It’s early March and the weather is cold…as in biting cold, but it is clear with a layer of frost dusting the nearby fields. I take a moment to survey my surroundings, but my revelry is suddenly interrupted as I find myself running frantically out to the road to flag down the Darty (appliance store) delivery truck. They are here to deliver our new washer, dryer, freezer and small appliances; apparently our home is a bit difficult to find even when they have the address plugged into the GPS…seems I don’t have to worry too much about being stalked in this part of the world. I have now learned, through trial and error, to add the GPS coordinates in addition to the address in the delivery instructions, otherwise I get somewhat frantic calls in French from the drivers who apologize for their poor English (while I apologize… tres desole…sorry for my poor French). I also went as far as putting a sign on the front door to leave the packages in our absence (in French of course) – unlike the delivery methods used in America where the UPS or Amazon truck shows up and delivers your items on the front porch sans your presence, France seems to have a love for a vast variety of delivery services who require signatures upon arrival. This limits my options of being out and about as they don’t always commit to a time or day, and if they do, they don’t always abide by that commitment (we had been warned about the “French way of doing things” and they are living up to their reputation). So this “hack” of leaving a sign turned out to be the biz, and serves as permission to just leave any packages on the terrace (assuming they can find the place). The one company that has demonstrated reliability is Ikea, who definitely gives you a date and a window which works out well assuming they can even find our house. I also keep the GPS coordinates handy to text the drivers back once we politely conclude at the end of the conversation we can’t understand one another: Je text les coordonnées GPS etc.
Ahh…but we have finally arrived to Beauséjour – meaning “beautiful stay” and the road sign even confirms that we are indeed in a special part of the world. On the day we were scheduled to sign off on the house we did a “walk through” with our realtor and the previous owner. We learned some interesting stories about the history: For insurance purposes we had stated the structures were built in the early 1800’s as there weren’t any official records going back before the 1900’s. Urban legend has it that the fleur-de-lis and shield carved on both sides of the rather large fireplace was placed there during the stay of King Francois the 1st back in the early 1500’s – if this is true (since the symbols depict royalty) that would indicate that the house was built in the 15th century and around 400 hundred years old!
Though we are not even close to being a grand chateau (technically meaning castle) by any means, in rural France a pigeonnier is a sign of wealth along with the scalloping accents on the side of the house.
We were also advised that the surrounding farmland used to belong to this particular maison; so while the house itself has similar proportions to our home in Portland, due to the pigeonnier and the accompanying symbology, it used to belong to wealthy landowners.
The ancient Colombage timbers that sustain the structures have since been reinforced without losing any of the original character and are treated for termites. We have also found our recent furniture purchases from the “Brocantes” (antique market furniture and so much fun to shop at those!) to be a bit wobbly as the floors aren’t exactly level in some places. Add to that the flaws that come from our “new purchases” and we find ourselves retrofitting to give our surfaces a bit of stability. The china cabinet is a great size as most we’ve seen have been quite large. The rustic workbenches are popular and this one was actually refinished and is a perfect addition to our entryway!
I am now also being indoctrinated to the idea of radiators and how this whole system works. The boiler is down the “cellar” along with a large community of spider webs. It is here we have also deposited the extra freezer and washer; we are on a septic system (known as a fosse here), and the washer was built to drain from the cellar to the septic. Yes we do have to walk around the side of the house but we are, after all, in the country in a several-hundred-year-old maison so you have to make some concessions. We will eventually be upgrading to solar and split air conditioning units in anticipation of the long warm summers – with climate change we are told the temperatures are on the rise and will also reduce our personal drag on the grid.
We have a little under an acre of land and Bob was chomping at the bit for a rider mower, also known as a “tandeuse.” Yes, we are back to the gardening frenzy we’re so fond of and we have plenty of work to do. Unfortunately, our gardening tools are in the shipping container that isn’t scheduled to arrive until mid April, so off we go to “Jardiland” (jardin is garden in French so do the math) to pick up a few odds and ends to tide us over. Bob managed to snag a nice mower that was soon delivered and he disappeared into the ether of gardening bliss, trolling the property from the lofty heights of his new toy while cursing the interminable dandelions.
I have been busy painting and kitting out our new utility room; there isn’t much in the way of storage in the main house so I took one of the bedrooms (there are four and just the two of us – much like our house in Portland) and am designing a laundry/pantry/general storage room. I soon discovered (as many have here), that paint is quite expensive for whatever reason and the mat colors aren’t up to much when it comes to coverage. So while we are eating on the cheap because the markets and general cost-of-living are just so insanely good here, we get dinged in other departments.
The dryer we bought does not require venting (it collects the condensation in a plastic basin that you discard down the drain) so you can plug it in anywhere – a clever euro design. We also ordered IKEA units to complete the storage area; you can always joke about IKEA but the storage units we ordered are of good quality. And an extra refrigerator because the one we have is pretty dang small.
Voila! A few more touch ups and additions and we will be in laundry and storage domestic bliss. I love getting new appliances as the ones we divested prior to leaving Portland were getting a bit worn anyway.
