Life in the slow lane

When we arrived in France last November our intention was to spend around a month unpacking and settling in before driving back to Edinburgh for Christmas. Heather’s daughter had her 40th birthday in late December so we wanted to celebrate that and enjoy some festive family time. Plus we left most of our furniture and non-essentials in their new house, which was only expected to take up space there until we quickly returned back. At that time there were no restrictions in place to stop us returning. That soon changed, and ever since then we have been patiently waiting until we could return for long overdue hugs. With all required vaccines now done our last hurdle has been waiting for the UK to allow mixed-vaccinated mischiefs into the country without the requirement to quarantine for 10 days. We didn’t ask for a mix of Astra Zeneca and Moderna but that’s what we were given. The UK powers that be deemed mixed vaccinations unsafe. No idea why. Then about a week ago there must’ve been new scientific evidence to show mixed vaccinations were suddenly no threat at all… so, ten months later than expected we can return to Edinburgh, after a couple of days with my folks in Cornwall. We have gite guests booked until the end of October, then we’ll be off. For many reasons, we can’t wait.

We are now in the beautiful grip of autumn. Summer eventually arrived and stayed with us for most of August and September, and with it came a steady flow of friendly, courteous and judging by the stream of five star reviews, very happy guests to our gite, La Terrasse du Citron. We’re new to hosting, but no strangers to offering quality personal service, designed to suit each individual customer. Some like privacy and to be left alone, others want to share stories and a drink or three. We’re more than happy with either, and have been bowled over by some of the lovely words our guests have left us following their stay. We must be getting things right, but are very aware that this is just the start of our gite hosting journey. There are things to improve, changes to be made and as with any business, we are learning as we go along. When we opened up for bookings in July, with covid still a huge hindrance for travel, we said that we’d be happy with half a dozen bookings this summer. Our expectations have been very happily, most definitely exceeded.

The summer travel restrictions meant most of our initial guests were French, with a dash of Spanish and Irish. September has brought us mostly British. Meeting couples who have similar plans in mind to our own, who are going through the initial, exciting, sometimes frustrating but ultimately hugely rewarding house-hunting journey has been fun, and being able to advise and offer just a little support has been a joy. Our own experiences are now beginning to feel almost ‘normal’, mostly work, walks and meals outside. Cleaning Etsy finds and gite towels and bedding has been a constant, and Heather’s baking skills would most definitely see her successful on Bake Off. We also enjoy regular social engagements, mainly with our lovely new neighbours who moved in permanently a month ago. But if there’s one thing that restricts our enjoyment, and stops us from feeling totally normal, it’s our inadequate French and inability to fully immerse ourselves in the community. We frequent bars, banks and boulangeries, meet familiar faces at shops and supermarkets, make regular visits to the post office and struggle to converse beyond the pleasantries. That’s a slight exaggeration, as many situations have required language beyond a bonjour or bonne soirée, but it’s beginning to feel almost rude to not properly converse with those increasingly familiar faces.

Our French is clearly improving, Heather’s at a much faster pace than my own, mainly down to an impressively dedicated three (no exaggeration) hundred hours of Duolingo since we arrived. We’re also aware that we can’t become proficient in a new language overnight, but we want and need to improve further, so we recently enquired about some local lessons. Like school newbies we awkwardly sat in front of our potential teacher and introduced ourselves to her in French. She asked us questions and we tried our best to answer, holding back nervous giggles. Turns out we’re quite a way beyond beginners, but are just a little short of intermediate. There’s a chance that she’ll fit us in to a class by splitting the intermediate group into two levels, with us being in the lower. Otherwise it may be a case of waiting until early next year when our French may naturally progress to an intermediate level. Nous sommes heureux d’attendre. In France, waiting is a way of life.

French life goes on, at a pace that we’re slowly becoming familiar with. Little is open between 12-2, Sundays are equally quiet, but lunchtimes are the most important time of the day in France. We love seeing a gathering of La Poste delivery vans, parked up near the lake, taking their scenic, lengthy lunch breaks together. Everything here stops for lunch, and so it should. Our car, nearly four months after being hit, is finally in the hands of mechanics at the garage. Some things take longer here. Our garden slope is in itself a waiting game. The summer has seen it covered in a layer of recycled cardboard as over a number of months, cardboard and the dead weeds underneath it biodegrade and help create soil rich in nutrients. Earthworms also love it, although Pepper isn’t a fan. We have ideas for our garden, involving wildflowers and a veggie patch, but in the meantime we’re waiting for the cardboard to further decompose. It’s proving to be quite stubborn.

So, in one month from now we’re hoping to be on a short, but hugely anticipated tour of the UK, entering by ferry, exiting through a tunnel, and taking in Cornwall, Edinburgh and a large amount of motorway. Covid has taught us to be hesitant about making plans further than a week away, so bookings and ticket purchases will wait. Plus watching UK news is hardly filling us with confidence. Will fuel be available, will a consistent thirty plus thousand daily covid cases lead to restrictions, or will the France vs UK fish fight stop channel traffic? Will nationwide labour shortages mean the country will have to close? Everything will be okay, we’re sure. The garage has had my car for three weeks now. I’ve asked them to service it too, so fingers crossed I’ve not overstretched the work required in the time available. Seven weeks is long enough, right? D’accord, je vais polir du cuivre…

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