Outside the box
Finding innovative new ways to earn money seems par for the course in France, says Gillian Harvey
Gillian Harvey reflects on the inventiveness that often comes with a move to France
Today I met up with a few friends. One – a fledgling bee-keeper – sells her honey at the local markets; another runs a vintage online shop which sells French collectables to the States. A third receives students during school holiday periods for English language immersion. The fourth runs music retreats and hosts singing workshops for children.
It’s true, my friends have interesting lives. Even more interesting is the fact that their careers prior to living in France were far more run-of-the-mill. Two worked in sales, another in social services and one was an admin whizz. Interesting, too, is the fact that only one of them had her current occupation in mind when she first moved over.
They say ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’, and this is particularly true of the humble expat. Many of us need to make a living as well as a new life when we move here, and while we may have plans, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Lack of
custom, unexpected competition or simply changing circumstances mean that many of us are on our third or fourth venture. While it’s not great to find that simple business ideas – such as selling cakes on a market stall – can be fraught with legislative difficulties in France (go up against the pâtisseries at your peril); or that, try as you might, you can’t convince local farmers that their muddy pooch could do with a manicure, the need to find a model that works forces many of us to think outside the box and try something a little left field. Determination to make life work in France, together with the fact that many have ditched their mortgage and have a little financial leeway, means that here inventiveness abounds. Over the years, I’ve met people who make their own soap, who carve beautiful furniture from stained wine barrels – upcyclers, first-time farmers, artists and brocanteurs. Life may be a little complicated at times; but never is it dull. But what comes first? Is it that France – often hailed as an artistic nation – calls out to those with creativity? Or is the prospect of not being able to afford a stère (cubic metre) of wood for the winter fire enough to get anyone’s brain ticking at one hundred miles an hour? I’m not sure. But it’s probably a bit of both. My own journey has been something of a revelation, too. Always a writer at heart, I worked as a teacher in the UK and set up my own tutoring business via Skype when I first arrived. After a year or so, I morphed into a GCSE assessor, marking papers online; as well as working part-time as a virtual PA. During this time, I took courses and dipped my toe into my real passion. Seven years on, I’m writing for a living and enjoying every ink-stained moment. Suddenly, I’ve found myself not only living somewhere that I love; but able to do what I love for a living. And I can’t help but feel that had I not stepped away from the 9-5 and decided to give la vie en France a go, I’d have lacked the determination (and sometimes borderline desperation) to branch out. Finding your niche here may sometimes be a struggle, but my life is certainly the richer for it.
with writing Gillian juggles parenting
Gillian Harvey is a freelance writer who has lived in Limousin for seven years, together with husband Ray and their five young children