Take a trip to rural France without leaving home

With all the restrictions on travel these days, some of us may be feeling the pinch of not being able to take vacations we’d saved and planned for before COVID-19 hit. My friends Debbie and Terry had to cancel a gourmet cooking expedition to Tuscany. I had to cancel a writing retreat in Paris. We can get a bit of relief watching Rick Steeves on Netflix or through streaming. We can also visit foreign countries through delicious little books like My Good Life in France, In Pursuit of the Rural Dream by Janine Marsh. This book was one of many recommended by Collingwood-based Diana Bishop (granddaughter of World War I flying ace Billy Bishop) who hosts a wonderful blog called Woman of a Certain Age in Paris about all things French.

Janine Marsh was a career-climbing Vice President of a bank and her husband Mark was a successful financial trader in London, England. One February day they decided to take the ferry to France for the day to load up on economically-priced good quality French wine. With most stores and restaurants closed on the cold and rainy afternoon, they took refuge in a village realtor’s office near Calais when he offered them a much-appreciated hot coffee.

Well . . . you can guess what happens next. Who among us hasn’t been idly looking at real estate ads or driving by an open house and ended up buying something that was absolutely not even remotely part of our five-year plan? They ended up owning a broken-down, dilapidated rural French farmhouse that had once been shared by farm animals and humans alike.

Over several years and with lots of hard work, Janine Marsh and her husband Mark transformed a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Motivated by the early and unexpected cancer death of Mark’s sister, the couple decided to throw caution to the wind and instead of visiting the French property a few times a year, they packed in their careers and comfortable life in London and moved to France permanently.

It’s a familiar story of expats envisioning a future of peaceful bucolic country living with a garden, a few animals and freedom from the stresses of city life and demanding careers. You can also imagine how those plans go predictably off the rails as the couple discover that life in the country is not for the faint of heart. Fans of the recent Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes that I recently wrote about in BoomerBroadcast will absolutely love My Good Life In France.

Blending in with the local community enriches life in France enormously.

If you’ve ever travelled to France or any European country for that matter, you’ll appreciate the cultural differences in the behaviours of the local residents. The village bakery running out of bread is cause for a riot. It reminded me of the time we were in the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome awaiting our Alitalia flight back to Canada. The airline staff were ‘working to rule’ and decided to change our gate at the last minute to the complete opposite end of the airport. We law-abiding, infinitely polite Canadians calmly took hold of our suitcases and started the hike across the airport. The Italian passengers on the other hand went crazy. A complete insurrection arose with swarthy dark-haired men yelling, cursing, waving fists in the air, storming the poor gate attendants, and generally behaving in a very unCanadian-like manner.

Marsh’s observations of similar episodes in her little section of northwest France are wry and humourous. She learns the hard way that a 7:00 p.m. dinner invitation really means around nine-ish, unless you arrive around nine-ish and are embarrassed to be the last one to arrive. The rules are vague. We share her frustrations with local authorities and approval processes but enjoy her genuine affection for the generosity and community spirit of her rural neighbours. She shares her adventures spanning several years while they try to make their old barn/farmhouse habitable and comfortable.

At the end of the book, Marsh provides thirty specific tips on how to successfully negotiate life as an expat in France. I read this book with a smile on my face the entire time and I’m absolutely sure you will love it as much as I did. Her other book, My Four Seasons in France is now on my to-read list.

If you enjoyed my earlier recommendation Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes, and the series of books about living in Provence by Peter Mayle, you’ll love this one too. You can also click here to follow Janine Marsh’s current adventures in France through her information-packed website and blog:

If My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh is not available at your local library or bookstore, you can order it from Amazon by clicking on the image of the book.

Disclosure: If you order from this link, I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks for your support.

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