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

Living France - - Contents -

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

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