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Why the French dream of living in rural France (but are unlikely to make the move)

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Why the French dream of living in rural France (but are unlikely to make the move)
Photo: AFP
11:01 CEST+02:00
If the French had to choose between the town or the countryside, the vast majority would opt for the peace and fresh air of rural France. But there are many reasons why most of them won't actually take the plunge and move their lives to la France profonde.

Paris may well be considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world but most French people would trade the capital and France's other towns and cities for the countryside anytime, a new Ifop poll shows.

An overwhelming 81 percent of respondents said they preferred the countryside which they associate with a higher quality of life, calm, nature and less pollution.

Another advantage of life in rural France picked out by the respondents was the lower cost of living than in the big cities.

What is perhaps most surprising is that young people appear to be the most keen on a life in the sticks, with 60 percent preferring to live in la France profonde, over 45 percent of the rest of the population.

It would seem then that big cities and urban lifestyles have fallen out of favour. Only 19 percent of respondents said they aspired to live a fully urban lifestyle which would involve both working and living in a town or city.

Those already living in the countryside appeared pretty happy with life in the fields with 62 percent believing rural living offers a better quality of life than urban France. Some 93 percent say they were satisfied with life and 53 percent "very satisfied".

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Nevertheless the overwhelming desire to live in the countryside clashes with how the French actually view rural France and the real problems that those who live there experience.

According to the poll, they perceive the French countryside as the part of the country that is the most marginalised and left behind by the authorities, ahead of the country's city suburbs and small and middle-sized towns.

The French countryside was synonymous with social and economic problems, according to half of those polled with some 60 percent of French people believing that rural France was in decline, with many associating it with the "poverty" and "unemployment".

Among the five percent of those living in the countryside who would like to leave it and head to the city the reasons they gave for the desire to go urban were "boredom", "isolation" and "difficulty in getting around".

The feeling of loneliness and isolation are often cited by foreigners as the most difficult aspects of adjusting to life in rural France.

"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," one American told The Local.

Dominique Marmier, president of Familles Rurales, a charity that commissioned the poll said: "There's a very strong feeling that the countryside is being abandoned. More public services keep disappearing over the past few years, and also shops, train stations and doctors."

"Rural areas need more investment. The countryside must be given more means, technological means just like the towns do, there must be broadband everywhere for example," he said.

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Interestingly that sentiment of being left behind is also shared by people living in rural France with some 60 percent say they don't have access to public services.

A similar figure (58 percent) believe the situation around access to public services in the countryside has deteriorated in recent years.

They want the government to tackle the problem of so-called "medical deserts" which sees parts of rural France left without doctors. 

It's an issue France's health minister has vowed to improve and announced recently that 400 GPs will be moved to parts of the countryside most in need.

The salaried GPs, so not private practitioners (medecins liberaux), will be paid by hospitals and health centres in the area. The move was deemed a success in the rural Saône-et-Loire department where authorities managed to recruit around 30 doctors spread around the area, each working 35 hours a week.

Private GPs or medecins liberaux will not be forced to parts of the country where there is a need for doctors but will be encouraged with financial incentives.

"We will encourage them so much that these professionals will have no choice," said a presidential spokesperson.

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Last year the French government pledged €100 million to cover the costs of bringing high-speed internet to the most isolated parts of rural France by 2022.

At the moment 7.5 million people in France are unable to get a high-speed connection, according to consumer group UFC Que Choisir.
 
And some half a million have no internet at all.
 
France is lagging behind other European countries, as 95% of Dutch residents have access to speeds of 4Mbps or more, with Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden achieving similar levels. 
 
Other solutions put forward by Familles Rurales to improve life in rural France included improving public transport, keeping local services and shops and developing a sustainable development plan for the countryside.
 
So are you one of the people who dreams of living in the French countryside but will never actually do it? 

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Jerry N - 10 Oct 2018 18:29
We live in rural France, on a working farm in the Mayenne District. We have excellent communications, including high-speed broadband, a wide range of excellent supermarkets, restaurants, and good health facilities. However many of our local villages are struggling to attract young people, even though the cost of living (including homes) is much lower than adjacent towns.
Leon - 11 Oct 2018 08:27
There is no arguing that the rural areas of France are treated badly in many ways. Where we live there is no bus service to speak of, so you have to have a car, and our internet comes via satellite. But the nearest small town has every facility you might need, with banks, a supermarket, doctors etc.
So despite small conveniences we wouldn't live anywhere else.
You can also have a pretty good social life in a rural life, but you have to put in the effort.
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