ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Deborah Bine, aka the Barefoot Blogger, is a person who likes to “go for it.” And she does. Two years ago after divorcing her husband and retiring from IBM, she packed her bags and put down stake in France — all by her lonesome. We interviewed Deborah to find out what drove this major life change and how she got the nerve to make it happen — without any French language skills, to boot!
Start from the beginning. How did this odyssey begin? Why France and how did you end up in Uzes?
The year of the Royal Wedding (Kate and Will) I visited London to view the wedding festivities along with hundreds of thousands of onlookers. While there, I was invited to spend a few days in the South of France with a friend who lives there. One of the highlights of being in France was going to various nearby villages on market day. That was the first time I saw Uzes — for Saturday Market. It was “love at first sight.” I knew I had to return to the magical place. So when I retired from my job with IBM in 2013, I planned a holiday to celebrate my new freedom. Uzes was the centerpiece of the trip. In Uzes I rented an apartment in the center of the town through AirBnB and for 3 weeks. I “played like” I was a permanent resident. I spent every day walking around the village, taking in all the sights, riding a bicycle into the countryside, eating where the locals ate, and meeting as many people as I could meet – French, English, Scottish, American, etc. Fortunately, the people I met made me feel right at home. Their enthusiasm and love for the town encouraged me to look at it as a possible place for me to live. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?
Is money ever an issue? Is France as expensive as we’ve been programmed to believe? How do you figure out your budget on a fixed income?
Money has always been an issue for me. But it’s never kept me from doing what I really want to do. I can usually find a way. That’s how I approached moving to France. I realized there are lots of French people who live very well in Uzes and they aren’t wealthy. So why couldn’t I? When I decided to seriously investigate the possibility, I went to a local real estate agent to look at properties to rent. Happily, I found that the cost of housing is less than where I was living in the U.S. As for other costs, they are very similar. Read more here.
What was the scariest thing about diving into a huge life changing move like this and how did you overcome your fears?
Moving away from family and a known support system was the scariest part of moving to France. Except for the people I had met on my holiday, I knew no one. Also, I don’t speak French, so I was concerned how I would manage everyday life. Fortunately I didn’t know how difficult it would actually be, or I might not have gone. “Fools rush in” is how I would describe the experience now.
You admit to barely speaking a word of French – at least initially. How did you negotiate daily living and getting what you needed in the beginning?
I met a charming English man during my stay in Uzes. We became instant friends – actually more like brother and sister. He became my “life blood” during those first few months. Every day I would knock on the door of his house with a “Deborah-do list.” When he wasn’t available and I had to brave the day alone, I found that I could communicate with the locals well enough with sign language and a big smile. In Uzes, not a lot of people speak English; however, they are very accommodating and try very hard to be helpful. The most difficult thing I still find is using the telephone. It is impossible. Imagine trying to call the power company to connect your electricity and you can’t negotiate through the automated answering system to ask if someone speaks English. How I eventually solved the problem was to hire someone to help me. There seem to be lots of people around who are unemployed or under-employed. If you ask around, you can find someone who is willing to help you out very inexpensively. You can accomplish a lot in a couple of hours with a French-speaking “assistant.”
Describe a day in the life of Deborah Bine? What’s your social life like?
My apartment is beside the town’s bell tower. The bell rings from 7am to 10pm every day. It strikes a bell for each hour. then one bell on the half hour. It sounds like that might be annoying, but when you awaken in the morning to the chime of a bell, to me, it’s quite soothing. First thing each day I fix coffee and carry it with me to the guest room/office to check my email. Then I water the plants that are lined up on the window sills around the apartment and on the patio. Breakfast is often fresh fruit from the market mixed with crème blanche which is similar to yogurt. For exercise in the morning, I stroll along the walkway that circles through the business area of town. Sometimes I hike through the Vallee de l’eure, a nearby park. Several times a week I meet a friend for lunch or eat alone at one of my favorite restaurants. The “plat du jour” is 10-12 euros — for a full meal. Afternoons I might shop for things I need from the pharmacy, the grocer, or other stores that are in the neighborhood – all within easy walking distance. There are many shop keepers who are my friends and I might stop by their store to visit or check out what is new. Even though we may not speak the same language, we enjoy our time together and spend a lot of time laughing. Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days. Wednesday market is for buying mostly food items, flowers and plants. It is held in the main plaza of the town – also within easy walking distance from my apartment. The Saturday market is set up in the plaza as well as along the main streets and alleyways of the downtown area. You can buy food items, clothing, pottery, jewelry, books and just about everything “French”. Social life for me in France is quite different than anyplace I have ever lived. I choose not to have a TV so I don’t invite friends to stop over to watch a movie. If I want to go to a movie, there’s one theatre in town. Even though it’s in a small building, there are four auditoriums. Sometimes there are English subtitled movies. For other entertainment, I’ll meet friends for dinner or invite them over; go to art gallery openings, which happen often or we’ll attend a local event together. My group of friends continues to expand as my stay here lengthens.
What are the treasures of living in France that typical tourists miss, but should experience and appreciate?
One of the treasures of France I appreciate the most is how the French have preserved history. Unlike in the US where we seem to build structures then tear them down, the French live in homes that are centuries old; they ride on streets that are cobblestone; they shop and trade in the same stores and areas as their ancestors. The French care for their historic sites and they are proud to talk about them and show them off. When you meet people from Uzes, they can tell you all you want to know about their community and its past. Their life experiences are rich from living through wars and passing down family stories that aren’t often shared with strangers. You have to live among the French to truly understand how deeply they love their families, their friends and their way of life. Along that same line, the privilege of living in a village that has survived since the 11th century is something you have to experience to understand. The walled city, the stone houses, the spiral staircases and towers are part of your every day. Travel nearby and you get to walk in the footsteps of the Romans and relive their history.
What are your top three pieces of advice for folks thinking or dreaming of retiring in a country outside of the US?
o Do your homework.
o Learn the language.
o Embrace the differences.
Do you think you’ll ever come back to live in the US?
My first and only grandchild just turned one year old. I want to be a part of his life at some time in the future. Right now, I hope to stay in France until I’m either too old or too tired to travel. It’s a great “jumping off” place to the rest of Europe and beyond. I’m anxious to learn French so that I can feel more a part of the life and people around me in Uzes. Who knows? I might even take off for Spain!