How we met: ‘It was love at first sight – for me’

Frances, 70, and Rien, 68, met on a European exchange visit in 1972. Having brought up their family in England, they now live in the Dordogne, France

When Frances finished school, she took a college course in cartography, the study of maps. By May 1972, she had found a job as a cartographer with the civil service. As part of her work, she went to Delft in the Netherlands to visit the Dutch equivalent of Ordnance Survey. At the time, Kingston upon Thames (where she had studied) was twinned with Delft, a city in South Holland, and residents of the two regions were encouraged to do exchange visits, where they would stay with local families to get to know the area. Frances agreed to go, even thought she was terrified. “I was 20 and it was my first time out of the country. I didn’t speak a word of Dutch,” she says.

Frances soon discovered she would be staying with Rien, who lived with his parents and siblings. When she arrived at the town hall, he was there to pick her up. They were introduced by the mayor of Kingston and the burgemeester of Delft. “My instant reaction was that she was beautiful and I needed to get to know her. It was love at first sight for me,” he says. She was grateful that he was able to speak English and over the course of the next week a friendship blossomed. “He was friendly and handsome, but it was just friendship for me at first,” she says. “I’m more pragmatic than romantic.”

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