French Language

It is very surprising that many British ex-patriates living in France don’t speak French. We really don’t know how they manage. Although there are English speaking Web call centres for some of the utilities, it is inevitable that it becomes necessary to communicate with somebody in French.

Phill took French lessons while still in London and got to an intermediate level. Since moving to France we have spent a lot of time int the UK on business and there has been little reason to speak French other than to waiters and shop assistants.  In May, while living in Montpellier, we wanted to go to our favourite Thai restaurant called Art Mango which closes for several months during Winter when the owner goes to Thailand to buy furniture. We went there and it still wasn’t open so we went to the restaurant next door called Il Mercato. It was a Tuesday evening and we discovered an organisation called Go Lingo. They do English and French evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and  a Spanish and French evening on Wednesdays. The idea is that you register for an evening on their Web site. You register with them between 1900 and 1930 and get a voucher for a free drink. The evening starts at 1930 where each native English speakers are paired with a native French speaker. We speak in one language for 8 minutes and then a gong is sounded and we switch to the other language. After a further 8 minutes the organiser switches all of the partners. Typically you speak to 5 people in an evening.

Phill signed up to Go Lingo and has been 9 times during may and June. It has been fantastic. His confidence in speaking French has improved a lot. He has learned a lot from the people he has spoken to. It is also a great way of improving vocabulary. If you don’t know the word for something you just ask! It is a good idea to arrive early at 1900. That way you get to speak to people before the event starts. Having moved into our property in Marseillan, we decided to go to Montpellier a night out. We booked a cheap hotel so that we could stay the night. Steve went to Go Lingo for the first time on 25 June 2015. Although he doesn’t speak much French he had a good evening and met some interesting people. Phill had a really useful conversation with a guy about French electricity regulations. We finished the evening with a lovely Thai meal at Art Mango.

Caveat Emptor – House Renovation – June 2015

The French regulations governing electric wiring, gas installations and sewage are an issue when buying a property in France. It is OK for an old house not to conform to regulations. When you buy a property it is the new owner’s obligation to make the installations conform to current regulations.

The electric wiring in our property is downright dangerous. Wires appear out of walls and disappear into adjacent walls. Most power sockets are 2 pin and there is no earth connection.  There are far too few sockets. Apparently a living room should have 5 power outlets. The water heater doesn’t work either. This is OK in the hot Summer weather when a cold shower is rather welcome.

We got an electrician in, via the estate agent, to quote for new wiring and heating. His quote was a staggering €18,000. He must use gold wires!

We also have 5 rather large pine trees in the garden. We got a tree surgeon in via the estate agent. His quote was a staggering €7,500.

We found a site called “Find a Trade in France” where you can post a job and several local tradespeople can then send in a quote. We will get at least 3 quotes before parting with any money.

There is quite a lot of work which needs to be done before we can start operating as a guest house. Now we need to prioritise the work and get the urgent things done as soon as possible.

Acte de Vent 19 June 2015

There was a 6 week wait after signing the compromis de vente. The Notaire has to do some checks and the Mayor need to have first refusal to purchase. During this time the mortgage offer needed to be obtained. We also needed to obtain mortgage and property insurance. The completion can’t take place without it. When it came to buildings insurance Britline came to the rescue. They were most efficient.

Everything seemed to happen at the last minute. There were several missing documents including the all important 30 page Acte de Vente which we didn’t see until two days before completion. Finally everything was in place.

We went to the Notaire’s office on 19 June 2015. The previous owners and the agents were there too. He was running late so we had to wait 20 minutes. We finally went in and the Notaire read through the Acte de Vente and then all parties had to initial and sign the document. The keys were then ours!

We went to the agent’s and drank a glass of bubbles to celebrate. We then went to the property. The previous owners were there removing stuff! Not that we wanted it. One of them asked if she could have the lights…

Waiting – April – June 2015

Having signed the compromis de vente not much happens for a while. The mayor has first refusal to purchase and needs to be given a month to decide. We have a completion date set for 19 June 2015.

In the mean time we needed to get mortgage protection life cover. This involved a lot of paperwork and a visit to the doctor to get the medical form completed. We got the mortgage protection insurance approved which was the final piece for getting the mortgage offer. The formal mortgage offer finally arrived on 28 May 2105. Receipt of the documents started a 10 day countdown. We must accept the offer on 8 June 2015 by signing some forms and sending them to the bank by courier.

Another condition of completion is obtaining buildings insurance. One company asked a lot of questions and then wouldn’t give us a quote. We contacted Britline and got a very reasonable quote which we will accept.

