[Part I of this post was published on 30 April, 2019.]
Plans to retire to the U.K. now scuttled, we were feeling a bit adrift. After our initial disappointment, we began to think about France. We had always loved the idea of France as a nation, its people and culture(s). And the thought of living here was attractive. But – and I’m ashamed to admit it – the thought of learning French was daunting and probably what had put us off the idea earlier on. How lazy is that?
Languages can be difficult. But it’s not as though we were being asked to consider the study of quantum mechanics – a subject which is, I am entirely unashamed to admit, entirely beyond me. Cherie studied French in high school and she later learned a bit of Spanish and Italian. I, being the uber-liberal arts nerd that I am, have studied Latin, Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Italian and a smattering of French.* How hard could it be to properly learn French? So, we decided were were up for it and therefore, with unwarranted confidence, crossed that perceived barrier off the list.
Having tamed our fear of learning a new language, we began to look into France’s immigration rules. We were surprised to discover that they are straightforward and liberal. Relative to those of most other european countries, that is. Even better, they allow for non-European Union citizens to take up residence as retirees. Of course, a few conditions apply, but they are not considerable. There are three principal requirements:
1.) Idle hands. If one retires to France, they must promise not to work. In practical terms, this means they do not want people flocking to France to take jobs away from French citizens. Our entire raison d’être for this move was to retire an never have to work again. So, yeah. Perfect. Next?
2.) Show me the money. France requires that prospective retirees living in the country demonstrate they will have sufficient income to support themselves. This is to prevent them from becoming a financial burden on the state. Fair enough, we thought. We had never paid any taxes in France. Why should the citizens of France have to bail us out if we foolishly moved here with minimal bank accounts and then ran out of cash? Luckily for us – and, yes, we are fully conscious of the fact that we are very fortunate indeed – we had gathered enough funds to show that we could sustain a reasonable economy for ourselves.
3.) In sickness and in health. France’s healthcare system always ranks amongst the best in the world. It’s primarily funded through salary deductions (similar to Medicare or Social Security in the U.S.). The government therefore asks that retirees immigrating from other countries outside the European Union provide their own private health insurance. At least for the first three months of your residence. After that, it’s possible to join their national health system. Given that we have never contributed a cent to France’s health insurance system, it seems like an incredibly generous requirement. As it happens, we still found that we could get better private full-coverage global health insurance for less cost than we had been paying while working. The United States does many things very well; its system of health care coverage is inarguably NOT one of them. Accordingly, we were overjoyed to comply with this immigration requirement.
The universe was telling us to move to France. Who were we to argue? Willing supplicants to universal order, we finally had a new plan. Or, at least the beginnings of one. France is a large country. If we had any hope of succeeding in our move, we would have to narrow down the geographic area.
The southern regions of France were definitely out; neither one of us is partial to hot weather. It must seem crazy to many, if not most of you. Isn’t the south of France where EVERYBODY dreams of living? Such romance: Provence. Côte d’Azur. Midi-Pyrenees. The light. The colors. 435 days of sunshine a year. Nope. Not for us. We’re more the cool weather, drizzle, fog and occasional sunny day types. Like Seattle.
Well, what about beautiful Paris, you say? Probably the most dreamt-of place to live in the entire world. Yes, much better weather. And I much prefer big cities. Cherie not so much. Nevertheless, we could certainly have afforded to buy a famously expensive shoe-box apartment in the City of Lights. But then having spent nearly all of our retirement savings on it, we would be forced to eat Top Ramen and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for the rest of our lives. No so great.
After the climate and cost distinctions were made, our selection process became considerably more arbitrary. Frankly, we’re fairly certain that pretty much anywhere north of Lyon would have been fantastic for us. But we had to choose somewhere to start.
I think it was Cherie who first suggested Brittany (hereafter, Bretagne). A whole host of reasons recommended this part area of France to us. Firstly, the region’s weather is exactly as we like it. A little rain, a little sun, partial clouds, a dash of fog, cool but not cold, and rarely hot. Yessss. Bring it! The environment is also lovely, with many woodlands, rivers and hills; and 2,860 km (1780 mi) of breathtaking coastline. Add to this an interesting mix of french and celtic culture and generally good transportation links to the wider country and the rest of Europe and we were convinced. We would start our french lives in Bretagne.
Throughout this decision process, time was marching onward. We were both working steadily and generally living and enjoying our lives in Seattle. But our jobs were becoming increasingly less tolerable for us. The stress was more and more pronounced while, inversely, we were deriving less and less satisfaction from our work. Because of this, we were even more excited than ever about our plan to retire to France.
But the environment at our place of work was such that we had to keep our scheme a secret. Sadly, past experience there had demonstrated to us that employees could find themselves at the losing end of malign administrative maneuvers. Promised advancements conveniently forgotten; statutory wage rises ignored; retirement bonuses whisked away. We were not taking any chances. So we felt we had to leave even our closest and most respected work colleagues in the dark about our plans. Such deception was not comfortable for either of us. But our future entirely depended upon the deferred retirement funds we would receive later on in life. So, at work, we maintained secrecy with the kind of absolute rigor not seen since Operation Overlord. Our two-person invasion of France was about to begin …
*Full disclosure: I won’t speak for Cherie, but I have mastered none of these languages and would never claim that I am fluent or proficient in any of them. By the way, beware the American who confidently claims to be fluent in several languages. They usually aren’t. On the other hand, when a European begrudgingly admits to speaking two or more languages, it is most often true. How annoying! And humbling. If I had my life to live over again, I would have begun learning a foreign language from age 5. [I also would have given up playing baseball at a much earlier age. I was hopeless.]