Pa­per trail

In the first step to­wards set­ting up a B&Bgîte busi­ness, Ian Moore makes a hasty pre-lunch visit to Madame la Maire

Living France - - Contents -

Colum­nist Ian Moore takes the first of­fi­cial step on the well­trod­den road to run­ning a B&B

Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt said that “noth­ing in life worth hav­ing comes easy”. A fine sen­ti­ment, and a reg­u­lar ex­hor­ta­tion from par­ents to chil­dren the world over. Of course, I doubt Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt ever came up against the amor­phous beast of French bu­reau­cracy, in which case he’d have edited his maxim to some­thing like, “noth­ing in life comes at all” or a more damn­ing, “do you know what? I re­ally don’t know why I bother”.

Hav­ing made the decision to ren­o­vate our out­build­ings and set up a cham­bres d’hôtes-gîtes busi­ness, the first of­fi­cial step, fol­low­ing some rudi­men­tary cal­cu­la­tions and ten­ta­tive mar­ket re­search, is to ap­proach your lo­cal mairie. This is the ‘for­mal­ity’ that all the cham­bres d’hôtes fo­rums tell you about, a sim­ple courtesy call to reg­is­ter your bud­ding busi­ness with the lo­cal big­wigs.

It’s also a very good op­por­tu­nity to see who the com­pe­ti­tion might be as the mairie will have those records to hand, and also to ask for a fu­ture leg up. A link on the lo­cal tourist board web­site, for ex­am­ple, or a full-on rec­om­men­da­tion for any­one who may be pass­ing.

Not only that, it gives you the chance to see how all those rules govern­ing cham­bres d’hôtes-gîtes – think En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica large-print ver­sion – have changed in the few mo­ments be­tween park­ing your car on the Place de la Mairie and walk­ing the few steps to the in­ner sanc­tum of lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

Our pre­ferred builder, the proudly named Gus­tave, had been out for a quote, even though his arm was in a sling, and he had been adamant that no plan­ning per­mis­sion would be needed. “Not un­less the rules have changed,” he said du­bi­ously on the Tues­day. Well, by Wed­nes­day, emer­gency dik­tats had emerged from the ‘Min­istry of Let’s Look Like We’re Do­ing Some­thing’ and plan­ning per­mis­sion was in­deed now nec­es­sary, as we were con­vert­ing a build­ing of over 150m2. The build­ing we are con­vert­ing is 165m2.

“But we’re only con­vert­ing two-thirds of it,” we said. “It doesn’t mat­ter,” said Madame la Maire apolo­get­i­cally, “It’s all the same build­ing.”

“But’s that’s like charg­ing me for the whole gâteau, even though I’ve only had two slices!” I pleaded, giv­ing it the full Tony Han­cock. Again she looked at us apolo­get­i­cally while si­mul­ta­ne­ously nod­ding to­wards a cou­ple of baguettes keep­ing warm on her of­fice ra­di­a­tor. You’ve re­minded us it’s nearly lunchtime, she was clearly say­ing, best get out be­fore the rules changed any fur­ther.

Plan­ning per­mis­sion there­fore be­ing a le­gal re­quire­ment, an ar­chi­tect has to be em­ployed to do the of­fi­cial plans and what started as a for­mal­ity, the sim­ple no-strings-at­tached afore­men­tioned courtesy call, had added a few grand to the bill and a few weeks to the timetable. Henri the ar­chi­tect ar­rived with Gus­tave in Henri’s car. Gus­tave was by now on crutches, and so Henri took con­fi­dent charge of the project. I gave him my own sketchy draw­ings, which he took grace­fully like an in­dul­gent par­ent forced to put yet an­other child­ish paint­ing on the fridge door, and looked at them in­tently, though, I no­ticed, the wrong way up. He had the look of a man who clearly felt that he’d got there just in time, like some pen­cil-wield­ing, build­ing plan­ning su­per­hero, and he ex­plained pa­tiently how he would change things around, sav­ing us money and mak­ing the whole thing fit to­gether per­fectly.

I’ve banged on for years about the mul­ti­lay­ered, un­pleas­ant sur­prises hid­den in the dark re­cesses of French bu­reau­cracy, but ev­ery now and then a pleas­ant sur­prise emerges and it’s likely that these new rules will in fact leave us no worse off and with a bet­ter fin­ished prod­uct. Who knows, maybe old Teddy Roo­sevelt was right on this one? Although, of course, his is one of the gi­ant faces carved into Mount Rush­more. If that was in France I sus­pect they’d still be wait­ing for plan­ning per­mis­sion. Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­

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