Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A l'aise Breizh!*

After a week spent reconnecting with my Scottish roots, I went to Brittany with Understanding Frenchman to do the same with his origins. His family live in a small village south-west of Rennes, not far from the middle of the region, making it the perfect base for exploring, especially as his parents very kindly lent us a car for the week. Like most (pseudo) Parisians, my experience of Brittany was limited to St-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel (which is actually in Normandy these days, much to the disgust of the Bretons) and, while both are beautiful places, they didn't exactly correspond to the image of a remote and weatherbeaten landscape that I had in my head, and exploring the region further had long been on my to-do list. Having a gorgeous local guide to do it with was an added bonus!

Many of the places we visited deserve a post of their own, so for now I'll just say that I liked Brittany a lot. Like the rest of France, it has beautiful landscapes, nice weather (at least in summer, most of the time!), interesting history and good food. But it also has a down-to-earth feel about it: the architecture is more about pretty stone houses and medieval town centres than gothic or baroque splendour, they drink cider instead of wine, and the local patisserie delicacies are butter- laden and heavy as opposed to, well, butter- laden and light.

My desire to get out of the Ile-de-France before living there turns me into a horrible person means that every time I visit a new place, I wonder what it would be like to live there. While the countryside is beautiful, I wouldn't want to live out in the sticks (even if a 5 bedroom house with a swimming pool costs about the same as a Parisian studio), apart from anything else because I suspect that unless you're a farmer or have lived there all your life, it would be very difficult to integrate, but Rennes is a pretty city with a thriving university and cultural scene . Unfortunately though, as Understanding Frenchman explained, there's a reason why there are so many Bretons in Paris: Brittany's universities are of a high standard and produce plenty of well-educated graduates, but outside of agriculture and the highly competitive public sector, there are very few jobs there. Local people leave their hometowns for the big city to find work, then struggle for years to get back again. And if the Bretons can't find a job in their home region, what chance would there be for a foreigner like me?

Ah well ... it's a wee bit too far from the mountains for my taste anyway!

*This is actually a Breton clothing brand that sells stuff with the logo of the little dancing people that people have on their car stickers. The pronunciation of Breizh rhymes with a l'aise.


  1. Hahaha, your comment about "nice weather" had me laughing out loud. It's nice in July & August and the rest of the time it's gray and usually raining. But it's not even REAL rain, it's just a drizzle that doesn't end.

    And the Breton high schools are known for being some of the best in France - they are almost always the number one region for the percentage of students passing the BAC. But unfortunately the job thing is true, especially for foreigners - during the five years I was there, I was only able to find seasonal tourist jobs during the summer and then teaching English during the year, and it wasn't for a lack of looking!

  2. Nice weather is all a question of perspective - I come from a country where anything over 20 degrees is considered to be a heatwave!