We also had to arrange a local moving company to move our things from Montpellier to the new property in Marseillan. We asked the estate agent if she knew a moving company. She put us in contact with Le déménageurs bretons who gave us a quote. We accepted it and they delivered a stack of cardboard boxes. We have arrange to move on 20 June 2015.

We also arranged for our belongings which have been in storage since September 2014 to be delivered on 23 June 2015.

We now have to wait for confirmation that the Notaire has completed his work and that the acte de vente can be signed on 19 June 2015. It will be nearly four months between having the offer accepted and completing the purchase. All of the pieces are falling into place to get this far and there is still much to do.

Compromis de Vente – February – April 2015

Having had the offer accepted, the next stage was to get the contract of sale – “Compromis de Vente” prepared and signed. This process took much longer than expected. Our solicitor, the agent and the Notaire all seemed to be involved. Several changes were asked for but didn’t appear in the next version. Sometimes just getting the latest version of the document was difficult. With a two week business trip due to start on 18 April, we needed to get the compromis signed by 17 April at the latest. Finally, a version of the compromis was agreed upon by all parties on 15 April, ready for signing on 17 April.

We went to the Notaire’s office in Marseillan on 17 April. The vendors were present as were the agents. A few last minute changes were made to the document. The Notaire then proceeded to read the document addressing either us or the vendors for approval. All four of us vendors and purchases then had to initial every page of the document. Steve and Phill then had to hand write a paragraph in French before signing. After signing we went to visit our friends at Villa Littoral for a glass of champagne to celebrate.

Resume property search – February 2015

We had made the decision whilst in Newcastle that we needed to resume the hunt for a suitable property to create our perfect guest-house and we were going to do this the week we got back. Then an opportunity to go and work in Nürnberg for five days appeared before Phill’s eyes and the next thing ya know we are headed to Nürnberg via Strasbourg on Sunday, 8 February; putting a hold on looking for and visiting properties as Phill had to write the outline of the course he was going to tutor.

We got back to Monty on Sunday, 15 February and we started looking online for property – we had updated our search criteria and away we went. On Wednesday, 18 February I sent a link to Phill re a property listed with an estate agent we met in May 2014, when we had spent a week looking at property with a Consultant we hired.

Friday, 20 Feb
So, our local excursion to Marseillan Plage to look at a property that seemed to have potential was very well executed. Let’s get one way tickets as we don’t know when we would like to return to Monty – we can always get tickets at the train station – they will have machines (they all do, don’t they?).

We get to Marseillan Plage, get off the train, only to discover that there is actually no station and no ticket machines to be seen. Oh well, we can get tickets from the Visitors Centre just up the road, after we have a bite to eat and a look around the area and the house that we considered to have potential.

Enjoyed a delicious lunch, walked around the main town area, where pretty much everything was closed for the winter period. Walked back to the Visitors Centre – closed. Oh well, let’s look at the property whilst we are here and figure out how to get back to Monty after that. Phill was rather keen as it was house and land covering 2000 m2. Main problem – it is right up against the main railway line. Phill – “not many trains go by, maybe one an hour”. Whilst we were there up to five trains in 10 minutes flew by – loudly. When we got to where our train had arrived, one went by so loudly I nearly jumped out of my boxers! Stern veto on that property.

So, how to get back to Monty – no car, no taxi’s, no buses; but we do have legs. Which way to go? Sete is heading towards Monty and it does have a train station, but is three and a half hours walking distance – no. Agde is away from Monty, but it does have a train station and is only one hour and forty-five minutes away; and there are two Real Estate offices which have interesting potential properties for sale. And away we go – 10 kilometres and one hour and forty-five minutes later – civilisation appears before our eyes (feet feeling rather strange, but I am glad I (yes me only) wore my new walking shoes, which made the walk extremely bearable). Phill’s ankles were somewhat worse for wear.

We find the first Estate office and whilst looking at the properties in the window, Helene pops out to give us her card. As I mentioned, we met Helene way back in May last year when we doing our initial look for properties. She recognised us and invited us in to discuss our current requirements – a very honest and trustworthy individual that we both know will not do us wrong. So, the following Tuesday we had a potentially suitable property to view, along with other she may find after doing a search against our criteria. Went to the second office, but the person we met last year was not in, but they did have a number of properties which could be of interest – I emailed her and expected to hear back at some point, but never did.

Got to the railway station at 1815 hrs and there was a train heading to Monty at 1838. Ticket machines are a wonderful thing – punch a few buttons, make the payment and there you have a ticket ready to use – yay.

