Expat Interview with Mandy Davison

Mandy Davison moved to France 8 years ago, and has many hats when it comes to work.

1. Where are you from originally? 

Born in Brighton, grew up in Bournemouth, Uni in Norwich, then 8 years in Romford in Essex, and finally a few years in a little village near Tonbridge in Kent.

2. Where do you live now?   

Beautiful Charente in south-west France.

3. What first attracted you to your new home? Did you try anywhere else on the way?

Actually we weren’t house hunting in Charente, we were looking further inland, in the Limousin, and ended up in Charente rather by chance (Fate?!). A property in Charente came on the market that was nothing like what we were looking for but we happened to be visiting friends in Saintes one weekend so decided to view it anyway as we were almost passing the door on the way back to our B&B… and here we are very happily 9 years later!  No this is the only place in France we’ve lived together as a family. I personally lived just outside Paris for a year when I was 20 as part of my degree though-I was an Assistante d’Anglais in 2 colleges between Versailles and Paris, which was an utterly amazing and mind-opening /blowing experience at that age, and totally gave me the bug to live here some day.  Did you move for work or for lifestyle?  Lifestyle…with the hope of finding work somehow! 

4. What kind of property do you live in now? Will you stay here?

It’s an old school, which many of my current elderly neighbours went to school in as it happens!, and it totally took our breath away the moment we saw it, then each room got better and better, as did the garden, and the views, so we’d bought it 4 days later!  We’d viewed hundreds of properties, lost 2 along the way in the Limousin, but are very very glad we ended up where we did. Charente suits us perfectly.  No plans to move anywhere else, very settled and our very rural setting suits us down to the ground.  What’s your ideal place to live in within your new country?  Charente for the foreseeable future, although I guess I could handle moving further south towards retirement age if the house starts feeling too big once our daughter has flown the nest … 

5. Are you speaking a new language? If so, how did you learn?

Yes French.  I was fortunately already fluent when we moved here, having done a French degree, and lived in France for a year some time ago, and I had also almost always used French in my various UK jobs as Bilingual PA . 

6. What do you do for a living? Where do you physically work from? Do you work with clients/customers back in your home country or your new one?

We have set up our own businesses involving: Interpreting, Translating, Gardening, Cleaning, Property Maintenance, Pool Cleaning. Mostly UK clients who either live here and need a hand with things, or who have a 2nd home they need looked after in their absence, but also gardening for French clients as required. 

7. Do you work online?  If so, what is the internet connectivity like? What would be your top tip for online working from your new country?

Definitely need the internet to run the business admin side, but the actual work is largely manual work. Sporadic, I suppose is the only kind way to put it, but we do live in the sticks and luckily had low expectations! What software do you commonly use on day to day basis?  Quickbooks for invoicing, Excel, Word,  Outlook, ACT! Database to manage contacts (because I used to have a job doing Tech Support for it in the UK so I know it inside out !) Don’t live too far out in the sticks of France if you’ll need a good reliable internet connection ! 

8. Are you paid in your new home currency or in pounds/dollars/euros? Do you exchange money often? If so, what service do you use?

New home currency. No hardly ever, we live on what we earn here.  Have occasionally used HiFX and are happy enough with their service. 

9. Do you have children?  If so, how did they adapt to the move? How are their schools? Are they bi-lingual? Are there good future career opportunities within your new country?

Yes, a 15 year old daughter, who was just 7 when we uprooted and moved to France.  She adapted stunningly well overall. Yes there were a few tears the first few weeks, and at the start of the 2nd half term, but she shook it off and got on with it (well she had little choice to be fair!), and she settled in and became bilingual amazingly fast. By the end of the first term she could chat away merrily in parks with kids she didn’t know. I periodically ask her if she’s glad we moved here and every time it’s a yes, so am a happy Mummy.  Every school she has been to in France (4) has been absolutely fabulous, cannot fault them at all, from caring, kind, dedicated, skilled, talented Teachers, to open, understanding and supportive Heads. Everything is stunningly well organised and the schools in France that we have experienced instill from a very young age a sense of respect, organisation, ambition, thoughtfulness and maturity in the children. Her first primary school was split into 2 sections and was fabulous-she was in a classroom where there were 4 different year groups all working at separate tables!-a maximum of 17 in the entire classroom! At senior school (college) there were still only 18 in the class. Now she’s at Lycee (6th Form College equivalent) the classes are larger but a lot is done in groups. She now boards Mon-Fri and is loving every minute, and we’re rather enjoying the change of pace too! The Lycee is so well equipped I couldn’t believe my eyes, and offers a huge variety of interesting courses.  Absolutely.  Probably only if she moves to a bigger city – she may well end up returning to UK to become a vet, should she pursue her current goal! 

