People in the UK often ask if we’re going to live in France permanently and why we love it here so much.
Both questions are difficult to answer. To the first I think we would probably say “probably”. To the second it’s hard to be specific. I just have to say “because we do”. There are things about life in France that are slightly irritating but on the whole we simply feel happier here. Happiness is hard to define but I just know that I am.
One of the things I love is living in the country, in the middle of a field to be exact. In France we have the kind of house we could only dream of and never afford in the UK. Even if you could find an old renovated farmhouse in a quiet spot in Derbyshire, surrounded by unspoilt countryside, with no road noise, the weather would probably be terrible and there is no way we could afford it.
There are however, drawbacks to living in this kind of property, and at the end of June this year we experienced one of them for the first time.
When we returned to France from our two week trip to the UK we found that all our roses had been attacked. Before we left we had a fabulous display of roses. All the plants were in full bloom and there were purple, red, orange, pink and striped ones. They were gorgeous. On our return we found that all the plants had been nibbled down to the stalks.
Thinking that rabbits couldn’t possibly jump that high and in any case would have preferred our lettuces which were untouched, we were baffled. What creature could possibly have been interested in eating only the roses?
A stroll around the boundary revealed a clue. Footprints. Also, we have a camera installed by the barn that takes a picture when something moves in front of it, day and night. The culprit was revealed. A young deer, which took advantage of our absence and spent three days gradually eating all the roses. It had trampled down the temporary fence at the back of the house.
Now whilst I can’t say that having deer wander into the garden and eat my prized roses is completely wonderful, there is a certain charm and amusement about it.
It certainly beats finding food wrapping and other rubbish tossed over the wall into the garden by the passing wildlife, a not unusual occurrence in our UK home. There is nothing even faintly charming or amusing about that*.
Which brings me to another example of why I feel content and very at home in France.
For the last two weeks I have been in the UK because my father has had a cataract operation. Before I set off, Nick and I went to lunch at one of the nearby “white van” places. These are restaurants that cater at lunchtime for working people and serve a decent lunch for a sensible price.
The restaurant was pretty full and we were surrounded mainly by men aged between twenty and sixty odd years old, mostly in their overalls. They greeted each other with handshakes, chatted quietly and ate politely. A mobile phone rang and one of the younger men excused himself, got up from the table and went outside to take the call.
Here in the UK I took my dad to lunch yesterday to a local pub restaurant. It’s a brand new one, the first building to go up on a new development of houses, shops and so on, and we were keen to try it. There were only a few tables taken, mostly by older people (like us I suppose) but everyone seemed to be talking quite loudly. At one of the tables a mobile phone rang.
A woman answered the call at the table, put the phone into speaker mode so that her husband could hear the conversation as well – and unfortunately so could we. Every word. That’s the kind of difference that makes me feel unsettled in the UK nowadays and very happy in France. When we spend time in the UK we get the feeling that ordinary people often have better manners in France and the English seem to have become very loud. It’s not universal, but it happens often enough to notice the difference.
*I am however reminded of a story told to me by a colleague at work some years ago. He got up one morning to find that someone had tossed a brand new microwave oven into his front garden, still in its cardboard box. This was in the days when a microwave was an expensive luxury item. He used it for years.