26 November 2013

La vie continue

Some days there's bound to be a "is that all there is?" feeling in the air, even here. Or worse. It's been nearly 11 years since we focused our lives on France and Saint-Aignan, after all. Here we are facing our next winter. Things look bleak. Ho-hum.

Even though Walt and I have congratulated ourselves on the successful transition we've engineered, you can't be bouncing off the walls with joy every day. The best you can hope for is a kind of long-term satisfaction. Do we enjoy what we do every day? Yes. Do we like living in this house? Yes. Do we still love French food, history, landscapes, markets, and people? Yes. Are we learning something new every day? Again, yes. Are we getting some exercise every day? Yes, thanks to the dog, we have to. Did we rescue a cat? Yes, we did. Are we eating our greens?

I read blogs where recently arrived expatriates lament the feeling that French people aren't motivated to work hard at their jobs and give their all to satisfy their customers. Some say it's because there's now a socialist government in Paris. People just want to take long lunches, work short days and weeks, and live off the misguided generosity of the socialist political figures who pander to them. I'm not convinced.

Some older people I talk to tell me that it's a shame that the younger generation can't enjoy the life, the prosperity, the comforts that their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Does that make sense? World War II... duh. World War I... re-duh. The future will be catastrophic, they say. A major crisis is coming. As somebody once said: « Après moi le déluge. »

On another subject, it's interesting to me that some expats who've lived here for a year or two already have developed a very elaborate analysis that convinces them France is going to hell in a handbasket. Based on what experience do they think that? I'll tell you what I think after 40 years of life in France. It's always been like this. There is always an economic crisis. Skies are gray. Work is a pain. Customer service? Well customers want to be spoiled — don't we all? Get over it.

If you've ever watched many French films, you know that what they call « le happy end » that American films are so famous for is not a part of the French mentality. It seems too pat, too simplistic. Life just goes on, with its trials and its joys, for year after year, generation after generation, century after century. It's been this way for nearly 2,000 years. Change is constant, but slow. Relax. Enjoy it. Who sang this: "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time..."?

There. I feel better already.


  1. Well said.
    Life can't be exciting all the time and the doom and gloom you describe is the same as people grumble about here in the UK, just the detail is slightly different.
    It's when there's not much going on that it's most important to feel comfortable about where you live I think.

  2. "It's been this way for nearly 2,000 years."....
    and further!!
    If you could go back in time...
    before written history...
    it would be the same.

    To us it would seem terrible...
    how could people live like that...
    the suffering, the lack of facilities, the violence, the disease...
    but that is because we are comparing it with "The Now".

    France has had a reputation for a laid back lifestyle...
    but that is "Bad for THE Economy"...
    The need to continually expand "The Economy" is unsustainable!

    We chose France because we wanted somewhere where...
    1] we could grow our own veg...
    2] food had more respect...
    3] there was some counrtyside peace at a price we could afford...
    4] the weather was better [still not sure on that one...]
    5] we could live our lives at a slower pace and stay working at what we wanted to do...

    The last is vital for a long life...
    age seems still to be respected in France...
    certainly is around here...
    and some of the longevity is not the regular use of wine...
    but because people stay working...
    they feel valued...
    in certain other "developed" countries...
    especially those with a more Germanic attitude to work...
    when you can't work at the speed of a twenty-something, you are for the scrap heap, like a worn out car!

    Nice post, Walt!!

  3. Tim, my impression is that, on the whole, the weather is a lot better in the Loire than it is in Derbyshire and, from what I remember from the years I lived there, Yorkshire too!
    The summers are warmer for longer and the growing season is longer. Winters may be dismal but at least there's nowhere near as much snow with the havoc it brings.
    Unless one is wealthy enough to "winter somewhere warm", the winters in the Loire are a small price to pay for the joy of the better weather in spring, summer and autumn.
    Otherwise I totally agree with every word!

  4. i love that Tim said "where food has more respect" - i'm going to think about that today. thanks!

  5. Very interesting remarks about the French. You seem to cope well enough without complaining online. France is a different country to the US, England and Australia. Surprisingly, in France they do things the French way.

  6. Vive la France! Et vive la différence!

  7. A year or two is not a very long time to have a completely objective opinion on a country, particularly when one isn't fluent in the language. I think most of the expats complaining are from the US or from foreigners who have lived in the US. It is a different life and you, Ken, have explained very well along the year why it is different. As I have written so often on different blog comments : it is very important to rent a house for a year or two before you sell your house and belongings to settle to a different city, state or country. That should give you enough time to realize if it is really where you want to live for a good length of time. The grass is not always greener on the other side, but, like in a relationship, having a baby is not going to help save a marriage if you are not ready to make an effort and change your attitude.

  8. Great comments by Nadege :)
    Ken, whenever I think of the expats who complain about life in France, I remember your saying once that those who frequently rail against life in France are usually those who came to France somewhat unwillingly... a spouse's job transfer, for example.

