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Laura, Haute Vienne

Who are you?

My name is Laura, I’m a 34-year-old blogger and psychotherapist living in France since the end of 2018. I work here in France as a micro-entrepreneur offering online counselling to English speakers all over the world. I also run the blog frugalfrance.com and the associated Instagram account @frugalfrance where I focus on my experience of moving to France with my fiancé, going through the very different house purchase process here, and what it’s like to move to a country where you know no-one, speak some French and have no work to come to!It’s been a scary, brilliant thing to do and I’ve been documenting it as much for myself as anyone else. Happily, it’s been really popular and I’ve met some brilliant people through my blog. Without a doubt, this is the biggest adventure of my life so far.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved from Bristol, UK to Haute Vienne in the Limousin, France at the end of 2018 after a year of intense planning and running back and forth between countries trying to find a property to buy.

I have always been a Francophile, there has just never been a time for me when I didn’t love France ever since first visiting Brittany with my secondary school as a child. After the British referendum result in 2016, my mind became more focused on the idea of moving over here – I had always wanted to and it felt as though I might not get the opportunity to do so as freely after Brexit.

My partner agreed that we could look into moving abroad and suddenly all the hours I had spent poring over French property websites for the previous decade became useful! We started working on our French language skills and considering jobs we might be able to do abroad. My private counselling practice was at its peak after years of effort to build the company in Bristol, and my partner has adult children in the UK as well as having had a comfortable long term job, so our decision to move was not taken lightly.

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What challenges did you face during the move?

Originally we had planned to move over during the Brexit implementation period, but when things started to look uncertain for the withdrawal agreement, we decided to accelerate our plans and put our 3-bed semi-detached house in South Bristol on the market. Our move certainly wasn’t smooth from there on in though, we had a difficult experience with our buyers changing their offer and losing their guarantor for some of their moving funds, so between June 2018 and December 2018 we were enjoying our weekends of escaping over to France even more than usual! Thankfully, everything went well in the end and we completed the sale of our UK house on 13th December, driving over with our two aged cats in the car the same day.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Our village is mostly French, we have made friends with another British couple whom we met through our French classes in a neighbouring town but as soon as we leave our house French is the language that we have to (and choose) to speak. We are very keen on integrating into the community and have found the locals to be unfailingly friendly and accepting.

The village is small but everyone knows everyone, and we are now becoming more recognised as we take part in village activities. Anyone who follows my Instagram account will have seen what a great time we had at the village Loto (Bingo) recently, we had no idea so many people lived so nearby!

What do you like about life where you are?

If I say everything, it will sound as though I’m living in a rose-tinted world, but truly I love our commune. I love being in France. Haute Vienne is in one of the most beautiful, unspoilt areas of France you can imagine. I am literally looking out of my office window right now onto a field full of plump grazing sheep and my neighbour’s geese are honking amusingly at the lambs. This place is seriously green and the clean air, quiet roads and gorgeous night skies are full of constellations that I had only ever seen once before in the UK on a camping holiday to the Isle of Wight. Light pollution is much less here, and the wildlife is, well, wild.

I can’t believe I got this far into describing my experience before mentioning the food! The food is phenomenal and the French attitude towards organic farming and wellbeing is evident in almost every part of their culture, from the two-hour lunchtimes where shops can shut to allow their staff a rest and ample time to eat, to the 35 hour work week. In the area that I live gardening is a big thing too, especially growing vegetables which are very often dictated by the phases of the moon. No, I’m not joking!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Very little. I suppose the biggest compromise is that we live further away from family and friends. However for me, as someone who went away to university at 18 and then was posted as a mobile worker for the following ten years in my previous career in IT, my friendships are scattered all over the UK and so offering those whom I miss a little French break is not the worst thing I can do as a friend!

