France: noises and smells of the countryside protected by law

In France, the law protects the smells and noises of the countryside, targeted by people moving there from the cities. A confirmation of the total detachment of the urbanized world from the agricultural one, now unknown to most. But how to avoid the disillusionment of real life in the countryside when you do not honestly know it?

Over the past few weeks, in France, the Senate finally approved a law unanimously to protect the noises and smells of the countryside. The protection of the French “sensory heritage” by the institutions was necessary because of the growing number of disputes among rural inhabitants and new residents from the cities, which in times of coronavirus, increased so much that they clog up the courts. In particular, this law has two objectives: to protect what in France is considered a cultural identity of rural areas and help mayors and judges manage frequent neighborhood quarrels in the increasingly crowded countryside.

In France, people moving to the countryside from a city expect to live in an idyllic context only imagined or seen in the magazines. But now they can no longer complain about noises and smells that, instead, the reality of fields and stables puts in front of you once you live there.

The problem of managing disillusionment when coming up against the reality of the countryside while expecting a context that exists only in films and dreams is not only of French citizens. The stereotypical view of the countryside by people moving from urban areas is a trap in which many have fallen, including me.

In #France, people moving to the #countryside from a #city expect to live in an idyllic context only imagined or seen in the magazines. Click To Tweet

After a life spent among the Milan hinterland, Rome, and London, at the age of thirty – tired of chaos, filth, and overcrowding – I moved to the Piedmontese countryside. I did it for several good reasons, starting with the need to have no longer too many people around, the confusion and pollution of the big cities. But I soon realized that I did it with an idea of rural life a little bit glossier than it should be.

Of course, it never crossed my mind to complain about the smells or noises of tractors and animals with the locals, who had cow stable ten meters from my balcony. But living in the countryside (in my case a village of a few hundred souls), instead of just going there for a few hours during the weekend, was highly instructive, and in some ways, traumatic.

There are pros and cons to moving to the countryside from a big city. Suddenly you find yourself adopting a series of lifestyles that you had only heard of, with quieter rhythms – although a certain slowness can be irritating to people arriving from the city, even after years. Or making a vegetable garden or having a henhouse, which on the one hand make you very self-satisfied, but on the other, they slam in your face all your limits in being able to reconcile these activities with your “smart” working at the pc. And above all your ignorance: what are these plants? When do you sow these or those varieties? Why watch the moon when you do it? A thousand questions that a person grows up in the countryside immediately answer that you, citizen, have no idea.

Living in the #countryside instead of just going there for a few hours during the weekend, was highly instructive, and in some ways, #traumatic. Click To Tweet

The cons, however, do not concern the singing of the rooster or the smell of manure. Instead, it’s about seeing pesticides sprayed on crops just a few meters from your garden (and that’s worse that sometimes in summer than daily traffic in the city is all to be seen). Or maybe some aspects of the local people mentality, for better or for worse very different from people who come from big cities. Or even realize that living in the countryside you don’t automatically have a less environmental impact.

Although some vegetables came from my garden, and therefore really at zero miles, my ecological footprint was far superior in the countryside than in the city. In central London, for example, I only moved for years by public transport, while in the country to avoid isolation I always needed a car (diesel first and LPG then – the electric cars were still not there).

But the thing that struck me the most was understanding how different reality is from what I imagined being in the city. Adapting requires a great deal of effort, I confess, because we are significantly, maybe irreversibly changed from our ancestors. We are now totally disconnected from the agricultural world and nature, and we completely ignore its laws and dynamics. We think we know everything because we’ve read a couple of books or watched some documentaries. Still, the vision we create of the countryside, animals, or forests is distorted, closer to Walt Disney cartoons than real life. People who come from urban backgrounds (almost everyone, now) love or hate the countryside idea, not the countryside itself.

Feel free to move to the #countryside, but I would like to give you an advice: #adaptyourself to the place, do not expect the opposite. Click To Tweet

And this happens in everything. Just think of the sparkles of veganism and the parlor animalism in vogue today, which create damage, disillusionment, and misunderstandings leading people not to understand that they are just a myth. It is a modern hallucination that it is better to downsize before the situation gets out of hand and leads us to a countryside emptied of all its characteristics and function, also because of so-called lovers of a plastic nature.

So, feel free to move to the countryside, but I would like to give you an advice: adapt yourself to the place, do not expect the opposite; be willing to learn, thus avoiding taking lessons in humility as has already happened to some animal activists, instead of complaining that you are not living in a theme park. And before you take this step, take advantage of the experience (and irony) of people who did it before you.


Journalist specialized in sustainability, climate change and environmental issues, he writes for various newspapers, magazines and websites. He worked in 2007 at the Center on Sustainable Consumption and Production, born from the collaboration between UNEP and Wuppertal Institut. Graduated in sociology, for years he has been focusing his work on the impacts of food production, starting from those related to animal husbandry and animal production. At the end of 2018 he has published the book “In difesa della carne” (“In defense of meat"), published by Lindau.