Print Posted By Lost in France on 16 Aug 2009 in Real France - Expat Interviews

Working as an artist in France

Jeanette LeuersTired of paying for a UK mortgage Jeanette Leuers decided to move to France, that was 14 years ago and she now lives on the Brittany and Normandy border where she works as an artist.

What made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
I had always believed that paying a mortgage was a very bad idea, I felt it was better to concentrate on investing in ability/ creativity, than property, & had owned progressively smaller properties as the 80s recession bit.

I felt exhausted with the constant strain of paying a mortgage that - even as it was made less difficult, by downsizing, had become a source of endless anxiety, and I longed to find a simple home, a roof to keep the rain away, with basic services, where I could continue to work (as painter) and that I could pay for with less money, than a years rental would cost. France - I realised as if in a dream, actually offered that astonishing opportunity!

That was about 14 years ago - I came over on the ferry to see a few properties, and the first one that looked waterproof and had basic amenities - I bought. It cost about 10 or 12k £.

A little cottage in a small hamlet, with a huge oak tree in the back garden and quaint gabled roof. I didn't consider for a moment - any of its potential problems, it looked safe, it had been recently inhabited, its owner having passed away, and it needed almost nothing spent on it, before I could move in and live there - although it was by no means in very good order. In fact, it had several quite serious problems, like rotting bits in one floor, but I knew I could fix those things, while living there.

A few years later I found a tiny riverside cottage, where I now live. I love it dearly.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
All around me is quiet countryside, a conservation area - near the border of Brittany and Normandy, roughly midway between the two major cities of Rennes & Nantes. This has meant that whenever I have felt any stress & the need to escape - the TGV and two international airports are within easy distance, & had I ever considered it - the ferry ports, back to UK, were never far away...

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
My son is grown up and lives far away, in Japan. I love to visit him and his wife and small son.

Open quote. Interviewee gives their moving to France tips My worst mistake was probably not to have come here sooner. Close quote

What is your age?
Almost 67

Where were you born?
I was born in South London.

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
I always enjoy my work, I have sold different kinds of artwork and paintings since I was about 20 years old, but as my clients have been in different parts of the world, living and working in France did not present any problems that could not quite easily be overcome. I dreaded attempting to deal with French income tax - but found everyone very helpful and kind, so it has never been the problem I anticipated.

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
I felt so much release from the burdens of even the most basic survival, in UK, that it does not seem right to talk about 'worst mistakes' at all. My worst mistake was probably not to have come here sooner. However, I think I could have spent a bit more time looking for a home like the one I have now, and love very much, if I had considered, perhaps, camping and travelling around & looking at more houses, before buying.

Some of Jeanette's recent work Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
I think like most people who have lived here a long time, I would recommend that it is a good idea to consider all the things that you feel would be most important to have in your life, (for example, although I do not, in fact, travel much, I'm glad that it is easy to travel to any part of the world from the two big cities not far off. I like to be near big centres, perhaps because I grew up in London).

Then having considered the things that seem most important, read as much as you can about the regions of France that seem to offer the best life for you. Having made that decision, then either rent a small cheap home, or a caravan, or just spend as much time as you can, looking at properties, considering and comparing villages and towns, and make the best choice you can.

You may very well decide to move again, as I did, later, but you will start your new life with some well chosen features, to help you along. Many people say it is very important to learn the language, I think with basic French, one learns much more, by absorbing the language all around you, with or without lessons. Many people do speak English, especially in the towns and in the biggest DIY stores, who do their best to encourage Brit DIY home seekers. Never having attempted to find work in France, always self employed, I have no idea how hard it is to survive as a non-French speaker, who does need to find work. That would be something you must establish for yourself, in your chosen region. Talk to as many Brits, and locals as you can, check out what jobs may be available.

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
As I have always been a loner, one country is very much like another for me, in any socialising sense, but I find I have made a few very dear friends here, people I could turn to in emergencies, or who will always be glad to see me & make me welcome. Mostly French people.

There are some quite big differences between the cultures of France and UK or USA, I suggest reading Margaret Meads study of French culture and any other books that look interesting. My own experience is, that 'le foyer' - roughly translated as 'home, & family' is closest to French hearts, which suits me fine. It is much quieter in France, than UK in my opinion, I found it quite hard to see the streets so often, so very empty, when I first came. As if the whole nation had packed up and left, but I think they were all 'chez le foyer'.

What's the best thing about living in France?
Having a comfortable base, where I can live without any stress, so that I can survive on much less income, and work exactly as I would have chosen to work, many decades ago, but for the cost of basic survival in UK.

From here, I can afford to visit my family, on the other side of the world, even if they cannot visit me, that would have been out of the question, with a Brit mortgage.

And the worst?
Getting older and finding that I still haven't yet caught up with all the DIY I planned to do, to make my house into a tiny gallery some of the time.
But I'm getting there!....WILL get there...soon!


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