How quickly times can change! Until two or three years ago hardly a month passed without a new family arriving in France from the UK. Many pensioners have also moved here, for the weather, the health system, and the quality of life. Although the rate of arrivals has slowed during the last couple of years it has still taken place to some extent.
The local cafes and markets are often bustling with expats, and ‘English language night’ in the cinema is usually be a big hit. Certain restaurants are largely sustained, especially outside the summer months, by the expat spending.
But now, everyone has a tale of woe relating to collapsing pension funds, the poor exchange rate, or lack of business. People who never expected to be short of money find they are having to make cutbacks. Drinking Blue Nun instead of Bordeaux, for example.
The expat economy is also complicated because it is often interlinked – with British expat builders working for British expat pensioners for example, so the knock on effect of one change is hard to foresee. This little independent ‘micro-economy’ has a life of its own, almost outside the main French economy.
The effect on local restaurants, and businesses such as estate agents and builders is also likely to be significant. Our town had one estate agent when we arrived (seven years ago) and now has four – two of them opened in the last 12 months. It seems very unlikley that more than two will be here in a year or two. (The question as to why people thought it a good idea to open so many estate agents when the boom had already passed is less clear…)
But who needs doom and gloom at Christmas? Let’s look on the bright side! Us expats are a privileged (if often poor) bunch, and before we all rush to abandon our home to spiders and future bargain hunters, I would at the very least wait a few months until the current panic is over and things have settled down. Fingers crossed.
Usually at this point I’d like to offer a few useful suggestions – but these are not easy to come by at the moment. Here’s a couple to consider:
- Don’t panic or make hasty decisions you’ll regret later – the pound might well rise again when the problems in Europe become clearer. Of course, it might not. As they will soon say say in the financial small print ‘You should remember that the value of your investment can fall as well as fall further and you should be prepared to almost certainly lose your investment’.
- You are going to be staying in a lot more, so start giving more thought to better roof insulation in your house, it can make a dramatic difference to heating costs – there’s nothing worse than being broke AND cold.
- Look on the bright side – Mr Madoff hasn’t just lost a billion dollars of your money. (If he has, please get in touch, I’ve got a great business opportunity for someone very rich and very gullible).
- Don’t argue with your family over Christmas – you might want to borrow money off them soon…
- Eat soup. Mrs B produces a startling array of soups that look like Florida swamp water and can doubtless send you a recipe.
- And for readers outside France – save all the money you can, buy no Christmas presents, steal from your friends, do anything and everything so that you can book one of our gites next summer…certain things are still worth the money!
Footnote: it seems that a couple of newspapers have run stories about expat Brits returning to the UK or tightening their belts so they don’t need to:
The Guardian have ‘Britons who fled in search of French idyll feel the pain of the pound’s fall‘ – a reasonable headline and article. The Times are a disappointment with a headline more befitting of the tabloid press – ‘Au Revoir as hard-up Brits begin exodus from France – A retreat from the French idyll is under way as a plunging pound sends Britons dashing back across the Channel‘. Wow, the big problems only started a few weeks ago and already we have EXODUS and DASHING BACK? That was quick! I don’t know anyone who is part of this exodus / dashing back myself but I suppose it must be true if it’s in the papers.
The Telegraph also jump on the bandwagon with a more balanced article at Why the British are saying au revoir to life in France – although they also insist on visiting Eymet, a Dordogne town that has a reputation for its high number of English. Is it really known as Dordogneshire or Little England by anyone, except disparagingly by the UK press? I never heard anyone here use the expression, and when I lived in the UK I never tried to book a holiday in Dordogneshire or Little England…did you?
The article does at least, I think, mention the real reason for the ‘exodus’ – most returners being “people who never really intended to stick it out” (or those without a coherent financial plan to enable them to stay). And it has a great quote from Peter Mayle: “I’d rather be poor in France than rich in England.”