9 Months House Sitting in France

james_and_jemma

Trying Before We Buy: 9 Months House Sitting in France

For a long time, I’ve played with the idea of living in France. Books like A Year in Provence and Merde Actually draw you into the idea of doing up a home and settling into rural life in the French countryside.  After all who can resist the idea of getting up every morning to coffee and croissants, a simple yet wholesome lunch of cheese and baguette and a coffee in a streetside cafe in the afternoon?

It didn’t take long to realise that life in France isn’t all coffee and croissants and outside of major cities like Paris and Bordeaux, that coffee culture doesn’t really exist anyway. I’ve yet to go into a French restaurant and be see Coq-au-Vin on the menu – outside of a tourist hotspot anyway – and all of the French I’ve met have been anything but arrogant as the stereotype suggests.

It’s easy to have preconceived notions about what life in France, or any other country for that matter, is like.  The problems start to happen when you decide to buy a home based on those notions, especially when it’s a home that you’re going to spend the next five, ten or maybe even twenty years doing up.

For the past nine months I’ve been house sitting in France; looking after the homes and pets of other expats while they go away on holidays, back to the UK to visit friends and family or leave their homes for work. I’ve managed to live in The Charente, The Pyrénées-Atlantiques and The Midi- Pyrénées. I’ve looked after homes that were half done up, almost completed and completed. Most importantly though I’ve been able to meet a wide group of people from all walks of life, each who’ve had a completely different experience of France.

One of the couples I met moved out twenty years ago, threw themselves into the culture and haven’t regretted a day since. They’re still doing up their house, but at least they’re happy. Another couple actually have their house done up, but they’re tired of France and want to sell up and move back to the UK. Another couple again are stuck in limbo; France isn’t right for them but they’ve still got half a house to finish before they can even think of selling.

For me, it’s been fantastic to get the collected wisdom and advice of so many people who’ve done what I was thinking of doing. I now know that in actual fact, however romantic it might sound; realistically doing up a house in France isn’t right for me. This isn’t coming from someone who was completely green to the idea – I grew up in a house that was being renovated for five years. I guess as adults we sometimes need reminding of these things.

I have a good idea of where I would live if I was to move to France and I now know what the right balance of countryside and city is, in terms of distance. I also have a fairly good idea of what to look for in an area when deciding how easy it would be to fit in, and make friends there.

I’m not the first person to try on the expat lifestyle by house sitting, but having read about other people that were doing it I thought I’d weigh in and recommend that people try before they buy. Whether you’re thinking about living in France, Spain, Australia or Costa Rica, there are plenty of house sitting opportunities the world over; you can try out your dream lifestyle without having to commit to buying a property or moving your home first. I’m certainly glad I did it.

If you’d like to give house sitting a go, in France or anywhere else, you can find a list of opportunities here.

James Cave
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In 2012, James decided to move out to France with his partner Jemma. Getting around as ‘house sitters’ they’ve lived in several places throughout France and during that time looked after six dogs, eleven cats, two turtles and eighteen alpacas.