Thursday, July 26, 2012

Expat investment webinar - what would you like to learn?

Expat Focus is delighted to announce that our expat investment partner and Registered Investment Advisor, Tom Zachystal, will shortly be delivering a free webinar (i.e. online presentation) for Expat Focus members who are interested in learning more about the basics of expatriate investment.

In order to make the webinar as relevant as possible we're keen to learn more about the specific areas you'd like to see Tom cover in his talk. Please add your suggestions here or email and we will forward them to Tom.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Expat Experiences - Gordon Barlow, Cayman Islands

My name is Gordon Barlow, married and with grandchildren. I left Australia in 1963, as did my wife, whom I met in Greece the following year.

Looking back, it seems I became addicted to the expat life during my second year in Bahamas, after earlier experiences in England and Canada. Gradually the realisation took over that there was more to life than going home to Australia and a pleasant-but-humdrum future as a partner in an accounting firm.

So after three years in Nassau – I a trust-officer, Linda a teacher – we spent a year as expats (yes!) in Perth, Australia, before finding jobs in New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu. Though both of us were born and raised in Australia, we discovered the truth of the old saw, “you can’t go home again”. We had far more in common with foreign expats than with compatriots who had never been away. I’m sure many other expats discover the same thing.

With an infant son, we came to Cayman from England for the usual 2-3-year expat stint, and stayed. After my stint I became a house-father for five years. Linda left teaching and became an office secretary. The local Work Permit regime gradually tightened in the 1980s as expats began to outnumber the native stay-at-homes. I fell victim to the system after being recruited to open the local Chamber of Commerce’s first office. My job included mobilising public opinion to defeat a proposed Salaries Tax and Payroll Tax; success brought the wrath of the political establishment down on my head...

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Peakie Panish (Learning a New Language)

There can be a lot of pressure when moving to a foreign language speaking country when only your better half knows the lingo. It puts stress on one side to constantly translate and the other racing to learn the new language as quickly as possible. In the case of my husband (a.k.a. the hubs) and me, he was already fluent in Spanish before moving to Panama whereas my lingual skills were limited to words like fajitas, fiesta, and margaritas.

During our first three months in the country, we didn’t socialize. The most translating the hubs did was ordering my food at restaurants, which I picked up quite quickly, although he is quite the gentleman and prefers to order for me while dining out. Our fifth month in Panama rapidly changed with the opening of our taco stand.

I have all the know-how in the kitchen and the hubs brings his appetite. I had to teach all of our new Spanish speaking employees how to recreate intricate Mexican recipes. The hubs was charged with the task of interpreting.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Country Living In The Dominican Republic

by Expat Focus columnist Lindsay de Feliz

Out of the population of 10 million in the Dominican Republic, around 30% live in the country, in small settlements known as campos. Life in the campo is very different from life in the towns and cities, due to the lack of infrastructure and lack of work. Poverty is rife, but someone the inhabitants of the campos survive, raise children who then often leave to find work in the towns and cities.

The houses in the campos are usually made of planks, sliced up palm trees, although the richer will build theirs out of concrete blocks. The poorest houses are made of twigs or sugar cane, woven together. The roofs are invariably zinc sheet. Inside the houses the floor will just be dirt, or concrete for those who can afford it. The number of rooms in the house, will again depend on how much money the occupants have. Those who can afford it have a bedroom separate from the living area, and some even have two bedrooms, one for the children. Otherwise the children sleep in with the parents.

The living area may also have a kitchen at one end, but the majority has an outside kitchen or no kitchen at all. Cooking is usually done on a fogon, either made of cement like a table with an indent in it for the fire, or simply three concrete blocks on the floor with a space in the middle where you put either the wood or the charcoal.

One of the main problems in the campo is the water. In some areas the public water system delivers water in pipes, and a few people have a tap in the kitchen. More have a tap in the garden or maybe one in one garden which several people use. If there is no piped water to the community, then the alternatives are to dig a well, or to go to the river and conserve rainwater too. In some areas water is delivered in a truck – although most campo folk could not afford this.

In many campos, as the sun loses its heat in the late afternoon, you can see a steady stream of donkeys laden with plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, heading down to the river.

