This week marks the 11th aniversary of leaving our jobs and lives in the UK and catching the slow boat to France to start a new life*.
* It was literally a slow boat, since we took the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao which took about two days to deposit us in northern Spain. I’m not sure why we took that route because the drive from Bilbao to here took pretty much as long as the drive from the cross channel ferry ports to here and would have avoided the long ferry journey but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I seem to remember the ferry company brochure talked about watching the whales and dolphins following the boat which made it sound like a romantic start to a new life, a bit like those taking the Titanic to America 100 years ago perhaps, but in reality it was far too cold to stand on deck looking at anything and it turned out Mrs B didn’t much fancy the idea of me holding her dangling over the prow of the ship ‘Titanic style’. I forget why.
Anyway it seems like only yesterday that we arrived, as long as I avoid looking in the mirror, and things have worked out pretty well on the whole but what’s most interesting is the difference between what we thought our lives would be like in France and what they are really like.
Since I still get asked quite often about ‘What is it like to live in France’ and ‘Is it possible to make a living in France’ I thought I’d share a few comments about the realities…
Our great plans for self-sufficiency are probably our biggest failure. We know people who do grow most of their own fruit and vegetables so it is certainly possible, but frankly our own efforts have been dismal and nowadays if I remember to pick some blackberies in the autumn its a major achievement.
Mrs B prefers growing flowers and plants and I prefer to avoid getting my hands dirty which could be part of the problem.
Meanwhile the two activities that occupy my life the most – websites (work) and cycling (pleasure) – were both unthought of when we set off.
Cycling was motivated initially by watching the great mountain challenges in the Tour de France, although if I had realised that I was actually watching a bunch of drug-addled competitors competing to see who could inject the most EPO in their bloodstream I might have been less impressed.
The story of how we got started in websites is more interesting. On my last day at work in London I stopped in Paddington station on the way home to buy a magazine to read on the ferry journey to get here, and since it seemed we would need a website for our gites I bought one called something like ‘Make your First Website’.
After getting here the magazine sat forgotten for a couple of years in the bottom of a drawer as I got on with renovation projects, then was retrieved and was very useful in helping me set up our very first, and extremely poor quality, website for the gites.
I enjoyed myself so much that I started another one about the local area – and in no time at all found that I was spending all my time working on websites, and that it was even possible to make a small amount of money from it.
I won’t go so far as to say ‘great oaks from little acorns grow’ – after all, Facebook was invented, spread across the whole world, and sold for 100 billion dollars in the time it took me to come up with a couple of small improvements to France This Way, and the billion dollar buyout offers are still, to be honest, quite infrequent.
But it does help pay the bills, I understand it’s actually quite useful to the occasional person visiting France, and it means we can go off travelling around France quite often, so I’m happy enough. Although a billion dollars would make me happier.
Point of all this preamble is simply that people often ask me whether their plan to do this or that will be successful enough to let them move to France and make a living.
My answer is that (a) lots of people out here are doing things they never thought about before getting here and (b) those who succeed are working hard. So with flexibility in what you do and a lot of enthusiasm and hard work, yes I think it is still possible to move to France and do OK. But if you are looking for an easy life and don’t have lots of money it will be a bit more challenging.
Of course we can’t help wondering from time to time whether life would have turned out better for us if we had stayed in the UK. More importantly have our daughters lost out by spending their childhood in France instead of the UK? Well we can never know which choice would have been better or worse, but I think things would have just been different rather than better or worse, so no great regrets there.
And do I ever miss the commute into London and the cut and thrust of working in an investment bank? Er, no, not for one single second of the last 11 years have I wished I was still doing that, and I worked in banking in the days before it became the least loved industry on the planet…