27 Jul 2010

Pluses & Minuses (Part 3)

Material Girl: Habits die hard and I would be in denial if I claimed I do not miss certain aspects of my life in Britain, including people and places. When you are confined to an island, reclused to a fairly remote village an hour's drive from the nearest town, shopping takes a totally different dimension.

My Summer favourites: Toni Pons sandals (Padua model)

When in Manchester, it was easy for me to take Selfridges, Kendals or John Lewis for granted when they were virtually on my doorstep and I was a frequent visitor. Now there are days when I'd happily part with my dearest belongings, just for an hour of full-on city life! And the little add-ons too, like a decent cappuccino, a top-notch beauty treatment, an interesting TV documentary or a good old night out, where you can wear your hair down and are spoilt for choice in terms of venues...

Also once upon a time going for a drive opened a window of opportunities, whereas where I live now, whether heading north or south there is only the one road. Talk about that claustrophobic feeling...

Family Guys: Bring two generations with strong personalities and diverging views together under one roof, with limited space and (what seems like) unlimited time, add a lovely albeit sometimes lively Jack Russell Terrier (Tickle!), spice the scene up with frequent changes of plans and unsettled financial situation for the new arrivals, and you get a picture of disjointed family harmony. Family support has become a double-edged sword and you believe that their interference impacts on your progress. Mind you, at least, in their own peculiar way, they are showing us some interest...

Prospects: We came here for a chance to change our lives for the better. I was keen to move away from office-based jobs and a stalled career, and start afresh as an entrepreneur. In the meantime we were keen to find jobs, any jobs really, to sort ourselves out. Maybe we were naive to believe this would be easy.

One of the specificities of the local job market is that it is geared towards seasonality to respond to the peaks and troughs of the tourist industry, making it versatile in a hire-and-fire sort of way, with wage expectations right down to the bare legalities of the job market (i.e. the minimum wage) and 4 months of working day in day out, without a single day off. France might be reputed for its labour ethics, the reality is it's the jungle out there!

Moreover the current economic climate is not favourable to would-be entrepreneurs in need of a cash injection, and business plans must come up with a well thought-out USP to buck the recessionary trend, beat competition, convince the grey suits at the Chamber of Commerce and attract lenders. On a par with Britain, the latter have become more reticent and cover themselves with more guarantees.

Business loans are not what they used to be in terms of attractivity, and they come with a string of conditions attached. For instance in France, if you wish to run your own agricultural concern, you need to attend agricultural college first in order to benefit from preferential loan rates. The process of setting up your own business also implies an off-putting amount of red tape, although a streamline version of self-employment was pioneered in France in recent years, with mitigated success: auto-entrepreneur.

Techno-Flops: Last but not least, another flipside to that Cut Off from the World feeling that badly affects communication in this part of the island is the inadequation between the supply and demand in terms of electricity and telecoms. This invariably translates into power cuts, down telephone lines and a chaotic/ inconsistent broadband internet service, all colluding against consumer expectations in terms of the bare foundations of a modern lifestyle. The violent winds that sweep the northern Cape also cause power cuts. To these inconveniences, add a non-existent or bare-minimum public transport service between the most remote villages, and the feeling of isolation quickly becomes exacerbated beyond reason.

The Low-down: Logic tells us to add up all the pluses together (4) and then all the minuses (8), and to deduct whether this relocation experience was at all worthwhile... Although the answer seems quite obvious at first glance, it is not that clear-cut at the same time because it involves a number of parametres like family ties and the fact we have already invested a fair amount of time, effort and cash in this adventure.

Although giving up now may appear like the obvious option we feel we have to give it another shot, maybe review some assumptions in the process, and read the small print on family relationships!

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