I’ve just stumbled on an article entitled “Living in France: the English Trap” from the Telegraph in November 2007. The article is centred on a couple with 2 young daughters who bravely gave up a settled life-style in the UK to follow their dream. The article struck a chord with me and gave me another reason to be thankful for the luck we have had. It certainly reminded me of the excitement and fears I faced when moving abroad. Like many families that have tried to up sticks the family in question were faced with many difficulties; buying a house that needed lots of work, struggling to cope with the language, difficulty in finding work especially once the money begins to run out, children bored in their new ultra-quiet neighbourhoods. They decided to return for good on a visit back home to England. It was the looks on the children’s faces that made up the mum’s mind. Dad travelled back separately but on talking, it was what both parents really wanted. It was a brave decision too! I congratulate them for it and hope that all has worked out fine since.
When leaving the UK they must have gone through that same mixture of emotions that we have all experienced: the thrill and the excitement of doing something different on a permanent basis; the anxiety of not knowing the future and what they will have to face. We can only guess at the growing despondency as time passed by with no-one willing to make the first comment fearing to destroy the other’s dream.
In our small village in South-West France where we bought a holiday home, there have been a number of Brits that have followed us and a number have since left and gone back. However I hope that the majority are able to see the positive side of their adventure. It seems that throughout history this adventurous spirit has been at the forefront of our national identity. Although not all adventures succeed but none would if we stayed put!
How many of us have faced extended anxiety when moving abroad?
Moving to France for the first time was hard for me too and was very different from my first experience of working overseas. That time I had swapped jobs with an Australian so no matter what I was coming home after a year. The language was similar to ours too! It was a special year working with some great people and having a lot of fun. But… I was always going to be coming home. Paris was different!
I had got a job in an international school and had sold my house in Britain at what was close to the height of the boom. I found myself back on probation in my job even after teaching for 15 years. I had a contract for a year which would be made permanent if they thought I deserved to stay. The first year or so I felt under pressure and ill at ease even though I had a nice group of young friends whom I’d met on my holidays mainly in Normandy. I’d built up this group over the course of 5 years before the big move. In that first year I joined a top field hockey club and so had put up another social distraction from work. But … it was still difficult. Overall I was immersed in French with the occasional break out with my colleagues from work or a swift few days back home in Britain. It was that combination I think that got me through those first couple of years.
I then met my wife but just before we had started going out she had signed a contract for a move to Helsinki in Finland. It was the third time I’d met her that she dropped this bombshell. I cannot repeat what went through my mind! But luckily all that escaped from my mouth was an invitation to dinner.
In spite of quickly feeling right for each other she still went to Helsinki and I stayed in Paris. We both taught in our respective schools and I continued playing my hockey. We got through those two years and I suppose the rest is history. So after our marriage we left Europe and worked in Singapore for 12 years so I have to say that France didn’t hold us. Until we returned to Europe I guess we can’t say we ever settled here. However it was our job in Singapore and her savings from her 2 years tax free stay in Helsinki that put us in a position to buy our first property in France.
At the end of the day those I’ve mentioned up to now have made huge sacrifices. As it has turned out, our moves have been far more mercenary if that is a good word. We went to places to work. Subsequent moves after Paris have been taken more with a pinch of salt. We have moved solely because of work. That has made our integration on our return to Europe, first into Switzerland and then just across the border in France when we purchased our apartment, that much easier. Schooling for our son was in English as he went to the international school where we taught so that was less of a problem. And…. we had the normal flow of cash to fund building and alterations to the cottage we bought in the South West of France what seems like many years ago.
For us now, every day is something special – being ‘les étrangères’, talking to the locals in French is quite simply an adventure! We are settled. I’ve retired or given up work at least. The final step in this ‘aventure’ will happen when Denise, my wife, finally decides to give up her full-time job and we move permanently to our cottage. Until then lots will say we are only playing at the dream and not living it!