09 March 2009

Weekend activities

Saturday I felt better and was optimistic, but Sunday the cold came back full-force. Today it isn't really any better. I thought eating that carrot salad might cure me, but no such luck.

It was probably a mistake to go out on Saturday night. Our British friends Janet and David were in the area, and we hadn't seen them in a few months. They suggested going to have dinner at the pizzeria L'Amaréna in Saint-Aignan, for old times' sake. And it was fun, as it used to be when J. & D. lived in Saint-Aignan and we became friends.

The Saint-Aignan pizzeria is run by Véronique and her husband Bertrand. They treat us like long lost buddies and the food is good. But the place was too hot, and my cold didn't like that. People kept opening the front door to get some fresh air, and that caused a draft.

At the end of the meal, Véronique and I had a serious talk about the economic situation in the U.K., the U.S., and France. She was very au courant of what President Obama is trying to do, and she was curious to know if we supported him.

Véronique also said many Brits she knows are selling their property in France and moving their lives back to the U.K., because the pound sterling has sunk so low against the euro. The British retirees can no longer live on their pensions from the U.K.

That's the opposite of what is happening for us, since the dollar has regained some value over the past few months. A year ago it was costing us $1.50 or even $1.60 to buy a euro, and now the euro down to about $1.26. Twenty-five cents on the dollar makes a huge difference.

Véronique was also lamenting the fact that prices in France sky-rocketed with the introduction of the euro to replace the French franc seven years ago. She says people here have still not got a feel for the worth of the new currency. They see prices and think in terms of francs, forgetting that two euros doesn't equal two francs, but thirteen! Merchants can get away with charging very high prices for everyday articles that way.

In 2000-2001, Véro said, a baguette cost about 2.50 FF. Now a baguette is 0.80€ or even 1.00€ — that's between 6.00 FF and 6.50 FF. So the price of bread has nearly tripled. Of course, my recent experience in the U.S. showed me that prices there are very high too, and it's not easy to find the equivalent of a good baguette.

Yesterday afternoon in Saint-Aignan we had a hard, steady rain for several hours. It's not cold out, however, and temperatures are on the rise this week. The rain meant I couldn't go out with the dog — even if it hadn't been raining, I probably wouldn't have gone out for a walk. Poor Walt has had to do nearly all the dog-walking for the past three weeks. I think it is wearing on him.

Some Americans we met last year are in the area this week, and we plan to get together with them toward the end of the week. They are looking at houses, with the idea that they will buy one and retire here. Right now, they live in Scotland. It will be interesting to hear what kinds of places they've seen when we talk to them. And maybe I'll feel better by then.


  1. Does Véronique actually know any Brits who have gone back? I certainly don't and don't know anyone who does. My impression is that this story is a media beatup. What would the point of returning be? Their income won't stretch any further in the UK and they'll be stuck with a house in France that they will have difficulty selling and no way of affording a house in the UK.

  2. Susan, I agree with you, but this is the story we hear over and over again. I know personally of no British expats who have decided to leave. But then I know very few British expats. Véronique is in a position to know many more.

  3. On the other hand, these currency fluctuations are just that. One currency goes up and another goes down. And then the other one goes up and the first goes down. For the moment, the U.S. dollar is on the upswing. The euro is declining as the Central European Bank lowers its interest rates. The pound sterling will sure swing upwards -- and soon, we can hope.

  4. since i am coming to paris in may, look for the dollar to be weak against the euro....it seems every time i am in france, the dollar is worth less than ever!
    Oh Ken, get lots of rest....I am well into week 3 with this cold thing & still not 100%......hangs on forever & u don't feel like doin anything

  5. Melinda, I again feel much better today, but I'm going to be careful. Tomorrow, who knows?

    If you bring the value of the U.S. dollar down by coming over here, you may find us very upset with you. I hope this time will be the exception to the low-dollar rule. Ken

  6. There was an article in the L.A. Times 3 weeks ago about Brits going back to the UK. Apparently there are lots of houses "for sale" in the Dordogne region. We are all going through hard time.
    It might last longer than we think and it probably will never be the way it used to be.

  7. Hi Nadège, the problem for the Brits, maybe, is that Great Britain is too close to France. It's easy to go back. Add to that the fact that most of the British (in my experience) don't do much to integrate themselves into French life -- like learning the language. There's not much to keep them here once the cost of living increases.

    America is too far away for us to move back easily. Not that we'd want to -- we are invested here. We speak French, at least passably. We came here because we love the French language, culture, history, food, drink, and landscapes. Not going back -- not ever. If possible.

  8. Fishing for compliments? Don't be shy about your French language skills, yours are better than many natives.

  9. I think we met J&D when we visited with you (gosh, it's three years ago right about now) -- they came over for cocktails and Walt made some pizzas, if I recall correctly. Have they returned to the UK or moved to a different area in France? I remember that David spoke even less French than I do, which is pretty scary for someone living there.


  10. Hi Susan, David moved back to England and resumed his career in Bournemouth. Janet stayed in France and is working in Onzain, a town just west of Blois and across the river from Chaumont (the château we visited). David comes and spends a week in France several times a year.

  11. @Susan W., actually, Walt reminded me of some Brits we know who returned home. One went back because his lack of French made it too difficult to make a living here.

    And then a couple we knew in our village went back because the man couldn't make a decent living as a butcher compared to what (he thought) he would make in the same profession in the U.K.

  12. Ken: It makes more sense for wage earners to return to a country where they speak the language. What doesn't make sense is the stories of people on fixed incomes like pensions to return.

    I find it quite difficult to judge many people's French language skills are (including my own). Most expats won't speak a word of French in front of me because they know I speak English and I suspect they are diffident or embarrassed by their French skills. My own French is nowhere near fluent, but it improves all the time I think – although I am forever being caught out by discovering that I have been pronouncing a word incorrectly for years. It's the old bad habits that are the hardest to rectify, not learning the new stuff.

  13. Plus, it feels a bit silly and pretentious for two English speakers to speak French together, and other expats have the same difficulty judging my abilities as I do theirs.

  14. Susan, what you say is true: it does make sense that English-speaking people who need to earn a living would return to the U.K. In the cases I know about, one was a man who didn't speak French at all. As for the other, I'm not sure what his language abilities were, but I know he decided that he could make a better living exercising his profession in the U.K. than in France.

    As for French language skills, have you had formal instruction in grammar, phonetics, and so on? I haven't really heard you speak French so I don't have any idea what your level is. If you have a foundation to build on, you should be able to develop your skills quickly as you spend more and more time in France.

  15. Ken: I did French at school from the ages of 12-17 so I sort of have the basics.

  16. Susan, that's what I thought. So you have a good basis to build on. You should make fast progress when you start using French daily. It's really exciting to feel that you are making progress in the language.


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