A move across the Channel: Welcome to France

Many of us travel abroad but not all of us are brave enough to live there! Read about starting a life in Northern France

Moving houseChapter 4

Graham and I both went back to work for a couple of weeks, having both handed in our notice to finish in early March. James went back to school after half-term and we carried on the packing with the keys to our new home burning a hole in our pocket and the hope that nothing would go wrong with the sale.

On three occasions we were told our buyer was ready to sign the contract, only to be told she had found another excuse to delay. The biggest problem with this was the juggling act we had to perform because of the bureaucracy. The animals had to have export licences which required a visit to the vet and then we had to get them out of the country within 48 hours. Heavy goods vehicles are not allowed to run in France on a Sunday so we had to time the move and the physical removal of our all our worldly goods so that we all arrived at our new home on the same day. We booked the removal firm and the vet three times before we actually got a firm date!

We finally exchanged contracts at the end of March and our completion date was Friday 13th April; just as well we’re not superstitious! Our real worry was that we might not get a booking on the ferry as it was the first weekend of the Easter holidays, but thankfully they just squeezed us on.

The last two weeks before moving was a whirlwind of re-arranging the removals and the vet, and packing the last of our possessions. On the big day, James went to school as normal (it was the last day of term) and, once the removal lorry had disappeared at the end of the day, we picked him up and took the animals off to the vet for their checks. We travelled down to Devon to stay with my parents until it was time to board the ferry on the Sunday, and said a silent prayer that nothing would delay us beyond the 48 hours.

Thankfully it all went like clockwork.

Inevitably tears were shed when we said goodbye to friends and family, but we were looking forward to starting our new life and, after all, France is only a few miles across the channel so we knew we would soon be inundated with visitors.

Bienvenue en France

We landed at Roscoff in the middle of the afternoon and drove to our new home. The car was overloaded with the three of us, three animals and our immediate needs (such as a kettle and coffee!). I even had a homemade lasagne on my lap which we had intended to heat up in the old cooker for dinner that night, as we knew we would be too tired to go out to find a meal.

However, we got into the house and were horrified to find that the old cooker had gone and, even worse, we had no electricity! At that stage we just panicked; it was late on a Sunday afternoon, the phone had not yet been installed so we couldn’t phone anyone, and even if we could have phoned, we didn’t know who to phone. Just when we were deciding that it had all been a horrible mistake and that we wanted to go back to England, our new neighbours came to our rescue. They had seen us arrive and came in to say hello.

In my halting French I explained our predicament. “Pas de problème” was the response; all five of their children trooped in, the eldest (aged 15) carrying a ladder. We were invited into their house for coffee and cake while the children sorted out the problem. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than the fact that we had not found the main fuse box; the previous owners had turned off the power when they finished clearing the house of a few remaining items, something that we had agreed with the agent. The absence of the cooker was unexpected, but we had not specified it in the sale so were in no position to complain. We just ended up going out to eat after all!

That was our introduction to the real France and the Breton people that we have come to know and love. Our neighbours are not an exception; the locals are friendly, always willing to help, and are fascinated that we have given up a whole way of life to come and live in Brittany, of which they are fiercely proud. When we thank them, the response is always “C’est normal!”

Ten years in France

We are just about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our move to France. Living here is not all plain sailing; the language causes no end of difficulty, even now. The bureaucracy is horrendous and France is suffering “la crise”, the same downturn as the rest of the world, so it is certainly no longer the cheap country it once was.

However, our son has had a good education and speaks fluent French (admittedly we still struggle!) and has grown up in a world more akin to the Britain of the fifties and sixties where children had their freedom and were not pressured by materialism. We have a beautiful home in the country and a much less stressful lifestyle than we would have had in Britain. People here have respect for each other; it doesn’t matter how much money you have or what label you have on your trainers, everyone is valued for themselves.

Do we regret coming here? No!

Would we move back to Britain? No!

There may come a time when we have to move back for one reason or another, but hopefully it will not be for many years.

Karen Faulds

About Karen Faulds

My husband, Graham, and I moved to France in 2003, where we have lived very happily for the past 10 years. We run a mobile book business for British expats and spend our lives driving round the country roads of Brittany meeting all sorts of interesting people. We have one son, now at university in Scotland, a large dog, two cats and several chickens.