When Peter Mayle spent his famous Year in Provence he seemed to get lots done, have a great time, and integrate in the community in just a few short months.
Quite an achievement, but a question that crops up quite often when chatting to people who are thinking about moving to France, or those who have arrived recently, is ‘How long does it really take to adjust to living in France’?
There is no answer of course, except perhaps ‘Much longer than you would think…’ or ‘Almost certainly longer than Peter Mayle took’.
Over the years I’ve come to the general impression that it takes most people years rather than weeks and months, and perhaps three years would be about average. But why so long? And is there a way to speed things up a bit?
Year 1: entering the twilight zone
The general pattern is that people often spend the first year or so just sorting out building works (getting quotes, accepting quotes and waiting for someone to turn up…), starting a business or working out how to earn money, and generally getting used to the French way of doing things. You will probably be too busy to get stressed about things!
Typically lots of family come visiting during the first year as well, which takes up lots of time and slows down the process of adjusting.
Year two: getting down to business
Year two is perhaps time to start learning French properly and to start finding customers for your business. Both are as hard as each other! It doesn’t matter whether you are an architect or a builder, a gite owner or an accountant, both French language skills and business skills are going to be useful.
Probably the majority of people that we know of who have ‘come and gone’ over the years have left during their second year – having been too busy to think about it in year 1, they then found things too difficult in France (money problems, missing family etc) in year two.
Year Three: back to reality
Assuming you have staggered through these first two ‘unusual’ years and you have some sort of income things should now start to become more routine. Family and friends still come over from the UK but not constantly, and your business should be generating some kind of income.
Now is a good time to set aside the occasional lunchtime in your favourite restaurant to remind yourself why you came to France in the first place!
Note: although many expats arrive in France committed to ‘only speaking to French people’ and avoiding expat communities like the plague, experience shows that very few stick to this ‘ideal’, for lots of different reasons. Typically this will happen by year 3…!
Speeding things up a bit
Most of the people we know had to renovate a property, and also need to scrape together a living for themselves, which are both time-consuming and hard work. But of course many people who move to France are already retired and receiving a pension, and buy properties that don’t need lots of work doing to them.
In these circumstances it would be perfectly plausible to move here and be well installed in a couple of months. You can then slowly integrate in the local French community as language skills and enthusiasm allow.
Likewise buying an existing business (eg gites) or having one you can bring with you (eg working online for your current employer) will make the move dramatically easier and quicker.
Is is also very possible that I’m just very slow to adapt! If you settled in, renovated a property and started a successful business in three months I’d love to hear about it, and perhaps learn where we went wrong!