Monday, 7 June 2010

Brits Abroad

Our local bar is run by an English couple and when we moved here we were rather disappointed when we realised that the heart of the community was not run by locals. Had we been in a position to afford to go drinking, we had rather hoped the local bar would be a good place to converse with our French neighbours.

A run of programmes such as 'A place in the sun' had advertised our region as one of the cheapest in France and therefore increased the steady flow of British migrants to a flood. What we thought was a little French village is inhabited by a huge number of us.

Neil had started French lessons before moving here, and it was our aim to befriend our neighbours and try to integrate as much as possible. This was hindered somewhat when our closest neighbours suddenly lost their son in a tragic road accident soon after we moved. Although they have always been friendly their grief made it difficult to become close, and finding something to say would have been difficult enough in our own language, let alone our adopted one. So now we have a friendly but not close relationship with them.

We also hadn't bargained for the scale of the difference in culture, sense of humour and lifestyle. The French are very different beasts to us, and although we have made some good friends we feel we will never really be accepted totally here by the French.

It is with mixed emotions then that our social life is mostly spent with our English friends. As much as we were loathe to go down that route on arriving here I just can't imagine ever getting to the stage where I can just have a really 'good laugh' in French. Even the French friends we have made here despair of their 'backward thinking' compatriots and nightmare bureaucracy.

Tonight was the final nail in the coffin for our integration. We went to the bar as there was a fish and chip van there, and purchased cod and chips twice.
We took them to the lake where we walk Tess and sat at a picnic bench with our bottles of salt, vinegar and Heinz tomato ketchup. So we are failed integrators.

Do you know what... it was bloody lovely!!!!!


  1. Know exactly what you mean Roz. We are busy with french lesson getting ready for our "Move to France" but already have several English and dutch (but english speaking friends) and our village is also inundated. Who would think that a village of 208 people would have at least 4 british families there! But I intend to try and at least be even-handed. But it is alway tempting to take the easy route. Fish and Chips by the lake in France sounds idyllic - can't wait.

  2. I would go a long way for good fish and chips. I remember finding a fish and chip van at the Cherbourg ferry car park and feeling almost overwhelmed by emotion! Daft!
    So many British immigrants have the idea of 'integrating', but sometimes locals just aren't interested in our ambitions...and it's not just lack of interest in foreigners from across the borders, it's foreigners from the next department, too!
    You can have a really good laugh in French...but, as with english, it has to be the right people and the right situation.
    At least the locals aren't laughing behind your back at your attempts to be more French than the French.

  3. We haven't given up completely soft and fly! I do speak French every day with my colleague, and we are learning French again and the aim is to do as much as we can, but the blog was a bit of an admission of failure I guess!!

  4. Went to the Scotland/France rugby in Edinburgh a few months back with Christian, a French neighbour, who'd never been abroad. He doesn't speak Anglais and I hardly speak a word of Frog but we got on fine and had a great time. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to a fish'n'chip shop late one night after a bevvying session. Took our wrapped grub back to the hotel and disappeared into our respective rooms. Met up next morning over brekkie and Christian remarked about the absolute deliciousness of "feesh et sheeps", never having tasted this delicacy before. He also raved about haggis, neeps and tatties. Strange for a Frenchman, eh?

  5. I know what you mean. I can't imagine ever getting to the stage where I can have a really good chin-wag with the locals and find it a depressing thought. Sometimes I just wish that I could go to the shops and really join in with the conversations, instead of being on the sidelines listening and trying to piece it all together. We're the only Brits in our village, there were two more couples but they went back!

  6. We have integrated with our French neighbours very well. No English in our hamlet besides us. My French is shocking to say the least of it, but we go to their houses and they come to ours. Somehow we manage to undersatnd each other and we laugh a lot. Diane

  7. I went to a Scotland vs France match at Edinburgh once Tommo - but Neil had proposed and bought my engagement ring so I spent most of the match looking at the ring not the game! Great that you can go with a French friend though.
    Jan - Catalan sounds like a really difficult language to learn - good for you for trying!
    Diane - So glad you get on well with your neighbours, there seems to be a Brit almost in every hamlet here though - maybe they feel a little over-run. Having said that I did have a laugh with my french co-worker this morning - his trousers fell down when he was mucking out!!!

  8. We aren't too beseiged by other English here, and those that are here we mostly avoid. Had bad experiences with them in our first year - it was if we were some sort of freak show because when they were bored they would come and have a look at us living in our caravans and a ruin. Seemed to give them pleasure. So no, we are very careful of other English here.
    Fish and chips? Yummy! Must be eaten outside, though. And sometimes I miss takeaways especially when I am having an off day with cooking. But overall I am glad we have French neighbours, and that we know more French people than English. Seems right somehow, even if sometimes my French vocabulary is zilch.

  9. Vera, how you are is how we had imagined we would be living here.
    That said I like to think we make friends with any nationality - as long as they aren't like the English you have met. What a shame.

  10. Of course you haven't given up!
    In a way it was easier for me when I first moved as no one spoke any English so it was learn French or become a female trappist.
    My neighbours were great...and it finally dawned on me that most of my problem was because they were speaking patois rather than French.
    I think there is more 'standoffishness' among French people now that there are many more 'furriners' moving into the country...we used to be a curiosity and now they all think we're living ff the French state.
    I wish they'd tell me how!

  11. I've heard that too Helen - and yet nobody I know has ever claimed anything, all we seem to do is pay out!

  12. Maybe everyone is more laid back here in the Midi than further north, but we've found that if we join in with village activities everyone is very welcoming and forgiving of our mistakes in French. There are some Brits here who don't join in and that's frowned upon. We did speak French fairly well before we came but we're still nothing like fluent. I think you just have to try your best and everyone appreciates it. We're learning Occitan too, but more for fun than making any progress. We now have some really close friends in the village and we're taking six of them to Wales (where we come from) for a week this summer - should be fun as none of them speak any English or Welsh!


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