Our fifth anniversary in France

Having accepted an internal transfer from my office in Solihull, I started work in Customer Service in the same company in Mouzon in the first week of January 2009. We are still living here but the anniversary went unnoticed. In fact we think there was very little to celebrate since virtually every aspect of life, such as education, population, eating out, commerce, entertainment, tourism and industry seem to be in decline.

The local college was closed before our arrival and the building remains unused. This means that children from Mouzon are bussed to school and start early in the morning. Last year there was a campaign against putting age groups together to increase junior school class sizes.

The biggest difference we have noticed in Mouzon in the past five years is its inhabitants. As a whole, Champagne Ardennes loses population every year mainly due to the lack of opportunities for young people. This meant that most of our neighbours in 2009 were retired. We suspect that an influx of outsiders has taken over any vacant HLM properties here in order to boost the population with the unemployed and single mothers. This has resulted in an increase of unsocial behaviour and petty delinquency.

Mouzon in 2009 boasted a one star Michelin restaurant, a pizzeria and a kebab house. These days the new owners of the restaurant only open if you book in advance whilst the new owner of the pizzeria and the kebab house do not open every day.

The high street in Mouzon has seen many changes. The newsagents and the local bar were combined into one building leaving one building empty. The gift shop closed and seems to serve as accommodation. The “drogerie” has become empty. The butchers shop became an IT shop whilst the previous premises now host a display of antique crockery and is never open to the public. In 2009 there were three bakers and now there are only two – the third one is empty and up for sale.

For the first time we can remember, there were no fireworks with the “Bal de St Jean” this year and we can only imagine that this was a cost cutting measure.

Quite a lot of money has been invested in attracting tourism to the town. After all, it is very picturesque in parts, it lies on the river Meuse, there are extensive remains of its fortifications and it has a church, which is steeped in history along with its monastery, which is now used as an old people’s home. A tourist information bureau is open during the summer months and we have the most unique Felt museum in Europe. An excellent facility has been set up, which serves both the passing leisure boats and the quayside hard standings for motor caravans. A further camping site is being developed on the edge of town. Unfortunately, tourists may be forgiven for thinking that Mouzon is a ghost town especially if they arrive on a Sunday.

There are two factories in Mouzon employing about 400 people between them. It was reported in the press last week that the biggest employer had sacked 34 people recently. There were big changes at my company too. The work done in the office next to the factory would be transferred to another site about 60 miles away. Two years ago, the work of the transport department was transferred and this year we learnt that the Customer Service would also be leaving Mouzon. Personally I have been able to get a transfer to a different mill and we will be moving to the Dunkirk region later this year. However I feel sorry for the colleagues I leave behind – their jobs are also under threat but with their commitments and age may not be as flexible as me. This is a sad time for Mouzon too because the jobs are being taken away from the area and are not likely to be replaced. This kind of thing is being repeated everywhere and contributes to a general decline in rural France, which we have witnessed at first hand during our stay.

Thank you Nick for showing the other optimistic side of France. According to the following article, only Ile de France and Picardie are less satisfied with their quality of life than those in the Champagne Ardenne area. http://lci.tf1.fr/france/societe/aquitaine-et-pays-de-la-loire-plebiscitees-pour-leur-qualite-7945415.html

One of the reasons I like the region is that there is plenty of countryside but the downside is that it is one of the least populated French departments. This means less job opportunities for graduates, who have to leave the area to find work and leave behind a population of mainly retired people and agricultural workers. Over time this makes life more and more difficult for small businesses. As the shops and restaurants close, so the discontent increases in vicious downward spiral. Mouzon is about 12 miles from the town of Sedan with the largest fortification in Europe at its heart. You only have to read Trip Advisor to realise that a huge investment would be necessary to make it really worth visiting. It is a far cry from visiting your local town.

We have lived near Mauriac in Cantal for 7 years now and my perspective would be the opposite of Kenneth's. Mauriac has recently opened a brand new indoor swimming pool costing millions. Carrefour and Bricomarche have recently opened huge hypermarkets on the edge of town. The farmers seem to be putting up huge pre-fab barns all over the place. There are new houses going up left and right. The old carrefour and brico have been snapped up by entrepreneurs who are creating new "cheap goods" shops. The number of town activities like free cabaret shows / strolling musicians / fetes etc have probably increased. We live in a small village 10 minutes outside Mauriac and none of this has detracted from our village infrastructure - to the contrary people like going "into town" to shop / chat & coffee /swim etc. Plus the work opportunities have probably increased significantly with the new hypermarkets. The main "industry" around here is farming (cattle mainly) and the local cattle market has significantly expanded its footprint/hoofprint. Our French neighbours are low-paid workers (equiv to hospital porters) but have just bought a new kitchen and a mobile home for holidays. They never travel abroad and have a huge family whom they party with frequently (often inviting us as "extended family" which is lovely!). We feel extremely lucky to have landed in Cantal and benefited from the life-style here. However my wife and I were brought up in rural country life in UK so we are comfortable in this environment. It may not suit others, more used to lively city life. This last comment may well be a useful pointer to those who want to retire to France from UK and are looking for a quiet life - perhaps being close to a large town or city would be preferable to living in very rural areas.

Kenneth just beats us by a few weeks. Here, well there is no economic miracle but perhaps a stability of some kind. Sure, farmers are going broke but they are about it. New businesses and shops are appearing. I imagine it makes the country a patchwork. Meanwhile Paris is following London to become a place where nobody can afford to live unless they have wages well above subsistence if not vast fortunes. The parallels with SE England are many, the contrast between rich and poor but out in the provinces far from the political and economic centre it is pot luck or something like that.

Perhaps Jane is right, le Coq, d'Or has turned into an ostrich or is it that the fatted goose is just a bit chicken?

We live in the Clunysois of Southern Burgundy and the biggest employer in Cluny is OXXO which makes metal windows, doors and openings. It has just been taken over by an Algerian firm and there have been many redundancies. Last year it remained open during August to bring its order book up to date, unthinkable before.

There is a real fear that the company will eventually be transferred to Algeria.

It has taken a long time for the French to wake up to their economic situation and that the cost of their social system is being borne by employers and hence less jobs.

We still see less competition in the supermarkets than in the UK, although it is improving a bit.

As I have mentioned before, the Coq, d'Or has turned into an ostrich!