A lack of water means a lack of toilets, and the vast majority of campo houses have a latrine in the garden. In fact almost 50% of all homes in the Dominican Republic have a latrine rather than an indoor toilet. Apparently they get full, and so every few years the little zinc, wood, plastic, or tin structure ups sticks and is moved to another spot in the garden where a new hole is dug.

I remember visiting some of my husband’s friends in the campo in the hills above Barahona, in the south west. I asked to go to the toilet and was shown to the...

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Expat Experiences: Melanie Fitzsimmons de Alcequiez, Santiago - Dominican Republic

I'm Melanie, an American living in Santiago, the second largest city in the DR. It's been a journey, but I'm still alive.

I was young when I moved, I didn't really speak Spanish and I had had absolutely no idea what the Dominican Republic was until about six months before I moved. I know, I know. That's horrible. Blame it on bad geography education, but my knowledge of the Caribbean was Jamaica and Haiti - and only Haiti because there were some handsome Haitian soccer players on our high school team. The doors, however, of employment opened up and I would be given housing. The pay was minimal, but I wasn't looking to make money.

I first moved to the Dominican Republic in 2004 - just out of college and not really ready to work in the "real world." "I'll travel," I said, "and do some good work before I decide what to do next." The plan was to work for a year, maybe two, and then head back to corporate America. Little did I imagine I'd be here seven years later, married with two children, a fish, a brother-in-law and a sometimes live-in niece.

I spent my first three months mute. I had lived in Mexico during college and returned a few times to visit; I had Central American friends and I used Spanish a lot in Chicago. I wasn't prepared for Dominican Spanish. I didn't understand a word. I spoke in mime and mostly spent time with the kids I was teaching. Children are the most patient teachers.

I met my now-husband when I first arrived, we worked together in an elementary school and he helped me adapt to the new system. We started dating five months later, and when my contract was up, I had to decide what to do. The school I worked in was dysfunctional (as well as the religious organisation that ran it) and I couldn't continue there. I had no real job prospects at home, but I wasn't keen on jumping the gun into marriage. So, I travelled around the island a bit, and then headed to the States for a few months before I would make the conscious decision to move back to Santiago permanently.

Read more about Melanie's life in the Dominican Republic

Friday, March 02, 2012

Smooth Moves for Expat Kids – tips to ease the transition

by Expat Focus columnist, Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Moving to another country with children can be a stressful experience. The tearful confession, “I want to go home,” is the last thing any parent wants to hear. Adults will be going through their own period of adjustment and this, coupled with the logistical matters that lay claim to their time in the early days, can leave them ill-equipped to give their children the help they need to cope with the transition.

The good news is that, when properly prepared and supported, children often adjust more quickly than adults. The key to a move with minimum fuss comes down to 3 main things:


Let's look at each one in more detail:



This starts well before departure. Let them know of the impending move in plenty of time so that they are not unsettled by any preparations taking place, but not so far in the future that they have too much time to dwell on it. Parents have the best knowledge of their child to be able to make this decision but, as a guide, the older the child is, the sooner they need to know.


Discuss the new destination, find it on a map or preferably a globe (3D is more fun!) Do some research together about weather, animals, customs etc. so that your child can build a mental image of their new home. The more pictures and interesting information the better; nothing is more frightening than the unknown. If there is a new language involved, learn some key words and phrases together, and have fun seeing who remembers the most.


Once you arrive, do all you can to spend time together. This is difficult for adults who are starting in a new post, but it’s worth bearing in mind that family is your child’s one familiar constant right now. It’s the only thing cushioning them from the difficulties of their new situation. The more time you can spend together, exploring and learning new things, the easier it will be for them to step out on their own when they feel ready. It also helps for them to see that this is a learning curve for everyone and if it seems as though you are enjoying it, they will be more likely to also.

Stay in touch

Help them to maintain links with loved ones and friends back home, whether it’s through letter-writing and postcards or Skype and email. Continue to discuss the new location: likes and dislikes, new things you’ve learnt, favourite places, etc. We used to go round the table at dinner, taking turns to say what we liked about Canada. It keeps the lines of communication open and reminds everyone that they’re in it together.

Article continues here

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Avoiding Isolation

by Expat Focus columnist, Jennifer Tucker

One of my biggest fears about moving to a new country as a “tag along” spouse was isolation. I dreaded the thought of moving halfway around the world with my husband, having him go off every day to a job while I sat twiddling my thumbs in the apartment, wondering what to do and not knowing a soul.

