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Ten things I wish I'd known before I moved to rural France

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Ten things I wish I'd known before I moved to rural France
Photo: Vincent Brassinne/Flickr
13:41 CET+01:00
Jonathan Miller, journalist and town councillor in south western France, lays out the ten things he wishes he had been told before he took a one-way trip to rural France.
1. How to speak "local" French
It would have been useful to have been able to communicate with the locals. Assume that whatever you learned in school will be useless when you encounter the local argot. In the intimacy of a village, humiliation is an effective learning aid.
Me, at the boulangerie shortly after arriving: 'Un baguette, s'il vous plait.' Bread shop lady, witheringly: 'Une baguette.' I didn't get that wrong again. Fortunately, learning French is not impossible; it's just that the first ten years are the hardest. 
Photo: Morgan/Flickr
2. How to do a French greeting
Politesse is crucial in a French village. One is expected to meet and greet people appropriately, which means looking them in the eye and saying bonjour as if you mean it, at a minimum. Then as you get to know people, shaking hands and kissing three times, according to the local code [Ed's note: Miller lives in southern France's Languedoc]. It's weird, I know. Just deal with it.
Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr
3. Knowing your saints
Who are all these saints? It's almost impossible to recognise the supposed saints nobody has ever heard of who have given their names to the most obscure places in the most obscure corners of France. Saint Privat! Who he? Saint Pons? Sainte Thibéry? Give me a break.
4. The importance of cement 
The French love breeze blocks, and nowhere is this love affair more intense than in rural France. In one of the most regulated countries on earth, with a gigantic bureaucracy of state and local officials, they seem completely incapable of enforcing building codes. In villages, carbuncles of concrete blocks don't even get a spray-on coat of render. French people plead poverty when you ask about this while installing swimming pools behind their Berlin-style walls. 
5. Forget about French 'style'
Not much of it here in the boondocks where the tailors are not rich. The French reputation for elegance does not survive an encounter with the locals. Obviously, there are some who make an effort, but the costume hereabouts is more bleu de travail than rue du Faubourg Sainte-Honoré. 
Photo: AFP
6. The food's not always amazing
The weekly village markets have wonderful things to eat, provided that you cook them yourself, and there are some great restaurants around... but terrible food is also a feature of the French boondocks. Supermarkets are average, pizza and McDonald's are hugely popular, and the beef is tough, flavourless, and not hung properly.
A decent cup of tea? Forget it. Why can nobody explain why, with the finest cows and magnificent cheeses, French milk is boiled at ultra high temperature and sold in cardboard cartons?  You can get fresh milk of a kind in supermarkets, if you can bear visiting them, but not in most villages.
Photo: Petrolly/Flickr
7.  Everything is always shut
Basic services don't exist. Clever artisans won't hire staff to help them because the tax and social laws are so loopy. Taxis to the airport are twice as expensive as in the UK. Inadequate commerce generally. Napoleon said the British were a nation of shopkeepers but maybe he was jealous.
8. People have dreadful teeth
Many of your neighbours will have them. Perhaps Paris is better but here in the sticks, French healthcare isn't quite as good as some people make it out to be. An evident failure is dental health. Get this: dental hygienists are actually illegal in France.
9. You need a pharmacy for headache tablets
Not especially a rural problem but true everywhere in France: You can't buy a flipping aspirin except at a pharmacy. Pharmacies, at least around here, it must be noted, have all thoughtfully installed an exterior condom dispenser to serve customers' urges out of opening hours. Stock up with pills at Boots in Gatwick. 
Photo: Nonuou/Flickr
10. Villages have dark and terrible secrets  
After you have moved to your village in France, got the hang of the language and made friends, you will hear some amazing and sometimes terrible stories. A couple of years ago I suggested to our local mayor that we hold a conference in the village hall, to talk about the liberation of the village in 1944. ‘Too sensitive,' he replied. My curiosity was piqued. He was right.
Jonathan Miller, a journalist, is an elected town councillor in the Languedoc, and author of France:  A Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2015).

Follow Jonathan Miller on Twitter here

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