Real Estate

Alice Verberne: Owning a vacation house in France is like building a rollercoaster ride with friends

Alice Verberne's view

Living in an historic building in France draws attention. Mostly by visitors who would like to take a photo. I typically use the opportunity to strike up conversation. Most folks want to know: “How much does it cost to live here?”

The other day, a Dutch couple came by and turned the question into a statement: “Hey Lady, you can’t afford to live here!” I offered them a coffee, I had to hear this… (pssst: they had no idea I’ve been here 22 years).

“You have to be rich,” they said. I looked at my tattered, paint encrusted jeans and smiled. “Nah, you just need to be conscientious with your money.” I offered a copy of my Dave Ramsey financial worksheet. They glanced at each other, then conjointly performed a nystagmus eye roll. They surveyed my ongoing homebuilding projects. They would never renovate themselves, they said. They would hire people to do all the work. I thought: Good luck with that.

It’s an on-going project. The author after a day of work.

I verbally offered: “An apartment, might be a good option.”


They wanted the popular homeowner blueprint: nice digs/garden/gorgeous view. A building with some historical clout in a village with minimal visual pollution – all for the price of a second-hand single-wide mobile home. Had to be move-in ready. “Pose tes valises,” as the French would say: “Put down your suitcases.” No renovations required.

Living the good life in France is not easy

Needless to say, this is a bit, ahem, unrealistic. For that price, you’d probably have to make some sacrifices and compromises.

My visitors seemed vexed.

They assumed I was living a pipe dream, some sort of unattainable fantasy. It’s easy to jump to that conclusion. But something else seemed to be going on. The association of living the good life in a tranquil, awe-inspiring location seemed to translate into having it easy.

Not really.

I have some pretty impressive bruises from manual labor that would challenge this concept. John D. Rockefeller Jr. had a point, when he said, “I believe every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”

What my acquaintances really need is a solid definition to the contradictory anomaly: vacation home. I suppose the building threw them off. I mean, it does come from a different era. But, owning an historic home located in a visually stunning area of France doesn’t necessarily include gliding around in silk damask ordering around servants. Truth be told, I spend loads of time fixing stuff. Then, as a reward for completing onerous tasks, I go have fun.

“There’s nothing to do out here, oh my goodness, it’s so boring!” my visitors interject. The 1979 hit by ELO becomes an ear-worm in my brain: “You got me thinkin’ that I’m wastin’ my time. Don’t bring me down. No, no, no, no, no.”

But seriously, It’s pragmatic to hear them out. Homeownership has its ups and downs. Not unlike a rollercoaster with forces and inertia that move you along the winding track. My sullen guests seemed stuck at the boarding station irked with the ride.

What is your passion?

Yes, there’s endless work. But there’s also this …. (Photo courtesy of Alice Verberne)

The phone saved me. It buzzed with invitations.

• attend a writer’s conference

• fly in a glider

• watch the Perseid meteor shower

(Author’s note: I chose the glider.)

I bid the kvetchers goodbye, and went off to seize the day.

But, my unwitting guests were onto something. To decide what you want, you need to also know what you DON’T want: NO renovations, NO remote countryside. That’s good to know.

For me, I would ask: “What’s your joie de vivre? What are you passionate about?” Once you know what you want, surround yourself with compatible people.

There’s a European saying: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Like-minded compadres motivate and keep you on track. Having them makes living your dream life way less lonely. They’ll listen to YOUR gripes, divide your sorrow, and maybe with some luck, offer solutions to problems.

Building the roller coaster (Photo by Alice Verberne)

I didn’t divulge to my acquaintances that I was headed off for an unforgettable day. I also did not admit that I had a project that was just as hair-raising as flying in a glider, but much more practical.

We constructed a scaffolding (to get rid of those pesky hornets that built a nest between the stones of the house). It looks like a montagnes russes (roller coaster) in my courtyard. I imagine my visitors would have stomped off in triumph (“See, her life does suck!” – visualize me on a scaffolding spraying wasps trying not to get stung).

I wanted to avoid the risk of them gloating in schadenfreude.

Because if you have the right attitude, you will see that living in France is like being seated on that rollercoaster: Sometimes you want to scream and other times you just enjoy the ride.


Read more here about Alice Verberne’s expat life in rural France.

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Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.


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