It is Day Two of our new life in France, two days after the British people voted to dump the European Union.
A lot of us didn’t see it coming. Ironically, the first I heard of a referendum for Britain to leave the EU was on a plane from London to Canada back in 2012 just after purchasing our house in southwest France. Given the impulsiveness of our move to France, the referendum threat was just one of many anxiety triggers (like income flow, tax treaties, health care, French visas and the paperwork involved in my husband obtaining his British passport which was our ticket to living in Europe) and so I only remember a fleeting moment of panic and then disbelief – surely Britain would not be so stupid – before filing it under possible but highly unlikely in my worry box.
This morning, still a little bleary-eyed after the impromptu wake held by our expat friends here in our small village in the southwest of France Friday night, I’m forced to acknowledge that in fact the British have indeed done something incredibly stupid.
After 48 hours of incredulity and teeth gnashing about what happened and about what will happen next, I am enjoying a calm morning.
No one is up yet. I am in my office –- my kitchen — with the door open onto our courtyard where I can hear doves cooing.
I am characteristically calm in a big crisis; I spend all my anxious energy on the smaller ones. Until the day before yesterday the crisis de jour was my bungled French tax return and the unpleasant discovery that I am being double-taxed on dividend income thanks to something called French social taxes which fall outside the Canada-France tax treaty (although I would love to have lots of time and resources to fight that issue). I am often a basket case for a few days when the stock market crashes…last time 7 months ago with the plunge in oil prices. This is not because I am incredibly wealthy but because my pension income is directly affected by the stock market and I withdraw a salary which statistically puts me in the poverty income bracket in Canada.
But when the big stuff hits – my first husband dying – and after that being laid off my job — I summon some kind of survival instinct that puts me into Zen mode.
This morning that is serving me well as I think about what might happen. We may be forced to move back to Canada where we may find it difficult to afford a house. However, I don’t have big demands when it comes to housing. I never really have. Vancouver is out of the question of course, but a small house on Vancouver Island that has not been updated in a small town might work for us. If not we move to the other side of Canada, perhaps New Brunswick, where winter keeps the prices down, or Quebec where prices never recovered to what they are in the rest of Canada thanks to separation fears and close calls on sovereignty referendums.
If this happens I would be sad of course. I love our life here and I love our rustic 800 year old house. I love my cat and so I think I would take her with us although I worry about how horrible that trip might be for her (she can barely tolerate the car ride to the vet 20 kms away).
But part of the Zen is realizing how our gamble, that moment of impulsivity, paid off. Of course if I’d stayed in Vancouver I would be better off financially (although only by cashing out of that extension of the Chinese stock market called Vancouver real estate).
So the payoff here has been something other than financial. It has been three years of discovery where I’ve learned that what I value above anything material is experience. I always suspected that wealth and status didn’t mean much to me but it was harder to tell when I was working in Vancouver where the culture was much more concerned with those values.
Three years in rural France have taught me that I appreciate people with values more similar to my own. I’ve appreciated the people who have taken a similar gamble to live a simpler life in a beautiful place. I appreciate the people I’ve met who gave up pursuing money to pursue their own artistic interests. And although I can’t say that this is true of all the expats (there are some who have just created a smaller version of a British suburb and spend their time gossiping about who is sleeping with whom and all the other tattle that keeps lazy silly brains amused) it is true of most of them.
I know now that no matter where I end up that I enjoy a profound appreciation of beauty in nature and that I will always be inspired no matter where I am.
So as we wait for the fallout – how will the EU deal with British expats abroad and how will Britain deal with the 3 million expats in Britain – I will make the most of the wildflowers here, the medieval timber framed houses, the roses growing up ancient stone walls and the poppies in the wheat fields.
In my moment of calm, I vow to appreciate how truly wealthy I have been here in this beautiful part of the world. This posts gallery is a celebration of our most recent ‘field trips,’ the excursions we do in our hood and extended hood on a regular basis.