I’ve outlined what I see as the most important positives of a move to France in another post. However, as I pointed out in that post, aside from these ‘big’ issues, I can think of all sorts of smaller things that I would look forward to. So, ignoring all the life changing pros and cons for a minute, here is a list of some of the more frivolous things that might make life in France go with a smile.
All the small things
1 The contents of boulangeries
While I might be a vegetarian, in other regards, I’m not a complicated person when it comes to food. In fact, fresh bread, served with a little cheese and fruit (and maybe a glass of red wine) is my idea of a good meal. The French obsession with their bread is therefore something I am entirely in tune with. What’s more, I also have a sweet tooth, so the daily visit to a local boulangerie is most certainly something that could become a high spot of my daily routine. Pick up a loaf, some croissants and a pastry or two and I’m good to go.
2 I want to live my holiday
How many times have you been on holiday and thought ‘I could live like this all the time’? Only, of course, you couldn’t. A place might be idyllic for a short holiday but there might be all sorts of practical reasons why living in a place might not be quite so appealing – economy down the tubes, low quality public services, etc. – so the daydream would not make a suitable reality. In addition, there is the small matter of having to earn a living that, normally, is not part of your average holiday.
As my wife will tell you, I’m actually rubbish at holidays but the one place I love to holiday is France. I love the climate (admittedly, I see it mostly in the summer), the countryside, the people, the language and the pace of life. Every time I go I get the ‘I could live here’ moment. One of the reasons I’m rubbish at holidays is that, while I’m happy to relax (I have a switch I can flick on and off), after a week or so I can get fidgety for a guitar to strum or some music technology to play with. So, living my ‘holiday’ in France on a permanent basis – but having my work around me to do – sounds perfect to me.
3 Seeing my friends
I have lots of acquaintances, work colleagues and ‘parents of my kid’s friends’ friends where I live but, in truth, all my really close friends are longstanding ones from before I moved to this part of the UK. In addition, many of those friends are now scattered all over the globe – the USA, New Zealand, Australia and, yes, France – so, Skype aside, I don’t see a lot of them. While where I live now is certainly a target for tourists, the climate is not what sells it so, if I owned a house in SW France with a couple of spare bedrooms and a swimming pool, I rather suspect it might be a more attractive proposition for my world-wide friend collection. In short, if I lived in France, I think I’d see more of my real friends than I do now.
4 To cure my wine ignorance
I’ve absolutely no time at all for wine snobs (or snobs of any kind come to that). That said, I am quite happy to sip the occasional half glass of red wine. I do this however in total ignorance of what I’m drinking. Part of me thinks that this is a good thing as, in the absence of a tutored palette, I’m quite happy to drink almost any old plonk. On balance though, I would like to learn more about how good wine comes to pass (or, eventually, to be passed :-)) and, if I’m going to live surrounded by the world of vines, maybe the locals won’t think the English vegetarian is quite so weird if he at least shows an appreciation of their wine culture. This would be the least I could do – count me in!
5 On the market
A bit of a cliché this one but I do like French food markets. Food markets exist in the UK and, in some areas, the new breed of ‘farmers’ markets has breathed a little life into the concept. However, in France, the local markets are a much more significant part of the culture and I like that. The idea (which may not always be correct I’m sure) that these are local(ish) producers bringing their own food stuffs to sell is an appealing one. Picked, baked or crafted on one day and on my table the next. That will do nicely.
6 Time to cook
I do quite a lot of the cooking in our house but I’m a functional cook at best – all the routine daily meals of an average week – and if there is a special meal to be prepared then my wife is the one in charge. However, I’d be happy to adopt something of the French approach to food where it plays a more significant role in daily (and family) life. So, making more time to cook – and cooking those items purchased from the local market (see 5) or things we have grown for ourselves – sounds like an attractive proposition to me. No, I don’t want to become the next Masterchef but it would be nice to stretch my skills beyond pizzas, pasta and ‘meat and three veg’ (which I happily cook for the family even if I substitute in a veggie alternative for the meat for myself).
7 Time to swim
While I’m a sports nut, I’ve never been a big swimmer. This was never helped by childhood holidays in some of the UK’s coastal resorts where, despite the abundant seaweed, always nippy water temperatures and (in those days) a justifiable fear of the British great brown trout (er, untreated sewage), my parents insisted on me going in the sea. For the last 17 years of my life, I’ve lived within walking distance of some excellent beaches – great beaches but, as this is the North Sea we are talking about – water that is cold year round. I think that, in all that time, paddling with my kids aside, I’ve actually been swimming in the sea twice. Both occasions were in shallow water on a wide sweeping beach during an extremely hot spell in the summer of 1996 (I think) when, while running on the beach with a work colleague, we just dumped our running shoes in the sand and took a quick plunge – even then, it could have best been described as ‘refreshing’ rather than relaxing.
