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How to stop the dream going sour

Janice Moody has lived in France for almost 20 years and offers advice on how to survive difficult times

Daily Mail journalist Lauren Booth has written that she is abandoning her "French dream" after six years to return to the UK. Although France did not work for her, it does for many. Janice Moody has lived here for almost 20 years and looks at where Booth went wrong and offers advice on how to survive the difficult times

Lauren Booth’s husband had a motorcycle crash while five times over the French drink-drive limit and without a crash helmet. I think that speaks for itself but Ms Booth says it was a symptom of “relocationitis” – he was victim of “drink, loneliness and stress”, in some “reality void” and could not cope.

When I read the word dream in the headline alarm bells rang. Living in France is as real as it is anywhere else.

I have experienced some of the happiest moments of my life here, such as the birth of our children, and the saddest, when my husband had a suspected heart attack and I thought I would lose him. Happening in France does not make them any less real and I have not been protected from the impact of the sadder ones because the sun is shining.

It is not difficult to see that, for those who move to France from the “dream” perspective, things do not work out. Get away from that idea and it adjusts your expectation level.

The nitty gritty of everyday life is as real in France and if, as for Ms Booth’s husband, your French is “limited to the basics” then you have a potentially stressful situation.

An officious civil servant on the end of the phone does not take pity and endear him/ herself to those who cannot speak French. Learning the language to the best of your ability is crucial to survival.

When we came to France my French was rusty and my husband did not speak a word. But we worked hard at it so today I am fluent and his language is good.

Both of us learning the language has meant that, as a family, we survived difficult times and are still here. Good language skills make every day life less stressful.

We did not get it right first time. We bought a house in rural Dordogne and I was lonely and unhappy. I soon realised the big house with a pool was in the wrong place.

The food was good, the wine cheap. It is easy to see what we could have become.

So we decided to adjust. Rather than move back to the UK, we moved to a town, made friends, had plenty of work and have never looked back. Location is everything.

Ms Booth and her family (with two children) relied on just one income and she had to go back to the UK to earn it. But it is common here for both halves of a couple to work, to diversify your work and to make more than one income to make ends meet.

When the Elliotts moved to the Charente in 2003, Paul had no job and Lindsey continued as a part-time local government consultant, working mostly on the internet.

Seven years later they have three small businesses: computer repairs and satellite installations, property management and selling renewable energy products.

“We are realistic about what living the dream really is and always knew we would have to earn a living here,” said Mrs Elliott. “The main thing is to be adaptable, to exploit your skills and be prepared to do almost anything. One thing we can say is that we have never been bored.”

Paul and Lindsey also joined a business networking club which “is a great way to meet people, get ideas or just to have a moan”.

Finally, although commuting to the UK to work might not have worked for Ms Booth, for some families it does.

Jo and Martin Weller moved to the Dordogne in 2002 where Martin is now a self-employed plumber. Jo travels back to the UK to work as a senior audiologist in London. But, for the Wellers, Jo’s commuting is not just a way of earning money, they have used it positively to move on with their life in France. “I have kept my skills up and this year I hope to use them to set up a practice in France,” said Mrs Weller. Their determination to stay is fuelled by their wish to give their son a life that they feel he deserves.

“He has been able to run free and safe and breathe in clean air,” she added.

“He has a second language which will hopefully open up a world of opportunity.”

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