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French village people in Aveyron

Milja Kaunisto - Village People in Aveyron - 21.03.2012

Paris is great when you’re a young artist, willing to make your living playing in the metro tunnels and living on canned beans and dernier cru red wine, sleeping in a squat or an 8 square meter flat like we did. But when you have a tiny little baby… well, you mommies know this – things just change. I for one didn’t want to wind up singing in a metro tunnel with a baby in my arms. And when our landlord started entering our flat with his own pair of keys in the middle of breast-feeding, we decided it was time to say au revoir to the City of Love.

My parents had a vacation home in a lesser-known, remote corner of southern France called Aveyron. We had spent some vacations there and fallen in love, not only with architecture seeming to be straight out of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, but… with the food! My oh my, what wine! Sweet Jesus, what cheeses! A dish of mashed potato and cheese called aligot alone is worth the trip. And the fact that Aveyron is where southern France begins, a country of mountains and rivers that seem out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, also helped. We decided to stay, not knowing if it was for three weeks or thirty years.

We rented an apartment in the medieval village of Villecomtal. The landlord figured we were almost family since my parents had lived in the region, and gave us the flat with no extra guarantee; being a musician and somewhat of a starving artist, this was something I appreciated. There was one bummer, though. The villagers wouldn’t say bonjour to us during the first year. And when they did, they added the sarcastic phrase “how are you tourists doing today?” together with a crooked smile. (Although, I was still rejoicing – this was still a step up from Parisians who willingly refused to recognize my lightly nordic-accented French as the language of de Balzac and Molière…) And my mum comforted me: “Our neighbor, that 96-year-old lady over there, asked us upon our first meeting why we didn’t love our homeland, and when we answered we did, she asked why the hell we didn’t stay there, then.”

Milja Kaunisto - Village People in Aveyron 2- 21.03.2012

I can call Villecomtal my village now because I feel integrated, as much as it is possible for a foreigner. Meaning I work with the locals, befriend the locals, converse easily with the locals. It sure had seemed hard to integrate in France, especially in Paris! I thought I’d never break the ice with the country folk, seeing how they refused to talk to me about little more than weather. However, a few things made it possible – after a few years. Here’s a to-do-list for a foreigner moving to French countryside. (Keep in mind that a person moving in from the next village down the road is considered a foreigner. Fact.)

1. Be nice. Extremely nice. All the time. Nice and polite, never forgetting the bonjour even when there’s no response.
2. Get involved. Is there a village party committee? A country homes association? Become a member!
3. If you have a child, put him/her into the local school. Nothing works better than hanging out with the other mommies by the school gate.
4. Hang out in the local bar. (Especially if you’re a man – there seem to be no women in the bars, anyhow.) Persist, and one day, you will get that coveted ‘bonjour’, a handshake from the farmer, a peck on the cheek from the bar-matron.
5. Compliment the local food. They’re proud of it, and so should you be.
6. Buy your meat and cheeses exclusively from the village butcher and cheese-maker. They appreciate your business, thus adding another bonjour-saying villager. And the food is way better there than in supermarkets, anyway.
7. Speak French, lots of French, only French – or at least attempt to.

I’m going to go light up my fire now, and make a cup of coffee. I love this village. I love my little routines. I have managed to make a small living of my craft here, and this village has a fabulous cheese shop, butcher’s shop and two bakers. My second child will be born here and my first will soon start in a school with no more than fifty children. OK, so all the films in the one cinema in a 50-kilometer radius are in French. OK, the one clothing store of the village sells only flower-patterned house dresses and men’s long underwear. But I’m staying.

 

Image credits
1. Welcome to Aveyron via http://www.lamauve.sitew.com
2. Villecomtal via moto-station.com


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1 Comment




  1. Michael Cosgrove
    7 years ago

    Hi Milja, and your 7-point advice list is very well thought-out. Living in smaller communities in France can be a very lonely experience for those who don’t make an effort to put themselves out there. If you keep yourself to yourself many people will think that you want things to be that way so they will leave you alone, so a bit of effort and patience are needed.

    Your comment about it being hard to integrate in Paris is intriguing. Could that be because Paris, due to its cosmopolitan population, doesn’t actually have a unified/universal community into which to integrate oneself?

    Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying the current sunny spell and may I wish you an excellent day!

    Michael