This thread made me look at this again and I found a solution

$ ls -l /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc.d/move_gvfs_dir
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 648 2011-12-20 11:09 /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc.d/move_gvfs_dir
$ cat /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc.d/move_gvfs_dir

# gvfs-fuse-daemon won't work if ~/.gvfs isn't writable by root
# when home dir is on nfs server ~/.gvfs isn't writable by root (unless the nfs
# server is badly set up)
# making ~/.gvfs a symbolic link to somewhere on the local harddisk works
# around that so gvfs-fuse-daemon is able to run even when home is on nfs
# and contents of gvfs mounts are accessible under ~/.gvfs as they are with
# non nfs home dirs. which is nice if you want to get at them via command line
# there's some discussion at

rmdir ~/.gvfs 2>/dev/null || rm ~/.gvfs

ln -s "$(mktemp -d)" ~/.gvfs

I've had it in place a few weeks now, seems to work as desired.

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