Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hosting holidays in your home in Provence

OK, I've had it with people coming to stay in summer.

Let me tell you about the downside of owning a home in Provence. The downside is guests coming to stay. Or rather, unwelcome guests. Every summer, all summer. There are good guests and bad guests and it seems there's no escaping the bad ones.

When I first moved here in 2004 I came across an article in French Property News that said "within a few years you'll be sick and tired of people coming to stay in your house in Provence." How very negative, I thought. My home would always be open to friends and it would be a pleasure to have people visiting me in Provence from other countries.

Seven years on, however, I get the point. There are without a doubt friends I like to see and have staying. But there are many other people who rather ruthlessly, or just unthinkingly, take advantage. It's amazing how many people you haven't seen or been in touch with for years will contact you out of the blue once you live in the south of France and say "We're thinking of coming to stay with you."

Really? You won't wait for an invitation then?

And it's only when you live in a beautiful region like Provence that you face the issue of people wanting to come and stay for a week or two. Normally, you invite friends for dinner, say, and after four or five hours they go home. But imagine friends coming for dinner and then moving in for seven nights.

People will contact you with their schedule and their demands and expect that you'll simply be available and on site when they plan to descend.

Unfailingly each individual, family or group assumes that they're the only ones planning to visit in summer and unfailingly each thinks single-mindedly of their own individual holiday in Provence.
"We're planning to come for seven nights" people say. Or "It'll be expensive to hire a car but you'll be able to pick us up from Avignon/Marseille/Nimes, won't you?" "It won't be a problem that I can't eat bread, pasta, cheese, milk, tomatoes, chick peas, bananas, nuts or meat will it?"

Once people arrive it becomes obvious that they expect a taxi service to and from the station/airport, a catering service, information and a cleaning service. Only the good guests (the invited ones) ever seem to realise that they're part of a long line of holidaymakers trooping in and out all summer. To the others, their holiday is the only one. To me, though, they're the sixth, seventh or eighth bunch who've descended with their luggage, demands to be driven around Provence, inability to put their hands in their wallets and reluctance to buy food or cook a meal.

At the end of each visit, I have to clean the place, launder sheets and towels and prepare rooms for the next lot arriving. This year I've already been horrified to return from dropping a guest at the station to find she'd left a huge carrier bag of rotting rubbish overflowing and falling onto the floor in her room. As I cleaned up after her I found myself muttering that she wouldn't have come to visit for five days if I lived in Wolverhampton....

This year I've already changed my plans to fit in with a very old acquaintance I hadn't been in contact with for years who demanded to come and stay over a weekend, then changed his plans to come during the week, then announced at the last minute that the flight was too expensive and he wasn't coming after all. Thanks! By then I'd missed a weekend on the Cote d'Azur. Then another acquaintance arrived, demanded a lift in from the station, announced she was staying for a week when I'd already told her it wasn't possible, required to be driven around the region to sort out various problems with her laptop, insisted on a lift to Avignon so she could buy clothes for herself and presents for her family and firmly refused to contribute even a few centimes towards a bottle of red wine on her last night.

Today I had three different people requesting that I help them with plans for their holiday in my home or in the nearby village. "It won't take you a minute to check out local gites and recommend one" I was told. "Please check the pools are big and the bedrooms are light and airy. Bear our budget in mind too." "How will I get from Nimes to your place? Can you check train times? Maybe it'll be better if you just pick me up." "What's the best low cost airline from my place to Marseille?"

And the trouble is that whenever I get it together to make a suggestion I risk the person being disappointed in which case I invariably get the blame and the guest gets huffy. "Are you kidding? Their flights leave at 6am." Once they're here it'll be: "I don't know why you suggested that restaurant. It didn't have nearly have enough fish on the menu."

I even get the blame for bad weather. "You didn't warn us that the mistral could blow in summer. We wouldn't have come this week if we'd known."

No-one ever seems to realise that it costs me money and ties up my time to host their holidays. It also disrupts my own plans every summer. Each party or group seems to imagine that it's nothing really, using my home, my electricity, my food, my shower, my car and my petrol for a week or so. And they're right. It's no big deal when it's for one week. But it's not for one week! They may only be staying for a week but there were probably people staying for the six weeks before them and people due to come in the six weeks after. My summer becomes one long round of fetching guests from the airport, ferrying them around the sights, helping them organise their itineraries and onward journeys, getting them medical care when they need it, being on stand-by to bring them back from town when they've done their shopping and of course planning their meals from dawn to dusk.

