Print Posted By Lost in France on 29 Oct 2012 in Real France - Expat Interviews

Living in Rural Charente

After visiting the South of France in the 1960's Richard vowed to return one day and now lives in rural Charente.

SunflowersWhat made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
It all started many years ago. In the early 1960s whilst serving with the Royal Air Force we were on a flight when the aircraft developed an engine fault and we were forced to land somewhere in the south west of France. The engine needed repairing and parts and maintenance crew had to be flown in from the U.K.

In the meantime we were housed in a tiny "transit" billet, we had nothing with us apart from the uniform we stood up in. From the skimpy information we heard we were going to be here for the best part of a week, maybe more.

There were five of us in all, ( we were not aircrew, just passengers), sat around with little or nothing to do, the airfield, like a lot in the U.K. were places way out in the countryside, ( bearing in mind this was in the 60s and France was still VERY rural), not having , (as it were) a chain of Command we asked a French officer if there were a place we could visit, just to pass the time away, he came back to us some time later and said he had spoken with his boss and with the captain of the our aircraft who had agreed that we could, providing we were on our best behaviour, walk into the local village which was approximately five/ six kilometres away.

Open quote. Interviewee gives their moving to France tips If you REALLY want to live in France then JUST SELL UP AND MOVE HERE... Close quote

It was the middle/ late July, sun beaming down, I can still feel the sun on my head, my hair warm to the touch, sun flowers were at their best, and never having seen them before in real life and they looked huge, we eventually saw the village, as we wandered in I was amazed at the houses, so used to seeing row upon row of the same type/style of houses in the U.K. the individuality of them made you want to study each one as you went by, the memory of shutters, not hung square but looking as if they were about to fall off the wall, no front gardens, all houses fronted the road, mind you a horse and cart don't make a lot noise when passing by, we wandered into the town square, nobody was about, to this day when travelling through small villages very few people are seldom seen and it always reminds me of a ghost town.

But tucked away in the corner of the square was a small Tabac /bar, we entered, coming in from the sun the place seemed very gloomy until our eyes adjusted, sitting at the bar were four / five men, staring at the aliens who had just entered their domain, none of us spoke a word of French but with a few hand gestures and attempts at saying 'beer' in a French accent the owner presented us with five beers.

Don't forget we were all in uniform, I doubt if these "locals" knew an Air Force uniform from a carnival suit, we sat down at a table and passed the "ciggies " around, daft though it sounds now we actually spoke in whispered tones so's not to frighten the locals. About half an hour or so had passed, a couple of rounds of beers as well, when out of of the blue without ordering it, another round of drinks came our way, a few nods of the head and a pointing finger suggested a local had bought us a round of drinks, we all raised our glasses in their direction with "CHEERS" thrown in, they in turn responded likewise.

Not wishing to be rude we, when ordering the next round we returned the favour by buying them a round, of drinks, we were talking amongst ourselves when one of the locals sauntered across offering us a cigarette, having heard that French "fags" were strong, we politely declined, but he wanted us to have one, so being the charming fella I am I took one, I was a bit worried though because when offering me a light he had a smile on his face, I leaned forward and lit the ciggie, and inhaled - the first thing I felt was as if someone were trying to bore a hole straight from mouth out through the back of my neck, I coughed and coughed, eyes filling with tears, I thought my last days had come, my "mates" were laughing fit to bust at my demise as were the locals, and that certainly broke the "ice", we were now all mates, us not speaking a word of their language and them not speaking a word of ours, but somehow we managed to communicate quite well, I think the drink also helped quite a bit.

We eventually left the bar and headed back to camp, we were half tipsy and could now speak a word or two of French, back past the strangely hanging shutters, the quiet dusty roads, the sunflowers, it all blended into one as we made our way back I thought to myself - God I love it here, one day, I promise , I will return.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
I live in the beautiful area of rural Charente, surrounded by, when in flower, sunflowers, where calm and tranquillity reign supreme, the locals are very friendly and come summer or winter there is no other place on earth I would sooner live.

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
Being retired our children have grown and flown the nest, they still reside in the U.K.  From what I have seen of other ex-pat children attending French schools I can only step back in amazement at the ease they integrate and learn the language so fluently in such a short space of time.

I realise that when thrown in t the deep end it is a case of sink or swim, and they somehow have all learned to swim.

What is your age?
I'm 72 years of age.

Where were you born?
I was born in Bornemouth, England.

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
No, I am retired, but again learning from others I would think to start up your own business here, unless it were a niche market would be really difficult. It appears there is a plethora of Brit plumbers, builders, electricians etc, etc all willing to work "cash in hand" but at the end of the day from what I understand if say, I were to have an electrical fire in my house and it was going to be a costly affair, unless I had proof that the work was carried out by a registered person and they gave me a letter of attestation, the insurance company would more than likely turn round and refuse my claim..

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
The English couple we bought from here in France were, to say the least, naughty, all the paperwork came through the post to us in the U.K. which we filled out and signed as an agreement, which meant we were bound by contract, only to find that when we arrived, expecting to stay in a Gite for a week or two, we found they hadn't even started looking for a property until we'd bought the house, which meant a long expensive "holiday" which we hadn't accounted for..

Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
My best tip would be to retired people moving here don't listen to the pundits that say you should go to night school and learn the language, you should understand the way of life etc, etc, etc. If you REALLY want to live in France then JUST SELL UP AND MOVE HERE, that's what we did and six years down the line we can make our way around the language, and we have just ASKED the likes of our insurance agents etc to help us out, because the way I look at it is if they want my business they can help me and I have to say our insurance people are just about the most helpful there are..

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
My biggest tip here would be KEEP AWAY FROM THE "BRIT PACKS" those that have lived here for years, never bothered to integrate, never bothered, apart from a few phrases to learn the language. Integration is easy, if you're prepared to be patient and prepared to be friendly.

What's the best thing about living in France?
The "BON VIE'.

And the worst?
Absolutely nothing!

What do you think?

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