We left France – and why.
We left France after almost 25 years there. Why ?
The truth is that a vastly higher percentage of expats want to return home, but they don’t say so out loud because it is sometimes viewed as a kind of failure. It’s like admitting you couldn’t do it, couldn’t make it work … and none of us like to admit that.
The crunch came two years ago when I had done some voluntary work in an old folks’ home. I looked around at all the old biddies, bless them, and thought “if I have to grow old, if I have to move in to a place like this – let it be at home, among my own people”.
I was surprised at myself when I didn’t settle well in France. I had been born and raised as an expat (Africa, Belize, Spain) and my French was fluent. So you’d have thought I’d have settled quickly enough. I am a self-confident, chatty, chummy sort of person, I make friends easily; I am always willing to give it a go, whatever it is. But I just couldn’t make any friendships other than superficial ones.
The reasons we have come home are multiple. The reasons we stayed were multiple too.
Why we should have settled:
1)My French was fluent. 2)The children got on well at school and made a lot of friends. 3) France, after all, is very like England, so there is no culture shock to have to deal with. It is not as though we had moved to Bangladesh! 4) France is a comfortable country – good health care, good roads, good shops and so on. 5) It is a country loaded with history so there are masses of places to visit and things to see. 6) I am an up-front kind of person, self-confident, chummy. 7) France is not far from home – family and friends came out regularly, and we went home regularly.
So where was the problem ?
Why we didn’t settle:
- During our early years in France we were put through, by the French red tape system, a lot of trauma. Suffice to say it was dreadful – see link: http://turquoisemoon.co.uk/blog/it-happened-like-this-an-english-family-move-to-france-part-6-2/ It was hugely stressful, very French, and it left an extremely bad taste in my mouth. I remember commenting to somebody that it was like a discoloured picture – France was forever discoloured for me. After all, if you get bitten by a dog, you tend to remain afraid of dogs, don’t you? So that was one reason.
2) My husband just couldn’t learn French. Socialising with French friends was an uphill grind as they got bored trying to understand him, and he got frustrated trying to be understood. There were many MANY occasions where he was totally ignored simply because it was easier to speak to me. Ironically, had I not been good at French we’d have bumbled along together.
3) The French in the Charente Martime are “closed” people – even other French say so. There was no possibility of becoming anything other than superficial friends with them. Moreover, they had been born in the same village they lived in and would one day be buried there too. Nobody knew anything about anywhere and they thought the entire world revolved around France. You know, with three small children I stood at school gates for many years, but in all that time not one French woman made the slightest attempt to befriend me, and if I tried to befriend her – well, nothing happened. In those first years in France we invited people round regularly, and for every ten couples we invited to us, we’d receive perhaps one invitation back. They just don’t seem to do it.
Why we stayed:
Like a lot of British who buy in France, we bought what is basically a white elephant – a huge property that needed a lot of work. We tried to sell it several times but were stuck with it.
Our children were at school and had made friends. They had settled.
My husband and I each ran our own businesses, and were doing well. It seemed crazy to shut up shop and start again when finances were so good
After the lonely years when I was working and raising the children (and I was terribly lonely) we were able to join an expat group, mostly British. By this time we had been in France 17 or 18 years, a lot of British had moved in to the area, like them we were retired. The group we joined were a massive bonus in our lives – indeed, changed everything – and for a while we thought perhaps we’d be able to settle at last …
But no. The bottom line is that is was just not home, and was never going to be. When my mother-in-law died and left us some money, we didn’t consider anything else. Within four weeks, we had gone.
What I love about being home:
First and foremost, it is home. No more, no less. The local roads (Sussex) are roads that my husband has travelled all his life. I always kept in touch with UK chums, and they live nearby. Sussex people are so friendly and helpful and I feel at home.
I really enjoy going back to France now. We no longer live there, we are tourists. We love France – but as tourists.
I love Sussex pubs, Boots the Chemist, good service in Waitrose and Tesco’s. I love all the charity shops ! I love Christmas here, so much more cosy than in France. I love the casual repartee between me and other women as I do my shopping or look at plants or visit stately homes. I love the pretty villages devoid of closed shutters. I love the lateral thinking the British have, and their humour. But most of all I love being home.