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An insider's guide to the top ten best things about living in France
Incredible as it seems to me, I have lived in France now for over three years, and although I know that I will always be English, this place feels like my home now. That's not to say that I dislike England, or that there will not always be a corner of my heart that loves the land of my birth, but I have no plans to return to living there. Why not? I just love living in France, that's why.
Reflecting on the reasons why, exactly, I love being here so much, is an interesting exercise, and after much deliberation I have come up with the following list of ten... although absolutely the most difficult thing about the process has been to confine myself to this number as there are many, many more reasons besides. But ten it has to be, and so, as they say, in no particular order, here they are.
I know it's a bit of a cliché, but I must admit, I love the weather here in France (Weather in France). It's true, I live right down in the south of the country, not far from the border with Spain and Andorra, so it's not really surprising that the weather is pretty good. However almost anywhere in France has better weather on the whole than the UK, with warmer, sunnier summers, milder winters (especially on the west coast) and clearer, bluer skies!
Even when it is cold, and it can get very cold in winter in the Languedoc (Languedoc-Roussillon Property Guide) or the Alps (Rhône-Alpes Property Guide) and even Provence (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Property Guide), the seemingly ever present sunshine stops those winter blues that used to overcome me in the UK, when I felt as though the unremitting grey of winter would last for ever. It is also a never ending source of delight to me that I can almost choose the weather that I want to experience on any given day, just by jumping into my car and driving an hour and a half up or down the road. In this length of time I can get to the snowy slopes of the Pyrénées, or access the almost guaranteed sunshine and warmth of the Mediterranean coast.
Another joy that comes from the better weather here is that of the outdoor lifestyle that we live in France. For much of the year we are able to live, largely outside, dining under the shade of a pergola in the garden, or sipping sundowners on the terrace at the back of the house that soaks up the very last rays of sunshine as the sun turns red and sinks down behind the hills.
Ah... dining outdoors and sipping chilled wine... however much of a glutton this makes me sound, it definitely brings me to another of the wonderful pleasures of living in France... the food and wine. You would have top be a saint not to indulge, at least in moderation. In the UK, I used to have to pay a minimum of five or six pounds to obtain a bottle of anything drinkable from the shelves of the local off licence, whereas here in France I can pick up a litre of something perfectly acceptable for under a Euro. There are so many different wines to try, and you can't help but learn a little about the wine making process along the way as you can visit the vineyards and taste the wines for yourself, discover the different grape varieties and see how the different terrains and climates affect the finished wine. (French properties with vineyards.)
Then there is the food. When I first came to France, I must admit I thought that the food was overrated. As a vegetarian (almost), I also found it difficult to dine out, with so many restaurants offering little choice for the non meat eaters amongst us (most of the French seem to think that not eating meat is akin to heresy!). It also seemed that, certainly in this area, cassoulet is really the only option! Now, however, I have learned to appreciate the superb quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables and to delight in the wonderful cheeses (and learned not to keep these in the fridge which kills the flavour, not to mention the smell). I have learned to accept that fruits and vegetables are only found in the shops when they are in season, which ensures that they are at their flavourful and nutritious best, and they are usually locally grown to boot. I have learned to cook from scratch rather than relying on ready made sauces and meals, with the result that... well, I have learned to cook and to love it too! (Buying and cooking French food.)
As for dining out... well, France is, admittedly, somewhat behind the UK when it comes to catering for vegetarians, but slowly and surely it is changing. More and more restaurants are opening up to offer alternative cuisines too, so traditional French fare is no longer all that can be found, especially in the bigger towns and cities. Whilst none of my family is keen to sample frogs' legs, I think our tastes have changed too over the last three years, so perhaps we are becoming more French after all!
One thing you notice about France, no matter where you are living, is that the landscapes are huge. Even the sky seems to go on forever, and the sense of space is fantastic. I lived in the country in the UK, and had wonderful open views across farmland from my house, but it never felt as immense as the countryside of France. The night skies too, are breathtaking. Unless you are in a city, there is so little light pollution that the stars shine bright and clear. Our family can frequently be found, on those heady summer nights, lying flat out on sun loungers in the garden, gazing at the sky. We can tell a planet from a star, spot a satellite as it glides across the heavens, and if we stare for long enough, there will always be a shooting star to wish upon.
Something else that I love about living in France is the people that you meet here. Now of course, this is a double edged sword, as I have left behind some dearly loved family and friends in England, but since moving here I have met so many different people, some of whom would never have entered into my English life. From an elderly (very!) French couple whom we can barely understand when they speak, yet who have taught us to find wild asparagus in spring-time and to know which mushrooms you can eat and which might kill you... and from whom we have also learned immeasurable amounts about the area we live in, through to chateaux dwelling counts and viscounts from some of the oldest noble families in France, our social circle has expanded beyond belief. We now count among our friends French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Irish, Welsh, Belgian and Italian people... and those are just the nationalities that first come to mind!