I’ve had my share of “thumb-twiddling” days and moments where I made faux pas in social situations. Overall, however, I feel as though I’m doing an OK job at transitioning to life in New Zealand. I think that if I could talk to every person who’s preparing to move to a new country, I would tell them that one of the best ways of easing the transition is to form a social network.

You’ll make friends, learn about the community, and develop a sense of purpose by having something to do on a regular basis.

There are many ways to get out and get involved, but in my opinion, here are some of the best:

1. Start searching the internet. Read up about your new country. Find the local newspaper and check it daily. Reading the news will give you something to talk about when you meet people, and you’ll be up on current events in your new hometown. If you don't have a blog, think about creating one and linking it with an expat website. If blogging isn't your thing, then register with expat sites and read through the Q&A forums. Follow the links to user blogs based in your soon-to-be new country. Most expats, me included, are happy to share what they know.

2. Get out of the house. If you’re able to work, then look for a job. It doesn't have to be full-time or even in your area of expertise, but you’ll meet other employees and have a reason to go out every week. If you can’t work {don’t have the right paperwork, need to stay home with children, don’t speak the language} then check out your local mission, soup kitchen, museum, or gallery to see if they need volunteers. If you can't volunteer, then look into joining a gym or a community center or a church. Definitely join the local library. Most libraries have classes on a variety of things – learning the language, lectures on local history, book clubs – and most don’t cost a thing. If you have children, libraries can be a God-send with their story times and children’s reading programs...

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eavesdropping - Tourists And Tolls

by Expat Focus columnist, Piglet in Portugal

I know it’s impolite to eavesdrop on other people's conversations; however, on a recent flight to the UK I was prompted to tune in to a discussion between a couple of golfing tourists and local residents. The conversation turned from the intricacies of the “ifs” and “buts” of golf to the recent introduction of tolls on the A22 Motorway. For those unfamiliar with the Algarve the A22 Motorway can best be described as the main artery, linking the Algarve from the Spanish/Portuguese border in the east to the towns in the west.

The introduction of the tolls on the 8th December 2011 resulted in protest demonstrations, criminal damage to the cameras, and at one point twenty-four hour police surveillance was mounted at each gantry along the A22 to protect the cameras and equipment. Even a police officer was injured when a disgruntled protester took a pot-shot at one of the offending cameras. The motorway was paid for by the EU and has always been free to use.

The only alternative route is the N125 and is aptly named the “Road of Death” due to the high number of accidents and poor road surface.

Judging from the conversation, I gathered that the resident couple, who looked in their early thirties, lived in Portimão in the Algarve and the others were elderly golfers who had been holidaying there for over 20 years. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Algarve so I was particularly interested to listen to the views of long-term tourists.

As their conversation turned from golf to more general matters the subject of tolls was raised by the couple from Portimão. “Did you use the A22 Motorway during your stay?” they asked almost a little too casually.

“Yes, it was surprisingly empty!” replied one of the golfers.

“That’s because of those damn toll charges.” ...

Read more about tourists and tolls in Portugal

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Other Side of Carnival

by Expat Focus Columnist Stephanie Angulo

Panama is home to the second largest Carnival celebration in the world. Businesses shut down while people hit the streets for five days of drinking, culecos (tanker trucks spraying the crowds with water), gluttonous amounts of food, and scantily clad women adorned floats. Thousands of cars and busses line the main highway in a traffic jam as far as the eye can see from Panama City to the interior for all the major parties; the largest event being in Las Tablas, Panama where the festivities begin the Friday before Ash Wednesday.
Although carnival stretches over five days, only one day is a national holiday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The banks are closed for a week. Restaurants are unattended for days. Small mom and pop shops remain unopened only during the one national holiday in hopes of making a few sales throughout carnival. Not everybody is free from work though the cities are near empty. What are those people doing?
Work on expanding the canal hummed along as normal. Clinics, pharmacies, and grocers still had customers even though there weren’t the normal throngs of people waiting in lines. There are smaller carnival celebrations that the smaller towns provided to these locals.
Driving through our current town of La Chorrera, we saw dozens of small celebrations. Neighbors got together to make small carnival parties including floats, alcohol, loud music, and thrashing each other with water, the perfect recipe for any carnival celebration!

