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We get asked this all the time. Mostly from folks that appear to be teetering on the brink of doing exactly what we did – leave the UK. We’re pumped for any info, bled dry of anecdotes and squeezed of every last drop of advice about ‘the French’.

So, just what is it about France, then? What makes two perfectly normal, hard-working parents with decent jobs, nice house and great social scene in the UK swap for a life in the sticks in a country that refuses to drag itself into the 21st century?

Exactly that. For those of us that still cling to the romantic notion that good manners, respect for elders and having the time to chat are still more important than keeping up with the Joneses, France fits the bill perfectly.

Here’s an example. Yesterday was a bugger. Daughter called at early o’clock in a bit of a panic. She’d had a call from their landlord asking them to be out of their house by 3:30pm, as new folks were moving in. Steve, her boyfriend took the call so there was no mistake. They’ve been moving stuff piecemeal for a week, having given notice on the place to move back with us for a while. The 31st was their date, and this worked out fine. All I had to do was create a bathroom from the bombsite that should be a bathroom in Chardonneret! No worries. I work well under pressure.

Then the call!

Could we have Bill (the spaniel, not Bill the grandad, you remember?) for a few hours whilst they got rid of stuff and cleaned through? What actually happened was that everyone was pressed into service, including Sylvain, one of Hannah & Steve’s friends – on his only day off, without so much as a cough! No problem, he wasn’t up to much anyway. It was a long, long day – hard work, lots of shifting of ‘stuff’ from there to here, to Bocé, where Steve’s parents live, and back again. It was mad.

At one point, in SuperU when Hannah’s card refused to work while buying essential cleaning products, the queue just waited patiently, chatting amongst themselves while she tried the cashpoint around the corner to no avail, then again while we called her mum to get the code for her card which I’d found in her purse. The card was out of date, but luckily I found some cash in her purse too. Not enough, but there was no problem calling one of the girls over to take back some stuff. The young guy on the till said it wasn’t a problem, when I apologised for holding everyone up. He wished us both ‘bonne journée’ with a smile, and off we went.

Witness the guy at the dechetterie (dump) who helped us unload the trailer with all the rubbish, with a smile and a bit of friendly banter. No problem, bonne journée, au revoir!

The end of the day came, and as we were shifting the last few bits and pieces from the patio to the gite they now call home for a while, the bell rang on the gate, and our friend Bernard walked in, smiling and carrying a basket of fresh champignons for us, along with a bunch of fresh parsley. He had one of his sons, Nicholas and his grandson with him. Kisses all round, smiles and appreciative noises over the quality of the mushrooms and herbs. Stunning.

Now, a few years ago, back in the UK, I’d have probably visibly sagged at the thought of having to deal with visitors after a day like that, in French too. Not so now, it was a real pleasure to see Bernard and Nicholas, and to have a chat about stuff. A neighbour’s dog, Hannah and Steve, the dole, French private healthcare. A bottle of wine was opened, duly tasted first of all by Bernard, as he’s French and knows about wine, see? Whereas I’m English and know bugger all! But that’s ok. I know my place.

Time for our visitors to leave, after explaining how to prepare the mushrooms, cook and serve them. Bernard shook my hand again as I closed the gates behind him, saying that the next time we pass on our bikes (he’s seen us), we have to stop for a drink! He’s right, it’s been ages since we’ve stopped by, and they really are just fantastic people, he and Mauricette.

Then Steve and Sylvain returned from Saumur – 22kms away, with pizza, french fries (not chips) and ice cream just to say ‘thanks’ to Syb, myself and Sylvain for helping he and Hannah through the day. So, we ate, drank a couple of beers and laughed at the day, in both French & English, around our kitchen table.

It’s strange at times, exasperating lots of the time, but it’s mostly wonderful living here, and if you’d have told me how my life would be in 2009, just a little less than five years ago I’d have laughed at you.

But now I know different. Now I know my place. It’s here. In France. Home.

Champignons & parsley

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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