All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Land of milk and honey

Holstein dairy cows from http://www.ars.usda.g...Image via Wikipedia

Despite the level of the pound to the euro, despite the problems of selling property or getting a mortgage, people from the U.K. still want to move to France.
Now, a glance at the Daily Mail would convince you that you would move anywhere...Mars, the outer systems of the get away from feral children, microchips in your wheelie bin and institutional prejudice against Christians....while a glance at the Guardian would convince you likewise to get away from the mouthy liberals who seem to have produced what the Daily Mail is complaining of. However, is France the answer?

It depends on your question.

If you are looking to retire, then almost certainly it is.
Property is still attractive, especially if you can drop on a cash strapped Brit who bought on loans that are now difficult to repay, though I don't think that there are all that many about, despite the tales from estate agents about people selling up and taking a drop because property in the U.K. is now too cheap to miss. I don't see very much that is cheap in the U.K. compared to what you can buy in France, and consider this to be yet another ploy from agents to get people to drop their prices to put a commission in the agents' pockets.
A retired person qualifies for health care and unless you have something out of the ordinary, health care is good..though I don't agree with the idea that the NHS is dreadful. My mother has excellent care when she needs it, which keeps her independent in her late nineties. French health care isn't the free for all it used to be, where you could go to as many doctors as you liked until you found one who agreed with your view of your illness, the whole shebang paid for by the state, and waiting lists certainly exist, but on the whole, it's a good deal...if you are retired.
Tax is appalling, but so it is in the U.K..
There are, of course, the wine, the cheese and the smoked fish, among other delicacies, to encourage the move and lessen the pain of the bill for the removal van.
A lot depends on your assessment of your ability to take change. The language is the obvious hurdle, though agencies abound to help you...for a price...and they will also assist with house purchase and all the beaurocratic niceties of life in the Hexagon, as the French media refer to their country. You may have friends or family already in place and nowadays there are so many British expats about that you will never be short of an English language social life.....if that is what you want. A French social life is also takes about as much time as it would do in the U.K., and, like the U.K., areas differ.

The rest depends on your own character. If you are content to go with the stream, pay up whatever you are asked for and be uncritical of your new home, you will be fine. The French love can lay it on with a trowel...but having always been taught 'France good, everywhere else bad' since they first went to school, the faintest note of criticism brings on the cry of
'Why don't you go back home, then?'
No society is perfect and it is by exchanges that we learn that things do not have to be set in stone, but France is not, generally, open to exchange. It is a one way path. The French are taught that they have a 'civilising mission' in the world, and that they have nothing to learn from other cultures. Thus the horror at Sarkozy presenting himself as leaning to 'Anglo Saxon' ways of doing things...efficiency, etc. ...a horror now assuaged as people see that his government is being run by the same people who always run French governments, the graduates of the Ecole Normale d'Administration, well connected dumbos for whom there is only one question and only one answer, the summit of the French education system.

It all depends what bugs you. For me, it is the inequality in France which, living in the country as I do, is exemplified by the power and privilege of the farmers. I have already discussed the unfairness of their taxation status, which allows their families access to benefits designed for the poor and their dubious agricultural practices which pollute the environment for us all, but the latest sop to their bullying has annoyed me beyond reason.
When the Green Tax comes in in January, we, ordinary people, will be paying about four cents extra per litre for fuel, and living in the country with oil fired central heating and miles from the shops, that is no small amount over the year. Sarkozy's glove puppet, Prime Minister Fillon, has just announced that farmers and fishermen will only be paying one cent per litre...and the three cents refund will be in their bank accounts by February! As if they don't benefit already from cheap fuel to run their businesses with no one to check whether the fuel is delivered to the business premises or the house! Furthermore, for ordinary people, getting a refund for anything takes forever. One poor woman who was fined for speeding in a Brittany town...1 kilometre per hour over the limit....claimed a refund on the grounds that not only was she not there, but that the street in which the incident was alleged to have taken place did not exist - with a certificate from the town hall to prove it! She still had to pay her fine, and, months down the line is still waiting for a refund. She should have been a farmer.
The milk sector is in trouble, the price to producer having fallen dramatically as demand has fallen, and dairy farmers have just ended a fortnight of 'strikes'. Rather than deliver milk to the collection points, they are distributing it to the populace in market towns.....a rapid change of front as their first bright idea was to pour it over the fields in protest. According to a newspaper survey ninety per cent of the French believe that the dairy farmers are right to expect support payments and to demand that the interest they are paying on their business loans should be refunded. Ninety per cent of the French need their heads examining. The country is, whatever the figures say, in a parlous economic condition and all sorts of businesses are suffering. Do we see demands for a refund of interest payments for people running IT businesses or B and Bs? Some of those businesses are the size of dairy installations, so why are they less important? What about small family businesses also feeling the pressure.....the builders, plumbers, painters, electricians etc? Small country bars? Where is the rescue package for them?
As always, give in to one sector and the rest will soon be on the neck of the government....just wait for the transport industry and the taxi licence monopoly holders to start blocking the roads until they get their cut as well, while the ordinary person pays for all, as always. Where do governments think the money comes from in hard times?
I watched the dairy farmer at work at my last house......the pasture where his cattle were grazing was killed off by herbicide, the nitrate sacks dumped on the field and the grass resown, year after year. My well water, which had served the house for centuries, was unusable thanks to the level of nitrates leaching from his land. The maize he grew for silage was treated with 'Gaucho' or 'Regent', agents now held responsible for the decline and near disappearance of the honey bee.
The wild irresponsibility of the European Union agricultural policy and the pusillinamity of successive French governments have led us to a rich land where milk and honey can no longer be produced and all that is proposed is to perpetuate the system.