Read more about the carnival celebrations in Panama

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Expat Experience: Lindsay de Feliz, Dominican Republic

Barrio Living In The Middle Of Nowhere by Lindsay de Feliz

I am Lindsay. English, mid 50s. Started out life as a linguist (French and German), ended up as Marketing lecturer at Kingston University, then Marketing Director of various Financial Institutions in the City.
I have been married to a very hunky Dominican for 7 years, and he has 3 boys who have all lived with us at various times. At the moment we have number two son with us, who is 21, and we also have 3 dogs and 10 cats.

I left the UK and ex husband in 2001. I just wanted more out of life and felt claustrophobic in London. I had developed a passion for scuba diving and had always loved travelling, meeting new people, experiencing new places, eating new food. My plan - such as it was - was to qualify as a PADI scuba diving instructor and then travel the world teaching diving, going from one tropical beach to the next. I didn't really think about where I would go or where I would end up. My first port of call was the Maldives, where the diving is second to none

I thought with a British passport I could work anywhere. Not true. I ended up doing my instructor's course in Singapore and the examination in Thailand.

I could have worked in Singapore but it was not a tropical paradise really, Thailand and the rest of Asia wanted work permits and at that time most dive schools preferred to employ locals. After a month of looking for work I ended up in Menorca as I could work legally there. But the Mediterranean Sea was cold - freezing in fact, and no beautiful corals or colourful fish - just the odd cod swimming past a clump of rocks.

I still wanted the tropical dream and thought that it would be handy if I could speak Spanish and then get work in South America where there were lots of sharks, as I was a shark specialty diver. I applied for a job in the Dominican Republic and came to the south coast in November 2001 for a 6 month contract with the plan to learn Spanish and then move on. But I fell in love with the country and the people and then one particular Dominican man, and I am till here ten years on

What challenges did you face during the move?

The main challenge when I originally left was dealing with the emotions of family and friends back in the UK who thought I had lost my mind, and were all waiting for me to come to my senses and go back to England. Having had a successful career and all the trappings that went with it, they could not understand how I could leave it all behind to live in a bikini and a sarong on a beach. I travelled light, with one bag with all of my scuba diving equipment and the other bag was the rest of my life. I basically left everything else behind.

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I arrived in the DR there was accommodation arranged through the dive school - a studio, which I upgraded after a month to a two bed flat which cost 400US$ a month. After a while there I began living with a Dominican man and his three young sons, and we moved to a bigger apartment with a garden. I then bought a villa in 750 square metres of land, 3 beds, 2 baths, pool and a servant's house, for 120,000 US$.

The buying process was fast and painless, and the house came with all the furniture. We now rent in a Dominican barrio and pay just over 100 pounds a month for a 3 bed 2 bath villa in a large garden. Prices are significantly cheaper in non expat or tourist areas.

Read more about life in the Dominican Republic

Friday, February 10, 2012

Could You Survive Abroad Without the Internet?

by Expat Focus columnist Piglet in Portugal

As more people either work or retire abroad I often wonder how expats managed to survive in a pre-internet world. How did they communicate with family and friends back home, or research different aspects of life in their new country?

I can’t even begin to imagine life abroad without the internet. Can you imagine being totally reliant on the long drawn out process of sending letters by snail-mail when you can now send emails in seconds? Or the cost of using a standard telephone when you can use VoIP (Skype) or even better two-way interactive video calls for free?

How did expats research different countries, the culture and the lifestyle? How did they interact with other expats prior to their move? Just asking myself these couple of simple questions made me realize the massive impact the internet has had on our daily lives. I know it makes me feel less isolated.

When you take a few moments to reflect how communicating via the internet has evolved over the last few years, the options are amazing!

My personal favorites are:

Emails are great –instant (well almost) and so simple. I love to receive daily emails with photographs of our grandchildren, family updates or even emails from friends, just to say “Hi!” or “Shall we meet up?” Can you imagine the lengthy process if all this was sent by snail-mail?

I love VoIP! Whoever, invented, created or discovered this nifty application is a genius!
Where would expats be without it? I currently use Skype because calls to other Skype users are free. I also love the instant message option – Why? It’s quick and uncomplicated!