However, give me a pool in the sunshine and I’m happy to laze away a few hours alternating between soaking up the rays and soaking in the water. Over the last few years, France seems to have seen an increase in the number of outdoor public swimming/play pools and these cater for locals and tourists alike during the summer season. Our experience of these has been overwhelmingly positive – clean, well run and great for kids – and I could easily imagine having a season ticket for my ‘local’ pool if I lived in France. Of course, even better would be a pool in my own garden – then I certainly would find the time to swim. Swimming outdoors more than once a year and without getting hypothermia – yes please :-)
8 The French like an argument
No, I don’t mean a fist shaking, spittle flaying, face-to-face shout-off (that kind of behavior can be found in all nationalities if you care to look) but my impression is that the French like to engage in debate – whether it is the merits of a football team, some aspect of their profession (where they have expertise) or a current political issue – the French man (or woman) is more likely to argue their case than your average punter in the UK. What’s more, you get a sense that they enjoy the process of doing it – having a reasoned exchange of opinions and putting the world’s wrongs to right via the power of a few (or preferably a lot of) words is a bigger part of the French character than it is this side of the Channel.
One consequence of this is that I think the French make a little more space for their intellectuals. They may choose not to agree with them (!) but, equally, they don’t deride them just for existing. And I suspect this is also part of the explanation of why the French, in general, embrace their liberal arts – be it theatre, cinema, art or fashion – in a more whole-hearted way than many nationalities. Personally, I think this is a very good thing.
9 To save my wife’s ears
My wife has inherited an obsession with weather forecasts from her father. Indeed, my father-in-law, who is a competitive person by nature, has even managed to turn the weather into a competitive activity. Before my in-laws retired and moved close to us, he would make a point of ringing us up when the weather was half-decent with them but mostly rubbish with us (he knew because he had watched the forecast) just so he could tell us how much better it was where he was. The same thing would happen when he was on holiday. As they now live only a few miles down the road, he has now mellowed somewhat as, in the main, we share the same climate so he has to make do with conversations that involve lots of head shaking and muttering about ‘not so good again today is it?’ and not sounding too fed up when he speaks with his other daughter (who lives in the south of England and consequently gets better weather than us most of the time) who tells him the sun is shining.
I digress; so my wife has a weather forecast obsession but, when another day appears which is not quite summer she now doesn’t feel able to complain about it to me because she says all she gets is the rather forlorn face that I’ve obviously perfected that says ‘I know. Let’s move to France’. When we do exchange words about the weather – good or bad – she is now heartily sick of me making the comparison and complaining about the weather in the UK. So, if we (in-laws included) did relocate, my wife’s ears would be saved from their regular weather-related assault. This would be a good thing, although it would also be interesting to see how often my father-in-law rang his other daughter back in the UK to compare conditions!
We have close friends who have recently moved from the UK to Australia with their four kids. The female partner, while looking around for work opportunities, has spent a little time documenting the experience for family and friends around the world via email and Facebook. This recently involved a list of things she didn’t miss about the UK and which included the statement ‘not seeing Ed Milliband on TV’. I’m not sure if her problem is with Milliband as a party leader or just as a person but her comment did set me thinking.
While I’ve personally got nothing against Labour’s current leader, British politics has, for a long time, had considerable potential to wind me up; ‘different governments, same old s**t’ to paraphrase a well know saying. So I would be quite happy to wave goodbye to British politics given the opportunity. Of course, I’m not saying that French politics is any better but, just like office politics when you move jobs, I suspect there would be a honeymoon period of ignorant bliss before you get embroiled in all the petty stuff. Equally, my somewhat sketchy French would mean that, initially, much of the evening news would pass me by. While that might well cause me to miss significant things that I do need to know about, I would also miss the daily delights of party politics. Move to France for a (short-term at least) political bypass – the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether this one should be on my ‘big life-changing issue’ list?
So, there we go…. my ‘top ten slightly less serious reasons’ for feeling positive about a move to France. I’d love to hear a few of your own ‘little things’ that you think might (or do) make a life in France a pleasure rather than a pain so feel free to chip in with a comment or two below to share your thoughts.