At Home in the Pays d’Oc: A tale of accidental expatriates (The Pays d’Oc series Book 1)

by Patricia Feinberg Stoner

Synopsis

At Home in the Pays d’Oc: Patricia and her husband (always referred to as “Himself”), while on holiday in France, make a spur of the moment decision to buy a house in the fictionalized village of Morbignan la Cèbe. At first the house is simply a holiday home to be enjoyed a few weeks a year. After the appearance of Purdy, however, the couple leaves London to live full-time in Morbignan. Only after another serious change occurs in their lives do they return to England.

Theme of the Book

Change, whether it be of place, circumstance, or people, is the essence of life. One never knows what small event will bring about major life changes. It is how we face change that determines whether our lives are full and satisfying or sad and angry. Patricia and Himself face the changes in their lives with open attitudes, humor, and patience.

What I Liked about the Story

Buying a holiday home is not very difficult but living and coping with another country’s culture can be a daunting task. Ms. Stoner and her husband manage to make the process seem, if not simple, at least achievable if it is undertaken with humor and patience. Throughout this delightful book we are given examples of the frustrating French bureaucracy that would drive anyone wild. How Ms. Stoner manages to keep her sense of humor through all the difficulties she faces is a miracle and at the same time is almost laugh-out-loud funny.

What I most admire about the couple’s story is their attitude to life in another country. At one point, Ms. Stoner says, “If you want to integrate, you have to do it at the locals’ pace, not your own.” Many expats are the “Little Englanders” Ms. Stoner describes: they are living in another country yet still moan that things are done differently. The Stoners, on the other hand, make a real attempt to integrate into the social system of their adopted village: giving parties, participating in village events, and even taking part in the vendange. They are patient about making friends as the French are more reserved and slower to make close friends than the Londoners they are used to.

There are two events that cause sweeping changes to the Stoners’ lives. The first is the arrival of Purdey, a mixed breed dog that they unwittingly kidnap and the second is the medical diagnosis Himself receives that severely limits his ability to drink the wonderful wine of the area. In order to avoid spoilers, I will not go into detail about these two events, but they are illustrative of the sudden changes the Stoners, and all of us, face in life.

What I didn’t like about the story

It is very hard to find something not to like in Ms. Stoner’s book. The one thing I did miss was a more careful, and deeper, description of the French people in the village. Josiane, the helpful neighbor, is simply described as “Mighty Mouse” which gives us a superficial understanding but nothing more. The same is true for other characters: P’tit Gui, the builder, and Loony Tunes, the neighbor from hell are two more examples in which the minor characters are presented as cartoons or stereotypes. It would have been nice to learn more about the inhabitants of Mobignan.

Final say

Having lived the expat life for 40 years, I can identify with the situations, both positive and negative, presented in At Home in the Pays d’Oc. Anyone looking forward to being an expat should certainly read this – it may change some minds. It is a wonderful book full of humor and sympathy.

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