Living in France - is it One Long Holiday?

By: Robin Dengate

Anyone who is considering upping sticks and moving abroad, has probably at least considered France as their new home. But what are the plusses and minusses?

The popular subjects which come up for discussion amongst the people I meet are generally: Lifestyle, food and wine, cost of living, health service, transport infrastructure and work.

So lets look at the fors and againsts:

Lifestyle

We all have our own ideal for a wished for lifestyle, but what is that appeals with regard to France? I would say it is the feeling one gets when living here that nothing matters too much if it's a bit late! (Except maybe your income tax payments). For example, many shops don't open until 9.30am - then they close again at mid-day! So, you set out at 11.50am after your laid back breakfast of coffee and croissants, and after you have finished reading your newspaper, to go get some supplies for your planned evening meal with your delightful new french neighbours - only to arrive at "les magasins" just as the shutters go down for the lunch break.

Never mind, you can hang around a bit, maybe play a game of Petanque or Boules with the locals, whilst sipping a cold beer fom "le bar" - the shops will soon be open again, won't they. The prompt ones maybe, but around our way the smaller village shops don't bother to open again until the kids come out of school at about 3.30pm. By this time you are so laid back that you've completely forgotten what you came out for.

But at least you met a useful guy while you were waiting, Monsieur Artisan, who says he will come round tomorrow, "pas de probleme" and fix your falling down wall, and clear out your blocked "fosse septique" (septic tank). Except of course, you don't see him for days, and the next time you do, it's outside the bar having "pastis" while you wait for the bloody shop to oen again, because you got up leat again. But he says he'll come tomorrow.

Food and Wine

We've already touched on this above briefly above, in so far as it is really insperable from "Lifestyle" in France. The first thing you notice is that the plonk is cheap. And not only is it cheaper than the UK for recognisable brands, but there are even cheaper substance on sale, that are still quite drinkable. In fact if you study the supemarket shelves in France, you will notice that the largest are is taken with "vin de table" often at around 75centimes a litre!

I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert, but some of this stuff ain't half bad. In fact one evening last summer, we had a couple of gusets staying in our Chambre d'Hote, who nexpectedly asked if could provide a meal We don't do this routinely, but agreed to rustle up something for them. Now, we are not "great" drinkers ourselves, and barely know our Bordeaux from our Bourgogne, but this particular evening all we had in the house was a couple of bottles of "Pays d'Ardeche" which cost less than a one and half Euros for a 1ltr bottle! We quickly decanted some to a carrafe and proudly served it up. Halfway through the meal, the guests call for more wine, "what is it" they ask, "it's very good." I told them it was Pays d'Ardeche, and hoped that sounded impressive enough and they that they hadn't sen it in the supermarket. Anyway they certainly liked it, and next time we went to the supermarket we picked up another 6 bottles.

As for food, personally I cannot really comment on whether French food is better than that of other countries, as I haven't travelled that much - but the French certainly seem to think so! What one does notice is that the French place a lot of importance on fresh food - you only have to take a look at their markets. Fresh produce abounds, from small stall holders with a couple of boxes of spuds (sorry, pommes de terre, or indeed, "potates" as they are known in the local patois) to magnifique spreads of all the fruit and veg, in all possible colours you could imagine. But, don't think that you will be buying cheap at the markets. Oh no, the french spen a large propertion of their household budget on food and you can see why when you see the market prices.

Some say it that, in comparison, your weekly shopping costs much more in France, but we soon learnt that if you buy what the French buy, and don't try to use your UK shopping list, then in fact, you should save considerably. (Appologies to readers from other than the UK).

As for eating out, I try not to recommend particular restaurants, as one never knows when the regular chef might be on his holidays and his mother has been propped up in the cuisine with her zimmer frame and slippers to cover for him - it has been known - really! But a quick tour around any reasonable centre will reveal a host of establishments offering pretty good fare, from around just 10 Euros a head upwards and, as with the wine, don't asume cheap means poor quality. Certainly for 15 euros you can eat a very good three course meal with a glass of wine.

Cost of living

Oops, think we just covered most of this, although arguments continue to rage over the level of utility bills which can vary considerably between areas, notably for your water supply. As for heating bills, it is said that a large majority of French houses (in rural France anyway) are heated using wood stoves fed with wood which doesn't appear on any invoices or busines accounts anywhere! Ask the locals and watch out for trees being felled, you won't need to look far!

Health service

Touchy subject this one in light of recent changes to French rules on state health cover. What I believe is not in doubt, is that France offers one of the best healthcare services in the world. However, what is also pretty obvious if one follows the press here, is that France can't afford it! As for comparing costs to the individual, it is pretty near impossible to make a comparison, as every ones case is different, with a diverse set of social security contribution calculation methods, for differing categories of individual. Then there is the optional "top up" private insurance which covers the differece between the amount paid by the state, and the actual cost of treatment or medication. These policies however, are nothing like conventional medical insurance, requiring no medical examination, and in fact being pretty reasonably priced. As with all insurance the catch is in knowing which level of cover to buy.

Transport Infrastructure.

Again, here I would say that France has much of the world and certainly the UK (where I hail from, in case you hadn't guessed) comletely beaten. The roads are first class and mainly empty. Fuel is still significantly cheaper than the UK (at time of writing March 2008). Car users only have to pay a "road licence fee" when they buy or change a car, not annually. And before enyone mentions the cost of autoroute tolls, they are not compulsory, are they? We only pay motorway tolls when we have along distance to cover ie when taking our holidays, and on the whole the non motorway major routes are so good

that one can still travel great distances with few, if any, delays and arrive at the planned time.

The rail links for most of the country are excellent, especially the TGV routes, and although I don't use them much, I believe that they pretty much run on time. Only buses come in for a bit of stick. Because if you happen to be in a rural location, as many French houses, or indeed, holiday properties are, there are no buses! If you see a bus shelter, don't bother to wait in it, unles you are prepared to wait for the "l'autobus de l'ecole" or school bus - which is the only time you are likely to see one!

Work / Jobs

Tricky one, this. The French employment situation is pretty poor really. So if you are thinking o coming to France to live and work - think hard and do your homework. There are jobs for skilled workers, particularly, I gather, in I.T. In fact I heard somewhere recently that if you have rally good computer skils you can get a job o the "Airbus" project in Toulouse, even if you don't speak French!

Speaking reasonable French is a must if you expect to get anywhere in the jobs market, it goes without saying, but in spite of the notoriously dense maze

of rules and beuracracy one has too wade through, there are many posiblities for non-French to set up in business on their own. Probably the most popular occupation for incomers is to run some sort of holiday accommodation, such as self catering cottages, or "gites" as they are known in France, wit Bed and Breakfast, or "Chambre d'Hotes", coming close behind.

Anyone with good language skills shouldn't have too much problem setting up some sort of advisory/translation type business, as there are plenty of non-French residents here that don't speak the lingo very well, if at all!

Finally, my advice is, if you are thinking of moving to France - and having done it myself rather on impulse - spend some time here looking at all the aspects first. Maybe take a couple of weeks at least on "research" holidays (vacations to you US guys!) or even better spend a couple of months by taking a long winter let somewhere. There are plenty of English speakers and ex-pats renting out cottages, appartements or even farmhouses who, will be only too glad to give you the benefit of their experiences at the same time.

Europe Destinations
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Europe Destinations