A new documentary is lifting the lid on how Brits starting a new life in France aren’t always greeted with the warmest of welcomes from their French counterparts.
The series, which airs on French and German channel Arte, is called Little Britain in the Dordogne, and follows the journeys of Britons who’ve moved to towns and villages in France’s South-West – dubbed ‘Dordognshire’ – to enjoy the Gallic life.
The show shines a light on the tensions that have crept in between locals and Brits who are snapping up country estates at bargain prices and doing them up.
While the French bemoan the infiltration of British culture including English shops in their rural villages, the cultural differences are also felt by the ex-pats. One former Norfolk handyman reveals the local French workers he’s tried to employ to work on his gite take two-hour lunch breaks and return to the job ‘half-drunk’.
One episode follows the story of British couple Steve and Helen Robbins, originally from Oxford, who moved to the village of Eymet eight years ago.
Norfolk handyman Graham Parker and his wife moved to the Dordogne for a better life, buying up country houses to rent out – but the Brit bemoans the French work ethic in the documentary series Little Britain in the Dordogne
The couple now run a traditional English butchers at the local market, selling fare such as Cumberland sausages, back bacon and a variety of pies.
Although they’ve tried to learn French, they operate the stall in English and most of their customers are English, they say.
The couple made the decision to move to the region in 2015 after watching a television show about it and decided to up sticks and move there – but say tightened laws post Brexit mean they wouldn’t advise other Brits to follow their path.
A trader selling French baked goods at the stall next door to the Robbins admits that the locals in Eymet aren’t all enjoying the impact on their village the new residents have had.
He said: ‘There are English shops, an English barber. You’re often among the British in the shops here. Some people are happy about it, others lukewarm.’
Steve and Helen Robbins, originally from Oxford, moved to Eymet eight years ago to set up a traditional English butchers – they’re just one of a number of English shops now open in the Dordogne village
A stallholder who sells French baked goods next to Steve and Helen says he’s happy to work alongside English people – but that their has been a negative response amongst some villagers
The couple have struggled to learn French and most of their customers – often seeking back bacon that’s not traditional in France – buy their products speaking English
Ex-pats to the region have received a ‘lukewarm’ welcome says one French stallholder
Recounting how a fire almost devastated their dream, Steve the English butcher gets emotional during an interview, saying he refuses to have his hopes of a better life in France dashed
The three-bedroomed gite that ex Norfolk handyman Graham Parker is converting; he says his dreams of working less have faltered because he can’t get good local workers
And it seems it works both ways; many of the ex-pats who move to the area snap up properties for renovation – but one builder hoping to profit from his skills tells the programme he’s less than impressed with French workers.
Graham Parker, who worked as a handyman for 38 years in Norfolk, decided to use his experience to makeover a French property but is frank about the struggles he’s faced, saying he’s working more than ever because he can’t get the French staff.
He bought a three-bedroom gite with a pool but is keen to add a fourth bedroom to capitalise on the space – and his wife has already booked in prospective guests.
He tells the show’s makers: ‘I just don’t get it. 12 o’clock – everything stops. Literally they stop, doesn’t matter what they’re doing til 2 o’clock. And then they can’t work because they’re half-drunk!’
One villager expressed frustrations at the Brits’ reluctance to try and learn French, saying: ‘They learn French slowly. They would need more lessons but they keep to themselves. So we have to speak English or there is no sale.’
Little Britain in the Dordogne, an ARTE.tv documentary, is available to watch on YouTube