How I felt when I left France
I left France in July 2010, after living there for 12 years and saying I would never leave. Recently several people have asked me if I miss France, if it was a hard decision to leave or how I felt when I left, so I thought I’d share a little more about that part of our life today.
I fell in love with France and the French when I went on a family holiday to Fréjus aged 8. When I moved to France in 1998, straight after finishing my French & Spanish degree it felt like the most natural next step. No one was surprised when I married my French boyfriend. I was the biggest francophile my family and friends knew.
I always said that I would NEVER leave France and, more precisely, the French Riviera. I assumed I was there for the rest of my life.
So when we made the decision on 18th June 2010 to leave France for good on 19th July 2010 it was a shock to everyone. Myself included.
I have already blogged about our reasons for leaving France so this is about how I felt when we left, and the first few months after relocating to the UK.
We made our decision so quickly that it meant our last month in France passed by in a whirlwind of admin, closing accounts, selling our car and most of our worldly possessions. It also meant that I didn’t really have time to take onboard the emotional aspect.
The day before we left we delivered our dog and cat to their respective homes for the next 6 months; making such a quick decision meant we hadn’t had time to get them ready to travel with us. I still remember the look on our dog’s face as we drove away, it felt like we were abandoning him again (when we adopted him as a 6 month-old he’d been walking the streets, riddled with ticks).
On our last morning we delivered our final belongings and car to friends we’d sold them to. Then we went for one last trip to the beach, and one last dip in the sea.
We came back to our apartment for a quick shower before heading to the airport. The sight that greeted me as I came out of the shower absolutely floored me. Our 3 and 1/2 year old looked like some kind of street child as she curled up on the bare floor to sleep. I really felt like I’d failed my only child.
We flew from Nice to London that evening. As my parents drove us to their house – my childhood home – I felt shit. They were great, but all I could think was “I’m 34 years old and moving back in to my parents’ home with my husband and 3 and 1/2 year old, we’ve got no home, no job, no car and hardly any belongings.”
The next day it was a delight to wake up to a mere 18-20°C, instead of the stifling 35°C we’d left Nice in. But that novelty soon faded as the British weather showed its true colours and 18°C came to be seen as a high.
Two weeks after being in the UK Hubs told me that it was the longest he’d ever gone in his whole life without seeing the sun or blue sky. And that was the summer! We spent our wedding anniversary in London while my parents looked after L, it was fantastic but as I sat and shivered on a deckchair in Hyde Park a thought nagged at the back of mind, “it’s only August and you’re freezing, how are you going to cope when winter comes around?”
I found it really hard having no social life when we moved back to the UK. We didn’t want to use up our precious savings on going out, so during the 2 months we lived with my parents we went to the cinema twice and, other than that, stayed in at my mum and dad’s every night.
We started job-hunting almost immediately and Hubs got offered a job within a week of looking, next up was house-hunting. We found somewhere in London that suited us and just over 2 months after arriving at our parents’ we waved goodbye, as we set off on our new life in the big city!
We had one night in our new home before flying back to Nice for a friend’s wedding. My parents looked after L for us and we headed back to our old stomping ground for the weekend.
What I hadn’t quite realised was how hard that weekend would be.
We left a house full of boxes, a cold, rainy country and landed in the beautiful sunshine of Nice. As we started our descent all I could see was the blue of the sky and the sea of my home. Not my old home – my home. Or that’s how it felt.
We headed over to Europcar to discover that our basic hire car had been upgraded to a convertible for the weekend. Result! Next thing we knew we were driving alongside the beach, on a balmy Nice evening with the roof down on the car, child-free, and I felt so happy.
That weekend we soaked up the sun, revelled in seeing our friends again, reconnected just the two of us, and made the most of the region by ending the weekend eating at the beach restaurant where Hubs gave me my engagement ring (we got engaged on holiday in Corsica) and where my hen weekend started.
It was wonderful, all the best parts of the French Riviera and France.