Different things bug different people. If you're not politically inclined, then a retirement to rural France could be ideal, and when the question is posed to you by your French neighbour
'Why did you want to come to France?'
You, like Israel Hands in 'Treasure Island', can reply
'Because I want their pickles and wines and that.'
But not the milk and honey.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Very good and intersting. The award of subsidies is always about the politics of the ballot box - it has always been so,in Britain as well as France.

    And to quote Treasure Island in a post about rural France is doing well in my book. Many's the night I've dreamt of cheese - toasted mostly (Benn Gunn)



  2. For all that there is here which is not quite right, I still prefer to live the more simpler lifestyle here in SW France. In the Uk we were laden down with a heavy load of consumerism, drained beyond belief by the endless push of commercialism. This I do not find here. I feel freed up, unburdened. Yes, there are difficulties, and yes, we are having trouble with arrogant farmers ourselves, but it is better than being submerged beneath the desperation of the normal original 'English' person still living in what was once a vigorous and healthy country.
    We took no notice of media-inspired dreams about living in France. We came here because it was the next step to do in our lives. Therefore, I will accept that the French do things their own way. I am, after all, an immigrant.
    Interesting and thought provoking blog. Thanks for posting it.

  3. Mark, when I was a child I used to have nightmares of a piece of toasted cheese the size of a Mr.Cube (Tate and Lyle) crawling over the foot of the bed and advancing on me. I would wake up screaming and my father would enter and quote Ben Gunn!

    Vera, one can be an immigrant without losing one's critical faculties. French friends think the way I do...but they're not farmers or enarques, just ordinary people groaning under immesurate taxation.I have never accepted what I think is wrong, wherever I have lived, whatever my status. In France I pay taxes and I should have a voice...but I do not, just like the majority of the French.

  4. Thank you for the thought provoking post, since we are occasionally bringing up thoughts of retiring to Europe from the US. My husband is Swedish and I should be able to get Swedish citizenship since we've been married a long time.
    I like the south, since I've been in the Frozen North for most of my life and I prefer travel by bicycle.
    We'll see.
    Are EU citizens eligible for French healthcare? Though we would have Swedish health care. Seems silly to leave the US when we qualify finally for health care here.
    Looking at the photos of myself in France, I look half my age. That says something about the life style.
    Can you recommend a book on the geography of France which will teach me about all the departments?

  5. Zuleme, if your husband qualifies for Swedish medical cover, then he can get a form E121, if of retirement age, or E106 if below, which will entitle him to basic French cover, that is, around seventy percent of the costs of most treatments. Like the French, you would have to top up with an additional insurance to provide full cover.
    As to a book, I will have a's a long time since I did my first research! In the meantime, if you like the south, why not look up the regional newspapers and try to get a feel for what is happening? Your French will improve mightily as you go along and I think that the local details in a newspaper are the best way of feeling the pulse of an area.

  6. We can get TV5 here, I just have to check with my cable provider as to why I don't have it, I think I've been paying for it and not getting it. Newspapers are a great idea, I'll try that.
    I have, of course, a healthy selection of the "I went to France and renovated a house" books. I'd rather not renovate a house though we are certainly capable. I'd rather be retired and sit around in little cafes and go shopping at the markets. And maybe write a book or something.
    I have a Swedish person number which allows me to get health care there. Unfortunately I don't remember what it is so I'd have to try to find it again. We went to school in Stockholm after we were married.
    We'll see... Our friends who invited us along on our recent trip are already yearning to be back. So hopefully next year we'll manage something. It would be nice to see the relatives in Sweden too.

  7. Is there any country where the EC agricultural policy works?

  8. Zuleme, renovation is fun...if you have boundless energy. I am now past it. Better to write a book...there has to be a market for a book on 'why I moved to France and did not renovate an old ruin'...

    Pueblo girl, I think if you are a large scale grower of cereals it's O.K. anywhere...except the Poles are moaning that the Ukraine - outside the Eu - can undercut them on labour costs....and if you are a large scale food producer, you are the very raison d'etre for having the Common Agricultural Policy...cheapish produce and set what price you like to the consumer.

  9. Have very much enjoyed the post and the debate provoked by it.

    We try to keep in touch with what is happening in Europe. The most annoying thing is the lack of decent news on TV, radio and newspapers about our neighbours.

    PS: Farmers here are the lowest of the low. Poor things.

    When abroad I like to see the full picture of what surrounds us even when enjoying the food, the wine and everything else. Europe nourishes me whenever I am there.

    If only I had the budget to visit - at least 5 times a year!

  10. HT, I know what you mean about getting the full picture...if I relied on the local rag for my info I'd believe that the entire French nation spends its' time following pseudo cultural events and lying down outside local schools to prevent the closure of classes.
    I agree about the budget.....always seems to be a gap that the holiday money has to be used for...