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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

7 Things You Can Expect When You Move to Rural France

Moving to rural France and living the French dream sounds like an idyllic proposition doesn’t it? Most people imagine spending their days drinking great wine, eating amazing cheese and buying fresh croissants every day.

Now whilst there are probably some people who do live their life that way, for the majority of us the reality is a little different. Real life is never quite the same as being on holiday. I’ve met a lot of people who fell in love with the idea of living in rural France whilst vacationing only to have a bit of a rude awakening when they took the plunge.

So what can you expect when you move to rural France? Is it really all sunflowers and good wine or is that just an illusion dreamt up by the Francophiles?
Well after living here for six years now I can quite honestly say that this absolutely feels like home and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But the road hasn’t always been a smooth one and there have been a few bumps along the way.

So to help you understand a little more about rural life and the French countryside, here’s seven different things to consider if you’re thinking about taking the plunge.

What is life really like in rural France?

Is it really all sunflowers and good wine or is that just an illusion dreamt up by the Francophiles?

Well, after living here for six years now I can quite honestly say that this absolutely feels like home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But the road hasn’t always been a smooth one and there have been a few bumps along the way.

So to help you understand a little more about rural life, and the French countryside, here’s seven different things to consider if you’re thinking about taking the plunge.

No 1 – 24 Hour opening doesn’t exist in France

When you move to rural France you need to prepare yourself for a slower pace of life. That includes two hour lunch breaks, shops not opening on a Sunday, and strictly adhered to opening and closing times.

Trust me this one used to drive me insane when I first moved over here. The amount of times I’ve gone into Mansle, my nearest town, to go to the bank or pharmacy only to find them shut. It’s pretty standard in the country areas. Most places will shut between Midday and 2pm.

A sign with French writing on saying open

But what used to really drive me insane was the hours set by the French tradesmen and builders. When we were renovating our barns our workmen would turn up at around 9.30am and then down tools at Midday and not come back until 2pm.

Then to add insult to injury they’d finish for the day at 4.30pm, meaning I was lucky if they did a five hour day. I’ll be honest, I struggled with it for a while until I realised that there was no use fighting it. And if I wanted to avoid a permanent headache I just needed to accept it.

I should also mention Sunday shopping hours. It’s a bit like being back in the 80s when nothing opened on a Sunday. I used to hate it when I was kid as it always felt like there was nothing to do. Now however, I relish my Sundays spent relaxing, going on picnics, bike rides, hosting BBQs in the summer. Or even baking up a storm in our cosy kitchen in the winter.

Some of the supermarkets like our local SuperU open till around 12.30pm, but that’s about it. Shopping malls are closed and it really is time to unwind, sit back and relax. It’s part of what makes French rural life so good.

Group of people raising their glasses and having a drink

No 2 – Socialising with your plumber is perfectly normal

Life is different here in rural France. Your usual cohort of friends, the ones you can normally rely on for those quick shopping trips, coffees or drinks at the local wine bar, aren’t available once you relocate.

You have to get used to socialising in a slightly different way.

It’s really quite normal over here to befriend your local tradie, hairdresser or real estate agent. Seriously, I kid you not.

One of my closest friends in France is my wonderful hairdresser, Nicky, who I was introduced to by another client of hers. Your friend circle is smaller so spending New Years Eve with your plumber and his wife would not be unusual. (That was hubby and I in our first full year of living in France)

What I will say though is try not to gravitate to all expats otherwise you really do miss out on so much. We’re lucky to have several close French friends and we’ve become part of their extended family. It’s wonderful to be invited to Bastille Day and numerous other French celebrations, and be treated the same way as everyone else.

Every time Stefan, my slightly eccentric neighbour, has any type of event we’re always invited. It really helps us to feel like we belong and aren’t just living our English life in a different country.

A man with a gun and two dogs in a field

No 3 – You could get shot by la chasse in the French countryside

Hunting, or shooting, is huge here in rural France. And through Autumn and Winter the hunters, AKA La Chasse, are out en masse shooting at everything in sight, including themselves sometimes.

I’m always more careful when I’m walking Lottie (my border collie) during these months as she could easily get shot at. The Chasse aren’t fussy and hunt everything from deer to wild boar. Health and safety is a phrase that doesn’t enter their vocabulary.

It’s not unusual for passers-by to get shot by mistake. And because alcohol is involved during lunch the hunters often shoot each other, it happens with startling regularity. You’re taking your life in your hands if you venture into their path during hunting season.

French produce on a table with a red and white tablecloth

No 4 – Local Markets are a way of life in France

As I’ve mentioned before, fresh fruit and veg are a big part of life in rural France. This post on How to Survive Grocery Shopping in France will help you understand.

