I woke this morning with the burning desire to write, I’m not sure why. Later on I realised we were the 7th January, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but tomorrow will be exactly one year since we’ve lived in this house. Maybe it’s a timing thing.
We never moved here with the rose-tinted spectacles, we didn’t have visions of us living in a ‘mas’ (typical pink-roofed, stone house with peeling wooden shutters, swimming pool complete with views over the vineyards). We didn’t imagine ourselves sitting at a wrought-iron table, me in my big, floppy, sun hat with flowing, floral dress and the Hubster in his white, linen pants and shirt sipping a chilled, glass of Rosé and nibbling olives while watching the sun go down over the horizon.
We knew we were coming here to work, integrate and live real lives, we aren’t retired, we aren’t well off and we knew we would have to fit in. We are living the same lives as we did in the UK but we are in France.
My first impressions of living here are ones of joy, happiness, warmth and bewilderment. We have known France for over 30 years, all our holidays have been spent here, my sister lives here, we speak the language and so I was not expecting to be as surprised as I have been.
The French of the South are incredibly friendly, on entering a shop people (including the other customers) say hello, people here … smile, the southern people will say hello as you pass them in the street, they will stop and help you kindly with directions, there appears a lot less shrugging than you will encounter in Paris for example.
The weather has to be the biggest difference we’ve noticed since we’ve lived here in the south of France. The heat? Yes, but more than that, the brightness, the almost guaranteed daily blue skies and sunshine, it makes such a difference to my mood. I feel a surge of happiness and light-heartedness every morning when I look up at the sky, even on a day like today when it is quite frankly, bloody freezing! (The thermometer dropped to -5 last night) Having said that, the winter here is so much shorter and then it shoots straight into summer with a very short, if non-existent spring!
When I think that the UK and France are such close neighbours we are poles apart in attitudes and behaviour, especially being down here in the South. I think the one thing that I’ve noticed the most is the completely different sense of humour, I have a dry, quick somewhat (read: very) sarcastic sense of humour, whereas here in France most of the people I’ve met have a very literal sense of what makes them laugh. My dearest french friend explained that in France you wouldn’t insult a friend ‘Why would you do that?’ I explained that we would only do that with a friend because they are the ones who understand that no harm is meant! I watch French comedians on the TV and the audience and guests are rolling around laughing and I don’t get it, I don’t even feel my lips curl up at the edges, it’s just not funny to me. I find myself in situations whereby I have a brilliant, acidic one-liner that springs into my mind but I’ve learned to just push it back as I know that it will either fall on stoney ground, receive strange looks or even worse, offend someone!
Since I’ve been here I’ve enrolled for the TEFL course, (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Woah, yep I’ve gone back to school! Why oh why didn’t they teach me all this back at school? Do you know your modal verbs, the phonetic alphabet, the 4 conditionals not to mention all the tenses, seriously when was the last time you had to think about whether you were using the Perfect Past of the Future Perfect Continuous? Well, na, na, ne, na, na, I know them now!
You may have already heard about the ‘red tape’ in France! It’s true, every single word is true. I’ve set myself up as a self-employed English teacher and the amount of forms to fill in was staggering and complicated to say the least. The amount of paperwork I received in my letter-box following this was even more impressive. Setting up a bank account was an experience I’d rather forget – I won’t go into detail but let’s just say it got to a stage where I ended up in fits of giggles as I was expecting a hidden cameraman to appear at any moment. I can only compare with the experiences I’ve personally had in the UK, I’m quite sure that anyone foreign settling in my homeland may well tell a different story.
The south of France has a different clock to the rest of the world, it has three speeds, slow, slower and even more slow! At first we found this so incredibly frustrating, you want an appointment? Sure but it’ll be in about 10 days time, I don’t think anything has been done on the spot, ad hoc, but hey surely that is, in fact, one of the reasons we moved here in the first place, the pace of life.
There are so many pluses it’s hard to know where to start, we are living in quite possibly one of the most beautiful and least advertised areas of France. We have kilometres of beautiful beaches within a 15 minute drive.
We have as previously mentioned, the weather.
We have the hinterland which is stunning, rugged and carpeted with thyme which makes every step a sensory delight.
There are medieval and fortified villages and towns that are waiting to be discovered.
We have gushing rivers, for diving into or canoeing down on a hot day.
There are mountains, should we feel the urge to take a hike vertically.
We have a city within a few minutes walk, which is vibrant, colourful, full of culture and events, many of which are free.
The old historic centre with it’s narrow, little streets in which you can get lost. Montpellier has a holiday feel to it, it buzzes from morning to night, winter as in summer.
The city is virtually car free and there is a fantastic, tramway system.
And last but not least, we have bikes, something I never thought I would do at my tender age of 55 soon to be 56, but my old ‘velo’ has become my trusty steed and I love it to bits.
And so dear readers, that is how I’m feeling at the moment, and have felt for the last year. I wake every morning and pinch myself just a little bit, I worry that I’ll wake up and realise it was just a wonderful dream, because that’s just it – I’m living my dream.