And then it was time to leave. We boarded the plane too late to sit together. I sat and sobbed the whole flight from Nice to London. What had we done? I was miserable in the UK. I wanted to go home. Home to Nice.
It was very hard when we got back to London. I missed Nice. I missed France. I missed my friends. I missed our routine and our support network. I missed seeing the beach, the blue sky, the sun.
But slowly things started to pick up. L got a place at the nursery of the local school, I got a job that I really enjoyed with a great bunch of people and we started to make friends.
It wasn’t a quick and painless process and I remember feeling quite down a lot during those first 6 months. But it did all work out for the best. Over four years on and some days I still miss Nice and France with every fibre of my being. But we are so much better off here. I am very happy in the UK and we have a far better quality of life in London than we ever did in Nice.
It was a hard decision and a difficult time for both Hubs and me (L didn’t seem overly bothered about the move funnily enough) but it was definitely the right decision. If I had to make the same choice again it would still be London over Nice.
I hope this blog post helps those who are trying to make a similar life-changing decision, and those who have recently moved, whether across one country or from one country to another.
This blog post is dedicated to my wonderful parents who didn’t bat an eyelid when I called them to ask if we could move in with them indefinitely, and who then so kindly hosted us for over 2 months. You are both amazing!
(Main photo is of the sun on the sea in Nice, taken from the Chateau in February)
Wow. What a great post. I can only imagine how you felt. I felt the same when we returned to the UK after 3 years of living in sunny LA. Trouble is, for me, after living in the sun I now feel like Pandora’s Box is open and can never be fully closed again! x
Thanks lovely. I know what you mean – funnily enough I can handle winter in the UK, what kills me is when “summer” doesn’t deliver the goods – I need glorious sunny days in the summer. Once you’ve had the sun in your life as a given it’s very hard to going back to grey skies being the given x
This is a great post, very illuminating. I worked on a kibbutz for three months on my year off, and then spent six months in Africa after graduating. Both times, coming back to a cold, dreary climate was VERY hard to deal with. But, on balance, I would place the UK over anywhere else for culture, and of course for all the friends and family built up over the years. It must have been so much harder for you, with 12 years under your belt, including all those memories of the early Mummy years. It must have taken a lot of guts to make that decision but, after reading your other post, it sounds as though you definitely did the right thing for you and your family.
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Wow – a kibbutz and 6 months in Africa, that sounds amazing! When you’ve lived in a hot sunny place I think it’s always hard to come back to the grey of the UK, but as Hubs and I always say, you don’t come to London for the climate!
Great post, thank you! I moved to France (Pyrenees) as a student in 1995 to work as an “Assistante d’anglais” and was only supposed to be away for one year, but I’m still here almost 20 years on! I met my French husband in 1996, we lived in Paris for 6 years and have been in Provence now since 2003. We have a great life here, our daughters (5&7) are bilingual and we have a good group of French and international friends, unfortunately no family nearby though. Deep down England still feels like home (rose tinted glasses?!) and we are considering possibly giving the UK a go for a year or two before the girls start “collège” …
Thanks again for your interesting posts 🙂
It sounds like you ended up in France by accident like me! I really never thought I’d leave and had no rose-tinted glasses as far as the UK was concerned, but funnily enough we’re now far happier here than we were in France. I’d love to hear whether you end up having your year or two in the UK….
What a lovely story, thank you so much for posting it. As you know I am at that stage where I am deciding whether to relocate, albeit still in the UK. My brief trip to Yorkshire this week has only confirmed that it would be fantastic for both of us to go, however, it doesn’t make the move any less complicated so I am still unsure about how I can even manage the logistics of it all. So I guess it’s a case of watch this space. 🙂 x
I can’t wait to hear as this evolves, I’m so glad that Yorkshire sounds like it might be a good place for you both to go. The secret to the move is lists and organisation, oh and asking for help, lots of it! Good luck with the decision-making and then the logistics! x
It’s so interesting to read your perspective on being back in the UK, especially as it seems to be the general consensus between other expats who have lived both in France and England that contrary to expectations it is easier to live in the UK.
