Has anyone been watching ‘Little England’, the TV programme about being an expat in the Dordogne? It’s quite interesting as a reminder that we all have very different ‘expat experiences’ – and that for most people there is more to being an expat than integrating in the community.
The first thing that is clear, both from our own lives and people we know and from those in the programme, is that the ‘expat experience’ is not usually the same as the ‘local experience’. I can’t think of a single expat that we know that leads a life in France that is very similar to the lives led by the locals.
I suspect that ‘integration with the community’, which perhaps is what non-expats (or potential expats) see as the goal of moving to rural France, barely exists for many expats and only on a quite superficial level for the rest of us (except perhaps children, who because of school can find it easier to integrate, and those who marry French partners).
Of course, many expats get involved with the community at different levels – chatting to French friends in the market, becoming a member of the local council or school committee perhaps, occasionally having French neighbours over to dinner or helping to organise village fetes…but only rarely does that seem to result in an expat living in all respects as the locals do.
This isn’t just an English thing. The same certainly applies to Dutch people, and even Parisians, who move to this area of France. There is always a distance between them and the local community, and people from similar backgrounds and of similar origins tend naturally to group together.
When we first arrived I would have probably said that being part of an ‘expat community’ rather than the ‘local community’ was a BAD THING, and to some extent it probably has its downside, diminishing the French experience.
But I wonder if the ‘French experience’ really exists for most expats? Rather, I think that expats have a completely different experience, neither French nor English.
Take another look at the people in the Little England programme. Most of them seem to be enjoying themselves perfectly happily as part of the English community. Is there a problem with expats creating their own enclave in France, having a good time and starting businesses that target other expats? Playing golf with other expats? Or buying up large parts of Dordogne villages?
Given the amount of doom and gloom in the world, I certainly got the impression that most of the expats on the programme were happier than most, had plenty of friends, and are living where they want to live and doing what they want to do.
Does it do any harm to a French community to have groups of English people hanging about, spending money in the shops, helping to keep restaurants busy in the quiet season or bringing new life to derelict properties? I wouldn’t have thought so, and I doubt if many would think it actually threatens the original French community.
The reason I talk about all this is to give food for thought to those people who are considering moving to France to live. While it is certainly possible to come to France, learn the language and become an enthusiastic member of the local community, perhaps made easier by finding a part of rural France where no expat has been before, this is not (as far as I know) the ‘normal’ expat experience.
Neither experience is better or worse, but the two are very different, and it is important to understand what you are looking for when you decide to settle here in France. It’s for you to decide!