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Interview with Gillian G – a British writer living in the south of France

Updated 22 Feb 2010

Gillian (aka Olga Swan) is a writer originally from England but moved to France with her husband five years ago upon retirement. They now spend their days in the fresh country air of the French countryside. Her book Pensioners in Paradis gives a humorous, ironic account of how two self-deprecating pensioners changed their lives by immigrating to France. The book also contains much factual advice for those contemplating emigration. Her blog Living in Paradis contains links to all her books and maintains an ongoing account of their life in France.

Read more about expat life in the France country guide or read more expat experiences in France.

About Gillian

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Birmingham, England

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Tarn et Garonne, S.W. France

Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Five years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: With my husband

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: As we were approaching retirement, we decided to sell up and downsize to a more peaceful but sunnier part of the world.

About France

Q: What do you enjoy most about France, how’s the quality of life?
A: Fresh country air, traffic-free roads, delicious local food, daily crusty bread from the local boulangerie, old-fashioned courtesy and respect for others, wonderful sunshine. Need I say more?

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I don’t miss much about England. I can receive BBC Radio 4 and most TV stations.

Q: Is the city safe?
A: Yes! I can leave the house doors unlocked all day, and people leave their car engines running outside the boulangerie.

About living in France

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in France as an expat?
A: If you are of working age, it’s better in the capital, Montauban or Albi or Villefrance de Rouergue. But, there’s not much work for foreigners. It’s better to work online from home. If retired, then I can recommend the many beautiful mediaeval villages in the Tarn et Garonne.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in France?
A: Most village houses are very old, so beware the plumbing, but this is compensated for by the charm, character and value of the properties.

Q: What’s the cost of living in France compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Cheap: houses, wine, cheese, car insurance. Expensive: everything else.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Village locals are charming and full of respect. It’s important to make an effort to speak French in order to integrate. You will need to know one or two English for help and advice, but in general try to make friends with the locals.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: I held a coffee morning with free canapés for all the neighbours. A good way to introduce ourselves and integrate. Otherwise, play boules and attend advertised functions at your local Salle des Fetes (one in every village).

About working in the south of France

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: As a European, no visa was necessary for France.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Lots of bureaucracy, but if you manage to gain employment in France, the job security is much better than in England. There is scope for experienced tradespeople, but the bureaucracy is huge, and some English qualifications are not recognised in France.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: He attended an intensive French conversation course.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: In our village, there is one nursery (maternelle) and one senior school.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Excellent.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: One big question: How will you support yourself financially? Don’t come expecting to get work. Either come as a retiree with your own pension(s), or come prepared to work for yourself online. No office is going to employ someone whose French is not as fluent as the natives. Too many gite-owners chasing too few customers.

– Interviewed February 2010

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