Less is more
A recent visit to the UK has reminded Gillian Harvey that her life in France has fewer distractions, and it means she can focus on the things that really matter
A trip to the UK makes Gillian Harvey appreciate life in France even more
When I lived in the UK, I was spoilt for choice. Whether I was selecting something to do at the weekend, or deciding on something delicious for dinner in the supermarket, I had a wealth of options.
When I first moved to rural France, I found the lack of choice – and complete absence of certain foods and activities central to my British life – surprisingly inconvenient. After a while, I found myself complaining about the lack of facilities and, for the first time since teenage summer holidays, occasionally found myself teetering on the edge of boredom (this was, of course, before I had five kids).
On a recent trip to the UK, however, I realised that, instead of being spoilt for choice, I’m now spoilt by the luxury of the life I live in France. Having adjusted to an altogether simpler way of life, I could hardly cope with the constant availability, the 24-hour opening times, the sheer enormity of choosing what to have for lunch or where to go in the evening. And it made me realise that having infinite options is not as wonderful as it may seem.
The thing I found most stressful, however, was the overall pace of life in Britain. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry – all the time. Everything needed to be available instantly. Used to exchanging greetings with everyone they meet, my children found their friendly “hellos” were frequently ignored. People were too preoccupied or rushed to even notice.
Since I left for France in 2009, life in the UK, if anything, has got more hectic. And while I’m an active person, many of the friends and family members I visited seemed stretched and stressed, encouraged to consume at an alarming pace, and work all hours to pay for this consumerism.
Having taken a step back from this kind of world, I was able to view it as a stranger; and I realised how much I’ve come to value the ‘less is more’ attitude I’ve been forced to adopt since moving here.
In my area of Limousin, rather than decide which activity to engage in at the weekend, you tend to go to whatever’s on – meaning that yesterday my children and I went to a tiny fête and had a wonderful time riding Shetland ponies, trying tightrope balancing and wrestling in a tug of war. Would I have sought out this tiny village fair in the UK with so many other options available? Probably not. And we’d have missed out as a result.
The French are sometimes mocked for their apparent laissez-faire attitude to work. But their appreciation of work-life balance means that most people don’t seem consumed by their 9-5, and rather than needing to gift themselves the latest gadget to mitigate for a tough week, they have time to relax and appreciate the more valuable gift of time with loved ones.
Amazingly, when I lived in the UK, I didn’t notice just how noisy, busy and palpably stressful things were. I had learned to tune the hum of activity into the background, as I might a ticking clock in the bedroom, or the rumble of road noise outside my house. All the same, I think my brain probably logged all these tiny stressors and I existed in a constant state of low alert.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my visit to the UK – it’s always nice to see friends and family, indulge in a few takeaways and spend a few hours in a traditional pub.
But revisiting my old stomping ground also reminded me that having fewer distractions means we are able to focus on things that are truly important.
Gillian Harvey is a freelance writer who has lived in Limousin for seven years, together with husband Ray and their five young children