As spring is starting to roll in, we have experienced some pretty epic thunderstorms – I mean thunder, lightning, wrath-of-god type stuff – thankfully the shutters are really effective for keeping the rain at bay; I mean it gets really horizontal and blows a gale. But France, like so much of the rest of the world, really needs rain and we are glad for it when it arrives. The trees are starting to leaf out and we are seeing blossoms in the garden. And bees, we are surrounded by them and they are starting to inhabit the mason bee houses we bought. When we are not outside listening to the music of nature we are enjoying our new hi-speed fiber connection; it’s amazing that they have run these systems out into the rural communities. We are starting to feel more grounded and can crash on our (temporary) sofa and watch our favorite shows after a long day working on the property = spoiled.
We are on the 45th parallel so we see many of the same plants as you find in Portland. Our garden is large and the prior owners were British and planted a cornucopia of plants that are unfortunately being invaded by weeds; luckily we are retired, but even with that notion the tasks ahead of us seem a bit overwhelming.
When we take a break around noon, with our tea on the terrace, the birds and bees are performing their orchestral obligations and we can hear the bells toll from the nearby church of our local commune. It is times like these that we look out of our property into the vast farmlands and says yes – Beauséjour!!
In rural France we are oblivious to the rioting in Paris sparked by new legislation to the raise in pension age to 64…we are so far removed and frankly had enough conflict in Portland a few years back. Experiencing this level of peace and quiet is like developing new senses.
Of course, it’s not all bliss; as we are now officially grounded with a permanent address, we are now receiving mail at our new place. I have a mail forwarding service in the States and we had to have a few packets of important tax docs sent to us. The La Poste lady (very cheery as well) shows up one day with one of our packets and asks for 9 euros. We are a bit mystified, and we come to find out that “registered” mail, or what they perceive as “registered mail” is subject to additional fees. So we had to dig up 9 euros in change and if you don’t have exact change she will take what you have, then leave what is owed in your mailbox. Fortunately this hasn’t happened with any other mail🙄
Then…our French HSBC banking cards finally arrived (after five months!) and we had to drive to Bordeaux to gather them only to find out that we didn’t have the correct PIN codes. Long story, but they have PIN codes for online purchases, for your app and for your credit card and you can’t change them. Our sister-in-law in Seattle took time out of her busy day to convey the information we needed…while I was told all the information would be sent to Bordeaux, they sent the PIN codes to the address in Seattle. C’est la vie accompanied by a shrug – it’s France. This is the contrasting nature of the place we live in. So now we have two bank accounts which is not a bad thing considering the state of the banking business overall – due to the dual taxation and reporting laws, some Americans have difficulty getting a single account set up when they arrive here. And though we had our BNP Paribas cards we didn’t get our checkbook for another month and that wasn’t until we checked in and found out they hadn’t gotten around to “processing it yet.”
We are also still grappling with getting into the healthcare system; they must have misplaced Bob’s birth certificate (during the appointment we specifically handed it to them of which they made a copy) yet like our banking process, they are requesting it once again – via snail mail. Considering the delicate nature of a birth certificate we are opting to drive to the office in Perigueux to (once again) present both the original and translated version so they can process the file…sigh. They did confirm they received the document but then I received a letter stating they needed information for my file that I already gave them – as they say in Mandalorian “it is the way.” The hotline did confirm I do have a number and we are finishing up the processing on Bob’s number. Soon we will have a “Carte de Vitale,” and will be in the French healthcare system!
But….of course…there’s more! I have been scheduled for my Visa appointment to get my official Carte de Sejour (official long stay Visa card), but Bob hasn’t received his yet. Fortunately they have an English-language help line – even with that the French bureaucracy is not for the faint of heart. Bon courage – we will get through all of this in the next few months.
In France the 80/20 rule is definitely in full swing: Americans relocating here should not come with lofty expectations on when things are due to arrive or be processed – this is true 80% of the time. We are surprised when something arrives when scheduled such as Ikea, or when our Orange hi-speed internet was installed and has been working like a charm – the exception rather than the rule! No American entitlements here!
Quirks aside, what I do find impressive is being able to recycle everything here; just down the road we have a garbage and recycling center that we visit a few times a week to drop off standard stuff. For batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges etc. we take those when we go shopping at one of the bigger cities (Bergerac or Villeneuve-sur-Lot) and they have them in the shopping centers. For bigger drop offs we go to the local “dechetterie” and deposit cardboard (for all the new stuff we have been acquiring), yard waste etc. The French love bureaucracy and it spills over into their love for the environment; it’s incredibly impressive.
I continue to do painting to freshen up areas of the house so when the furniture arrives we won’t have to move it for a while. The upstairs floors were gasping for some TLC and I stained and waxed one of the bedrooms so again – when the furniture eventually arrives it can have a stationary home. They came out beautiful!
Our container has finally arrived!!!! As always seems to be our luck it will be unloaded the day before we leave for our vacation so it will be “a dump and run.” This will be a story for another day as we are off to Venice by way of the (Cote d’Azure) French Riviera😍🍝🍷 for a much needed break from our “transition challenges.” Stay turned for updates on our European road trip!