For members


Ten things I wish I’d known before I moved to rural France

Jonathan Miller, a journalist in south western France, lays out the ten things he wishes he had been told before he took a one-way trip to rural France.

Ten things I wish I'd known before I moved to rural France
People walk on February 5, 2020 near the city hall of Signes, a small village in France (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

1. How to speak “local” French

It would have been useful to have been able to communicate with the locals. Assume that whatever you learned in school will be useless when you encounter the local argot. In the intimacy of a village, humiliation is an effective learning aid.

Me, at the boulangerie shortly after arriving: ‘Un baguette, s’il vous plait.’ Bread shop lady, witheringly: ‘Une baguette.’ I didn’t get that wrong again. Fortunately, learning French is not impossible; it’s just that the first ten years are the hardest. 

2. How to do a French greeting

Politesse is crucial in a French village. One is expected to meet and greet people appropriately, which means looking them in the eye and saying bonjour as if you mean it, at a minimum. Then as you get to know people, shaking hands and kissing three times, according to the local code [Ed’s note: Miller lives in southern France’s Languedoc]. It’s weird, I know. Just deal with it.

3. Knowing your saints

Who are all these saints? It’s almost impossible to recognise the supposed saints nobody has ever heard of who have given their names to the most obscure places in the most obscure corners of France. Saint Privat! Who he? Saint Pons? Sainte Thibéry? Give me a break.

4. The importance of cement 

The French love breeze blocks, and nowhere is this love affair more intense than in rural France. In one of the most regulated countries on earth, with a gigantic bureaucracy of state and local officials, they seem completely incapable of enforcing building codes. In villages, carbuncles of concrete blocks don’t even get a spray-on coat of render. French people plead poverty when you ask about this while installing swimming pools behind their Berlin-style walls. 

5. Forget about French ‘style’

Not much of it here in the boondocks where the tailors are not rich. The French reputation for elegance does not survive an encounter with the locals. Obviously, there are some who make an effort, but the costume hereabouts is more bleu de travail than rue du Faubourg Sainte-Honoré. 

6. The food’s not always amazing

The weekly village markets have wonderful things to eat, provided that you cook them yourself, and there are some great restaurants around… but terrible food is also a feature of the French boondocks. Supermarkets are average, pizza and McDonald’s are hugely popular, and the beef is tough, flavourless, and not hung properly.

A decent cup of tea? Forget it. Why can nobody explain why, with the finest cows and magnificent cheeses, French milk is boiled at ultra high temperature and sold in cardboard cartons?  You can get fresh milk of a kind in supermarkets, if you can bear visiting them, but not in most villages.

7.  Everything is always shut

Basic services don’t exist. Clever artisans won’t hire staff to help them because the tax and social laws are so loopy. Taxis to the airport are twice as expensive as in the UK. Inadequate commerce generally. Napoleon said the British were a nation of shopkeepers but maybe he was jealous.

8. People have dreadful teeth

Many of your neighbours will have them. Perhaps Paris is better but here in the sticks, French healthcare isn’t quite as good as some people make it out to be. An evident failure is dental health.

9. You need a pharmacy for headache tablets

Not especially a rural problem but true everywhere in France: You can’t buy a flipping aspirin except at a pharmacy. Pharmacies, at least around here, it must be noted, have all thoughtfully installed an exterior condom dispenser to serve customers’ urges out of opening hours. Stock up with pills at Boots in Gatwick. 

10. Villages have dark and terrible secrets  

After you have moved to your village in France, got the hang of the language and made friends, you will hear some amazing and sometimes terrible stories. A couple of years ago I suggested to our local mayor that we hold a conference in the village hall, to talk about the liberation of the village in 1944. ‘Too sensitive,’ he replied. My curiosity was piqued. He was right.

Jonathan Miller and a journalist and author of France:  A Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2015). This article was first published in 2018.

