Isn’t it every American writer’s secret dream to live the expatriate life in France? The answer to that is oui — especially if you’re a writer with a dog, as les chiens are welcome at so many places they aren’t permitted here in the U.S., notably restaurants and cafes. Fetching freelance writer and copy editor Diane, originally from New Jersey, lives this literary Dogster dream in the Loire Valley in France, together with her handsome hubby Tom and beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dagny. And, to the delight of her readers, she pens a charmant blog about her life, Oui in France: Musings on Life in France, My Dog, and Everything Else.
After getting married in August 2011 — the couple’s wedding was the subject of a four-page feature in the French edition of Marie Claire — Diane and Tom settled in France at Christmastime. Then, her already sweet life became sweeter still with the arrival of Dagny, who came home on Diane’s birthday, December 31. “It was easier to get a dog in France — no hassle of bringing a puppy on a flight and all the paperwork involved,” she explains.
The little dog is named after a larger-than-life literary figure, the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. “Dagny also means ‘new day’ in Old Norse, which I felt was fitting for our situation,” Diane explains. “As a newlywed who just moved overseas, I was starting the next chapter of my life, and I’m so happy Dagny is in it.”
So, is a French dog’s life as merveilleux as it’s cracked up to be? Well, naturellement. “The best part about dog culture in France is that dogs are accepted at a lot of places that they’d never be permitted to go in the U.S. — this is even more true if the dog is small and well-behaved,” Diane says. “For example, while on vacation recently, Dagny came with us to three nice restaurants, all of which were indoors, and much to our surprise, she sat perfectly under the table. She didn’t make a peep!
“Also, I walk with her to the pharmacy and the pharmacist knows her name. We just walk into places like it’s normal to bring a dog and no one ever says anything. You can’t bring your dog to the doctor with you, but within reason, dogs are welcome in stores and small businesses. Of course, this varies depending on where you live, but overall, dogs are very welcome here.”
Traveling partout (everywhere) with her people, Dagny has, thus far, visited Bretagne (St. Malo and the surrounding area) and explored parks all over the Loire Valley. The family plans a trip to the South of France this September.
With her pick of eateries in this world capital of gastronomy, sophisticated Dagny surprised Diane with her choice of favorite restaurant. “Strangely enough, Dagny loves the McDonald’s drive-thru. She loves sticking her head out the window so the employees make a fuss over her. Even if we’re just getting coffee, she loves rummaging through the bag to see what’s in there. If there are fries involved, she always has to stick her head in to steal one or two. Really, though, any establishment with food is her favorite.”
Dagny is the first Cavalier for Diane, who grew up with an English Springer Spaniel named Toby. “I’ve always had a love for dogs and told myself that as soon as the time was right — and I was no longer working outside the home all day — I’d do everything humanly possible to get a dog. I started researching breeds. I never really cared much for small dogs. I didn’t dislike them or anything, but I always had an interest in large breeds. But last year I was working for a dog-sitting company on the side and met Daisy. Because of her, I fell in love with the breed and just had to have one.
“These dogs steal your heart from the moment you meet. They follow you around and are truly Velcro dogs. They are calm when they need to be calm, but they can also be really active and go on a hike. They’re not yappy or annoying, and I’m happy to report that you can sit on them by accident on the couch without fear of breaking something.”
Dagny seems to be a parfait ambassadog for her sweet spaniel species. “The Cavalier is elegant and adaptable and will teach you all about unconditional love,” Diane enthuses. “There’s really no way to properly explain the bond Dagny, Tom, and I share. Dagny just can’t help but put a smile on your face. Whether she’s dragging a stick two times her size or running around like a crazy girl, people always stop me to pet her and ask what breed she is.”
Surprisingly, the Cavalier — such a British breed! — is not uncommon in France. “They’re very popular, actually,” Diane says. “We saw four in Paris last weekend in one afternoon alone, and we weren’t really looking! The black/tan color combo is more rare though; you see more Blenheims and Tricolors.”
Adjusting to daily life in a Claude Chabrol film was not without its culture-shock moments — for better and for worse. Most dog owners don’t pick up after their dogs, to Diane’s consternation. Also, she adds, “Generally speaking, stores aren’t open here past 7:30 or 8 p.m. on Sundays. And a lot of people smoke, and I hate breathing that in.”
Then there’s the matter of the bisous. “The bisous are the French equivalent of a hug greeting, and consist of little air kisses with touching cheeks. French people do not hug, but instead do bisous. It’s a little difficult to figure out who to do bisous with and when. As an American, I just can’t get used to it, but it’s the culture, and I live in France, so I manage.” Happily, Dagny — like most dogs — is an excellent icebreaker in any potentially awkward situation.
What’s more, Diane says, “Vet care is much cheaper here than in the U.S. From the cost of medicine to spaying to just regular vet visits, it’s way cheaper. Yet most dogs are not registered at the health department in France, but only certain breeds. I found this odd since in New Jersey, you get a fine if your pet is not registered with your town. Spaying and neutering is an option here, but not the norm, whereas in the U.S., all my friends’ and family’s pets are fixed, and Dagny is spayed.”
Does blogging about your dog enhance the expat experience? “I’ve always liked blogging. I write for myself, my friends and family, and those who want a look into life abroad,” Diane says.
“I think blogging helps me to feel like I have a purpose here, and it certainly makes my life more enjoyable. My blog is all about Dagny and my life in France, and I love when the two intersect,” she says. “I’m creating an indelible mark in cyberspace that I will hopefully be able to look back on in 10 years with fond memories — while sharing my life with whomever happens to drop by. I think I’m more focused on taking pics and thinking about things to write about when I’m out experiencing life than I would be if I didn’t have a blog, but it’s all been positive.
Here’s a post Diane wrote on why she started the blog.
“Not in a cheesy way, but I feel truly blessed to be here and to have Dagny in my life,” Diane says. “I don’t take anything for granted about my life.”
Follow the doings of Diane and Dagny on her blog Oui in France: Musings on Life in France, My Dog, and Everything Else and on Twitter at @DagsDiTom.