C'est comme ça

There are some Brits, as we all know, who have upped their sticks for replanting in France, then upped their wealth by writing all about it, in styles that fall somewhere between whimsy and cheeky-chappie-esque. Peter Mayle, Michael Wright, Stephen Clarke come to mind, and there are more.

They sell big because they perpetuate the idea that life in France offers all that their readers can no longer find at home. Things like a slower pace of life, crime-free villages, tastier tomatoes. In short, 1950s chocolate box England.

The first promise is actually true, in rural France at least. Life is slow. To the point where nothing happens. My (French) wife left for Paris then Thailand then England and was away from her rural roots in Burgundy for 15 years. She came back. Nothing had changed.

Nothing changes. French youngsters leave at the first opportunity. They know that if they don’t, they face life among gnarled vines and ripening pensioners. But at least they’ll have tasty tomatoes.

The expat British writers perpetuate an idea. Actually, they perpetuate an illusion. Because France is a broken, largely inert, entirely introverted old girl, trying desperately too hard to maintain that her language and culture are still as important to the world as they were when her famous, albeit Corsican, son Napoleon grabbed the limelight.

Napoleon is still hailed (despite his failed career of belligerence towards Russia, Prussia, the Middle East, Britain et al) for implanting language, legal and educational codes that still govern, and essentially define, life in France today.

Move to France now, and you step into a world – at least in administrative, linguistic and, as some SFN chat strings mention, educational terms – of two centuries ago.

Move here with plenty of money, and this may well be just what you were looking for – life or retirement à la 17/18th century squire/ss.

Move here without money and – depending on where you choose to settle (as, in many practical, basic terms, there is no such single entity as ‘France’) – life can become a pre-revolutionary nightmare.

But – « C’est comme ça ». That’s French verbal shrug for “Deal with it”.

So, over the 20 months or so since I and my wife moved here, that’s what we’ve done.

Very well put, Steve. As an American, I would change the “1950s chocolate-box England” to the “Leave it to Beaver” syndrome, meaning , I suppose, the same idyllic, family-oriented, stress-free life as a child of the 50s and 60s.
I moved here just last September, a dream come true. For almost 40 years I looked forward to getting back to the France I visited when I was 16. That was Paris, in April of 1971, and with small exceptions, it is as I remembered it all those years ago.
I now live in the Grenoble area, in a small village where little, if anything happens. And that’s just the way I like it. Coming from the state of New Jersey, where everyone does everything at 90mph, where the almighty dollar is pursued relentlessly, at any cost, where corruption and crime are at all-time highs, France is Heaven.
I realize that there are no perfect places to live (with the possible exception of Tahiti), but to transplant from the greater NYC/Philadelphia to a village in the French Alps is damn close.
We don’t make a lot of money, but we pay our bills, eat well, have good friends, and enjoy all around us immensely.
I have people ask me quite often, both from the US and Europe/Asia, “why did you leave America? It has everything! Freedom, Opportunity, The Good Life”. I tell them that America is no longer the country of my youth, not by a long shot. The “Leave it to Beaver” syndrome is barely a memory. Yes, America has everything…much, much too much of everything.
I like France. C’est comme ça.

I think “at least we have tasty tomatoes” is about to become a Higginson family catchphrase!

Great to see the range of reactions here, including a touch of ‘nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…’. Of course there’s good and bad to be had in any country you live in, and what one finds is often defined by what one looks for - rural roads may be quieter and safer, but this is a country with by far Europe’s worst (and worsening) record for drunk and dangerous driving and related deaths. The assumption ‘I won’t be staying’ kind of misses the point: I was simply touching on a few realities (as I see and experience them)of the country I’d wanted for 37 years to live in since my first visit in '74; a country I have spent a great deal of time in and that I love for many reasons, INCLUDING the perverse and maddening frustration caused by French bureaucracy and administrative, linguistic and educational Canutism and inertia etc. Such mutual love/hate as has long existed between the English and the French (and so wonderfully described by one of the authors I was teasing about, Stephen Clarke, in his ‘1000 years of Annoying the French’) is at the root of both the joy and the pain of living here. Life is about both joy and pain and being enriched by both. This most certainly is the place to be.

Excellent post Steve. Couldn’t agree more.

Great post, thanks Steve

Great post - you have summed life here so well.

Brilliant! Sums it up nicely, couldn’t have said it better myself!

This is a beautifully written post Steve.

I LOVE rural France, but then that’s because I’m a country girl at heart, and our life revolves around our ponies and horses. As it would have done in the UK, or in any other country you might happen to name in the world.