A little while ago I posted a ‘top ten why not’ list describing what – for me at least – represent the main issues that would concern me about a move to France. While these negatives might be holding me back, there are lots of positive reasons for making the move so, in this post, I thought I’d make a start on documenting these. When I came to drafting this piece and actually writing these down, I found myself with what seemed like two lists; one set of items that seemed to fall into a category of big stuff – issues that are important or truly significant – while another could be assembled from more trivial (less life-shaping?) things but that are still things I would find attractive. So, without further ado – and acknowledging that this is a personal list so your mileage may vary – here is the first of my ‘top ten why’ lists, starting with the important things that I see as the ‘positive life changing’ reasons. For a more light-hearted take, I’ll follow this with a further post that covers the second list – the ‘trivial but attractive’ selection.
The Big Issue(s)
1. A better climate
No surprises here and I suspect this might be near the top of many people’s list of reasons for moving to France. Everyone will have their own idea of what makes the ‘ideal’ climate but, for me at least, it would be warmer than I currently experience I the northern half of the U.K. That said, I don’t want to be baked to a frazzle for months on end (and I know my fair-skinned wife would most certainly not want that) so southern Spain, Portugal or Italy (for example) would probably be too hot. No, something where there is a genuine period of summer every year (unlike what passes for summer ‘up north’) but that still has some seasons (yep, even winter – providing it doesn’t go on for the best part of six months) would be just fine. And, as I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog, the climate data for SW France looks just about right to me; longer, warmer summers and shorter (although probably just as cold) winters than I currently get.
Of course, living in a ‘better’ climate (better for me at least) isn’t just an end in itself. The real positive here is the potential for a more outdoor lifestyle – for me and my family – and, taking factor 30 sun block as a given, I think it means the possibility of a healthier lifestyle all round. I’m not sure you can put a price on that if it can be achieved but it is, in my mind, a big positive.
2. A fresh challenge
Whether it’s midlife crisis or just itchy feet, I’m ready for a fresh challenge. My wife and I have moved a couple of times within the U.K. but we have lived in our current house for over 15 years. For me at least, I’m ready to move on and experience something new. Of course, ‘something new’ doesn’t have to be anything quite as radical as relocating to a country where I can barely speak the language – it could be a new part of the UK, a new job or even a new car – but I’m feeling ready for something more at the ‘OMG’ end of the scale rather than the ‘so what?’ end. And it would be nice to think that I’ve got one more major phase of life left in me before I pop my clogs.
3. To expose my children to a different culture
I’m lucky; my wife and I have two happy and healthy children. Like all parents, we want our offspring to have the best opportunities in life that we can provide for them. And aside from supporting their educational or sporting interests as any parent would do, I think that exposing them to life in a different culture could have huge benefits. I’ll come to the obvious issue of being bilingual in a minute but I see this experience as developing something much broader than just language skills. An appreciation of their being more than one way for a society to function, that different cultures exist (and have something positive to offer), developing the skills to adapt to those differences and, most significantly, the self-confidence that eventually comes from (hopefully!) finding your own feet in that new culture. As a life changing, personality developing process – and handled in a fashion that gives the child the parental support they need to take on the challenge – I think this could give almost any formal educational experience a run for its money.
4. To become bilingual
I’ve posted before about my efforts to improve my own French and, while I didn’t know any better when I wasted my opportunity to learn French and German as a secondary school pupil, it is now most certainly one of my life-long regrets that I can’t call myself bilingual. Thankfully, there are all sorts of ways that you can try and learn a second (third, fourth, etc.) language (again, see the posts in the Language section of the blog) and there are no prizes for suggesting that it is a good idea to acquiring the best level of language competence that you can before moving to a new country.
All that said, however well you have prepared before moving, there is probably nothing quite like immersing yourself in a language by living in the country where it is spoken. Providing you don’t choose to live in an expat-only sub-culture and do make the effort to interact with the native population then progress ought to come. For me, I’d just be happy to have achieved something that, until now, has always eluded me – speaking a second language. For my children, however, I think the benefits would be more than just the opportunity for a little self-congratulation – it’s a life-skill that could open all sorts of possibilities.
5. Property prices
I know I’m fortunate enough to live in a nice stone-built house in a peaceful rural environment so, in my case, the cliché of moving from some over-populated urban madness into the sleepy French countryside doesn’t really apply. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t swap my British rural idyll for a French rural idyll. Climate aside, having done my fair quota of online house browsing, the other big plus is that I’m pretty certain I could buy something similar in size to my current house (probably bigger) and with a decent chunk of land attached to it somewhere in SW France for something close to 2/3 of the market value of my current property. More house, less money – it sounds like a good deal to me – and the capital released would provide a very comforting financial safety net.
6. To redefine the way I work
I currently juggle my time between being an employee (in the education sector) and self-employed (a combination of music production and music technology journalism). I have, however, been looking for an excuse to become fully self-employed (OK, I admit it, what I’ve really been doing is not having the courage to become fully self-employed :-)) for some time.
I know my business well enough to believe that, with a little breathing space, I could build my self-employed income to a level that would sustain my family. And the capital released under (5) above, would provide just that breathing space. My self-employed work has the advantage of being location-free. Providing I have half-decent internet access, then I could just as easily be based in SW France as the NE of the UK – with the added benefit that I could eat my lunch outside sat beside a swimming pool for 6 months of the year. That sounds like a positive change in working conditions to me and, overall, would give me what I consider a better quality of life.