I sometimes think we must be mad to want to move to France, especially as I’ve never lived there as an adult.
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WHAT?!? Have I missed something here? Are you guys moving to France?
Wow Sophie – I had no idea you felt so miserable about your move! You seemed so upbeat and positive about it…. in fact, you were the catalyst for us moving back to UK from France as we had been talking around the subject aimlessly for a couple of months… I’m glad it has all come good for you now. xx
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It was incredibly hard the first 4 or 5 months but then it got loads better, by Christmas 2010 we were really happy and had no regrets, but the start was really tough. Wow, I hadn’t realised we were the catalyst for your move back – I hope that all worked out ok for you and you don’t resent us for it! xx
I have really enjoyed reading this post, Sophie. I feel like I know you a little bit more now. I can feel how tough it was for you to leave Nice. I lived in the South of France for a winter as a student in Aix and I remember going to the beach in November and feeling quite warm. I wish it was a bit warmer and lighter here. xx
Thanks Mel for such a lovely comment. Aix is one of the places in Provence that I’m yet to visit, despite it being the top of my list for my study time in France when I was a student, strangely no one wanted to go to Nice! I would love some sunshine and warmth here in the winter months…. xx
Happy to hear that everything worked out fine for you. It must have been so hard to leave the balmy weather in Nice behind and head back to a rainy UK.
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Every time a friend posts a photo of the blue sky in Nice on Facebook a part of me cries out, but on the whole I am used to the rainy UK now!
I’m still struggling to settle in France, I miss the UK dearly, I don’t think I’m built to be an ex-pat, I find it too hard but I don’t have the option to go back at the moment.
I’m glad things have worked out for you though, Sounds like it was a really tough time but you’ve come through it.
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I found the move far harder than I had expected but things did, and do, get better. I really hope you start to find your feet soon, this website may help you: http://france.angloinfo.com/ It was my go-to for absolutely everything when I lived in France. Good luck x
Loved reading your journey, must have been so hard but glad London was the right choice for you all. I dream of living in the sunshine, husband was born in SA and wanted us to relocate to LA when O was a baby but we ended up in Leeds in Yorkshire and have never been happier. Been close to my family has meant the world to us all. Loved this post x
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Thanks lovely, every now and then I think about living in a warm, sunny climate again, but then I remind myself of the mosquitoes and being hot and sweaty and unable to sleep….mostly I’m so happy in London though 🙂 x
Great post. I too am in love with the French Riviera having spent lots of wonderful family holidays (also in Frejus and St. Raphael). My husband’s family have a house I’m St. Aygulf and we have spent some lovely holidays as our own little family. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to leave such a beautiful beautiful place.
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I spent all my family holidays from the age of 8 to 16 on a campsite between Fréjus and St Aygulf, and I am pretty certain that’s what shaped the rest of my life. I love the French Riviera so much 🙂
What a heartfelt post. I can empathise totally having uprooted so many times in my life and rarely did it feel like the right thing at first though each time it worked out well. Right now though, I’m the one on the Côte d’Azur and I really couldn’t imagine living in the UK, let alone London (which I LOVE, but not to live in and always happy to leave). i wouldn’t say the CdA is forever as I don’t do “forever” but it’s damn fine for now!
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I LOVED the French Riviera so much and always felt like I was coming home when flying there from visits to the UK, I never dreamed in a million years that I would live anywhere else, and I don’t think London could have been further down my list. Just goes to show how things change, now I’ve learnt to say “never say never” as who knows?!
