1. Hi, Mieke! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
We are the family Boermans and we used to live in Oud-Turnhout, Belgium. We had a nice new house with everything we could wish for in a nice location, close to the nature park de Liereman. We both had a good job (as a teacher and a contractor) and we had our fourth child on the way.
I’d booked a holiday in France through Neckermann at a many-stars vacation resort and because I was pregnant, we had the opportunity to go test it out during the Easter Holiday. There’d been a small earthquake in Eindhoven while we were in France and so we bought a Dutch newspaper. When the kids were in bed, we read the paper and noticed an ad: farm with 13 ha and grasslands to restore. Why didn’t we got check it out?
The weather wasn’t nice that day, so that wasn’t what convinced us. No, it was love at first sight. The English owners also asked us if we didn’t need to think this through first, but we didn’t even discuss it. We were both convinced and signed immediately. We took a second mortgage and that was it.
We’d restore the farm during our vacations and retire there. Only, we didn’t. After having been there a couple of times, my husband thought it would be better for our kids if we would raise them there! Back to the essence, nature, freedom. No more traffic jams, no more need for holidays. He sold his business and one year later we started something completely else in France: a farm with a few rooms to rent.
Since we weren’t farmers, I thought that having sheep would be enough. In our house full of buckets against the leaks, all sleeping in the same room, we got started, even though all sheep farmers said we were crazy.
We put the furniture of our old house in the rooms and got our food from our garden. We kept chickens and rabbits. The days were long and we worked hard. The luxury life we’d lived was gone. But no more traffic jams, we always had time for the kids and were surrounded by beautiful nature. We had two more children here in Montbernard, Haute-Garonne.
2. What did you expect from the France and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
It was mostly my husband who convinced me that the quality of our lives would be better here. I was thinking more about practical things and thought that everything was too far away. But he’s a good talker and I’ve always fully trusted him so… we made the move without hesitating.
The quality of life is indeed better here, despite our beginning without any comfort and the many hours of hard labor, in bad weather, and often with our hands as we didn’t own any machines or didn’t have the money to buy them.
For the kids, it has always been paradise. They could always play outside and went to small village schools. During the holidays, they always made new Flemish friends. A lot of our guests kept coming back and have now become friends. One of them even stuck around and became our son-in-law. The couple now works here as young farmers.
We put our hearts and souls into it and so the breeding of sheep succeeded as well. Farmers in the area and even further away started to appreciate us. We turned out not to be hippies who just came to spend their money to then sell the property for more.
And our children helped to keep the town schools open. The only downside is that all that moving around takes a lot of time. At a certain moment, the kids were in four different schools and they all had after school activities. I’ve put a lot of time and kilometers into those, but I tried to make the best out of them by participating in the activities (music, judo, horseback riding, teaching catechisms), volunteering in the schools and representing the parents in class counsels or meetings.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in the French countryside and life in Belgium?
There’s a lot more nature here. There are fewer cars and life is less rushed. People here don’t care about what you look like and that goes for the kids as well. It doesn’t matter if you tore your pants or if your t-shirt is dirty. Kids need to play.
There’s much less pressure at school as well. They have a first exam (for a couple of courses, at the end of the school year) in third grade. Three years later they go to the “bac’, some sort of “higher high school”. They can finish that in two years and with fewer courses than in Belgium. There’s a choice system here which makes that you can’t choose your school and so the kids had to go to boarding school or take the train and bus and travel really early and really late every day.
I was also surprised by how big the difference between men and women is here. It’s gotten better, but I’ve often had to stand my ground.
The offer in the stores is less than in Belgium. That takes some getting used to. Now we miss it less and less (syrup from Liège, chocolate sprinkles, pastries, different kinds of bread sliced thin).
4. What’s the best part about living in the French countryside?
That we can enjoy a lovely view, lead a peaceful life, are able to work outside a lot and have a lot of variety in the work that we do. It’s a feeling of freedom.
5. What do you like least about living in the French countryside?
Because we live in a rural area and there aren’t many jobs here, the bigger kids move further away. And in Belgium, “far away” was never as “far away” as it is here.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Missing my family and family parties or other events because our holidays aren’t the same, because we don’t have the time or the money to travel back-and-forth. Nowadays it’s easier to stay in touch through the Internet and Skype, but it’s still “from a distance”.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The traffic jams and the crowdedness.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in France? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
I think we’ll stay here.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to France?
We’re maybe a very bad example as we left without too much preparation. Don’t underestimate missing your family, though. Beyond that, the paperwork isn’t much fun, but it helps to do your own research first and to stand your ground when arranging things. You can find info online everywhere (the embassy, Belgians abroad). People who want to become farmers can always ask me for advice.
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!