Category Archives: French Sabbatical Secrets

Villers-la-Faye in The News

Thanks to Lisa K’s great blog, I found out about the riveting fact that our little village of Villers-la-Faye was recently front and centre in the French news.

Click here to watch the (rather long) segment about how the local school spearheaded a project to replant an old garbage depot in the Hautes-Cotes.  If this doesn’t take you to the right segment (after a small ad) click on the upper left hand corner of the page on “lundi a Villers-la-Faye”.

The local school in Villers-la-Faye really does some neat things with their students; things such as this project and also yearly field trips into the vineyards during wine harvest time, to the wonderful museums in Dijon, to visit local potters and violin makers, etc. etc… 

When guests are contemplating a sabbatical in France with their children, I always strongly suggest that they sign them up for a local school such as the one in Villers-la-Faye.  Besides adding some structure to daily life that is often welcome for both parents and children alike, there is no better way to learn French and become integrated into a French village.    

I love seeing many of our fellow villagers on the news clip – many looking rather star-struck – on Villers-la-Faye’s Place du Village where we will be having the big Bastille Day celebration in about three weeks.   There is also our Maire, Pierre Alexandre, who helped us get permission to put skylights in La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and who is remarkably at ease with all this media and PR stuff.     

I also love the sound of a teenager who roars by on a mobylette at the beginning of the clip.  Along with the leaves that unfurl from the trees the students planted, there is no surer sign of the springtime in Burgundy. 

And – hooray! – in less than two weeks we’ll be there ourselves.  I’m not certain if I’m more grateful for that, or the fact that our bevy aren’t quite old enough yet to go roaring off with one of the village boys on the back of his mobylette.

A toss up.

Beware France Telecom

This piece of advice applies equally to the short and long term visitor to France.   

When I try to explain to people who have not yet had contact with France Telecom (the most unpleasant form of baptism you could ever imagine) I always find myself frustrated.  Coming from North America, or even England, it is impossible to conceive just how frustrating and distressing this French institution can be to deal with.  For an objective glimpse, just have a peek at Lisa’s blog post today. 

We have unblocked phone and Internet lines at all of our vacation rentals, but the service and line reliability of France Telecom is so pathetic that we are now going to have to start putting a caveat on the “telephone and Internet included” part of our rental conditions that reads “subject to France Telecom”.  Lines stop functioning for no reason then start up again, months later, for reasons equally as mysterious. 

The main part of the problem is that in the interim you have wasted a good portion of your life though cardiac-arrest inducing visits to the France Telecom offices and phone calls where you get shunted around from department to department for hours while you are paying by the minute for the privilege of being on hold.  Then you inevitably get to the death knell – the recorded voice that says cheerfully after you have racked up a 300 Euro phone bill from being on hold for three hours “Nobody can help you right now.  Please call back later.” 

Click. 

The thing I try to explain about France Telecom is that there IS no concept of customer service – I actually think the majority of employees garner considerable job satisfaction from making as many people’s lives as miserable as possible.  And the laziness…mon dieu…the laziness… 

To me what sums up our dealings with France Telecom is a visit we made to the Beaune office a few years ago to have the billing address corrected for one of our gites.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Ah, but you forget, we are dealing with France Telecom.  

We waited in line for about an hour and at about 11:30am a haughty France Telecom employee (who are also all civil servants, which is a massive part of the problem methinks) in a knit sweater listened begrudgingly to our request.  Franck outlined it in as few words as possible, as you would to a child.  The man heaved a large sigh, rolled his eyes and consulted his watch.  “I’m going on lunch in half an hour,” he said.  “And I really don’t want to be late.  You’ll have to come back later.”                    

I had a past guest who stayed at my gites who ending up buying a home of her own in Northern Burgundy .  I had warned her about France Telecom but I don’t think she entirely believed me.  Well, in her three years of French property ownership she was never able to set up a functioning phone or Internet line in her house.  She ended up selling and moving back to Canada; she sounded completely unhinged the last time I talked to her.  I often wonder just how many people France Telecom have sent to the insane asylum. 

So, if you are traveling to France and the phone or Internet lines are not working, have pity on your poor vacation rentals owners (us) who are trying their best to deal with the stonewalling of France Telecom on your behalf.  Secondly, if you are renting a place for a long term stay, rent a place already equipped with a phone and Internet line.  Sadly this doesn’t always guarantee you will have phone service (Lisa is the proof of that, much to my chagrin) but at least you are putting all the chances on your side.  And don’t – unless you want to waste years of your life – try to set up a phone line by yourself. 

There have been a lot of new Telecommunications companies arriving in France over the last five years.  Problem is that France Telecom still has a monopoly over all of the equipment and lines.  These companies simply rent line space from France Telecom.   If you have a problem with them France Telecom gets vengeful and takes even LONGER to fix it.  This is the juncture where my eyes start spinning in their sockets and I start tearing at my hair like a character out of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.  The Horror…THE HORROR!!!!! 

And you can’t really go postal on France Telecom employees either.  It is an urban french myth (one which I totally believe) that there is a secret “blackball” list and if a France Telecom employee puts your name down on it you can kiss au revoir the idea of every getting a functioning phone or Internet line again in your ENTIRE LIFE. 

So my advice is buy or rent a cell phone for the duration of your stay in France, and also to locate your nearest Internet cafes.  And if you DO have an encounter with France Telecom even after these precautions, serve yourself a nice glass (or two) of good French wine and remind yourself that they will Burn In Hell one day.  It is surprisingly comforting.

French Sabbatical Secret #1: Don’t Expect Utopia

In my very crowded mind an idea has been percolating for some time now – a series of posts containing all of my thoughts, advice, (which you are free to take or ignore – I won’t be offended), and ideas about how to have a successful sabbatical in France.

My ideas could, of course, be applied to sabbaticals in other countries as well, but France is what I know so France is what I will write about.

Over our 10 years owning and managing vacation rentals in Burgundy, we have had many guests come on sabbaticals – anything from 2 months to 10 months. Some of them (most, I like to think) have had an amazing, life-enriching experience. There is small minority, however, who have been thoroughly disenchanted with their experience of living in France.

In my experience, there is one main difference between these two groups of people; expectations.

The people who become quickly alienated from French culture and French life are invariably the ones who are chasing after Utopia. They expect life in France to live up 100% of the time to Peter Mayle books and those glossy spreads in the travel magazines I love to read.

Dreaming of utopia is something I think all of us humans like to indulge in, but it can become dangerous when we mistake dreams for reality.

To truth of the matter is that if you are on sabbatical in France, you will undoubtedly experience some moments that will truly live up to The France Dream; snatches of time lingering on a cafe terrace, shopping at one of France’s glorious markets, traveling to Paris or the Cote d’Azur for the weekend…but the reality is that between these transporting episodes, there will be a whole lot of real life with all of its ups and downs.

The people who embarked on their French sabbaticals expecting basically a foreign version of real life were by far the happiest. They were able to savour the blissful “French” experiences and yet not be too unsettled by the fact that these always gave way to real life at some point.

Whereas the ones who went on sabbatical thinking that France equalled utopia were beyond unerved when they realised their life in France included mundane things like reconnecting their phone line and going to the Docteur for a bladder infection.

“Wait a minute!” they would think, indignant. “There were no photo spreads in those glossy magazines of anyone peeing in a cup at the medical lab. It’s all a lie! Utopia isn’t in France after all…it must be in Spain, or Greece, or Hawaii…”

And so their fruitless search for Utopia continued unabated, and they would completely forget to go to the cafe next to the lab after handing in their urine sample to enjoy a nice French espresso and a pain au chocolate.