10. Did you bring any pets with you? Or leave any behind? How did this work out?

Yes we brought our elderly cat. He was fine other than trying to take over driving by swiping the gearstick periodically through the bars of his carry case, and howling every 90 seconds during the entire drive from the UK to Charente, inspite of having been sedated, which didn’t seem to have any effect at all!! Once released he was fine though and soon accepted his new home.

11. Is your life better than it was before? If so, how?  

So so many ways: no more traffic stress mainly – no more morning and evening school run stress-the bus used to come to the door to pick her up and drop her off here when she was in Primary, now we have a 3 min drive to the bus stop twice a week for her Lycee bus because she’s boarding; no traffic jams EVER; much better weather; we could afford our own pool here which we and all our mates thoroughly enjoy and make the most of all summer; cheap and delicious wine! – latest Christmas offer I saw was EUR 1.66 a bottle for Costieres de Nimes rouge, and EUR 3.79 for  a bottle of Lussac St Emillion-rude not to !!; fabulous affordable restaurants everywhere-lunch time delicious set meals for about EUR 12 average!; a very laid back pace of life with fewer pressures overall; we get to see my husband more than we used to-he was always away travelling on business in the UK or stuck on the M25 carpark ; fabulous transport links to UK if we want to pop home for gigs or to see friends and family-we’re right in the middle of Poitiers airport, Limoges airport and Angouleme TGV; no one-upmanship like there was in the UK-couldn’t be doing with it there, and here I don’t have to!-the locals are just grateful for what they have and for a simple existence; I’m my own boss now, and no longer tied to an office 9-5, how I ever stuck the rat race in England so long I will never know. 

12. What are the best things about living in your new country? Has the move been good for the whole family?

See above! Definitely – husband is his own boss and no longer away so much working all the hours imaginable to line other people’s pockets, and my daughter has had the most amazing education imaginable, for free, and is away from many of the modern pressures on UK teenagers-she loves the pace of life here, having her own pool, and the open countryside all around us. And as for me – after a hard day’s graft in the summer, coming home to a cold rose on the terrace by the pool then a wee dip – how bad can it be?! We often jokingly say “Where did it all go wrong eh!??” … still have to pinch ourselves sometimes to believe this life is really ours!

13. What are the most challenging things about moving to and living in your new country?  

French bureaucracy! But thankfully being fluent in French I can deal easily with whatever it throws our way. I do feel for people who move here without the language-must be rather scary-but then I’m here to help such people out, it’s what I do, Admin help, assistance in meetings, translation of forms, post, emails, documents of any kind… 

14. Are you here for good? If so, why? If no, why not?

For the foreseeable future certainly – I can’t imagine moving back to England ever again to be honest.  Even 10 days at xmas is about 7 too many  for me. Life there is just too stressful now, no matter what you try to do. The moment we drive out of the Tunnel I feel stressed at the traffic onslaught  all around us-we just don’t have that in France unless you go to a big city. I find it very hard to relax in England any more and am always very glad to leave again. 

15. Any parting word to people thinking of moving to your country? 

DO IT! No time like the present. Moving to France is the best decision we ever made. I’m not saying it’s perfect in every way, believe me we’ve had our moments when we’ve wondered what on earth we were thinking of, but they are so rare.

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Bio

I was born in Brighton, moved to Bournemouth at the age of 1, went to the local Grammar School then to UEA in Norwich to study French, Linguistics and Russian. Then I did a year long Bilingual Secretarial course in Cambridge before getting my first Bilingual PA job in the City of London for a big insurance broker. I then worked a few years at Credit Lyonnais also in The City, then 2 years at Banque de Montreal also in London – before having my daughter in 1999. I then found a couple of local part-time Office Manager jobs in and around Tonbridge in Kent before taking the plunge and moving with my daughter to Charente in France in 2006 to look for work. Hubby stayed in the UK for about a year to keep some money coming in but then he moved over too a few months before I fortunately (and rather randomly) found a part-time Assistante de Direction Bilingue (Bilingual Management Assistant) job in Ruffec 16700 for 4 years. I was working there in the mornings, then for our new Gardening and Property Care business in the afternoons. I got made redundant in 2011 and have since set up Tournesol Language & Services to focus more on the language side of our existing Property Care business. We have so many lovely clients, and have met so many new wonderful friends here both French and English that I know I was always meant to meet (yes am rather a believer in Destiny…). I feel utterly grateful and privileged to have had the means and opportunity to live this life in France.

Work hard, Play hard… it’s the only way, IMHO.

Web: Tournesol Language & Services
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tournesollanguage

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