The French language ranks both as one of the worst things about living in France, and also, surprisingly, one of the best (Learning French). The worst, because it makes life so difficult, and it can be frustrating when you want to chat, and you simply don't have the words to express your feelings. Filling in official forms can be nightmare, and our lack of expertise in the French language has certainly cost us money on occasion when we have misunderstood that a payment must be made NOW, not next week! (Learning to speak French - Misadventures in a Foreign Tongue.)
The language is, however, an unexpected boon too. When we do get it right there is such a sense of achievement, and it feels good to know that even as we get older we can still acquire new skills and knowledge, albeit more slowly than in our youth. Even more importantly, the children (although as well established teenagers now of sixteen and fifteen they are hardly children any more) have now gained a second language, an accomplishment still rare in young English people. Their fluency astonishes me still, and I will never cease to envy the effortless way they change from one language to another as they chat to their different friends.
You do not have to spend long in France to become aware of the reasons that this land inspired so many great artists. From Van Gogh to Matisse, from Toulouse Lautrec to Monet, the landscapes, colours and quality of light found in France have been a never ending source of inspiration. Every possible landscape can be found here, with snowy mountains, misty valleys, fields of sunflowers and glossy vineyards and mysterious dark forests. Then there are crashing Atlantic waves, granite cliffs, pretty harbours with their colourful fishing fleets, majestic chateaux and quaint, chocolate box villages. Whatever the views you love you can find them in France. It makes me wish I could paint...
France is definitely a sportsman's paradise... but it goes beyond that. It is a country where sport is a way of life, where children and people of all ages are actively encouraged to get off their backsides and be... well... active! It helps, of course, that the climate is generally better, as it is so much more appealing to go swimming, sailing, climbing or even golfing when the sun is shining. The diversity of the landscapes offers so much in the way of different sporting opportunities too, as you have the opportunity to go skiing, mountaineering, dog sledding, and more in the mountainous regions. Try surfing on the wild west coast, go scuba diving or sailing on the calm, warm Mediterranean, and indulge in any number of different activities on all manner of terrain in between these extremes! This emphasis on sport and healthy activity has a great benefit too, as it seems that France is the place to be if you want to live a long, healthy life. I have lost count of the number of seemingly octogenarian gentlemen who zoom along the roads and lanes on their cycles every day of the week, Lycra clad and fresh as daisies! (Sport in France.)
One thing I really do appreciate in France is that there is so much less of a threatening youth culture. In Britain, it was always an uncomfortable experience walking past a group of youths, but in France, certainly outside of the poorer areas of the cities, that is not the case. So far it appears that in France, respect is still a word that has some meaning for young people, and I can only hope that this continues! The culture of respect begins in the schools, where students still rise to their feet when a teacher enters the room, and where talking in lessons is considered unacceptable. Having taught in the UK, I can only say that I am glad my children are now at school in France. It is also good to know that my children are growing up in a culture that will not lead them to set out to get as drunk as possible every Friday night. (French Education System - Schools in France.)
It has taken me a while to get used to the etiquette of kissing (A French Kiss) and to get right the timing of my "Bonjours" and "Bonsoirs", but now I find it delightful to live in a society where people are so polite to each other all of the time. I love to see my son and daughter go to school and greet their friends with kisses and handshakes, it seems so civilised compared with the curt nods they used to exchange with friends in the UK. As for me... I went to a party in the summer where the host introduced me to a charming young man who actually kissed my hand... now that's what I call civilised!
Before I am accused of living in a false paradise, I do accept that there is crime in France. There are certain parts of the cities and large towns that have their share of problems, I know, but it is also true that here in the country there is very little crime compared with in a similar place in England. Here I can leave my doors unlocked, my keys in my car and my handbag in the restaurant to have it returned later, intact, inclusive of cash, credit cards and mobile phone! Now, whilst I do not advocate this careless behaviour of mine, it is a fact that if you are as absent minded about the security of your belongings as I can be, you are less likely to suffer for it here than in England.
That's it then, my top ten... but its an arbitrary choice, really, as I could have said that I love the chateaux and the history of this ancient land, or praised the right to roam over fence-free kilometres of countryside that mean that as a walker (Finding property in the best walking areas of France) or horse rider you can go forever without touching tarmac or seeing traffic, or even eulogised over the markets and the colourful Christmas traditions (Christmas in France). I might have mentioned the excellent health service (Health care in France), the TGV trains that actually run on time, or perhaps commented on the lack of an appearance driven culture. There is so much to like about living in France...
As a final point of interest, during the course of writing this, I have asked many people living here what their top ten would include, and they all come up with different answers, proving, I believe that France can be all things to all people.
Additional articles which may be of interest:
Life in France
Living in France
Jobs in France
Brits in France
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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