Friday, June 26, 2015

Simon and his dog

This post arises out of one I've just been answering on another forum ( which poses the perennial questions raised by some British people in France - about how to deal with French greetings - kissing, handshaking etc. and the differences between regions, and above all Paris, compared to the provinces.

I live in a medium sized French town (pop. 120 000 or 250 000 with the outlying suburbs) in the Mediterranean south, where there is an interesting mix of nationalities - people from Spain just over the border, as well as places like Morocco and further south. Most evenings I take a walk round the nearby park, where many people are sitting on the benches alone or  talking to friends, and they sometimes greet me or I say 'Bonjour' to them. Also on a quieter road, if someone is coming towards you alone, it is quite normal to say Bonjour as you pass each other.

When it comes to more formal greetings, there are what seem like complex rules governing the business of kissing and handshaking - but I find you pick it up as go along. To take an example: Yesterday I was in the town centre with my closest (male) friend and as we have known each other for more than 10 years and work together on various writing projects, we kiss each other 4 times when we meet or say goodbye. This now extends to his family and to some of his close friends who in turn have become close friends of mine.

Yesterday we met the younger brother of the same close friend - four kisses from him for my friend, two for me (I know him fairly well), two kisses for both of us from his girlfriend, whom neither of us had met before; a handshake from another male, a kiss from his girlfriiend.......It may seem complicated but there is a certain logic to all of this, and you tend to follow the customs by instinct. All the above were repeated as we parted five minutes later.

And what of Simon and his dog? One of the other things I like about this region is the comparative lack of class/snobbery - the boss shakes hands with the factory worker or the man come to fix the radiators. Simon is a young homeless lad who sits begging almost opposite my apartment, with his faithful dog called Vagabond. We shake hands and talk when I pass, and know a bit about him as a result; a lot of other people say Hello to him, as well as putting a few coins in his pot. I find this much more heartening than people scurrying past pretending not to see him. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A 'Portakabin' on your roof?

The city of Barcelona is now authorising the addition of pre-fabricated apartments on the roofs of some apartment blocks, as one means of solving the city's perennial housing crisis. The apartment modules are pre-fabricated in the factory and transported and lifted by crane onto the roof of the building, where final connexions are made within 24 - 48 hours.

The buildings selected are normally those within a row of apartment blocks where the 'full height' has not been used, and adding the prefabricated modules can help improve the aesthetic appearance, as well as discouraging random use of flat roofs for storage or washing lines.

The developers also argue that the more even distribution of weight can help reinforce a building and that no strengthening of the foundations is required. In some cases landscaped gardens and terraces have also been added, and the lift (elevator) extended to reach the new top floor.

Further arguments point to the saving in land costs, discouragement of urban sprawl as less land is eaten up for housing and access roads, and that adding to the city's urban population means more efficient use of the city's existing services such as public transport, shopping and entertainment.

Would this work in France - where the Paris municipal authority has already spoken about extending some buildings upwards? Private apartment buildings are owned in common by their resident occupiers and managed by a syndic, who can object to and block certain developments, even when planning permission has been given by the local authority. There might also be objections from owners who occupy the existing top floor and do not wish to see a new neighbour appear on their roof!

Further information and a video (English subtitles) can be found on 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Amazing French health service.....

In just under three hours this morning, starting at 08.30, I had an ultrasound scan, waited for the report and took it to the specialist who came out of his office between patients and gave me a quick all-clear; then dropped it off at my doctor who did the same thing. Wonderful people. Oh, and within the above scheudle I ate a late breakfast having fasted from midnight. Great reaons to live in France....P-DdeR

Monday, June 8, 2015

Renting out your French home for profit.....two useful guides

If you are considering renting out your French main or second home, you may be interested in a couple of books that guide you through the process and help you make a profit. Both are heavily influenced by the American short-term rental platform Airbnb and are published on Amazon Kindle.

They are:
- Doublez vos réservations by Thibault Masson (in French)
- The Airbnb Entrepreneur by Warren Bell (in English)

Masson's book is discussed in this morning's LeFigaro* online and covers six principal areas:

1. Investigating and deciding on your target market, such as families with children, business visitors or romantic couples. Each market is quite distinct, and depends on the size and type of your property, its location and what are its nearby 'attractions' that will appeal to your target group.

2. Target your marketing and description to your chosen group and emphasise the elements likely to appeal to them.

3. Reply quickly to enquiries - potential renters usually approach an average of five competing properties and a prompt reply helps win customers.

4. Having done your research, make sure your prices are in line with similar offers in the same sector.

5. Look after the details and ensure particularly that beds and baths are impeccable, as they are among renters' prime concerns.