    I think it's too bad when folks can't focus on the positive-- of which there is SO much in France. There is negative in every country and every culture. When people complain about "Americans", for example, I sigh, and think to myself, "We are such a HUGE country-- we have every possible kind of person and every possible kind of attitude here-- there is no typical American." I'd like to say the same for France.

  9. Judy, I agree with you. For years I've been saying that France is 'tout un monde' -- not a 'monde à part' but big enough to include people of every type, persuasion, and attitude imaginable. That means it's real.

  10. Bonjour. I used to follow your blog, but for some reason, have not seen it pop up in my blogroll lately. Nadege (who commented above,) keeps an eye on things for me and knows I enjoy posts related to expats' experiences in France. She also knows I deeply dislike negative posts bemoaning the "decline of France…" and I am guessing that is why she sent me here today. :-) I congratulate you on your balanced take on French life.

    I have lived in the United States for 18 years, have built a life here, and am lucky to have many wonderful friends. Yet, I miss France, my family, and Europe, each year a little more. When expats [ insert ominous tone] decry the decline of France/Paris (even though most don't seem to realize Paris is NOT France,)/French culture/French food, etc, all the while enjoying what I miss so much, they drive me crazy [insert sound of finger nails scratching the blackboard…]

    You make astute observations about the French and how they approach life. I see my relatives every year. They have not changed one bit. Neither has their take on the country's decline, their pessimism, or, for that matter, their appreciation of the finer things in life, like a good meal, and a good bottle of wine. And they still love France, believe me, they do. Most would not live anywhere else.

    I love to say that foreigners fail to realize France's decline probably started way back when, in the 18th century, when France and the French language *almost* ruled the world. :-) When you once had a Louis XIX, a "Sun King," no less, it is hard not to look at the current French president and not sigh. Yes, a long decline it has been… :-)

    Things are not perfect. They have not been in a long, long time. Yet, people go on. That is how they roll.

    I am glad you have made a good life in my homeland. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  11. Bonjour Ken,

    Some of your followers would not agree with me but it looks like the British and Americans journos, posted in Paris with time on their hands and expense accounts , are finding all kind of reasons to bash France and the current govt. It started with the Economist well before the Presidential campaign of 2012 and they seem to keep going at it since it means that it is selling at home.

    As for the new expats, some come with preconceived ideas of a tourist and then realized that , heck, "le quotidien" is not the same. France has been suffering from the lack of good and proper jobs for some decades and many do not realize that the young people are coming out of universities wondering whether they will have proper employment . Some are surviving on CDI for more than 5 yrs and the manufacturing industry is going south because of competition.

    IMHO the expansion of the EU has been a big mistake with all the silly demands coming from Brussels , let alone the EU zone.

  12. Hahaha, very recognizable. It's the decrease of sunlight that sets on a change of mood. No worries; come spring, and you feel like new again, all optimistic and happy again.

  13. Nice post, Walt!!
    Sorry... KEN!
    My mind was obviously more befuddled than usual this morning...
    I'd not finished my cup of "resuscicafé" when I wrote that....
    that's my excuse anyhowz!!!

  14. Ah, I'm late here today and both the post and comments are among my favorite sort! You guys are the best.

    How can we be too gloomy when our world is so big now and we can easily connect with friends and families all over the world?

    I've repeated what my dad said many times, "the good old days weren't that good." He was in WW1. Now I have to add what Teddy Roosevelt said, "comparison is the thief of joy".

    Sietsje has a point, we'll feel better when the days start getting longer and we have more daylight.

  15. Evelyn, as always, I love the way you think :)

  16. Thanks Judith! We francophiles must think alike....

  17. Jean, Walt and I have been talking recently about how well our 10-year plan has worked out. We lived for years on the proceeds of the sale of our house in San Francisco, and now our retirement pensions are supporting us. Prices keep going up, but what's new about that? We're happier here than we would be if we were still in pricey, trafficky California, I'm sure.

    Tim, your reasons for relocating to France pretty much mirror ours. Plus the cost of living here is definitely lower than it was in a big city like San Fran. Don't worry about calling me Walt -- it's kind of a compliment.

    OFG, I agree.

    Andrew, some people can't resist comparing everything. It's inevitable in the beginning stages of being a resident of a new country. But it makes for a bad beginning.

    Nadège, renting before buying is a very good idea for people coming to France or any other country without previous experience living there. Especially if you don't speak the language. Better not to commit too early.

    Hello Véronique, thanks for your comment. I've read many of your blog posts over the past few years. I am happy here, and I've been happy in France for all the 43 years I've lived here, intermittently. I knew I wanted to live here again before I made the big move in 2003. I'm not sure I really believe in the decline theory, except on an international level. With all the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, France has lived through hard times, for sure. But life here is a lot better now than it was in the 1970s, for example — better plumbing, better kitchens, more comfortable houses and apartments, good roads, the TGV, better cars, and on and on. The food is still excellent and affordable if you are willing to cook at home. Happy Holidays to you and yours too.

    Beaver, France is the country the anglophone world loves to hate! Unemployment is a problem in all the Western economies, n'est-ce pas?

    Sietske, Evelyn, Judy, :-).


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