Oh dear I am in such turmoil! I really understand why you moved back! I have been living in Provence for 8 and a half years now with my French husband and 2 girls. We decided it would be a great move for life, weather-wise, health-wise, house-wise, etc. and although it has often been wonderful (I have a few close friends and lots of acquaintances and started my own business teaching English to kids plus teaching part time at the after school club) but more and more I miss the UK, especially my family and close friends who I saw a lot of. It seems to get worse every year now and I have spoken to my husband occasionally about it and at first he was dead against the idea of coming back (he hates the weather!) but to be honest, here, there is so much red tape, the cost of living is pretty high now (I don’t even need to remind you of how hard it is to earn a living with your own business with the ridiculously high URSAFF rates!), there are no transport links where we live and he often works weekends and the kids and I don’t have much to do or anyone to see! (My friends have their hubbies at home at weekends!) Plus there are no parks like there are in England. My husband finally gave me a glimmer of hope the other day as he is pretty fed up too but I can’t see the move back ever becoming reality at the moment. The sun and a nice house and views can never make up for the really important things in life, especially when I am constantly looking forward to the next trip back “home”…….
That is so hard. Funnily enough it was Hubs who really wanted us to relocate to the UK, and I was the one dead set against it for the longest time, but now I’m delighted with the move. Of course I miss France horribly too, but for now London really is the best place for us. Could you go for a year to try it out? Or would it have to be all or nothing? Good luck with it. By the way, I’ve set up a Facebook group to serve as a kind of a community for bilingual, francophile/anglophile parents if you want to join us, it’s called Franglaise Life and is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/798251396922187/
Thanks for your best wishes and the link to your FB page which I will be joining. I enjoy reading your blog when I remember and to be honest, my last comment was kind of a reach-out to someone who gets it!
However, since I last commented a few weeks ago, I have picked myself up and am concentrating on exactly what we have achieved since being here and how far we’ve come. We built our wonderful house in a lovely village in the Var and I started my business teaching English to local children and have since been employed as part of the after-school activities doing the same thing at our local primary school as part of the education system change here. It’s true that France is not an easy country to live in for so many reasons but I am lucky in the fact that I have been willing to chuck myself in at the deep end from learning the language (which was hard work at the beginning!), not giving up on my business venture, with which there were (and sometimes still are!) so many obstacles to overcome and generally adjusting to a rather different culture (some things I will never EVER get used to!). I have also met some wonderful people here and have a few very close friends as well as a lot of very nice acquaintances!
As I said before, my husband is also French and also has a good job here and our 2 girls are both older now (11 and 13 this summer!) and they are very happy here and are settled with their friends, schools, etc. and, again, I am lucky (well actually we work hard for it!) to be able to come back to the UK quite often to see friends and family and we have a spare room for people to come and stay.
To be honest, when I last left a comment, it was a particularly hard time as it was the Christmas holidays, not “our turn” to visit the UK plus my husband was working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, which made me miss my family so much more as we didn’t have a proper family Christmas. But, since getting back to work and seeing all the people that appreciate me for my work and the children that I work with has made me realise it’s not all doom and gloom! Plus a recent trip to Monaco (somewhere I’ve never been) was a real boost as we had a lovely family day and some proper quality time together (school and work time leaves limited time for family as you know so well!)
It really is nice to know that someone (as I’m sure there are many others!) have been in or are in the same position where they made the choice and are generally happy but still miss their “motherland”!
I will go and join your FB page now! Oh and I have just read your latest blog so all the best with your goals for 2015, which I’m sure you will achieve!
Bonne soirée et a bientôt ici ou sur FB 😉
I’m so glad to hear that things have picked up for you Tracey. I think once you’ve lived in two different places you go through phases of wondering about the other place, but it sounds like you’re doing pretty well where you are for now 🙂 So glad to see you in my Facebook group too! x
Thank you and the FB group is an excellent idea so well done you! The only downside is that I can’t meet up for that organised drinks evening as it’s a bit far to come! It would have been great to meet you and discuss all our experiences. However, if ever you are wanting to come back for a holiday, my neighbours opposite rent out their house in the summer ( 3 bedrooms, 2 shower rooms and a pool) so that’s always an option 🙂 See you on FB 🙂 x
I’m glad you’re enjoying the FB group, I’m loving the community aspect of it 🙂 It’s a shame you missed out on the drinks out in London as it was so much fun! You’re tempting me now….I hope we’ll be back in the south of France on holiday at some point this summer, but probably more in the Avignon region.
