So where was I with our ‘let’s just move to France’ tale?
We’d moved here.
Kids were in school and getting on ok.
After three months they weren’t speaking as much French as I’d imagined and I was trying to be patient about it. I realised I was expecting way too much.
If you just tuned in to our tale, the long plan is to move to Barcelona (we’ve done UK, NZ, UK, now in France) so at some point in the spring we had a long weekend in Barcelona to show it to our two girls, who are 9 and 7. We went to look at a beachy suburb a little out of the city I’d been reading about, where there was a French school and a friend-of-a-friend who happened to have a French husband and children in another French school in the city. We really liked it there and it didn’t take long to decide it was ‘our place’. A bit quieter but certainly not dull, hills at back, sea at front, nice cafés and amazing ice cream. What’s not to love? It wasn’t the same as the lovely suburb we lived in in Auckland, but it had a similar feel – one that felt homely. In July we’d come and find a house here, get the kids into a school (not the French one, we’d have to wait for places there, but something decent and local in the mean time) and it would be hunky dory.
March-to-July passed so fast. Suddenly it was the end of the French school term, the end of our time living in France. Then we were packing everything into the car and heading across the south of France and down to Barcelona.
To do what? Chuck our kids in a Spanish school? Not even that – a Catalan one?! Were we potty? They’d only just started to get French. Was this even fair, this idea? What? Put them in a school where they didn’t speak the language. Again. Then pull them out of it and throw them into a French school, just as they’d forgotten all their French and started to get to grips with Catalan? That sounded like a silly idea. Like the worst of both worlds. Well, then, find a good local school and just leave them there and hope they’d be happy? Who knew, but we were going, and I’d just have to trust that things would work out.
Friends with a nice big flat in Barcelona city were heading elsewhere in Europe for the summer and kindly let us house sit and water their plants.
After our 29m2 apartment in France it’s nice to live in a place that has separate rooms. Where our children can play and make noise ‘at the other end of the house’. It feels luxurious. But I’m not 100% sure about Spain.
First off, I don’t speak Spanish. I did listen to some Spanish conversation podcasts when I was doing the washing up and what not back in Bristol, and I did a bit of Duolingo. But when we decided to go to France for a spell, I switched to brushing up my French.
Second off, Spain seemed so dry. I love forests. Deep, green ones with mulch. English ones even. New Zealand ones especially. The hillsides I was looking at in Barcelona were green, but somehow parched and scrappy looking. I wasn’t in love with them
Third off, the fruit shops were too plentiful, full of too much lovely fruit, and for too low a price, and I couldn’t work out how I’d ever eat enough of it.
Fourth off, the beach in the suburb we liked and wanted to live in was too long, with sea that was just too perfect a temperature, near an ice cream parlour with more ice cream flavours than different fruits in the fruit shop. ARGH!
I kept looking up at those hills with the forests, while I was sitting on the very long, warm-sea beach relaxing and mending from my mountain biking crash, thinking ‘there will be nice running trails up there,’ and ‘it would be nice to take a bike up there,’ and ‘those rocky crags must be hiding some climbing, you’d think,’ and other annoyingly positive things.
Because a big part of me wanted to yell “Take me back to France! I love France. I can kind of speak to people there. The food makes so much sense. My children are learning the language. There’s a school and it seems pretty good. I’ve just started to get to know a few people. I can DO France. Let’s GO.’
And with this starting-to-quite-like-Spain thing I was feeling a tad conflicted.
So in between eating ice cream and being on the beach we got stuck into apartment hunting. I soon found out that rent is a lot higher than I expected in an economy that isn’t so hot. In fact we needed to spend at least what we’d been spending in ‘rip-off Britain’ where the rent, in my opinion, was ridiculous. How did people afford it on Spanish wages? A house seemed pretty much out of the question – the rent was crazy. Most things seemed to come furnished and there was just no way – we were paying a pretty penny on storage in Bristol and I wanted my shoes back, plus the Magimix and a few other things besides, then a lot of places were bang in the middle of town, where we didn’t want to be.
Eventually I started to hone in on some apartments worth looking at, but not much. Long story short…
We found one that seemed good. We visited the real estate agent’s office once or twice to discuss, we were told:
Ooh – very dodgy, not having a Spanish income.
No, we have incomes from a more stable, more vibrant economy where we can earn a decent wage. (I know, Brexit – let’s still not go there)
Yes, but when you trash the flat it will be hard for us to get the money from you.
Ah – but we are filling the flat with all our nice things that we bought with our hard-earned money. We don’t want to trash the flat. Also, moving house is hard work and expensive, when we move, we want to stay there. We don’t want to trash the flat.
Well, it happens all the time.
We will get references from the people we’ve rented from, so you can see that we treat other people’s property really well, like we treat our own.
Hmm. Well, you will have to pay two month’s rent in advance the whole time you live there, and two month’s deposit… and our fee, that’s a month’s rent as well.
That’s starting to feel like a lot of money. Like the amount we’d need to put a deposit on a place to buy.
Actually, the owner has decided they need a year’s rent in advance. Plus the deposit. Plus the fee.
We went to the town hall to ask about schools. Before we could talk to them about schools we needed an address. But we weren’t 100% sure we wanted an address unless we were happy about the school, even if anyone would rent us an apartment. We already had the girls’ names on the waiting list for the French schools but they had to go to school somewhere in the mean time. And we’re not hiding any riches and have you seen the cost of fees at those international schools?!? We are not in their league. Not this year, anyway. And I did also think about home schooling, but it wasn’t clear how long the ‘waiting for a place’ thing might take…
Then we went to see another apartment. Totally lovely. Not huge, but a nice size and lovely. And this real estate agent seemed normal. None of that crazy conversation about trashing the place. But still, the school question.
I dared utter a out loud that I was feeling really unsure, and that returning to France was feeling really appealing, and that it might be more fair on the girls. I was a bit surprised at how easy it was. The husb agreed (like, immediately said ‘I’m thinking along the same lines’ – don’t you love it when that happens?!) and thus a new seed was sown and watered.
We returned to France for a week’s long-planned holiday including parents visiting and my in-laws being around at their mountain place not far from ours. It was lovely. My rib was almost mended, my head a bit better – though I was still getting very tired and sometimes horribly grumpy. But we’d found we’d decided. We were coming back. And we felt good about it. I felt good. It felt right – to be in France, to stay a little longer.
We had to return to the Barcelona apartment to finish our plant watering duties, and pack up all our stuff again. But we were more relaxed. We still visited our neighbourhood-to-be, checked a few more ice cream flavours and beach access points. Still seemed good. Still felt right. But France felt more right for now.
So here we are again, in 29m2 of our very own space. There’s no ‘other side of the house’. There isn’t even a bedroom. But it’s ours. With a balcony and a view of the mountains. And there’s a nice school down the road where they’ll take our children back.
We’re happy. A bit haphazard maybe. But there’s nothing wrong with haphazard happy.