Video calls
This is by far my favorite method of communicating with our family. I can check out our grandchild’s new tooth, new dress, a web-tour round a newly decorated room, a Christmas day chat; our family is right there in our living room, although they are thousands of miles away. I wonder how many children grow up thinking their grandparents live in the computer!

My friend’s daughter lives in Australia so visits are limited. I know she would be devastated without the use of video-calls to stay in contact with her daughter and little granddaughter.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Personal Branding is the Key to Expat or International Career Success

by Expat Focus columnist, Megan Fitzgerald

In today’s dynamic, competitive, global marketplace where employers are seeking out talent across the globe, to succeed professionally we must understand how we create value in the world - and insure that the people that need that value are aware of it. We must be visible to right decision makers so when those choice projects and job opportunities come up we are well positioned to secure them.

But understanding what it is exactly that we have to offer can sometimes be a challenge, given we often define ourselves and what we offer based on our job titles or areas of expertise and knowledge.
For this reason, personal branding is what any current or aspiring expat should be using to guide their career management or international job search.

Personal branding is about clarifying and communicating what is unique and different about yourself and using it to reach your personal or professional goals.

Contrary to what some may believe, it is NOT about crafting an image for yourself and then creating a snappy tagline and interesting elevator pitch to support it. It’s about unearthing your natural strengths, talents and qualities and then strategically sharing how they can combine to make a meaningful impact in organizations and the world.

In addition to visibility critical to career success, here are several more of reasons why personal branding should be the core driver of your expat career management and international job search plan:

• CLARITY: Being clear about your unique value and what you offer allows you to maximize your ability to leverage that value to reach your goals. Clarity around what your keys to success are also increases your confidence and focus. We’re more likely to consistently make the right choices that will take us where we want to go if we use our natural strengths and talents to drive our career choices.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Conquering My Driving Demons

by Expat Focus columnist, Aisha Isabel Ashraf

For us, 2012 will be the Year of the Road Trip, the year we travel to Tadoussac to see the whales swimming in Quebec’s first purely marine national park, where the Saguenay River meets the estuary of the St Lawrence. I’m excited at the thought of the drive and the stops we’ll make en route, but this wasn’t always the case. My confession? For a while back there, I lost my driving mojo. What was once a source of enjoyment provoked a cold, sinking dread in the pit of my stomach. No-one was more surprised than me, lover of fine cars and consummate speed junkie (think Jeremy Clarkson without the gob).

For a long time, before exchanging my British driving licence for a Canadian one, I would mentally rehearse driving here. Closing my eyes, I would imagine every part of the journey into town, all the intersections, traffic lights and lane changes, haunted by the fear I would end up on the wrong side of the road and terrified of the potential carnage.

I had read, in my trusty “Guide to Living and Working in Canada”, that it was helpful to stick a post-it on your dashboard reminding you to “Keep right”, so I knew it wasn’t unknown for people to forget. If it was a possibility for some, it would be a certainty for me!

Our first year in Canada passed without a car, thanks to the narrowing effect of a temporary work visa on our finances, so the pre-occupation with driving diminished. But the day came, when we were offered a monthly rate that wouldn’t bankrupt us and found that rare gem: an insurance company willing to consider our previous driving experience. Wonderful though this was, it meant the spectre of my potentially lethal driving was back.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Goal Setting

by Expat Focus columnist, Evelyn Simpson

January - the beginning of a new year; the time when we look at our lives and resolve to do things differently. Most people set resolutions in January but have often broken them by February. In this article, I’m going to discuss the use of more rigorous goal setting – akin to that used in the workplace – to get more out of expat life. For accompanying partners, whatever your employment status, goal setting can be a meaningful process of evaluation which enables a critical look at life and creates an intention of how to use your time. The article will also give you some tips on how to make your goal setting more effective and pass on some resources that you might find helpful in my own annual goal setting process.

Why set goals?

First, some of the aspects of life that make being an expat accompanying partner challenging can also create opportunity. For instance, taking time out from your career is the most obvious example of a decision with challenging consequences but also provides the opportunity to try things that were precluded due to lack of time. A conscious planning process can be a key tool in realising those opportunities and in making the most of your expat experience.

Second, deliberate planning can be pivotal in avoiding one of the most common traps into which the expat accompanying partner can fall; that of making commitments not because they fit your values and purpose but simply because, at a time when you are vulnerable, it feels great to be asked...