6. Provide little extras, such as overnight items for breakfast, or a bottle of champagne for couples.

Airbnb also publish a number of guidelines, specifically tailored to France, including essential tax and legal advice.


Friday, June 5, 2015

France's retirement boom may not be enough to create jobs

French politicians looking ahead over the next decade or so have for a long time assumed that the retirement boom - resulting from the high birth rates in the decades after the war - will be the chief answeer to the country's high unemployment. As an estimated 10 million French give up work and enter retirement, their places will have to be filled - so the argument goes.

A recent report* however has taken a more cautious view and thrown into doubt the idea that the retirement boom alone will solve France's high unemployment. The report offers three possible scenarios, cautious, moderate and optimistic and in the worst-case version unemployment in 2022 could be as high as 9.7% (with just over 1 million jobs created); the 'central version' suggests the creation of some 1.8 million new jobs and an unemployment rate of 7.9%; while the most optimistic version talks of 2.1 million new jobs and unemployment at 6.7%.

What are the reasons for this? The analysts suggest that inevitably the demand for certain types of workers are likely to decline, citing in particular industrial and manufacturing jobs, work in agriculture and the lowest category (C) of employees in the public sector. They also suggest that among the self-employed and owners of the smallest businesses (cafés, restaurants, small shops etc) when the owner retires, the business tends to close and disappear from view.

The only sector likely to recruit in large numbers is that of 'home helps' but the researchers note that this type of work is regarded as unattractive and low-paid and may even fail to attract the unemployed. Generally unskilled and medium-skilled jobs requring few specialist qualifications - sales assistants, drivers, cleaners - will decline due to streamlining and automation.

Among the remedies being discussed are shorter working hours (!) and the researchers note that the introduction of the 35 hour working week in France generated over 2 million jobs between 1998 and 2001.

* 'France Stratégie" as reported in "Alternatives Economiques" no. 347 June 2015.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reasons to move to - or leave - France?

I am pretty sure no statistics exist which explain why some British people choose to move and live permanently in France, the variety of reasons why - and sadly, why some decide that this is not for them and return home to the UK, wiser in experience but possibly poorer materially.

During my years as a French estate agent negotiator and property adviser in the south of France, I have met many buyers of 'second homes' and an equal number of people who have decided to give up their British property and lifestyle and settle permanenty in France. The majority have stayed, moving the Mediterranean to enjoy their retirement, and in a few casers younger individuals have set up successful businesses. (This is quite different from the pattern of French moving from France to Britain, who are invariably of working age and go there to find jobs or set up their own business).

Among the few who have returned 'home' to Britain, their reasons have included:
- not being able to adjust to a radical change of lifestyle, though moving almost anywhere to enjoy ones retiremant can prove traumatic unless you plan ahead and are clear what you are looking for.
- not being able to cope with the French language.
- as a result of the above, unable to settle in a new location and make new friends and contacts.
- making a radical change from, say, a large (English) town to a small (French) village.
- health and prefering to rely on the known NHS rather than the excellent French healthcare system.
- in the case of parents, because the children are not appy in a French school.
- inability to find suitable work or set up a viable business.
- wanting to be closer to children and grandchildren or other family, back in England.
- death of one of the partners.

Looking at the list, it is clear that a permanent move to France needs careful planning about where to live, what sort of lifestyle you are seeking, effect on accompanying children and on those left behind, your prospects of survival either through working, pensions or savings; and some kind of 'what if?' contingency plan.

While I was selling appartments and houses on the Mediterranean coast, a typical client (who succeeded in settling permanently) :
- knew and had visited the region previously, usually on holiday
- had visited other reagions of France or even other countries such as Spain or Portugal, before deciding on this part of France
- knew more or less what they wanted - beachside apartment, country cottage etc - but sometimes changed their ideas
- had a clear idea of budget for the property purchase and their 'survival plan' to finance their new life
- sometimes had a Plan B in case their situation changed.

As often happens, people do not always follow their own advice and my own arrival in France happened entirely by accident! It all started when the central London property I was living in, with a controlled rent, was sold to property speculators, and I found myself facing a tripling of my rent and increasing uncertainty of freelance work lecturing, writing and consulting, as I moved towards retirement. It was a colleague at the university where I taught who introduced me to the region where we both now live. He had already bought a small holiday flat to enjoy during the long university holidays, and then decided to stay (finding lecturing assisngments locally and then setting up his own 'chambres d'hotes' with a French partner). I calculated I could just about affford a small property, using my savings, as this was just before ther boom in prices which took off after 2001. And I too found my own means of survival, doing much the same as I did back in London but with a French twist. It has not all been plain sailing but looking back I feel I made the best of a bad situation that was beyond my control.

The moral here is by all means plan ahead but sometimes you have to react quickly to events and do the best you can. It often works!