[Sally Stone of Les Bons Voisins answers questions for readers of French Entree interested in relocating to France.]
'We have lifelong friends who moved to France over two years ago, and we always said that we would be joining them as soon as we could. In fact we now have that possibility, but received surprising news once we told them we were starting to plan our move in earnest - they are returning to the UK to live! I have seen articles recently about people who do come back - what is your experience of this?'
It's possible, when planning a move to France, to get bogged down in learning about what I would call the 'technicalities', such as how to buy a house, register a car or exchange currency. This can sometimes totally overshadow a far greater issue, which is whether you personally are going to be more content with life as a result of your move. The plain fact is that everything else in palls into insignificance if you are not happy with your relocation.
I suspect that there will be two issues that will have affected your friends, as they have affected other people once the novelty of living in a new country has worn off. One issue is that they will have moved away from a circle of friends which might not be easy to replicate in France. As a result, the two of them will have been thrown together far more than they have ever been in their lives before, especially if their planning did not include brushing up their French language skills so they could chat to outsiders.
It is interesting that your friends only told you about their plans to return once you said you were coming to join them. It does seem like there is a real reluctance, at least for some who have settled here, to tell others it can be hard, despite being so worthwhile for so many people. France can be a wonderful place to live but the fact that it can be extremely pleasant and rewarding doesn't mean that's its easy, and nor does it mean that it works for everyone who tries it.
Settling into a new life in France really can take time, determination and effort. For example, unless you are a fluent French speaker on arrival, undertaking a relatively simple task in a foreign language can take ten times as long as it would in your mother tongue and can leave you exhausted? So, if you ask me, ten years on from my move here, 'Was all the effort in your own relocation worthwhile?' I'll reply, 'You bet it was, but it still took effort and commitment!'
So don't let's disguise the fact that it can be hard to settle into a foreign country, but at the same time let's say out loud that the effort can bring the most wonderful reward. For those who work at it there is gold at the end of that rainbow.
Try and have a frank discussion with your friends as to their reasons for returning, and don't let their experience cloud your own judgment. But please wipe off the rose-tinted spectacles at the same time. Update me as to how you get on and I can report back in a further issue!
CEO of the LBV Group