In the time that I've been here, I've heard my share of opinions regarding the English. Particularly the English in the Dordogne. Most of what I have heard has been from the French. Then last week, when my internet arrived and I had some heavy duty surfing moments, I was googling various combinations of expatriate integration into France.
I read some really eyebrow singe-ing articles and comments. One was written by an English couple living here, bemoaning the lack of participation by the English in French life (here in France). They recounted a recent evening at the village fete and being the only English attendees from a village with many English dwellers. They made some comments about how this widened an existing gap. Commenters to this online article were indignant. Some went so far as to saying ... "So what if we don't want to be a part of French life, maybe we are here for the weather!! Its our business, isn't it?"
That got me to thinking about my attendance at my own village fete. No, I hadn't "seen" many English at the lunch tables. I didn't see the local Irish B&B owners. I thought also of the night market I attended in Thiviers. And how I looked and looked for the owners of the Thiviers hotel ... nowhere to be seen. This night I was with Marjo and Rodolphe, the agency owners from Thiviers who do not live in Thiviers proper ... but participate in town life as much as possible. Now of course it could absolutely also be that these folks were there and I didn't see them.
I have been told by my French friends that the English they know are insular. They socialize with each other, form their own clubs, have their own bars/restaurants they frequent, support English businesses where ever possible. and on and on. I've met English who tell me the French are unapproachable, unfriendly despite many attempts. The truth must lie somewhere in between, eh?
On the other hand, I've now begun meeting some English and like everything else, there is more variety there than what appears on the surface. For example, I've met the local B&B owners and they have had a terrible time since moving here a few years back. Trouble is, most of that terrible time was served them by an English criminal who had a fraudulent building business and took them for nearly $100k US. They chose this fellow because he was English. This has soured them a bit on France, but they are stuck. They have been kinder than kind and given me various tips for things I need. Like dog sitting.
They introduced me to another English couple that I met yesterday. Been here about 5 years or so, first as holiday-makers and now full time. The gentleman tells me he would really like to improve his French. Then sheepishly admitted no classes had been attempted but he wants to try!
At the thai curry dinner last week, the English to French ratio was about 80:20. The English folks were gregarious towards me, and had lots of stories for me. Many of which began with "The French this and the French that." And not in kind terms. One particular instance was mocking the French builders/workers way of doing things. How it takes so long, and they disappear. I recounted the tale of my new Irish acquaintances. How much better off they would have been with a French builder. Awkward silence ensued. At the same event, I met another couple (the artist and his girlfriend) who own a nightclub up the way. Her French was marvellous. The French in attendance appeared to all be friends of this young and energetic couple. She tells me their clientele is 90+ percent French. They've been here 3 years and have achieved integration.
The owners of this Irish hotel live in a little village near Brantome with their 2 kids. Their French too is superb. And in my French class I have an English couple, an English woman and an American woman. All working to improve their French. I was immediately drawn to the English couple ... living 1/2 time here, 1/2 time in France. Moved here because everyone was so kind, she says. Notices few English in everyday French life and thinks it is a shame. Keeps trying to get acquainted with their French neighbors, no matter how difficult it seems. Loving every minute of every day and as positive as they come.
One common theme I've heard with ALL of the characters met above is this. If one wants to achieve ANY level of integration, one must develop at least a rudimentary command of the language.
I see a huge influx of English every Friday in the market. They can't ALL be vacationers. Because of course there are tons of French too. But where do they all go after market?
Okay, this hasn't been too insightful has it? After 5 weeks here, I'm hesitant to proffer judgments or conclusions. At this point I'll just say that it is obviously like every other stereotype to be found out there. So many shades of grey exist. I'm reserving further opinions until I've had more time to look closely. I've seen truth in the the judgments. And exceptions.
But I'm definitely leaning in the French direction. Along with some of my non-French acquaintances. We're here for the French. The French culture. lifestyle. PEOPLE. wine. landscape. LANGUAGE. and that certain indescribable je ne sais quoi.
I for one definitely did not move halfway around the world for the weather.
(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)