MANDY DAVISON, 45, CELLEFROUIN, CHARENTE
For Mandy, living in France has been a long-held dream. “I studied French at university and, as part of the course, spent two years living near Paris,” she says. “I loved the country and longed to live here.”
Mandy finally got her wish in 2006, when she, together with her husband Simon, 46, and daughter Amy, now 16, decided to make the move across the Channel. “We were going to move on retirement,” she explains, “but suddenly thought, why wait?”
The family were welcomed into the community with open arms, and, after a period of settling in, joined their local events committee ( comité des fêtes) where they were able to socialise and make friends. “Joining the committee was great,” says Mandy. “We made lots of really good friends.”
While Mandy was already fluent, she noticed that her husband Simon’s limited French improved by mixing with locals. “Simon’s French has really improved as a result of spending so much time with our French friends,” she says. “If you spend an evening or a weekend surrounded by French people, you’re forced to use the language and you soon improve.”
Nine years on, Mandy – a former bilingual PA – runs a language assistance company, Tournesol Language Services, helping non-speakers with everything from phone calls to problem-solving, and, despite having no interest in politics, has become a member of the local council.
Mandy’s position on the council certainly wasn’t a planned move. In fact, her first reaction when she was approached by the mayor was to refuse. “I was worried about the time commitment involved,” she says. “However, he came back several times and asked so nicely, I didn’t like to say no!” she admits. “We know him really well from being on the events committee, and he knows I participate and get stuck in, so was really keen to get me on board.”
One of the reasons for the mayor’s eagerness to recruit Mandy was his desire to have a British representative on the list. “There are lots of British families living locally,” explains Mandy, “and he wanted them to have a voice on the council. He also needed more female councillors, so I ticked two boxes for him. No wonder he was so keen to have me on board!”
Having been selected by the mayor, Mandy was added to the list of candidates, but didn’t need to campaign for her place. “I was given the impression that if the mayor approved of me being on the list, then so would the voters!” she reveals. “Somehow I ended up with plenty of votes – more than some of the French candidates!”
The meetings, held on a monthly basis, have been a real eye-opener for Mandy.