It is only half an hour from Agde to Monty by train. All I wanted to do was get back to the flat, have a shower, soak me feet and apply anti-sore stuff to me legs before I headed off to la la land. But no, we found a rather good Thai restaurant just across the road from the railway station and stopped for a delicious dinner.

So, in conclusion, even though our day ended up being rather more complicated than we anticipated, a number of positives came out of it – puts a simile on ones face, even if one could not move from the sofa.

Wednesday, 25 Feb
After our initial visit to the property yesterday (Tuesday); we revisited the property again after writing down loads of questions the night before – which, thank goodness, were all answered to our complete satisfaction. We made an Offer to owner at the price recommended by Helene and were informed that we hear back quite quickly as the other two offers made had been quite low. We were then contacted later by Helene that the owner had to consult his sisters, as it is a jointly owned family property.

On Thursday morning we received and email from Helene with the good news that our offer had been accepted unconditionally. Now the ball starts rolling quite quickly!
Here is the link to the webpage: Bourse de l’Immobilier

It is well within our budget, has 1600 m2 of land that can be built on and the house only needs minor alterations to make it into a home (the total area of the maison and garage is 107 m2 – which is double the size of our flat that we sold in London in 2013). We would need to get some sort of transportation to get about, as it is in a semi-rural area, but it is so handy to all the various places that we like in this area; plus a winery is just down the road! Bikes will be one of the first things to get before we investigate electric scooters/cars – which, apparently, you can drive without a licence in France.

Newcastle – January 2015

Got back to Monty on Thursday, 15 January, and I was full of a cold I had caught in the second week whilst in Cape Town. Flying back was rather torturous with ears and sinuses blocked. I hoped that I would get much better before we departed for Newcastle on Tuesday, 20 January, but I actually just got worse – it had moved to my chest area, with me hacking up my lungs on a regular basis. So I doped myself up on drugs and endured the journey. Dormouse Crawford was very much a happening thing.

Before departing Monty, I had contacted my doctor in London and arranged for a prescription of anti-b’s to be sent to the hotel. I have had chest infections a few time over the last five years and I knew that I needed to get on to the anti-b’s pretty darn quick. I got the prescription filled and threw one down my throat immediately.

On Thursday, 22 January I dragged myself to the local NHS Walk-in Clinic to get my extremely scratchy and sore throat looked at (I had looked up throat cancer on the web and, naturally, when one does this, I had all the relevant symptoms!). The service and efficiency at the clinic was simply amazing – hats off to the NHS. I was seen by an absolutely lovely and fun female nurse. The diagnosis was….. acute sinusitis with an engorged uvula (yep, I blinked at that one), which was making it extremely difficult to eat or drink anything. It was confirmed that I was on the right anti-b’s and that I should start taking aspirin three times a day as well. After four days of this regime I actually started to feel human again and actually have some energy to do thing – but at a much slower pace than usual.

We were supposed to have been in Newcastle for three and a half weeks; but it in fact it only turned out to be for one and a half week, as Phill’s contract was terminated with only two days’ notice! So, we packed up and headed back to Monty on Friday, 31 January.

Leeds, Xmas and Cape Town – December 2014

With Phill in Leeds, I went and visited David & Ian in Sitges for three nights from 4-7 December – taking in the ambiance of both Sitges and Barcelona. I them came back to change underwear and flew to meet up with Phill in Leeds on 9 December – the day of the arrival of the “Weather Bomb” in the UK – good timing on my part! We got back to Monty on 20 December to relax and enjoy the pre-Xmas preparations for a feast of Duck à l’Orange and roast veges, with lashings of champagne. Then, on Tuesday, 30 December we flew to Cape Town to enjoy some much needed sun, for two weeks.

Cleethorpes, Bristol and Paris – November 2014

Phill secured a contract with the UK Government which meant that he would be spending at least two weeks each month back in the UK! First up, Phill departed for Leeds on Saturday, 1 November for two weeks. We then joined up a trip to Cleethorpes to see Phill’s Mum, with work in Bristol for Phill and then catching up with Mitch & Tom from San Francisco at a Wine Festival in Paris. On Sunday, 30 November I then headed back to Monty whilst Phill turned around and headed back to Leeds for three weeks.

Time to relax and adjust to living in France – October 2014

Phill was fine, me, not so much – it was all rather overwhelming and after such a hectic pace since April, I found the slower pace of life difficult to adjust to, along with not understanding the language or the names of things in the shops. It was hell for Phill for a while as I lashed out in frustration at him – even though it just was not his fault at all. I was mentally teetering all over the place – rather a roller coaster time for us both – but we made it through!