A new documentary is lifting the lid on how Brits starting a new life in France aren’t always greeted with the warmest of welcomes from their French counterparts.
The series, which airs on French and German channel Arte, is called Little Britain in the Dordogne, and follows the journeys of Britons who’ve moved to towns and villages in France’s South-West – now dubbed ‘Dordognshire’ – to enjoy a taste of the Gallic life, and cheaper property prices.
The show shines a light on the tensions that have crept in between locals and the Brits who have snapped up country estates at bargain prices.
While the French locals are apparently bemoaning the infiltration of British culture – including the arrival of English butchers and barbers in their rural villages, the cultural differences are also felt by the ex-pats moving in.
One former Norfolk handyman, Graham Parker, airs his frustrations with the local French workers he’s tried to employ to work on his £1million 18th century gite – saying they take two-hour lunch breaks and return to the job ‘half-drunk’.
Norfolk handyman Graham Parker and his wife moved to the Dordogne for a better life, buying up country houses to rent out – but the Brit bemoans the French work ethic in the documentary series Little Britain in the Dordogne
The 30-minute episode also follows the story of British couple Steve and Helen Robbins, originally from Oxford, who moved to the small Dordogne village of Eymet eight years ago.
The couple now run a traditional English butchers at the local Thursday market, selling fare such as Cumberland sausages, back bacon and a variety of pies.
Although they’ve tried to learn French, they operate the stall in English and most of their customers are English, they say. Their meat comes from locals French farms.
The couple made the decision to move to the region in 2015 after watching a television show about it and decided to up sticks and move there – but say tightened laws post Brexit mean they wouldn’t advise other Brits to follow their path.
A trader selling French baked goods at the stall next door to the Robbins admits that the locals in Eymet aren’t all enjoying the impact on their village the new residents have had.
Steve and Helen Robbins, originally from Oxford, moved to Eymet eight years ago to set up a traditional English butchers – they’re just one of a number of English shops now open in the Dordogne village
A stallholder who sells French baked goods next to Steve and Helen says he’s happy to work alongside English people – but that their has been a negative response amongst some villagers
He said: ‘There are English shops, an English barber. You’re often among the British in the shops here. Some people are happy about it, others lukewarm.’
Another villager expressed frustrations at the Brits’ reluctance to try and learn French, saying: ‘They learn French slowly. They would need more lessons but they keep to themselves. So we have to speak English or there is no sale.’
And it seems the lack of entente cordiale works both ways.
Handyman Parker, who worked as a handyman for 38 years in Norfolk, decided to use his experience to makeover a French property – alongside wife Nicola, an accountant, but is frank about the struggles the couple have faced so far, saying he’s working more than ever because he can’t get the French staff.
The couple moved to Montignac-de-Lauzun, a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department just under a year ago.
After selling their barn conversion in Norfolk for £1.8million, the couple hoped to be able to buy more than one property in the Lot-et-Garonne region and, after renovating, let them out to tourists.
The couple have struggled to learn French and most of their customers – often seeking back bacon that’s not traditional in France – buy their products speaking English
Ex-pats to the region have received a ‘lukewarm’ welcome, says one French stallholder
Sacre bleu, it’s an English pie menu! The Thursday stall run by the Robbins sells English staples such as steak and kidney pie and sausage rolls
However, after snapping up a beautiful three-bedroom gite with a pool, built in 1780 and costing 1.2million euros (around £1million) they decided to add a fourth bedroom to capitalise on the space – but during the documentary face a race to finish the potentially lucrative addition in time after Nicola booked in prospective guests.
The couple say they have enough money to live off their savings for the first year – but must make money from their investment soon.
A frustrated Graham tells the show’s makers how he’s hasn’t had much success getting workers to adopt British hours, saying: ‘I just don’t get it. 12 o’clock – everything stops. Literally they stop, doesn’t matter what they’re doing til 2 o’clock. And then they can’t work because they’re half-drunk!’
Post-Brexit laws mean Britons living in France have to prove they can speak A1 level French to be able to keep their working visa.
Recounting how a fire almost devastated their dream, Steve the English butcher gets emotional during an interview, saying he refuses to have his hopes of a better life in France dashed
Nicola and Graham Parker were hoping for less work, more revenue after buying a gite to renovate…but say their dream hasn’t entirely materialised due a lack of French workers willing to their project on
The three-bedroomed gite that ex Norfolk handyman Graham Parker is converting; he says his dreams of working less have faltered because he can’t get good local workers
The 18th century home is almost ready to rent out but Brits Nicola and Graham tell the show they’re struggling to finish it in time for the first visitors
Nicola, who has grown-up children, recounts her difficulties in learning the language, telling the programme that the local accent makes it hard for her to understand.
She says if you fail the test, you get between 200 and 600 free French lessons to bring ex-pats up to speed but claims they can be up to a 90-minute drive away from their home.
Graham tells the documentary the welcome hasn’t always been warm for the couple. He says: ‘You’ve got the British coming over with their money and buying up all these old houses and renovating them.
‘A lot of the French couldn’t afford what we’ve bought, and that’s where the divide comes.’
Little Britain in the Dordogne, an ARTE.tv documentary, is available to watch on YouTube