French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Design quandary

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This gives you some vague idea of what my living room looks like and also what I’m up against in terms of storage, or the lack thereof.

The room is pretty square, about 5 meters by 5 meters, maybe 6×6, I’m not sure. The ceiling height is up there, more than 3 meters. So you walk in through a door placed in the center of the wall. To the right is a window in the center of that wall. Straight ahead and to the left are blank walls. As is befitting a proper reception room, it is axial and formal. So I have a couple of concerns about how to deal with this room, how respect its character while also respecting mine.

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You see, this is how I live. Nice stuff but books everywhere and what a mess. I even use duvets, so I don’t really have to make the bed. Not that there will be a bed in the front room but you get the idea. Super-casual, a cleaning lady’s nightmare.

I have to figure out how to furnish this room and where to put all that stuff, especially all those books. Do I even want books and DVDs and all — yes, I still like DVDs — in what passes for a public room? Would I rather have them upstairs, where I am more likely to actually use them?

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One option is to say, yes, bookshelves everywhere. I like the way these shelves turn the corner. Stuff display can be a little difficult and having these corner shelves is a nice way to handle it. The furniture would have to be away from the shelves but it’s a big room; that’s not really a problem. I love the fixed positioning of these shelves but for me, that could be a problem.

credit-to-daniel-farmer_el_5oct12_pr_bt_190x190 My original plan was to make this a media room: thus the darkish walls. I don’t do the kind of entertaining that requires a formal living room. Even at my housewarming, at which I think I was the only non-French person, everyone crammed into the kitchen, around the kitchen island. They had a great time, that being where all the food and drink were to be found. So there is no social pressure; I can do what I like with the room.  But I like watching TV upstairs. Do I need two TV setups? When did need come into it?

Anyway, if I do that, and if I do shelves, I’ll need a niche. How many niches? What size? TVs are only getting bigger and they never seem too big. Should I go for something more flexible?

real-homes-6-easy-living-19dec13-paul-massey_bt_426x639_1 I had been thinking I would put shelves on the blank walls, ahead and to the left. But what if I put them on the wall with the doors? My floor plan is actually quite similar to this. With the doors open you look into the kitchen, which has a stove directly ahead and openings to either side. Great minds…

This idea is a real contender. The books have a home without dominating the room. The furniture can be placed such that no one has their back to the door and the circulation is not blocked. The TV can go on the wall opposite the door with pictures, mirrors, who knows what, all around it. I’m not sure how I’ll work the wiring but overall it’s not a bad plan.

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Maybe I should put books on all the walls, with generous openings for paintings, the TV, etc. Nah, probably not.

2873374-house-21jun16-simon-upton_bt_190x190 Maybe I should forget about built-ins, give myself the flexibility of furniture. The room needs a formal treatment, though. I can’t just run to Habitat or see if one of my local sources has reclaimed shop shelving or something. That works for me but not for the house. Furniture or built-in, I may be stuck with something made to measure.

I am used to living in small spaces, as tightly organized as a sailboat. This large space thing is great, no complaints, but it does have its own challenges. In a small house, those shelves would go on the wall with the door, no question. That space to either side of the doors is effectively lost; what better way to make use of it? But I don’t know. I’ll have to kick it around.


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Do you really want to live in the French countryside?

When I thought of buying a house in the country, this is what I thought it would mean. Dinner parties with friends, lovely table settings featuring flowers and ferms from my own garden. Silver from the States, china from France, what a lovely blend of cultures. Etc.

Wrong. This photo was lifted from a beautiful book, “Tables Fleuries,” probably all rights reserved, so if the photo goes missing, you know I was hit with a threatening letter from an irate lawyer, nattering about copyright protection. I hope it’s not the one I live with, that being precisely his line of work. Then again, maybe that would give me some scope for negotiation.

In my life, dinner parties happen in Paris. Given the scrub that passes for plantings on my balcony, the cramped kitchen and the lack of decent storage, my guests are lucky to get food on the table. And going to a florist for a setup like this, oh, my, it would cost more than the food. Plus I’d have to plate everything — no room for “family style” serving bowls — and I’m too lazy for that.

Here in the country, no dinner parties, so no problem.

Garbage disposal
This is my country life. This is what passes for big excitement around here. Finally, after nearly three years owning this house, things have progressed to the point that the garbage disposer was installed. If you live in the States, you grew up with one of these. Over here, no, it’s unheard of. I had three electricians walk away from this basically DIY-level installation and I got the disposer itself through Amazon, shipped from England. This little baby is what keeps food waste from mummifying in the landfill. It goes down the chute, pauses to be ground up, then off to the water treatment plant. Not only is it wildly convenient, cutting smell in your trash and Destop/Drano bills like you wouldn’t believe, but I think from an ecological perspective, it makes sense, in much the same way as electric cars do. Think about it. Electric cars do create pollution. It’s just that they pollute at the power plant rather than on the road. Presumably it is easier to clean up one power plant than thousands of cars.

So. Here is the deal on living in an unfashionable part of the French countryside. Your friends from out of the area will not visit you. Okay, one or two out of the whole lot, as a once and done kind of thing. All those warnings about people who come and stay and hope for chauffeur and maid service, etc., those must be Brits writing that, given that their friends live a lot closer. Probably over time, their “friend” list shrinks in direct proportion to the number of visits like that. There isn’t much in the way of manufactured entertainment; Netflix is a lifesaver. There aren’t many places to shop, especially if you are looking for English-language books; thank you Amazon for braving the wilds of France.

You’d better be able to entertain yourself. You’d better be your own best friend and in general be self-reliant. Romance, I don’t know, not an easy one; even my handyman met his wife when they both lived in Paris. So maybe bring someone with you. And, though of course you will never be French, no matter what it may eventually say on your passport, I strongly suggest that you find a way to get involved with the locals. 

Learn French. Anything is good but more is better. Then you have to meet people. If you work here or have schoolkids, it’s job done. If you are lucky enough to get involved with someone — at my age, with my level of crabbiness, I figure it’s a miracle that I did — you’re set. Barring that, look at those social groups in your area. They hike and eat and I don’t know what all but they do get you into the community. The chances are excellent that you will be welcomed.

Pick up DIY skills. They will save you a lot of frustration. If you don’t have a hobby, develop one, maybe related to one of those social groups. I knit and garden; it’s a good thing that I enjoy both. If I were here full-time I’d join the local tennis club. Get a dog. Have a plan to move back, should you decide France is not for you. Knowing that you have an option can make it easier to choose to stay when the bureaucracy strikes, or some other maddening calamity befalls you.

I am happy that I have this house and that I am in France, especially now that I have my garbage disposal. But no question, it’s a big adjustment. And of course in the end, wherever you go, there you are. You’ll be thrown back on yourself all the time, much more than in a city. Be sure that’s okay with you.