before it rains for instance? Well, yes, they said, “but we thought we’d get used to it”.

Anything else? “Yes, there is another expat couple in the village and they don’t declare that they are resident even though they live here more than 6 months of the year”.

Now this surprised me. How on earth could this be a problem for this couple? “Well”, said the lady “it’s irritating, it gives us Brits a bad reputation, we’re thinking of alerting the authorities”.

The couple confirmed that their British neighbours did not claim benefits, were not a nuisance, spent money locally on doing their house up & went back to the UK on a regular basis! I had no answer for this, far too absurd for a response.

After all this moaning I asked them “you seem so disatisfied with life here, when are you going back?” Their answer? “Oh, we’re not going back, it’s even worse back there”… I cut them off and made a hasty departure.

It’s clear some people look for reasons to be irritated, I suspect that where ever they live they would be unhappy and find reason to complain. However, I did think to myself that if these were the only things the couple found to irritate them about living in France – it doesn’t seem too bad does it?!

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