Ten things to expect if you move to rural France

Ten things to expect if you move to rural France
Yes it's gorgeous, but how's the wifi? Photo: AFP
For many people the dream is to escape the rat race and move to a beautiful and tranquil French village, drink red wine and live happily ever after. But what's moving to the French countryside really like?

1. Everything is closed

It can come as a bit of a shock to foreigners, but traditional opening hours are still observed in many parts of France, especially rural ones. This means that shops and offices close at 12 and don't reopen until 2ish and in many parts of the country Sunday closing is still rigorously observed, making for a few hungry weekends for newcomers as they get used to this.

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In the big cities this is starting to disappear and across the country many supermarkets now open on a Sunday morning, but do remember to check the opening times of anywhere you plan to visit. A lot of independent businesses also close on Monday to give their staff a proper-two day break.

And speaking of timing, smaller towns also tend to be more rigorous about the correct times for meals – lunch is served between 12 and 2 and dinner from 7pm, and 'service non-stop' eateries where they will serve food at any time are less common than they are in the cities.

And of course don't forget public holidays, when everything closes – here's the French holiday calendar.

2. Your new best mates are the staff of M. Bricolage and the dechetterie

If you're doing any kind of house renovation, prepare to spend a lot of time in the nearest bricolage (DIY store) frowning over your translation app.

Likewise you will probably also get to know the staff at your local dechetterie (rubbish tip) well. This will also provide a workout for your French as they explain to you exactly what is allowed to go into each skip.

READ ALSO What you need to know before going to a French recycling centre

 

3. It's really quiet . . . and those stars!

This is not unique to French countryside of course, but France has a lot of areas that are very sparsely populated, so if rural peace is what you want then France really delivers. The country is three times the size of the UK but has roughly the same population, which means that some parts – especially the central départements such as Corrèze, Creuse and Lozère – are very sparsely populated indeed.

Perfect if you want to totally lose yourself in the countryside and the other upside of being kilometres away from any source of light pollution is that the night skies are simply incredible.

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4. Chatting is vital

But if you want some human contact and move to a village, you're going to have to brush up on your French small-talk. The courtesies are important in France and pausing to have a brief chat with your neighbour will make all the difference to your welcome.

Many village-dwellers report that a simple walk to the post-box can take more than half an hour by the time they have paused to exchange greetings and a bit of gossip with various neighbours. The upside to this is that it will help you get settled and you are likely to find your neighbours friendly and welcoming – many residents of rural France say that the best thing about their life there is all the new friends they have made.

5. As is making friends with the mayor 

Non-French people often don't realise how important the village mayor is, but in fact rural mayors have a lot of power so it's well worth making friends with yours.

The mairie is the source of all sorts of official paperwork as well as decisions on crucial questions like whether you can build an extension or not. They are also absolute goldmines of information on all local issues that you might need to know, so popping into the mairie to introduce yourself and making an effort to befriend the mayor is well worth your time.

READ ALSO 'They make France what it is' – why village mayors are so important

 

6. You're being shot at 

No, you haven't accidentally strayed into a Deliverance style scenario, but if the air is suddenly full of lead, it's likely that la chasse is nearby.

Hunting, which generally means shooting, is popular in rural France and during the autumn/winter season around 1 million hunters around the country will regularly hunt game birds, deer and wild boar. 

It's fair to say that some hunters wouldn't win many health and safety awards and every year in France there are hunting accidents where passers-by get shot, sometimes fatally, so during the season it's wise to check where your local chasse will be and keep a sharp eye out for the signs that show you they are hunting nearby.

READ ALSO How to survive the French hunting season without being shot

7. Your internet is buffering again

France is improving its national network of internet connections and in some areas work has begun on the 5G network, but provision is still patchy.

Some villages have great connections but others don't, and if you're moving to France to work from home then this is definitely something you should check out in advance.

There are now not many zones blanches (areas with no access), but quite a few areas have a slow and unreliable signal that will leave you spending a lot of time starting at a spinning wheel.

8. The markets really are as good as you dreamed

French markets are one of humanity's better creations and now you get to enjoy a weekly array of incredible produce. Also take a minute to appreciate the seasonality – one week there will be a stall selling nothing but apricots and then a few weeks later there will be mushrooms as far as the eye can see.

With produce like this your cooking will effortlessly move up a notch towards culinary greatness.

And it's not just food markets – check out the regular brocantes (vintage markets) and marché aux puces (flea markets) to get bargains for your new home, as well as the vide greniers (yard sales) at the slightly cheaper end of the spectrum.

9. You've relaxed

Don't believe the hype about the French countryside being paradise, and as we've outlined there are certainly challenges (and we didn't even mention the famous French bureaucracy) but in spite of all that it's hard not to adapt to the slower pace of life by slowing down and taking time to smell the roses.

Whether it's a walk in one of France's famous beauty spots, an apéro with your new neighbours or just taking 10 minutes to sit in your garden and eat a freshly-picked peach or drink a glass of rosé, after a while those tension knots should start to disappear from your shoulders.

PS Drink driving is illegal in France. You might be surprised to learn this, because unfortunately it's still quite common in some parts of rural France, but in fact France's legal limit for alcohol is low and there are strict penalties if you're caught driving while over the limit. 

READ ALSO What you risk if you drink and drive in France

 


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  1. Just want to say how much I appreciate all the helpful information. We are Americans (EWE hold your nose) planning on moving there part time. When we can get there…best wishes to all for health during this hard time in our lives.

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