Out­side the box

Find­ing in­no­va­tive new ways to earn money seems par for the course in France, says Gil­lian Har­vey

Living France - - Contents -

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

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