How do you get on with meeting new people and making friends? I’m quite a reserved person and find it quite difficult to get to know people.
Our new village has about 1200 inhabitants – not enormous but not so tiny that everyone immediately meets everyone else. It has been quite a different experience here from where we live in England. Yesterday morning as I cycled up to buy our daily baguette, twelve different people said ‘Bonjour ‘ to me – in fact, everyone I saw! Quite a contrast to the city where we live in England, where even eye contact is a no-no when you pass someone in the street. Everyone seems welcoming and interested and patient with us. Sadly, I’m not sure the same would be true for a French person visiting England. Perhaps it’s just the difference between living in the countryside rather than a city.
One day over Easter, we were all working away in the garden, in the sunshine ( visiting children and grandson lending a hand to tame the wilderness ) when an elderly gentleman walked down the driveway from where he had left his car parked up on the lane.
He introduced himself as Monsieur LeRouleux and explained that as a keen local historian he was writing a book about the history of the village and wondered if he could ask us some questions about the mill. He’d originally approached the previous owner without much success , but had found out from Monsieur Lebrun, the local roofer who had helped us out when we first moved in, that an English couple had moved in. He showed us the draft of his book in a bulging ring binder and we talked about what we knew about the history of the place.
Colin climbed down to the water wheel under the house to take some photos for him and I photocopied some old post cards of the place that I had bought in on-line auctions. After about an hour of chatting, he waved goodbye and walked back to his car.
The next morning, as we were eating breakfast, we heard the crunching of tyres on the gravel outside and saw Monsieur LeRouleux climbing out of his car. He had brought us prints of all the old photos he had of the mill, that we didn’t already have. How lovely of him!
It was the day we were leaving at the end of that visit that I returned from the village with my baguette in the morning to find a strange car in the drive and the sound of voices in the living room.
(You may have gathered from the last ‘early’ visit that we are not very good at getting up early in France – I put it down to the sun rising an hour later here, than in England)
Wondering who it was that my husband was chatting to, I parked my bike and walked into the living room to see a couple, a bit older than us, talking to Colin. They were apparently ‘nos voisins de la rivière’ our neighbours on the river, and lived in the next water mill about 3 km downstream. They had heard from Monsieur LeRouleux that the mill had changed hands and had come to introduce themselves.
We found out that Jacques and Marie – Claude were both ex teachers, now retired, and that they had renovated their mill over the last 35 years from a derelict shell. We chatted about our plans, the fact that Anne Marie had spent some time in Exeter as a student (not that far from where we live in the UK), the possibility of getting green electricity from our waterwheel and all sorts of other things. They left us with their address and phone numbers in case we needed anything. We had a laugh about how the whole village now seemed to know all about us, but it was lovely to think that they had taken the trouble to drop by and introduce themselves.
Last weekend we took a break from the bathroom renovation and decided to go for a cycle ride out along the local lanes.
A couple of kilometres down the road we saw the name of Jacques and Marie-Claude’s mill at the end of a side lane and decided to cycle down and have a quick look. We didn’t want to disturb them on a Sunday so just walked quietly down the lane to the beautiful old stone-built watermill in its idyllic setting in a hidden valley, miles from anywhere. But Marie – Claude saw us and as soon as she realised who we were, she called Jacques and they excitedly invited us in and gave us a guided tour of their lovely home, their garden, their animals (black sheep, chickens, ducks) and the gite, holiday cottage that they have created in an old sheep barn.
They invited us to share their lunch, (Just à la bonne franquette, a simple potluck lunch Marie-Claude emphasised, and we spent a wonderful few hours over a meal of fresh garden produce, local cheeses and a lovely clafoutis with Mirabelle plums from the garden, discussing renovations, family and everything from wildlife to opera. We left with a bag load of courgettes, basil and chard from their garden, and promises of getting together again as soon as they and we each got back from our impending trips. (Marie – Claude and Colin are planning to give each other conversational language lessons). So, not much cycling done, but we got home feeling we had made some wonderful new friends and even happier in our new location.
Plans for the bathroom were put on pause again this Sunday, as whilst in full plumbing swing, a text message from my mate Marianne reminded us that there was a big vide grenier in a lovely nearby medieval village and that she and her hubby were planning to go along and have lunch there if we had nothing else on?
Vide grenier/Troc/Bric à brac /brocante are all names used for a community car boot sale where the streets are closed and stall holders and visitors gather together to buy and sell all kinds of tat and the occasional rare find.
There is always food on sale (invariably sausage and chips in these parts), but it is done in typical French style with a set menu of aperitif, starter, main course, cheese and dessert for about 10€.
We promised ourselves a quick trip out to meet for lunch and then back to work, but sitting in the sun outside the 11th Century village church in Asnières sur Vègre we were joined by and introduced to a stream of people who knew Marianne and we spent a good three hours listening to tales of the war in Tchad, how François Fillon, the disgraced ex French prime minister who lives locally is now reduced to driving from his chateau in his 2CV to buy his own bread from the bakery each morning to being quizzed as to whether we thought the Royal family had ordered the élimination of Princess Di (a topic which still seems to fascinate the French).
Needless to say no plumbing was done when we got home. But who cares?
What sort of experiences have you had regarding settling in to a new area and making friends? I’d love to hear about them.