And then there are the breakages. I've rarely had guests who don't break things. It's normal, I know, because they're not in their own surroundings. So they tend to yank at door handles, wrench the shower attachment off the wall, knock furniture against windows as they move things around to suit themselves, break plates and glasses and crack the toilet seat. Invariably, they blame the things they've broken. "Something wrong with that kettle" they'll say sternly. "I just touched it and the handle fell off."

I gloomily add the kettle to the list of broken things I need to replace.

And then there are gifts.

Mysteriously, I have hardly ever had a guest arrive with a gift or leave a gift on parting. Guests can stay night after night, make full use of my unpaid taxi service, help themselves to my rosé wine, elbow their way to my laptop so they can check their email, shower twice a day till all the hot water's gone and leave their sheets and towels in a heap for me to deal with when they leave - and yet hardly one of them has ever thought to arrive with a bottle of wine or leave so much as a bar of lavender soap when their stay's over. In contrast, almost every guest takes great pleasure in showing me the gifts they've bought for their child/mother/husband/boyfriend/self. "I got these terrific sunglasses for Bob" they'll say. "And I thought I'd take this champagne home for dad." "Clothes are cheap here" they say. "I bought myself these jeans, this hat, this shirt and these boots. Bit extravagant but I thought - well - I'm on my holiday!"

Great. Meanwhile I'm standing there cooking the food I shopped for and paid for after they called to say they wouldn't be able to get to the supermarket because they were having so much fun spending money on themselves.

So there you are. That's a snapshot of summer when you own a house in Provence. You can easily end up running a free hotel and working as a full-time, unpaid holiday organiser. I'm not kidding. If I accepted every request for accommodation, advice and help with holiday organisation I would literally be working full-time, for free, all through the summer. And subsidising dozens of holidays out of my own pocket.

I've called a halt to it this summer. I had to. I don't have a 3 to 4000 euro fund spare with which to subsidise other people's holidays. I fear some friends and acquaintances will take offence but, as the French say, tant pis. I've done it for 5 years and I'm not doing it any more. There are certain friends who are still very welcome and they know who they are. The others will have to manage their holidays by themselves because this hotel in Provence is closed!


  1. Couldn't agree more, Cath.. In our first summer in the Pays Basque (2008) we had 21 friends who came to stay.. most of whom were conspicuous by their absence when we lived in England. The cherry on the cake was a couple who behaved in restaurants like "Brits abroad" from your worst nightmare - guffawing, talking so loudly that I could see we were disturbing not just adjacent tables but the whole restaurant. They offered to take us out for a meal one evening - and, without waiting for us to signal our choices, the husband pointedly announced that he'd chosen the cheapest menu (of the 3 that were available..) Phew.. were we glad to see the back of them!
    We've also had the ones who just happened to be passing by etc etc..
    The cost of entertaining is something I'd never previously considered - but when you start mentally counting the cost, you realise you're being put upon.
    Already we're receiving emails and phone calls with less than subtle hints for this summer.
    Wet towels on the bedroom floors, sand from beach shoes walked through the house, the bathroom looking like a combat zone, taxi service here, there and everywhere.. no thanks, we've had enough!
    Now we're closed for the summer (except for a v select few!)
    This year has been so enjoyable..

  2. I'm amazed it took you so long, Cath :-) As second-home owners in southern Normandy, we don't have the same problem of numbers wanting to visit, as you do in somewhere as desirable as Provence. Even so we've made it clear that those who wish to come to stay with us during our 3 montn summer stays must make a reasonable contribution to costs. Firm but fair does it...

    Lovely blog - I found it via Total France.

  3. Well, Pip and Perp, I guess the alternative is to go into business as a chambres d'hotes. I don't fancy that though. "Cath Boylan Holidays In Provence." Why ruin a lovely summer!

  4. Hi Cat, I just read your blog. I am Swedish and live in Aups near Draguignan.

    I only had one friend over, but she was really nice and payed her own things and contributed to the cost of the food and bought wine and presents.

    If I had people in my life who would do the same thing to me, I would say: Yes, ofcourse you can come, renting a room here costs: ....Euros but I will not be around for driving you around the area so you have to sort out that one yourself.

    That will scare a lot of them away.

    Found your page as I was looking for information about Secu-Social. I have a job and on my sallary it says my employer registered me with URSSAF but that was in May and I still havent received any information or my secu-social number. Tomorrow I will call URSSAF to do some inquieries.

    All the best to you. I really like how you tell a story.


  5. Ps. When they behave like that, they are not there to visit YOU, they are just taking advantage of knowing a person in south of France.

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