One Canadian family talks about resettling in France
We are a small family, myself, my husband and our now 11 year old daughter. An average Canadian family with a home in the suburbs, a cottage on a ski hill and an impossibly busy schedule. Our life is normal and I say normal because I feel like too many couples today felt the same way I did, BUSY and that is today’s normal. No time to do anything of real value, running from one activity to another, to be social without meaningful interactions and increasingly busy thoughts on how to be better but mostly quicker.
I dreamt of simplicity, less competition in every aspect of my life and more meaning in my day to day. I craved culture and more experiences, as our plan evolved I realized that I yearned for less stuff and more time without a plan.
We’ve been living in the south of France now for over a year – we’ve always really wanted to take the plunge after way too many episodes of House Hunters International but fear kept us from taking the leap. 2015 Easter weekend, we were sitting by a pool in Cuba and met a couple travelling and volunteering throughout the country with their similarly aged daughter. It was like fate meeting these folks and it gave us the opportunity to re-hash this pipe dream. Being on vacation meant we had time to actually discuss it further and boy did we ever! We got home from our vacation with a firm plan – rent the house, the cottage, sell our stuff, move to France.
We decided on France because we speak French at home, French is my first language, our daughter went to an all French school in Canada and we felt like it was safe and socially similar to Canada. We threw around the idea of Italy, Spain even Costa Rica but I’m so glad we didn’t go to any of those places where language would have been difficult for us all to acclimate.
We landed on December 27th, 2015, we settled on a lovely town called Aix-les-Bains, in the south east of France about an hour from Lyon. We chose this town because of it’s stunning Lac du Bourget and proximity to the French alps since we are skiers, also being close to the airport gives us the flexibility to fly to many places without much of an effort.
We moved into a furnished apartment right downtown and had our daughter already registered for school the first week of January 2016. Initially it seemed easy because our daughter made friends, we chose to avoid buying a car and walked everywhere, we traveled on weekends and it was wonderful but then in May we opted to look at other accommodation without furniture so we could save some money. We found an amazing apartment but setting up utilities wasn’t as easy as expected. French is French right? NO! France French and Canadian French are two different dialects! Often when you get an answer from someone in the service industry in France, it’s best to repeat the question, confirm their answer and even ask another person to be sure you understand!
We are settled now and my daughter has made close friends, my husband is speaking more French is more confident in his ability and I am enjoying the simplicity of living here. It wasn’t always easy I must admit. Cleaning out a home you lived in for 10 years was a challenge and getting the logistics sorted was stressful. Obviously now that we are here missing family and friends has been tough, we are trying to communicate with family more often and with the social world we live in we do feel like we get a glimpse into our former lives, missing some parts not missing others…at all.
As a family we have experienced so many things together: we lost each other on a Paris metro, encountered not so friendly locals but also met some amazing, helpful and welcoming individuals. We have learned so much in only a short year. I think the best part is time, we are no longer over-scheduled and busy as we once were, we have greater flexibility in our schedule and since we still work Canadian hours we have all day to do what we please. We have found that the cost of living has changed dramatically for us. We no longer have large utility bills, insurance, phone bills, etc. Yes we have water and electricity, cable and phone bills here but at a fraction of the cost. Since we did not buy a car, our biggest savings is the cost of gas. With two cars at home we were paying so much in gas. Food is way cheaper here, we buy fresher more clean food without so many chemicals.
We have not registered our daughter in extracurricular activities since we tend to travel on weekends and if we don’t – well sometimes it’s nice to browse around your city without much of a plan. We work 3pm-11pm which gives us so much freedom during the day. I have the pleasure to volunteer at my daughter’s school, exercise without time constraints and I love my grocery stops on the way home to simply grab a few things. Time is really what we value most now. We have all realized that our former life was cluttered with stuff and also with people we didn’t necessarily care to spend time with. We have few friends here but that’s ok, our family relationship has really grown stronger as a result of our time together.
That’s a good question, we have been returning in the summers, a sort of reverse vacation – Canada in the summer, France the rest of the year! It’s a harsh reality to go home, because we are only there for about 6 weeks we are rushed to see all of our loved ones and get in all of the important events during that time. But we do feel the pinch going home, our bank account drains very quickly and both my husband and I realize how well we have it made in France without so many expenses. We will stay in France until our tenants keep renting our home and until our daughter is happy here but if I’m honest it will be a tough transition coming back to the fast pace of a North American lifestyle.
I’m sure many people reading this would love to take the leap and do what we did but what I say to you is that you don’t have to leave your country to change your pace of life. I think if we had moved into the downtown core of our city and got rid of cars and started to walk everywhere I think we would have seen our lives slow down and valued our surroundings more. Over scheduled kids don’t make for calm, peaceful and kind adults, how do they have time to think of anything else than what’s on their schedule. I was committed to have more experiences and less stuff and I have succeeded (although my shoe closet will beg to differ!)