‘Welcome to the most cosmopolitan street in France,’ says Daniella, my Brazilian neighbour, whom I had the pleasure to meet at my other neighbour’s chateau, an absolutely jaw-dropping property across the street, where Julia, a Scottish who has been living here with the family for over six years, has organised a ladies’ evening.
I’m gonna be honest with you. It hasn’t crossed my mind for even one second that my life here in France would be anything but dull. I had said good-bye in my heart to Uber, hipster cafes and Lebanese, Indian and Korean restaurants, online takeaways and many other modern commodities. I knew what I was getting myself into and I embraced it because what life in countryside France would give me in return was two houses (one of them I would describe as enormous), nature, amazing views, chickens and goats, time to write and fabulous weather. I knew I had to source my Asian spices somewhere else and that was a sacrifice I was willing to make. I was even willing to keep my friendships alive via Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype. I expected that. But what I didn’t expect was a thrilling social life from my first week in France.
Imagine my shock when I was told our neighbours from across the road were a Scottish family who actually lived here full-time, and not just used their incredible chateau as a holiday home. Hardly had we received our furniture from the UK, that we were immediately invited over for wine. Wine by their imposing fireplace turned into dinner, followed by a doggy bag of delicious Chinese food which we had for dinner the next day. Alistair and I both fell in love with the couple, their two teenage daughters, their exquisite golden retriever Skye and everything they represented. We thought we stroke gold immediately, especially as Alistair’s French, even though it’s coming along nicely, still has a long way to go until banter can be exchanged (which seems that is everything that the locals are desperate for!) and we worried I’d have to do all the talking with our other neighbours from next door, Leia and Eduard, both in their eighties, but certainly very mobile and up for a chat. We soon learnt that going around with eggs to neighbours opened a lot of doors and with the use of a pocket dictionary and sharing Eduard’s reading glasses, Alistair had managed a ten-minute conversation with our octogenarian voisin.
On Thursday last week, Julia took me along to the Epicerie Sans Fin, the organic food shop in Sauveterre-de-Bearn (our neighbouring main village) where weekly French-English conversation classes took place, where I had the opportunity to meet more locals and expats, from places like China, Australia, Belgium or Canada. It had been exactly one week since moving into our new home and I was already meeting loads of people. Not to mention meeting pretty much the entire village at the Auberge Blondain (our local pub) on Sunday, as it was St. Martin’s day, the protector of the village (our village comprises of three little hamlets, one of them being actually called St. Martin). Sadly we didn’t get the memo and hadn’t booked a table for lunch, but had the opportunity to meet two more of our neighbours: Kate and Christopher, with whom we had an absolute riot and the possibility of acquiring Christopher’s trailer.
Please note that here everybody needs a trailer (une remorque) for everyday tasks: such and transporting hey for goats, furniture from brocantes (antiques markets), building materials etc. Practically en essential item. From not having a single clue as to where on Earth we would buy a petite remorque from, now we have two options, Christopher’s trailer, which we are yet to see, and one that Albert, our mechanic (inherited from the previous owners) who had found us a local second-hand car within our budget, had just dropped by to present us.
Enfin, let me tell you about our house. It is splendid and huge. We observe its beautiful exposed beams and marvel at the views everyday and still can’t believe we are here. Nobody I know has so much space, it’s almost a sacrilege. And this is exactly what Daniella (who had also lived in London with her French husband and two toddlers) told me on Friday. That she felt guilty about how large their house was and embarrassed that when the artisans came over to fix things they would look at them with envy. ‘As it turns out,’ laughs Daniella, ‘they have even bigger houses!’
As you can see, I feel welcome in France already. However all this beauty and space will take some getting used to!