Lucky me, I get to meet some of the most innovative, fascinating people in the world, who choose to live their lives in southern France.
They come from all walks of life, from many different countries, but somehow they manage to find their ingenuity to start business, an interesting hobby or a renovation project in the beautiful Languedoc region of France.
There is something that happened to these people after they gave themselves permission to become expats. They allowed themselves the freedom to become whoever they want to be, or maybe even more accurately who they are supposed to be.
They left their hectic lives behind, the take out Chinese and designer clothes, and they slowed down life to strike a balance between happiness and income.
Now there is time for those moments in between work, to walk the kids to school and take them to their activities, the space now made between dinner and paying the bills where life slows down enough to savor a walk along the canal, to have the time to teach the kids to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch and show them how it feels to paint a picture using their fingers. You may try your hand at growing a vegetable garden, write the novel that you know is inside of you, enter a marathon or learn a new language; it doesn’t matter where you find your inspiration, the point is to let your brilliance shine.
When I meet creative people who live near us, I often wonder, was their creativity always there, or does living in the sunny south of France with our long days, and warm nights, somehow spark a fire in that little void we have neglected for years. Do those dreamy star filled skies, or the deep turquoise Mediterranean sea evoke the desire in us to become more than we initially visualized for ourselves. If everyone lived among hectares of vine covered rolling hills and glorious snow capped mountain ranges, perhaps more would feel inspired to imagine a balanced life with more meaning.
What is the meaning of life?
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
My Expat Life Series – The Barrel Boutique
Who are you?
I am Jane Griffin, originally from South Hampshire England and I’m married to John who is from Seattle Washington, USA. We have one daughter who is 4 years old who we are raising in France.
Why did you move to France?
I’m giving a bit of a complicated answer to a simple question. We originally sailed across the channel on our barge to explore the Canals and Rivers of Europe and also to experience life in a ski resort in the winters. When we came up with the plan in 2005, we felt the time was right to have an adventure and do something different. We had both worked extremely hard during our early careers and needed a break. We immediately felt right at home in France and after 7 years of traveling we ended up living in Capestang because it fitted many of our ‘ideals’. It’s a good size town with essential facilities and is close to mountains, sea and the canal.
Did you experience culture shock?
Not really, I have been to France many times on holiday and learnt the language from a young age so could communicate fairly well right from the start. France is no doubt different from the UK in many respects, but the traveling, nomadic lifestyle we chose allowed us to amalgamate slowly as we traveled. We chose to live in a ski resort because we knew that the locals would be used to foreigners too so that gave us a soft start. The main thing I noticed was the difference between the shopping hours and the way people socialize here.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
Yes! I never expected to be working with wine barrels!
Taking apart a wine barrel
What do you do for a living?
I have recently started a small business, its called The Barrel Boutique or in French, La Boutique à Barrique. I buy and take apart old wine barrels and then recycle them into useful and decorative objects for the home such as cheese platters, wine racks, baskets, coat racks and candle holders. I love working with such beautiful wine aged oak. I have been selling to friends and at markets so far and this year I hope to expand my selling points to include caveaus, tourist offices and shops in the area.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
In the first town we lived in we tried to meet up with and be friendly to our neighbours and support local shops and services. We supported local events and tried to socialize in the town. I also worked in a local ski resort hotel. In Capestang we make sure we regularly use the local shops, cafes, the market and services and always try to support local events. Sophie being in school here is helping us to integrate with both French and English people.
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know. Most people already know that it’s one of the most productive wine regions of the world. It also has at least one fantastic secret beach that even in the height of summer is pretty much empty (I could tell you where it is, but then it probably wouldn’t be empty anymore!!)
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Being so far from family.
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
In your country of birth, you are expected to slot into society, conform and you are easily judged and pigeonholed. Being an expat allows an immense amount of freedom to just be you. I feel that here in France, being an expat allows us this freedom and there is no expectation to conform to certain norms of society, i.e. to ‘be’ this or that. Hope that makes sense?
What do you miss most about your home country?
Pubs, good fish and chips and family. I’m that simple!
What is a myth about your adopted country?
That the French hate the English. So far I have found French people to be very friendly, open and welcoming.
What advice would you give other expats?
None. Everyone is different and experiences life differently. If someone asked me a question I would happily answer it giving him or her an answer from my own perspective and experience, but I’m not an advisor.
What are you currently working on?
Projects, books, business ventures… we are still working on renovations to the house and barn, we’re constantly maintaining our boat and making sure she is looking smart and ready for someone to purchase. At the moment I’m coming up with ideas for some new items that I can make from wine barrels, I’m doing the final touches to my new website, and am really starting to market my business….phew!
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet. ~James Openheim
I was lucky to spend some time inside Jane’s workshop (aka her lady cave) full of wine barrels, tools and projects she is working on. Her work is physical, and she puts a large amount of energy into every piece she makes. I purchased a cheese platter for a friend’s birthday, and I couldn’t believe how happy it made my friend. Flowers die, chocolate cake is not so good for the waistline, but a unique handmade gift from a local artisan merchant, that’s a timeless treasure.
- http://thebarrelboutique.com/ Check out her products and prices here
- https://www.facebook.com/thebarrelboutique Lets be friends on Facebook with Jane
- http://www.lifeatanangle.com/vrouweantjeforsale.htm *If you are looking for a boat