Why did you decide to move to France?
In 2014, we quit our jobs and took a year off to travel the world. But when we returned to London, we realised we had fallen out of love with city life. The noise, the pollution, the unrelenting rush of movement felt so suffocating. We decided to change our lives.
We trialled a six-month stay in France and loved it. We loved the outdoors, the Pyrenees and the Alps, the great weather, wonderful food, slower pace of life and the opportunity to learn what is probably the most beautiful language in the world.
In the past we’ve been somewhat haughty about expats who move to a country and don’t learn the language, but now we can see how tempting that would be if we had a community of English speakers in the village.
After spending some time back in England sorting out our finances, we made the move more permanent this year.
What has been the most difficult thing about the move so far?
Our social circle has completely shrunk. We live in a tiny village where no one speaks English and our French is limited so there is only so far conversations can go. We are learning French but it will be a long time before we can have truly meaningful conversations.
One must be able to discern the difference between saint, sein, sain, seing, ceins, ceint, sang, sans, cent when spoken. Needless to say, we’re not quite there yet!
In the past we’ve been somewhat haughty about expats who move to a country and don’t learn the language, but now we can see how tempting that would be if we had a community of English speakers in the village. As it stands, we have no choice!
Is there anything interesting about how local people speak?
Our local baker always says “voilà” when she brandishes our freshly made patisseries. It’s one of those things you see in whimsical vignettes of France but suspect never happen in real life – but they do!
On a separate note, the French must have an excellent ear for nuance. Their language has a multitude of silent letters and homophones (or near homophones), so one must be able to discern the difference between saint, sein, sain, seing, ceins, ceint, sang, sans, cent when spoken. Needless to say, we’re not quite there yet!
Any positive surprises?
Only that country life is better than we expected. I (Kia) am a born and bred Londoner and was deeply invested in city life. It was a part of my self-image (independent, sociable, ambitious) and I never thought I’d settle somewhere other than a vibrant city.
Peter is from Norfolk so is a country boy at heart. It’s surprised us both how well I’ve taken to country life. If anything, I love it more than he does!
What do you miss the most about the UK/London?
On a general scale, we miss our friends and family. France and the UK are relatively close though, so we don’t have to miss big events like weddings and major birthdays.
Remember that you can always come home. If you adjust your thinking from ‘let’s move forever’ to ‘let’s try it for a year’, it suddenly becomes less scary.
On a smaller scale, we miss London’s year-round calendar of interesting events. For example, there was a screening of mountaineering movie Touching the Void set to a live orchestra at the Barbican in June. That would have been amazing. And we’re still trying to work out where we can see Wonder Woman!
Any suggestions for people moving abroad (language wise and in general)?
First, remember that you can always come home. So many people would love to live in a foreign country but are daunted by the magnitude of the move. If you adjust your thinking from ‘let’s move forever’ to ‘let’s try it for a year’, it suddenly becomes less scary.
Language learning isn’t hard, but it is long.
Second, don’t give up on the local language. One of the best pieces of advice we’ve read is that language learning isn’t hard but it is long. Lots of people attempt to learn a language and give up when they don’t get very far, claiming that it’s ‘too hard’. Learning a new vocabulary isn’t inherently difficult (you’ve done it all your life!) but it is a long journey to fluency. Bear that in mind and you’ll feel less frustrated by your lack of progress.
Kia and Peter run Atlas & Boots, an outdoor travel blog covering thrilling activities in far-flung places, be it swimming with whales in Tonga or trekking volcanoes in Vanuatu. Between them, they have travelled to over 70 countries, most recently completing a year-long trip across the South Pacific and South America.