Friday, August 01, 2003
Living in France
I moved to France in 2000 after eight years in Switzerland. I’m a Brit with most British traits. Wherever I go I am by definition an ‘ex-pat’ but I try not to advertize it. We’ve always made an attempt to ‘integrate’: this is very much easier in France than in Switzerland.
I see on British television a never-ending parade of programmes about ‘life in the sun’, ‘making a break’, whatever the producers feel sums up the age-old British urge to relocate to the Med. I did it for a job but with no reluctance. Now that job has ended, I sit here with no particular direction in life writing these notes. We guess it’s time to move on; so this is the time to get it all down. If you are a Brit thinking of moving to the South of France, these notes may help. If you just watch the programmes and wonder, you might find them amusing and perhaps corrective.
We live at the edge of Sophia-Antipolis, a giant high-tech business park just four kilometres in from the coast behind Antibes. Our postal address is actually Biot, an ancient and beautiful village just two or three km away on the next hill. From the garden, I can see the Mediterranean through nearly 120 degrees. To my left is Nice - I can see the airport which is on our side and beyond that Cap Ferrat. In front of me as I face almost directly east are the coastal fungrounds of Antibesland and Marineland. Beyond that, the sea, mostly that deep blue that gives the Côte d’Azur its name. Beyond that, there must be Pisa in Italy, though the curvature of the Earth hides it. To my right I can see Cap d’Antibes with its lighthouse. Just out of sight to the far right and over the headland of Antibes, just 25 minutes away by car, lies Cannes - the film festival place.
Yes, it’s a dream location for many of my compatriots.
It is a dream but with tiny hints of nightmare. Be warned, escapists: life is never without its problems. On the whole, I love this place. I love France (for a lot of reasons I’ll deal with later). This is a very extreme part of France, quite exceptional in many ways. Even the French think of the Côte d’Azur in these terms. My love of the place is tempered with familiarity.
We use Euros now. A wonderful currency that is just the right size, beautifully designed and is actually valid across international borders. Now there’s a thing! How did we ever hold on to our national identity? Gosh, I don’t know. Sorry, I mock.
When I need to quote a price, it’ll be in money - euros. If you’re a Brit multiple by 2/3 to get £s. If you’re Swiss, multiple the other way by 3/2 to get CHFs. If you’re an American, $s and €s are about the same: it’s just that you’ve got more of them. If you’re European, you don’t do a thing: we all use the same money. Now isn’t that a good idea?