England? France? A six months review.

Just down the road from our house in Laroque
Just down the road from our house in Laroque

We’ve been back in the UK from France six months now, so this seems a good moment to take stock.

Did we do the right thing in coming back to England to live?  Absolutely no question: we’re so happy to be here, and nearer to most of the family.  There are things we miss about our lives in France though: of course there are.  It was tough to leave friends behind, and we continue to miss them.  Still, three have visited already, and there are more scheduled to come and see us here.  And it’s sad no longer having the Pyrenees as the backdrop to our lives.  Though North Yorkshire’s scenery brings its own pleasures.

Still, it’s wonderful not to have to tussle with language on a day-to-day basis.  Our French was pretty good, but it was generally a bit of a challenge to talk in any kind of nuanced way about the  more serious things in life.  Now I feel I’ve freed up enough head-space to revise my very rusty Italian, and to learn enough Spanish to get by when we visit Emily in Spain.

Many of our regrets or rediscovered delights centre on food.  This summer, we’ve gorged ourselves on the soft fruits that the British Isles grow so well: particularly raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries.  Oh, they exist in southern France, but they’re wretched, puny little things, with no lively acidic tang like those of their British cousins.  In a straight choice between raspberries and peaches, raspberries win every time (though of course, it’s even better not to have to choose).

Blackberrying near Harewood.
Blackberrying near Harewood.

I miss, though, the choice we used to have in France of four or five different kinds of fresh, dewy whole lettuce available on market stalls every single week of the year.  It’s flat, cos or little gem here, or those depressing bags of washed mixed leaves, and I find myself longing for the choices I used to have of crunchy, curly, bitter, blanched or soft leaves in various shades of green or even red.  On the other hand, we do have tangy watercress here.  And crisp crunchy apples, and Bramley cooking apples…..

And whereas in France there were always French cheeses on offer, and jolly good too, that was all there was, apart from the odd bit of shrink-wrapped Cheddar or waxy Edam.  Here we can have English AND French (and Dutch and so on): decent French cheese too, unpasteurised, from small suppliers.

And what about eating out? Surely that’s better in France?  Those copious home-cooked midday ‘formules’ – often a starter, main course, pudding AND wine, preferably eaten in the open air shaded by some nearby plane trees bring back such happy memories.  But, but…. the menus were entirely predictable, and were dishes that had stood the test of time over the decades.  After a few years, we wouldn’t have objected to a few surprises.  Whereas back in Britain, most places seem to have upped their game considerably over the last few years.  Local restaurants, pubs and cafés offer interesting menus, often based on what’s available that day, at fair prices.  We’ve had some great meals since our return, and we’ve hardly started to get to know the area’s food map yet.  And for Malcolm, there’s the constant possibility of slipping into a tea room to assess the quality of their coffee and walnut cake.  This may be the main reason why he’s come back.

All the same, we can’t eat outside quite so often, particularly in the evening.  And our fellow walkers have yet to be convinced of the pleasures of the shared picnic with home-made cakes and a bottle of wine: we’re working on them.  Nor have we yet had a community meal, with long tables set out in the square as old friends and new share  fun together over a leisurely meal.

Like most people who return from France, we find the crowded motorways unpleasant.  But it is nice not to be followed at a distance of only a few inches by the cars behind us.

We’re struggling to shake off French bureaucracy too.  Tax offices and banks over there continue to ignore our letters pointing out we no longer live there, continue to demand paperwork they’ve already seen, continue to ignore requests.  And as we can no longer pop into the local office to sort things out, the problems just go on and on.

Something we’re enjoying here too is the possibility of being involved in volunteering.  It’s something that exists in France of course: Secours Populaire and similar organisations couldn’t function without local help.  But the French in general believe the state should provide, and the enriching possibilities for everyone concerned that volunteering in England can offer simply don’t exist.  We already help at a community bakery, but I’m currently mulling over whether I should find out more about the local sheltered gardening scheme for people with learning disabilities, or about working with groups of children at Ripon Museums, or simply go into the local Council for Voluntary Service and find out what other opportunities exist.

Six months in, we’ve spent more time with our families, re-established old friendships, begun to make new ones.  We’re happy in our new village home, and the slightly different centre-of-gravity we now have.  Poor Malcolm’s waiting longer than he would have had to in France for a minor but necessary operation, but despite that, life’s good.  We’re back in England to stay.

