Print Posted By Lost in France on 3 Apr 2011 in Real France - Expat Interviews

Moving Back to France

Colin Topley lived in France during the 80's and has moved back after retiring from his job in the UK, he now lives near St Malo in Brittany.

st-maloWhat made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
I was compulsorily retired from my job as a press officer with Kent Police 9 weeks ago due to the government's budget cuts; we'd wanted to move to Brittany for some time and that was the spur. We wanted to rent and besides loving Brittany, we found that rents here are much lower than elsewhere, even the Nord - Pas de Calais.

This is our 2nd time in France, we lived in Paris then Lille from 1977 to 1988 during which time we had 4 more children in addition to the 3 we came to France with.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
We live in a rural area about 48km from St Malo in Brittany. The houses are all made of local stone which makes them very hard to heat, we got through an entire cord of logs in 6 weeks and we switched off most electric heaters when we noticed how much electricity we were consuming.

The people are friendly especially if you speak French in which I am more or less bilingual. However, my wife Doreen hardly speaks any so it's quite hard for her if she goes out alone.

There are a large number of British people living in our area but they don't socialise much, not even with each other, and most can't speak very much French which I believe is because of this. We now socialise mostly with French people who we've met thanks to the local pensioners club and a local chorale.

I put a posting on another website offering free French or English lessons at our house in an effort to meet people as well as help them integrate. I had 6 responses 90% of which were from people who've been here a number of years but whose French is just basic. Only a couple have made the effort and we've become friends with a Welsh family as a result.

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
Our children are now adults with their own families but they all had French schooling in the Nord, the eldest 3 having had all their education there. It was very hard for them at first as they had no French but they all became fluent in everyday French in 6 months, adding to their vocabulary after that. They made lots of friends very quickly and are still in touch with quite a few of them online plus the occasional visit to France.

Open quote. Interviewee gives their moving to France tips Don't be put off by the dreaded French bureaucracy... Close quote

What is your age?
I am 66.

Where were you born?
I was born in Hardingstone, Northants.

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
I am retired but am hoping to provide home-stay French courses in the near future.

When we came to France in 1977, I found work easily through the Interim agencies though it was always physical jobs. I worked in Paris as a cleaner in the notorious suburban tower blocks then as a road mender/navvy then as a removals man, finally succeeding in being taken on as an EFL teacher.

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
We are renting now but in 1985, we got a 500,000 franc loan for a house to be built on what had been farmland so there was no water supply or electricity provision nearby. We could have bought our 150-year-old rented house for 100,000 francs and this is what we should have done but we thought a new build would be better. We were wrong.

Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
Learn as much of the language as you can before moving, visit France to do so, it's the only effective method. Do NOT waste your money on expensive language courses, lessons etc. Nobody ever learns anything useful that way.

Visit France as often as you can, daytrips etc, and put yourself into situations where you have to speak French no matter how little of the language you know, e.g. take the bus, buy at markets and small shops, ask for directions etc. Of course it's hard but, believe me, it's much, much harder if you have hardly any ability in French.

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
See the above re: the language, you can't integrate very well if you speak to French people in English.

Don't be put off by the dreaded French bureaucracy which seems endless and needlessly complex, a nightmare if your French is not fluent. There are several agencies which provide help for newcomers and you will meet ex-pats who are fluent and willing to help for free. Get it over and done with as soon as you can then you can enjoy life without those things hanging over you.

What's the best thing about living in France?
The extensive variety of tasty foodstuffs, the brilliant Carte Vitale, the weather (in most places), the cultural level of most French people, the history, the low rents in Brittany, the slightly old-fashioned way of life and attitudes which remind me of Britain in the 1950s, a gendarme in every commune, France's independent film industry.

And the worst?
French bureaucracy, the price of DVDs and clothes, lack of control of their animals of many dog owners, so-called hunters who shoot anything that moves no matter where they find themselves.

What do you think?

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