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The trials and tribulations of moving to rural France
Moving to rural France is not all rosé and cheese. Photo: Philippe Rouzet/Flickr

The trials and tribulations of moving to rural France

The Local · 25 May 2016, 14:56

Published: 25 May 2016 14:56 GMT+02:00
Updated: 25 May 2016 14:56 GMT+02:00

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Life in la France profonde does not always mean sitting back and sipping a glass of rosé wine in the garden on a warm summer's evening.

For many foreigners, and in particular women, the move to rural France can hold a whole set of trials and tribulations, many of which can come as a surprise.

It can be difficult to make friends with the locals

Making friends with the locals in a new country is always difficult and it's no different in France. The theory is the French broadly make their friends for life before leaving school or at university so don't necessarily feel the need to make new friends afterwards.

And the problem is that while foreigners are more than keen to throw themselves into new friendships with the locals, it can backfire.

"Don’t be too friendly too quickly. French people can be very suspicious of you so it’s not a good idea to really throw yourself in," British author and columnist Samantha Brick has told The Local.

"The French need to warm up to you. You are really talking about being here for a decade before you get a real friendship with them."

Some women who have moved to rural France, who have perhaps misunderstood the cultural differences, claim local women are less than friendly towards them.

One reader described how "French women seemed at best uninterested in me", while "hostile", "jealous" and "competitive" are descriptions which have been recurring.

British journalist Jenny Rees, who spent many years living in France, suggested that the reason for this was that French women are still expected to abide by conventions.

It is far rarer for women to dress differently or behave in any way against "the norm", so new women on their turf, who the likelihood is will be a little different, are automatically viewed as a threat.

Some foreigners say French woman may not be the most welcoming to newcomers. Photo: Miguel Pires da Rosa/ Flickr

This rings truer than ever in rural parts of France, where there is even less exposure to anything that goes against the French model and expectations.

Although, times have changed in the past few decades in French attitudes to women, at least according to one woman in Normandy who spoke to The Local. She moved there as a single-mother in the 1970s with her very young son, and joked that she repeatedly had to convince the people in the village that she wasn’t a prostitute. 

Lack of familial support

Carrie Frais, co-founder of website MumAbroad, said one of the biggest challenges about moving abroad was "without a doubt, not having family support".

This is particularly highlighted in France, where the family is so central to the culture. Grandparents more often than not are heavily involved in the raising of children. In this respect, being apart from your own family immediately excludes you from this support network.

Expat mums can suffer the most from this, particularly when they have moved for their husband's job. They see their children going off to school, picking up French in a flash and having no problem making friends, while they are left at their beautiful home all day with nothing to do and no support.

Living in Paris, can you earn you a steady stream of family visitors from home, thanks to the transport links, but living in rural France, far from any airport or TGV train station, means it's harder to entice friends and family.

SEE ALSO: La France profonde: rural idyll or backwater hell?

(Photo: Brian Smithson/Flickr)


This is a big one. More so because people find it hard to admit. Many expat wives and girlfriends moved to France because their partner landed a job. If it's in an international city like Paris then being alone while the husband works might not be too daunting, but in rural France, where you are more isolated, it's a different matter.

American expat blogger Diane, author of Oui in France now lives in a small town in the Loire Valley with her French husband.

She told The Local that after the initially very exciting discovery period of finding a new home is over, there can come a lull.

"When you feel like you don't have anyone to talk to beyond acquaintances, despite your best efforts to make friends, the loneliness can really become a problem," she said.

However, by no means does she suggest that this is something that cannot be overcome. She recommends taking advantage of the internet.

"When you live in a small town where there aren't many foreigners, meeting friends abroad via the internet is a godsend," she said.

Loneliness is inevitable but can be overcome. Photo: Craig Cloutier/ Flickr

Two British women who lived in a small town in the Deux-Sèvres département of western France identified these problems and set up the successful LIFT group, a Facebook platform for expat women to connect and share advice.

Facebook groups like these can prove to be very useful for meeting like-minded people, whereas you may not have such luck at the beginning with the female French community.

As Frain said, women “like to help other women out”.

French bureaucracy and administrative costs

Shirley Wrigglesworth, who works for ICW (The International Women's club of Provence), says a lack of research is a commonly recurring problem for expat women in France.

France is a country known for its complicated bureaucracy and conveyance system, so administrative hiccups seem inevitable. As Rees pointed out, the French Government differs from the British in its interference with every area of the French life.

French admin is notoriously complicated. Photo: Isaac Bowen/ Flickr

“The French are used to that, and either do what they are told in order to have a quiet life, or try to get round rules and regulations”, but for expats, this can be one of the most frustrating factors about life in France.

This problem is heightened in more rural parts of the country. Unlike in Paris or larger cites, it is unlikely that there will be English-speaking services and even proficient French speakers will struggle getting to grips with the ins and outs of all the paperwork.

Exorbitant costs in renovating property

A number of expats report to have taken on a little more than they expected in "the little works to be done" on their new 'dream' properties.

One woman described her recent move to Aquitaine in the south-western region of the Dordogne.

She saw this move, like so many others do, as a fresh start and an exciting renovation project on a beautiful 17th century farmhouse. However, the house had been left in a far more dilapidated state that had it had appeared on the surface. The “appalling condition” that the couple found the house in left this particular woman wondering “do they have such a thing as property mis-description in France?”

The woman's partner ended up parting with “all his inheritance” to begin to rectify some of the “serious problems and defects” that they had unknowingly taken on himself, while she has been left feeling helpless.

Story continues below…

'A few little touches up' may involve a little more work and money than you were expecting. Photo: Sheila Scarborough/ Flickr

Sadly, a case of this nature is not exceptional, with numerous reports of accumulating exorbitant costs in renovating properties, which are harder to negotiate in a foreign language. 

Young female students are often vulnerable targets for greedy landlords when renting, too.

One woman spent six months in a small town in Provence for part of her studies and told The Local of how “the landlord falsely accused [her and her female housemates] of having left windows open and took pictures when we returned home for Christmas”, which he then used as ‘evidence’ enough to refuse to return the deposit”.

“He completely took advantage of the fact that we were young, female and not entirely comfortable in our French language skills, so he knew we wouldn’t pursue any consequences," one of them said.

So, is the move worth it?

According to blogger Diane and many others, yes it absolutely is. 

But don't expect it to be easy. The parting advice from Rees to anyone who thinks France is easy, or is going to welcome you, is simply to think again.

Learning the language is integral to success. That much cannot be underestimated. Making friends is of course possible, but it can take time. Most say the best way is through your children's schooling. 

The Dordogne is a popular location for expats, and for good reason. Photo: ataelw/ Flickr

But overcoming the challenges and appreciating all the wonderful things that life in France will offer you will eventually become worth it. Few other countries have preserved their heritage, culture, architecture and immaculate countryside in quite the same way as the French.

You will soon learn to take certain 'setbacks' with a pinch of salt and you can begin to enjoy life in the glorious country.

Bon courage. 

by Hattie Ditton

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