A cautionary tale of why dreamers shouldn’t buy houses in France!
For a long time I’ve not considered blogging about our renovation project here. I wanted to keep it a secret – mainly because I was frighteningly sure that my neighbours would tell me: ‘But you can’t do that!’ (C’est pas normal/correct, Catherine!)
And also because any electrician, plumber … anyone … who has ever come into this house to give me a quote has automatically fallen into one of two (typically French) schools: 1) so pricey you’d have to win the lottery to employ them or 2) on the ‘black’ and frighteningly aggressive to boot.
There is a third category – just plain rude and sneering about the place I live – but they are not numerous or worthy enough to deserve a class of their own. And, of course, they must be jealous (see toilet delivery system above) …
The two main French schools (perhaps I should begin writing a history of art, after I have finished with fosse septiques?) have one thing in common – their ability to make me feel as if I’d be a fool to think about doing … whatever it is I want to do.
This is a country in which – and you won’t believe this – it is actually illegal to get someone more distantly related to you than your brother to help you with any renovation work, gratis.
But landing ‘in the merde’ before Christmas has made me realise that it is all just so very ridiculous and that it’s time to break silence.
So – before Christmas we were sent a lovely official letter (which will cost us 70€ odd) to report that our fosse septique (septic tank) and general water disposal system does not (after all) conform to European regulations on two counts.
Firstly, the grey water from the bathroom (not the toilet itself) goes straight into the public drains of the village. Naughty, naughty. Secondly, the grey water from the fosse itself does not run politely down to a filtration system. Like every other system in the old village here, the pipes from the fosse run down to the river.
Funny that. When we bought the house, the previous owner produced papers in 2011 to prove that the whole system did conform (albeit rather shakily) to the new European rules – it was judged to be a ‘conforming non-conforming system’. But double negatives (and French) are not my strong point, and I may have misunderstood.
I never liked it. Sometimes when I’m in bed at night and the season is changing, I can smell my own s..t. But we thought (as real dreamers are prone to do – this is the downside of dreaming): ok, it needs doing, it conforms at the moment, we’ll cope in the years that come. Never for a minute did we think we were in danger of being forced to spend a lot of money within the next four years.
Moreover – and you may think I’m clutching at straws – I was always rather pleased that the pipe running down to the river was broken and our grey matter was watering my pumpkins, rather than anything else. Let’s be grateful for tiny mercies, I thought. At least we are only putting our own health at risk, rather than anyone else’s.
The shock was that the previous owner had reported that all the grey water (including that of the bathroom) ran down into the garden. And in 2011 all of that kind of awful carry on was considered, in our case at least, to be legal. But it seems he was ‘mislead’.
Adding insult to injury. Inquiries around friends in other villages have revealed that their mayors have actually invested in a public sewage system so that all of their waste runs out of their houses. All fine and dandy – except it mostly just goes into the nearest water course.
But – ha, ha, last laugh on us and the luck of my friends! In their cases the responsibility now lies with the mayor and commune. They don’t have private house inspections any more. So they won’t have to handle any of the 10,000€ odd burden that may fall on our shoulders.
In our case – and in the light of a letter sent in September last year – the mayor and the commune have washed their hands of the entire problem in the village.
This is a horrendous mess on so many levels. Not least of which is the stink sometimes whilst lying in bed at night.
The thing that astonishes me most is that no-one will talk about it! I have, very politely (too politely) been trying to broach the subject with people I trust since 2011.
There are no public meetings during which pensioners (which we nearly all are here) get together to try and plan how to force the mayor to help us with public subsidy (that boat has sailed, in any case). And if I mutter to myself ‘it’s not like this in the UK’, I sound exactly like the kind of expat I detest most.
Consequently you have a situation in which 50 plus old-timers could be forced to spend between 3,000€ and 10,000€ sorting their own s..t out. There are builders, as we speak, digging up the public road to create little soakaways (we have no flat land around here, so that’s the only option). When I look at them, I have really absolutely no idea what the ‘plan’ is … or if there even is one. And wait … how much is 50 households times 5,000€?
Ah, probably not enough, because it took 98,000€ to renovate the teeny little one-up/ one-down next to us.
That’s the cost of living in France. Completely mystifying. Which is why I’m going to start blogging about my own renovation project.
This is the pretty bit.
The most recent addition to my long list of French tradesman coming in to give me a quote on a new upstairs bathroom asked me where I was going to put the corridor in our nice new potential mezzanine/library area. That would be something similar to the Auschwitz-type arrangement that we just took out?
Shy girl is gone. I’ve had a little January break, but I’m going to be out on the streets trying to work out what we can do to avoid this unplanned building and financial chaos. ( Well – maybe not tomorrow, it’s the weekend.)