Article continues here

Friday, January 13, 2012

Barrio Living in the Dominican Republic

by Expat Focus Columnist Lindsay de Feliz

I live in a barrio in a little town in the middle of the Dominican Republic. A barrio is translated as a neighbourhood, or a suburb. However it is not quite wide tree lined roads with pretty detached houses and beautifully manicured lawns.

Each town has several barrios, and they all have names, most of which are totally incongruous such as Black Barrio and Pretty Barrio. The houses tend to be of all different kinds although some barrios will be poorer than others. My barrio has beautiful two storey houses next to brightly coloured wooden huts with zinc roofs.

The streets are all dirt, although for some strange reason there are pavements which no one uses as they all walk on the roads. When it is hot the dust gets everywhere and in the mornings and evenings all the women stand in the front of their houses with hose pipes watering the road to try and cut back on the dust. When it rains, the roads become a mud bath. Every road has a little gully running down each side where the dirty water flows from each house – a little like Elizabethan England. Luckily the sewage water goes into septic tanks.

The main thing all barrios have in common is the noise. I am awoken in the morning with the sound of chickens, cockerels, geese and dogs. Everyone appears to have at least one dog, and they don’t live in the house, rather they lie in the street in front of the house. Occasionally there will be a barrio dog howl at around 6am which can last for up to 20 minutes as dogs from different areas join in.

Then we have the street sellers. I think you could survive here without ever leaving your house, as a constant stream of people walk past shouting their wares. The earliest are the Haitian women with washing up bowls balanced precariously on their heads. They sell avocados, peas or corn on the cob. The avocados are 10 pesos each (20 UK pence or 25 US cents) or two for 25 pesos. Obviously mathematics is not their strong point...

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

France Powers into 2012

by Expat Focus columnist, Stephanie Dagg

As well as being eternally associated with croissants, wine, frogs’ legs and berets, say “France” and a lot of people immediately think “nuclear energy”. And rightly so. France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity, to the tune of 3 billion euros worth each year, as well as providing 75% of its own power from that source. Apparently, because of the nuclear element, France has Europe’s lowest cost electricity, but it doesn’t always seem like that from our end! Power prices seem to rise wincingly fast these days. Sensibly France hasn’t suffered from the anti-nuclear knee-jerk reactions of other European countries in the wake of the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and is firmly sticking with its nuclear programme.
So where does the other quarter of France’s electricity come from? Until 2005, it came pretty much equally from hydroelectricity and thermique à flamme i.e. oil, coal or gas-fired power stations, but now the latter is falling back and a significant contribution is coming from éoliennes - wind turbines. And that’s set to rise.

That wonderful-sounding word, éolienne, comes from the name of the Greco-Roman wind god, Aeolos. It has an elegant feel to it, and it has to be said that wind turbines are graceful structures. Now, I can say that because we can see one from our garden, and very soon we’ll be able to see a couple more. I’m not waxing lyrical about something I know nothing about or which is at a comfortably long distance away from me. No NIMBYism here. A parc éolien of nine wind turbines is in the course of being constructed close to Boussac. Seven are in our neighbouring commune of Bussière St Georges, which starts on the other side of the hedge that runs along our top field. The other two are in St Marien, where our youngest son goes to school.

I’ve been watching the éoliennes literally rising from the ground these last few months, and it’s been fascinating. From large holes in the ground, to stumps, and finally to the finished item soaring 150m into the sky.

They have a huge environmental impact. Huge. They totally dominate the landscape. On the whole, Boussaquins have taken it well, which is highly commendable since the last big thing to be built in the town was the castle, whic was finished in the fifteenth century! Actually, that’s not quite true. The first half of the twentieth century saw the construction of châteaux d’eau (water towers) on an enthusiastic scale in the surrounding area. We have three within fairly close range of us and in different styles. Two are bouchons de champagne (champagne corks) and one is a chanterelle (a type of mushroom). We do a lot of medium-distance cycling as a family and we use the water towers as landmarks.

Around the same time as the water towers were mushrooming, electricity lines were going up in rural France. These have a high visual impact on the countryside too. The law of 2 Août 1923 set out how the state would help fund rural electrification so the next twenty years saw wooden poles and wire appearing everywhere. There’s an interesting discussion in...

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