Yes that’s something I miss – a drink in a pub with girlfriends but glad you all had fun. I’ve never been to Avignon but hear it’s very nice 🙂 I did see you mention once somewhere that you had never been to Aix while you were living in Nice. We are only about 45 mins from there and go there a lot, it’s one of my favourite “local” places to visit and reminds me a bit of my hometown, Cambridge in England!
I’ve finally made it to Aix, but it was very cold and very windy, on a Sunday between Christmas and New Year, possibly not the best time to visit! So it’s still on my list to go again one day…
I will not try to explain, but only express. the more I read blogs or news articles such as your own, the more my own sentiments are confirmed. I have been living in France for 15 years, and unlike yourself had a disastrous painful marriage (with a French man) for 13 years. I have two Children and I wish to leave France. The crazy thing is that I am an Agent Fonctionnaire Territorial…I should be happy and comfortable, why not?
Why not, first of all after only a year of living in France, I started to feel a great sadness and morosity around me. It was inexplicable as I never felt this way before in England and I was living in a beautiful house in the countryside. As the years went on I realised that the bureaucracy of France was hell. There is no other word for it: Red tape galore. As a highly qualified graduate from a specialised sector, I would have been able to evolve in England, or the States perhaps as well as other countries I imagine, but in France the state afforded me the lowest equivalent of my degrees and for the rest I have to wait until the appropriate ‘Concours’ comes around, which will be in 2019, when I am 49, and I’m not hanging around for that.
My divorce is long-winded – so far two years and I am still not divorced. Neither the lawyers, or the solicitors or even the Bank of France seem to be able to cut me off or protect me financially from the betises of debt that my husband has incurred, yet I am the one who has child custody. I receive only 200 euros a month from their father a month, and that is only since this january – two years into the divorce, and two payments are already missing. Making ends meet is terrible. But working from time to time ‘Black’, I live hand to mouth and don’t touch my account because I cannot, because my outgoings, no matter how hard I have tried to reduce them all, eat up all but 100 euros of my salary.
I cannot indulge in lifes little pleasures such as going to the beach with my children, or taking them to the cinema except very occasionally, for fear that I won’t have enough money to buy bread. Now, this is supposed to be an affluent country, where I should be able to live at least slightly comfortably, but I don’t. And everything you have mentioned is spot on. It could have been me writing. I feel that I am not allowed to develop myself, furthur myself. I feel like a naughty child who has to follow strict rules.
My children, (one is officially diagnosed with the neuro-biological disorder ADHD and the other has an eye disorder), are under-served by the Education National. They are forced to ‘fit in’, and misunderstood because one couldn’t concentrate and had terrible anxiety attacks and the other can only read vertically! Going to the MDPH, you believe they will get help, and there again there are reams and reams of documents and paper to fill out, and you wait and wait, while in the meantime the eldest is being humiliated by teachers and children. Four years passed by before any action was taken to help my eldest, and in the meantime, damage was being done.
This is already too long and I haven’t finished. France is a beautiful country and there are many wonderful moments to be had. I do not believe the grass is greener elsewhere. But just more edible. I don’t want my children to continue their education here, especially if they are never to have the opportunity to realise their ambitions without being censored every five minutes.
Oh my goodness Rachel, I’m practically in tears reading this. I am so, so sorry. I also know that France is a nightmare when you have kids and you separate from the father, having had several friends go through this. Also the whole “there’s no theft between a married couple” is crazy! I’ve had friends lose so much personal money this way between separation and divorce 🙁 This is such personal stuff that I don’t want to go into it too deeply on a public forum, but if you would like to discuss this further with me, don’t hesitate to email me: FranglaiseMummy@gmail.com. Sending you all the hugs as you go through this. Sophie xx
P.S. Which part of France are you in? Maybe I have friends nearby who have been through this and can support you emotionally.