Expat Living in Bordeaux - Jill Hanby II

The logistics of being an Expat in Bordeaux.

by Jill Hanby

So, in my last post (frowns and hopes you have read it) I talked about the practicalities, the worry and the concern of moving from the UK to France brightening up the post with the reality of the wonderful area that we find ourselves in in Bordeaux and the fact that never are we Expats are never really alone.  

See, beautiful Bordeaux! Bloggers own photo.

Today is Tuesday, with thoughts on culture and the reality of moving abroad. Now I very nearly didn't make it to Bordeaux. The December before we permanently arrived here, my boyfriend and I spent a cold, wet and sad weekend in Bordeaux looking for accommodation –somewhere that we could live for 2 years and be happy. 

Now the 1st point, this was difficult because I liked our home back in the UK, in fact, we owned our own flat so it was truly 'our home'. Nothing could compare/replace that,  could it? And the second difficulty about this whole process came down to language and culture. How did you go about finding a 'nice' apartment, what documentation did we need (turns out the question should have been what documentation didn’t we need?!) and how long would it take?

Luckily, my boyfriend’s Dad is a French teacher, so he called some letting agencies in advance to make appointments for us and checked what we needed to take with us (everything but the kitchen sink it felt like). So, on a grey, December day back in 2009, we entered our first letting agency relying on my school girl French and some notes from the boyfriend’s Dad to start our French life. And I have to be honest, it was horrible, I hated every minute… 

  • The receptionist was snotty, rude and did not understand anything. I am still shocked by how rude, unwelcoming and fairly dire she was… I now realise this was not ‘French’ at all, it was just one individual who should have been in a different job behind closed doors away from all members of the public. 
  • Apparently we didn’t have the right documentation, although they had assured my boyfriend’s Dad we would need no more *sigh*.
  • It appeared not to matter at all that my boyfriend had a 2 year contract for a good job here, we had money in the bank and owned a property in the UK – none of that would help us here.
One agent helpfully told me that once we had worked in France for three months, then we could rent a property with her…. In the meantime where should we live where exactly?!?!

We waited for an hour outside an apartment waiting for the agent to show up, only for him to forget us…. Cue feeling as lost as you possibly can.  

Now I was convinced this was all because we were English. No other question, it was ‘ze stupide eenglisssh’, this is the reason why people were unhelpful and at times rude (this is not an exaggeration!) I was sure of it. 

However, do not despair – although tears were shed and feet were stomped (mine), it turned out OK in the end. I can say that now, although it might have felt like the worst weekend ever and the decision to move here seemed like the craziest thing in the world (especially for an organised Madame like myself) it all turned out fine. 

Could it be anymore French? Bloggers own photo.

The said agent who had let us down and left us waiting outside on a cold French street for an hour took pity on us, gave us a ‘special showing’ of an apartment and said that if we liked it he would hold it for us without question…. Ha ha some French men can be helpful! 

Of course by this point we had:
  • found a ‘garant’ - definition: someone who will guarantee a sum of money in case you (the tenants) do not pay rent – i.e: a guarantee of rent for a period of time, however, this person has to live and work in France – quite a tricky find for someone moving from abroad!
  • spent two days looking around (fairly aimlessly I think)
  • signed a million and four documents (this is somewhat of an exaggeration) 
  • started using sign language instead of my pidgin French!  
Yippee, the flat we saw was perfect, 3 pieces (oops little bit of French terminology coming in there), in a good part of town, near to tram stops and shops and could happily be home to us whilst here. The interesting thing which still leaves me a little bit open-mouthed was/is the size of the kitchen (seriously huge) but wait a second, there was nothing in this kitchen – there was just a sink. Nothing more, nothing less. Ahh yes, another education into French life, often you can rent a property and it does not have a fitted kitchen – ho hum (this is very weird by English standards). Needless to say there was a fairly full white van shopping trip when we moved which was full of cupboards, ovens, fridges and other useful things, a fairly high additional cost to renting in France but somewhat essential too! 

Possibly not the best picture – but enough said, blank walls, blank floor space – nothing, nada, rien!
So, although at times the language and culture were confusing and difficult. As was the ability for the French to be abrupt/rude/unhelpful, however, please note, this does not mean that everyone is really like that, without our one agent coming through for us I am not sure where we would be now; but we are still happily in our flat after nearly three years (way longer than anticipated), our kitchen is still functioning even if it was bought to last only two years on a tight budget and possibly more importantly even after technical household issues, like a hole in the roof, a leaking bathroom and a huge breakdown in electrical circuits we have survived. We have lived in Bordeaux, managed the culture and 'Frenchness' and are still here! Whoop Whoop! 

Even on a grey day, a sad day, a day when you feel a million miles from home, you can still see the attraction of the city. Bloggers own photo.
What about you? Did you have a moving nightmare? Or did it all go swimmingly (I’m a bit jealous if it did, but still happy for you!)

If you would like to contact Jill for more information, please click here or check out her blog!


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