Near Malham Tarn.
Near Malham Tarn.

 

18 thoughts on “England? France? A six months review.”

  1. Always wonderful to read your posts – my dad and step-mother missed France when they moved ‘home’ in 1998 but learned to appreciate their new home – and my step-mother still does. France is a special place, indeed: lovely food, great markets, and the French culture. But every place has its lovely parts and not so lovely, too. Enjoy your day and the beautiful fall weather.

    Like

  2. So glad to hear that you’re both so happy. You can always grow lettuce, on second thoughts it might not be so easy as we buy plantlets in Lavelanet market and bring them back to get variety. If I lived abroad permanently I’d need to grow horseradish. Our plums are usually better in France but, oddly, I prefer the figs we grow in England.

    Like

    1. We had good plums in France too, but this is one type of fruit I find equally good in both countries. I grew horseradish in France… but the figs in our landlord’s garden here haven’t ripened yet, and I suppose won’t now. We have no garden of our own – just enjoy using the landlord’s wonderful one but I am going to do more veg. in pots next year.

      Like

  3. What a beautiful post Margaret, it makes me feel homesick for England and I don’t even come from there, but the way you describe your relatively easy transition and your optimism in sharing the things that have changed for the good and your closeness to family, sounds absolutely delightful, what more could one ask for really – well maybe for the French bureaucracy to go away.

    Enjoy!

    Like

  4. This has been thought-provoking for me. We were only in the Pyrenees for three months so moving back home was not such a big deal for us. However, we have ambitions of returning to the Pyrenees for longer some time, perhaps in a few years time when our kids are older, so your post gives me a sense of what we might experience one day. Like you, we loved many things about that part of France but are certainly appreciating anew many things back home in Wellington, including the fresh fruit, coffee, and variety of great food.

    Like

    1. One thing that became increasingly important in our thoughts was ‘how would it feel to become old and infirm abroad?’ and we concluded it could be isolating: more so than it would be ‘chez nous’. So we wanted to return whilst still young and active enough to put roots down again here. I;d never want to be that isolated Englishwoman I heard about who ended up in a retirement home there, isolated and without friends. Though to be fair, we speak French (would we still if we started going gaga?) and have French friends.

      Like

  5. We had some guests a few weeks back who grow almost enough veg to feed themselves in pots, so it can be done! And back in Norfolk all our lettuce was grown in pots in the courtyard so that we didn’t have to walk the 5 minutes to the veg garden! Seeds of Italy have some lovely varieties.

    It’s good to read your stocktaking post. It’s always seemed like the right thing for you both to have done so I’m glad you did it, even though I miss you being here!

    Like

    1. And you, of course, are among the people I miss – very much. I’ll of course do veg. in pots – I’ve done it before, but never that successfully with lettuce. I really don’t know why.

      Like

  6. I think it’s wonderful that you can be so happy where you are–first, France and now, England. It’s a rare gift, I think, to see the best of the place you are rather than believing that business of the “grass being greener” elsewhere.

    Like

    1. Oh, I used to be a real ‘grass-is-greener’ sort of girl. I don’t know whether I’ve worked at seeing things differently, or simply realised, as I get older, how lucky we’ve been.

      Like

  7. I know I’m late responding but when I started reading this I realized I had to come back when I could pay it more attention…it’s a delightful comparison of your two lifestyles! As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how proximity to our son, daughter in law and grandchildren is a big factor in our happiness level – I know that’s not the same for everyone but it’s important to take stock as you’ve done. I’m still struggling a bit with your France vs UK restaurant comparison though!

    Like

    1. Really? As far as restaurants go, I’m not really comparing like with like. Our area of France was very depressed economically and very traditional. The food we enjoyed there was prepared by good cooks who’d learnt at their grandma’s knee and knew their stuff, but were not open to much that was new. North Yorkshire is much more prosperous and has young chefs, likewise well grounded in skills, though learnt in colleges and kitchens, anxious to make their reputation by cooking decent food and experimenting with a range of cuisines. And yes- being near family is important. One daughter is now further away – though happily within easy reach still thanks to low-cost airline travel.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s