This month starts our fourth year of living in France and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to answer a question that we are often asked, “Why are you so happy all of the time?” A good starting point that might say it all is that we live in the south of France and we’ve just received our residency card renewal to remain here for another year. That alone makes us smile. The procedure was identical to last year (Year 3 begins) which reinforces our other experiences with government and business offices here: follow their rules, give them exactly the documents they want in the order requested and in return you will be treated in a respectful and friendly manner and receive precisely what you’ve been seeking. Who wouldn’t be happy with that? But wait, there’s so much more….
What images pop into your head when you think about vacationing in France? Sidewalk cafés where you sip a real espresso while watching the world go by? A bakery where the choices seem endless, the smell of baking bread is heavenly, and the croissant you select starts to flake before it even goes into the bag? How about that glass of wine on a terrace with a view of a centuries old castle? Shopping at an open-air farmers market with an incredible selection of fresh fruits and vegetables? Yep, we can walk to all of that. No wonder this country welcomes 100,000 new residents every year.
You might be thinking of beautiful landscapes, snow-capped mountains, or sandy beaches for your vacation. In about 5 minutes from where we live we can be walking for miles along the river or the shady canal, see the Pyrenees over our rooftop, or take the train for a bit over half an hour to the Mediterranean Sea.
Art and history are often high on the list of reasons that visitors come here. Our city, like many around the country, has a deputy mayor in charge of cultural affairs, one for heritage, and another for developing relationships with artisans of all kinds. We benefit weekly from the work of these elected officials when we’re deciding what we’re going to be doing on the weekend.
Talk about a spirit lifter, how about 300 days of sun? That fact certainly caught our attention when we were first looking at real estate websites for this area and explains why we opted for a house with windows and glass doors all around. Another reason we chose Carcassonne is for the transportation system where city buses cost 1 euro and we can walk to the train station where tickets start at that same low price. We can even walk to the airport where tickets to cities such as London, Dublin, and Brussels have had sale prices of 10 euros.
Bill and I don’t have kids but we know the value of education and how important it is to have a literate population. Parents are very much involved with the schooling of their children who in high school have the option of attending a school specific to their interests (agriculture, hospitality, or mechanics, for example) or a more general path leading to a university. The annual tuition for someone pursuing a Bachelor’s degree is 190 euros (213 dollars) while a future doctor will spend about 450 euros per year in medical school.
Speaking of medicine, now that we are part of the national health system that guarantees health care to all residents, we are reimbursed for 70 percent of the 25 euros that it costs to see our doctor. After our most recent visit, we stopped by the pharmacy for our free flu shot and to fill a prescription that cost 1 euro.
We don’t work and in fact our residency card prohibits that but most of our friends do so we still benefit from the slower pace of life that the work/life balance here affords. A lot of shops are closed at lunchtime and mandatory vacations mean that families get to spend time together plus we get to see our friends during those times as well. The rat race seems far away.
In summary, we live in a beautiful place, in every sense of the word, surrounded by friendly people where the affordability of the necessities combined with easy access to all the activities we enjoy gives us more than we could have imagined. That’s why we’re so happy!
Reference dates for residence card renewal:
November 20—went to the Préfecture to secure a renewal appointment
February 15—appointment date to turn in documents for renewal
March 11—received SMS text that the renewed cards were ready for pickup