Member comments

  1. Totally agree with everything – after thirteen years in rural western France….. isn’t it wonderful?
    Our village secret has two suicides connected to illicit affairs, and someone throwing themselves onto the coffin at the funeral- and that’s not to mention the four dead Germans buried in a cave under our house…. Palmers Green was never like this! We wave at all living creatures, both two legs and four, and accept that the postman may arrive late, reeking strongly of pastis….

  2. Observe: the photo shows “kissing” as a full wet smacker on the cheek. Wrong!!
    You are supposed to brush cheeks, i.e the side of your face. The French do not plant saliva laden smackers on each other. You will be detested if you do that….

  3. Are not the Brits’ renowned for their ironic wit?

    I sense Mr Miller is most content with his lot; as are the locals of his domain – having elected him to their council.

    Befriend the locals, feed the village cats, be generous of spirit and be helpful. In other words – assimilate.

    If you make the effort you will find yourself – on the all-important local scale of hierarchy – at least one level above ‘the Parisian’! (apologies to parisians.)

    Oh; and if you happen to mention in the local bar that you’re having a BBQ – don’t be surprised when they all turn up… .

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Property tax surcharge: Where in France second-home owners are liable for extra taxes

Local authorities in certain parts of France are entitled to place an extra property tax on second homes - here's how the system works and how to find out if your area is introducing such a rule.

Property tax surcharge: Where in France second-home owners are liable for extra taxes

France’s householders’ tax – taxe d’habitation – has been almost completely phased out, but there is one group that it still applies to; second-home owners.

Not only do second-home owners still have to pay the tax, an increasing number of communes are imposing a ‘surcharge’ on second homes which increases the bill by up to 60 percent.

The government has given local authorities in areas where there is a housing shortage the power to increase taxes on second homes in order to fund more affordable housing for locals and an increasing number of communes are choosing to use this power.

READ ALSO Second home or main address? French property tax rules explained

Towns and cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants and “a marked imbalance between supply and demand for housing” are known as zones tendues (troubled zones) and may increase their portion of the taxe d’habitation by between five and 60 percent.

For the record, taxe d’habitation is based on the rental value of dwellings, payable on all furnished premises used for residential purposes, in accordance with article 1407 of the CGI (French General Tax Code).

The aim of the surcharge is to encourage second home owners to either sell the property, or rent it out long term.

Earlier this year, we reported that the Mediterranean glamour resort of Saint-Tropez hopes to raise €3 million a year for new local housing by increasing the taxe d’habitation on second homes by 60 percent from next year.

They are far from the only town to do this. Paris decided to raise its portion of the taxe d’habitation bill on second homes by 60 percent in 2022; while some 255 towns and cities across the country – of the 1,136 eligible to do so – have taken up the option of boosting their rates. 

READ ALSO Second-home owners: What French taxes do you need to pay?

Last year, city councils in cities such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Biarritz, Arles and Saint-Jean-de-Luz voted to increase the tax to the maximum 60 percent.

Cities must be able to demonstrate significant second-property rates and that property purchase and rental prices are higher than the national average in order to be eligible.

New rules, which do away with the 50,000 lower limit on population, come into force in 2024 (delayed from 2023) and could see the tax rises implemented in up to 4,000 additional towns.

According to the Direction générale des finances publiques (DGFiP) a total 22.4 percent of the municipalities authorised to levy a surcharge on taxe d’habitation for second homeowners did so in 2022. 

The full list of towns able to impose higher taxe d’habitation rates is here.

READ ALSO Reader question: Who has to pay France’s ‘vacant property’ tax?


There are some. You may be able to claim exemption from taxe d’habitation on second homes if:

  • Your professional activity is close to their second home and obliges you to live there;
  • Your primary residence is a long-term care facility, meaning your former primary residence is now your second home;
  • The property is uninhabitable for a reason outside of your control. For example, if work is needed to make it habitable. If this is the case – and it’s not uncommon of you have bought a property as a restoration project – you need to register it as uninhabitable with your local tax office. You will usually then benefit from a reduced or zero tax bill for a limit period – in most areas two years is the maximum time you can declare the property uninhabitable.