And we’re lucky enough to have weekly food markets with stalls selling produce as fresh as you’re ever likely to see. No perfectly shaped carrots or cleanly scrubbed potatoes, they’re fresh from the ground.

We’re used to making sure we don’t buy too much because things don’t tend to last long. This is due to the farmers not using pesticides, which is great. You need to eat things within a couple of days of purchase.

Seasonality is alive and well here so remember you won’t get everything you want all the time.

What’s available is based on what’s being grown and changes on an almost weekly basis. One Sunday you’ll see a stall packed with tomatoes and the next that same stall will be selling mushrooms instead.

It adds a whole other level of tastiness to your cooking as the fruit and veg has so much flavour. I don’t think I’ve tasted radishes like it since I was a kid.

And food markets aren’t the only kind of markets you’ll find. The French are big on their Brocantes (vintage markets). You’ll find one on nearly every weekend over the summer along with the popular night markets. One of the other many joys of living a French life.

Brown background with a white sticker with red writing and a cross

No 5 – Same day delivery is not a thing in France

Whilst we do have Amazon over here next day delivery or same day delivery are not a thing. Certainly not in the countryside. The standard is 2-3 days out here in the rural areas. It’s something you have to get used to.

In all honesty though it isn’t really a problem. I keep reminding myself, I grew up in a decade without mobile phones, online shopping or home delivery, unless you count the milkman of course. And guess what, I survived.

Same day delivery is not a necessity and it certainly doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of living in France.

A laptop screen with writing and a green soft toy

No 6 – Buffering is a way of life & slow internet is normal in rural France

I won’t lie, the Internet has been the bane of my life since I’ve been over here. We do now have fibre in our little village of Saint Front. But it has been quite the journey. As you can imagine, running an online business reliable WiFi is kind of crucial.

In hindsight, I probably should have done a speedtest when we came to view our property, but I didn’t. I was too busy falling in love with gorgeous beams and barns waiting to be renovated to be worried about practicalities like that.

I did remember to ask the question of whether the internet speed was good, and I was duly told it was. And that was enough for me. But even if I had done a more thorough check it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was in love with the property and nothing was going to change that.

However, it is something to be aware of. Even now, with our high speed fibre installed we still suffer with buffering. ITV and BBC are the worst, but even Prime can play up every now and again.

The only time I ever really worry is when I’m doing a live training that’s reliant on my WiFi. Actually, believe it or not, I did manage to host a 12 hour live online summit in January 2022 with over 700 attendees. During that whole period it didn’t go down once. Twelve solid hours of live streaming without any hiccups, and that was before fibre. Someone was clearly looking out for me that day.

We’ve had a great experience with Bouygues Telecom and it’s the strongest provider for our area, and that’s the key. But others that are good include Orange and SFR.

A French building for the mayor in France the Marie

No 7 – Befriend your local mayor in your French Commune

Here in France every little village has a church and a Marie (the administrational hub for everything in your municipality). The Mayor has his office in the Marie and actually has quite a bit of power.

If for example, you want to apply for an extension on your house, you need to get permission for this from your local Marie. In fact, pretty much anything like that needs permission. We had an experience with this not long after we’d moved here.

We’d noticed there was a bit of a smell occurring every time the dishwasher or washing machine were running. We discovered it was because the drains were emptying right outside the house. It smelt a bit like rotten eggs.

The answer was to run new pipework so the drains emptied away from the house in the field across the road. To do this though we needed the pipes to go under the road running in front of our property.

I should just mention that drainage systems in France are a little different. But that’s a story for another day.

Now our little road has practically no traffic. The only people who use it are the post lady, delivery vans, the people who live in Chez Le Coq and the odd nosy walker. But, busy or not busy, we were still going to have to dig up the road to achieve what we wanted to do.

Luckily for us, Stefan, my neighbour who was doing the work for us, knew the Mayor very well. On our behalf he approached him to get his permission. We were told he would come to see us for a visit to see what was required.

I was quite excited as I’d never had a local Mayor come to my home. Turns out he was not only a lovely friendly Mayor, but was extremely helpful too. Not only did he give permission to do what needed to be done, but he sent out two workmen to dig up the road for us. They also repaired it all when we were finished. Free of charge I might add.

So as I say, befriending your local Mayor can be very beneficial. Not to mention the Marie itself is full of information. You’ll find everyting you need as you settle into French life so it’s worthwhile introducing yourself.

Life in the Charente for me is good. It’s certainly not been without it’s ups and downs though. Moving to a new country and learning a new language can be tough. Hopefully these 7 tips on moving to rural France will help.

À bientôt et merci beaucoup!

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