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MOVE TO FRANCE COLLECTION
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MOVING TO FRANCE

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

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.

Ten things I wish I'd known before I moved to rural France
Photo: Vincent Brassinne/Flickr
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

Member comments

  1. Totally agree with everything – after thirteen years in rural western France….. isn’t it wonderful?
    Our village secret has two suicides connected to illicit affairs, and someone throwing themselves onto the coffin at the funeral- and that’s not to mention the four dead Germans buried in a cave under our house…. Palmers Green was never like this! We wave at all living creatures, both two legs and four, and accept that the postman may arrive late, reeking strongly of pastis….

  2. Observe: the photo shows “kissing” as a full wet smacker on the cheek. Wrong!!
    You are supposed to brush cheeks, i.e the side of your face. The French do not plant saliva laden smackers on each other. You will be detested if you do that….

  3. Are not the Brits’ renowned for their ironic wit?

    I sense Mr Miller is most content with his lot; as are the locals of his domain – having elected him to their council.

    Befriend the locals, feed the village cats, be generous of spirit and be helpful. In other words – assimilate.

    If you make the effort you will find yourself – on the all-important local scale of hierarchy – at least one level above ‘the Parisian’! (apologies to parisians.)

    Oh; and if you happen to mention in the local bar that you’re having a BBQ – don’t be surprised when they all turn up… .

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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