7. Family focus
While I’m happy for those with more direct experience to tell me this is a misconception, my impression is that family is a more integral part of everyday life in France than it is here in the UK. There are two aspects of this that I find appealing. First, that as part of taking ‘living’ more seriously than ‘working’, many French families seem to spend more time together – particularly when it comes to the key social activity of eating – than is perhaps the norm on this side of the Channel. Second, the French seem to take a more positive attitude to multi-generational families living, if not actually together, then close to each other. This provides a social function but also an important support network. It is something that might be important to me as, in one version of my possible French relocation, my wife’s parents (who, when they retired, moved several hundred miles to live near to us) would be relocating with us. Three generations of the family in two houses in close(ish) proximity – not on top of one another but there for the social family times and there when support is required (in either direction).
8. It’s good for your health
So, if we add up the possibility (yes, I now, just a possibility – the reality might be very different) that I’d see my different work status as a positive work-life balance change, the improved climate for a more outdoor lifestyle and the more social/family living structure, I think that that might generate some equally positive health benefits. It’s not that I’m currently an over-eating, over-drinking, chain-smoking, couch potato – I’m not – but I’ll happily take whatever improvements are available if they are a consequence of my proposed move – although I also appreciate that making such a move is likely to be a pretty stressful experience, especially in the short-term.
However, there is also the French health care system to consider. Yes, it is funded and organized in a way that I suspect most people moving from the UK find confusing initially. And, depending upon your French language skills (or luck with finding English speaking health professionals), it might be quite stressful if you need urgent or complex medical treatment that requires good communication between you and your doctor. But all that said, the French healthcare system has an excellent reputation and, compared to the NHS in the UK (which is generally very efficient if you have an emergency or life-threatening condition but somewhat less responsive for less urgent conditions), it seems to operate in a swifter fashion. Anyone in the UK who has experienced the NHS at its worst – protracted waiting times for non-urgent, but life-impairing, medical problems – is likely to view the French system, where access to treatment seems to be very rapid whatever the problem, as a significant step up. You probably pay for the privilege (as you can pay for private health care in the UK) but your health and wellbeing is one of the things that most of us, given the financial choice, would not wish to cut corners with. If (and it is a fairly big ‘if’!) we survived the initial stress of moving and establishing ourselves in a new society, I think moving to France could be good for my health.
9. France is beautiful
I live is a beautiful part of the UK that many people come to as a holiday destination (albeit a cold, windy and sometimes wet one). I’m within striking distance of mountains (well, mountains in a UK sense) and can walk to a beach within 10 minutes from my front door. But, and for me at least, it is a significant but, it can be a harsh climate to live in, it doesn’t encourage and outdoor lifestyle (at least not the kind of outdoor lifestyle I’d like) and, some years, summer never really flickers in to life (which just makes the long wait for the next one seem even longer).
Much as I can see the attractions of the environment in which I currently live, I could pick from dozens of equally beautiful locations in southern France. If I want mountains, then I can choose between the Alps or the Pyrenees, both of which are more mountainous than anything we have available here in dear old Blighty. If I want coastline, then I can choose between the Mediterranean (if I can afford it!) or the Atlantic. There are plenty of places with beautiful rolling countryside and picturesque villages that could provide a convenient base from which mountains and ocean could be reached (even if only for the occasional day out). And it all comes wrapped in a climate that, while it will undoubtedly have its moments, it generally far more palatable than that of the northern half of the UK. Sounds good to me.
10. To make my wife (even) happier
I have a happy wife (which never ceases to amaze as she has me to contend with). She loves where we currently live and has put down roots here. While her employment situation is best described as ‘uncertain’ (she has done IT work on various short-term contracts for a number of years), she enjoys her work and likes the social interaction with her colleagues. She also has a hobby she loves (she rents a horse and is a keen rider) which gives her a further social circle to move in. So her question – and it is a perfectly reasonable one – is why would she want to risk giving up all these things she loves and knows for something unknown?
Despite her science background and technical IT skills, she is also a skilled artist but this is an aspect of her life that she has perhaps never been able to give the attention she would like. She has never been self-employed (and I think she finds the prospect a little daunting) but if she was to try and establish herself as a business, then it would be nice to think she could allow these dormant artistic skills to bubble to the surface. I’m not thinking here of the rather romantic ‘budding artist with studio room in SW France’ cliché – although that would be nice if it could be made to pay – but something where she could combine her excellent IT technical skills with her obvious flair for art and design. Anyway, risks, uncertainties, self-doubts and obstacles not withstanding, I honestly think that, if she gave it a chance, she might find running her own business infinitely more satisfying than turning the handle in someone else’s business. I believe she would – whether she thinks I’m bonkers or not – be happier. Oh, and if we did manage to release a little capital under (5) above and find that acre or two of land, we would have a nice home for that horse I could buy her :-)
So, my top ten ‘why’ reasons for wanting to relocate to France to be stacked up against the similar list of ‘why not’ items I posted here. I guess the question now is am I (and my family!) able to convince myself (themselves) that the positives on this list outweigh the negatives on the other list? My head hurts…. :-)
…. And so, for a little light relief, how about the alternative ‘why’ list which is a slightly more light-weight collection of things I’d look forward to in a new life in the south of France and which can be found here.
If you are also thinking about moving to France, what would be your top reason for doing so? And if you have already taken the plunge, what tipped the balance in the decision? Comments welcome….