After that, it’s probably the internet connectivity. It’s essential to my work that I have a decent internet connection so that I can offer my counselling clients a positive therapeutic experience, but that is not always synonymous with rolling green fields and sparsely inhabited countryside. We have gotten around this though by installing a 4G antenna at our French home, as the cable broadband speeds on offer would not have been adequate.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

The pace of life, in every way I can think of possible. Moving from hectic Bristol where I ran two businesses and an Airbnb, and volunteered at a drug and alcohol charity as a therapist, to our sleepy life here in the countryside of France working for ourselves has been brilliant, but not always a comfortable experience.

In the UK we lived on an A-road, we fought the Bristol traffic every day – which even after ten years of living in London I would say is the worst I have ever experienced – my partner commuted more than ten hours a week to his job, and I worked from my counselling office in South Bristol sometimes until 10pm on weeknights. We hardly ever saw each other, especially as I worked at weekends too – so this experience has thrown us together and forced us to live around each other in a way that many might think romantic, and it is, but it also takes quite a lot of adjustment to be around someone else 24/7, especially as we both work at home.

I work three days a week with my clients online, and then another two days a week writing – I write articles about my experience for magazines about French lifestyle, and I also run two blogs and several Instagram accounts for the purpose of social media marketing – so it’s a very full work week – but since I can get up when I like, and my office is next door to my bedroom so I have the power to dictate the pace, which is much more comfortable.

The pace of life in France itself – in the sleepy area where we live – MUCH slower. Shops seem to open when they like, restaurants are closed at lunchtime, our library opens three mornings a week. Life is definitely moving at a pace that some might find too sedate. But I think if you’re someone who can occupy themselves, has interests at home and outdoors and are adaptable then it’s possible to take it all in your stride and enjoy it. I certainly wouldn’t – and couldn’t – go back to our old frantic, money-focused lifestyle.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

It’s one of the benefits of living here. The food is fresh, of excellent quality, and there is a lot of attention to the use of plastics. It really feels like moving forward in time somewhat – to a place that has implemented eco-friendly initiatives in even the most mundane circumstances – for example, all of the bags you will find if you choose to bag your fruit and veg in a supermarket will be biodegradable plastic or paper.

The wine is, of course, excellent, and cheap. But what we have saved in wine costs here vs the UK, goes on the increased price of food generally. That comparison is not helped by the relatively weak British pound, but there is a focus here on ensuring that food producers get a good price for their vegetables, milk, fish, meat etc. and so that price is naturally passed on to the consumer. I am happy to pay it though because the quality of that food is exceptional. Plus the fresh bread from the boulangerie is out of this world! I knew I had found my spiritual home when we found a baguette vending machine in a neighbouring town. The French have their gastronomic priorities right!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Hmm, that is actually quite a tough question.

One of the most important things to consider is, I think, having a very realistic attitude towards any property that you consider buying here. Yes, the property is cheap compared to the UK, however as much as it may seem inviting to look for a run-down chateau to restore, or have 15 acres to tend, keep in mind what it is you want to be doing when you move here. If you want to be sitting in the sun with some of that fabulous (cheap) wine, then buying a shell of a building for 20,000€ is not going to give you that.

We were tempted by a very pretty home in a different national park to ours which looked charming online, however, when we viewed it, it was apparent that it was going to need a lot of money and a lot of work. We could have bought it for 34,000€ but we would also have been resigning ourselves to living on-site in a caravan and probably spending the best part of the next ten years doing it up. If you have the skills and experience for that then this is a great place to use them, but if not, I recommend thinking very carefully about the responsibilities that come with large or dilapidated properties.

What are your plans for the future?

Good question – in the short term we are planning to get married here in our commune this summer, and are going through the many bureaucratic hoops to allow that to happen. In terms of our home we are considering converting our currently unused loft-space into a large master bedroom with ensuite and another office – we really want to make the most of the incredible views facing the front of the house.

In the long term – I have some writing which is being published in the summer and autumn around living in France and my tips for how to do so frugally, and we will be landscaping our garden too – I’m planning on creating a herb garden with lots and lots of peonies in time for next spring. But as with most everything in France, plan by all means but don’t get too attached to the idea of something happening on a certain date. It will all happen when it happens, and that’s okay!

You can keep up to date with Laura's adventures on her blog, Frugal France, and on social media @FrugalFrance.

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