Living in a French Village

Church in Le Puy Notre Dame at Xmas

If you read my last post If you will remember that I was going to continue with the story of Jeune, but, having thought about it I now realise that it wasn’t really going anywhere. In addition Peter Mayle has done it much better and  so I am not bothering!

But what I am going to do is to answer a question that several people, who are thinking of moving to France, have asked , which is:- “What is it like living in a small French rural  village like Le Puy Notre Dame?” Well, the short answer is that it is very much like you make it and probably depends more on you, the incomer, than the people of the village.

A short story, (probably apocryphal), will illustrate what I mean. A Brit after living in France for over two years decides to sell his house and move to another French village.  Having not had too happy a time at his old address he determines to cover all the angles this time round. So, before buying his new house he goes to see the Mayor of his chosen village.

“Bonjour Monsieur le Maire, I am thinking of buying a house in the village and moving from my current address.  Can you tell me whether the population will be receptive to foreigners,  like myself,  living amongst them?”  

The Mayor does not answer directly but instead asks how the residents of his old village acted towards him.

“They were horrible”, says the Brit, “they never helped me, hardly ever spoke and were generally very stand-offish”.

The Mayor ponders this for a while and then sadly says;

 “In that case Monsieur I think you will find the villagers here exactly the same. You will probably not be happy here”.

Disappointed at this remark the man sells his existing house and returns to England.

A year later the Mayor finds himself in exactly the same position when another Brit asks to see him and asks  the self-same question to which the Mayor replies in exactly the same manner.

“Well, how did the residents of your old village treat you”?

“They were great”, enthused the prospective villager, “They could not do enough for us, they invited us to every social thing going, helped us with the language, the bureaucracy, and nothing was too much trouble”.

And the Mayor happily gets to his, feet, shakes the hand of the Brit and replies:-

“In that case Monsieur I suspect you will find the villagers here exactly the same!!

Welcome to the village, when are you arriving?”

I am sure you get the point.  You undoubtedly reap what you sow.

The second point I should make is to be very patient.  The French are, in our experience, very private and very much family oriented.  I read recently that someone had said that, before going on holiday, the average Frenchman would drive 200 kms to leave the family dog with his mother before thinking about asking the guy next door.  This, I think is very true and I will give you a further couple of examples.

This very morning I knocked on the door of someone who I thought was Mr. P. who had some land for sale next to our property.  Unfortunately, I knocked on Number 9 and not Number 6, having misread the number, (I must confess at this juncture,  that I had been in the village bar beforehand where it happened to be Lulu’s birthday and I had to console him as he said mournfully, “Xmas is so hard; what with the Xmas celebration themselves, a close friend’s birthday on the 28th, my birthday on the 30th. and now the New Year Celebrations”.  Yeah, right Lulu, but a man has to do what a man has to do).

Anyway where was I?  Oh, right, at Number 9 and not Number 6.  Having started to speak to him and indeed offered to buy his land, I wondered why he looked somewhat bemused as he stared, whistfully, at his small front garden, no doubt considering where he was going to rehouse his two garden gnomes. (Incidentally France now has a Gnome Liberation Front, based in the Limousin. They keep kidnapping gnomes from gardens and resiting them in areas of sylvan beauty; alongside rivers or in forest glades – bloody barking if you ask me).

So, eventually, it materialised that he was not in fact Mr P. had never heard of Mr. P and so had no land for sale, but would I like to come in for an aperitif!  For once in my life I refused and continued my search for Mr. P.  which, in fact, was not too difficult as Number 6 was almost directly opposite and slightly to the right, about 100 metres away.  Amazingly the existence of Mr P, at number 6, was a total mystery to the proprietor of No 9!

On another occasion, after paying for their accommodation in the Loire Valley some two months earlier and having slogged for 15 hours from the North Midlands across the channel and down from Calais, an English family, on arrival in the village, asked an old dear where, first of all, le Rue du Moulin was to be found, to which, after much consideration,  the reply was that she had no idea – there cannot be more than a dozen “rues”, in the whole of Le Puy Notre Dame!They then asked another old dear where Clos des Guyons was – “never heard of it”, although she was only 20 metres away, just around the corner.  Finally, they asked an even older dear the same question and, obviously mistaking Clos des Guyons for Charles Guyons, she announced that he had died years ago and that his wife was 92 and in an Old Peoples Home in Nueil sur Layon and that their property was up for sale.

I have no doubt that receiving this news, about the holiday accommodation they had yearned for during the grim English winter, would have been somewhat disconcerting to anyone.  To someone who had been driving for an eternity, complete with kids and mother-in-law, it must have been shattering.  However, they were immensely relieved when the next person they asked happened to be the Mayor and undoubtedly the best dancer in the village, (not that has anything to do with this story, but credit where credit is due)! and, to their great relief,  he safely delivered them to chez nous.  

So, to summarise, it is our opinion that to live happily in a French Village, you need to try very hard and be very patient.

It also goes without saying that being able to talk to your neighbours could also count as something of an advantage.

Oh, and buying a lot of drinks in the bar helps too!!

We wish you Bonne Santé pour la Nouvelle Année 2007! 

I’s funny, I’ve just looked at this post again for some reason and it’s now January 2013.  We’re still in the same village, in the same property.  We’ve just got back from eating with some French friends in Doué la Fontaine, tomorrow we eat at our neighbours across the road.  The weekend after next we are entertaining 6 French friends at chez nous and so on and so forth, you get the picture.  The questions that we tried to answer in 2007 simply wouldn’t occur to us now.  Everything seems normal and this is our home and perhaps that is the best advice anyone can give.  Think of wherever you live in France as home.  If you do that then I would think that the battle is half won.

Cheers !

Brian and Sheila     Accommodation in Loire Valley