Tuesday 26 December 2017

A snowy Christmas lunch and The Book Podcast interview

In a previous post, I mentioned an interview that I did with Rosemary Puddy of The Book Podcast. It was still Christmas here in France when the interview was posted and was a lovely way for me to finish the day, which had in fact been a little different from start to finish.

Being reduced in number, my husband and I decided that a snow walk and lunchtime picnic would be fun. On the drive up to our starting point at the Col des Aravis, we could have been forgiven for thinking that it was just any ordinary day. Epiceries, boulangeries, cafés, restaurants, magasins de souvenirs et de vêtements were all open for business. In fact, my daughter pointed out that we struggle to find anything open on a regular Sunday in the year in France, but on Christmas morning, everything seemed open.

The snow had fallen in abundance, unlike last year, when all those who had booked holiday ski chalets were severely disappointed with the lack of skiing and the changed festive ambiance. Additionally, the sun was bright and the sky a stunning blue and Mont Blanc was cleary visible. We were not the only ones out walking and, on reflection, it would have been a good way to shake out the cobwebs for those families that had celebrated in traditional French style on Christmas Eve.

Not completely forgoing Christmas traditions, our dinner menu once we were nicely tired out and back home was nearly exactly what we had seen posted on the boards outside the Col des Aravis restaurants - smoked salmon, chapon and bûche de Noël with a little coupe de champagne.

We were out in the snow again today much closer to home doing our own post-Christmas exercise with a little tobogganing when the cloud rolled over. It was a good reminder to us that the mountain weather needs respect. Even knowledgeable of a certain walk, the fog can disorient and be dangerous. No worries, though, for us today, as our tobogganing slope was roadside.

I hope that your festive season has been what you were hoping for.

If you would like to listen to the interview that I recorded with Rosemary on The Book Podcast, click here to listen.

If then you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame' please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com or click on the following link for a Kindle copy  here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy

And finally, for more French-inspired stories, hop over to this month's link-up at All About France

Saturday 23 December 2017

Thanks for nothing ... or the invisible man

For a long time, I refused to subscribe to Facebook, Instagram or any social media. I hated the thought of having to put forward a perfect public image, because, no matter how many people tell me that that isn't what happens and that people post themselves warts and all, I don't see it.

We've been back in France for less than two weeks. For those of you who follow this blog, you would already know that our trip here was less than perfect. But, since then you would have seen snow, Christmas markets, skiing, restaurants, delicious-looking French food, nature walks and smiling, happy family pics. Now for the underbelly...four doctors visits, five trips to the chemist, weigh-you-down jet lag, cancelled trips to the CERN facility, which was to be the highlight of my son's first week, postponed social events due to illness and the thought that this year we will be celebrating Christmas as a reduced family troupe of 4, not the raucous extended family gathering of 15 of last year. But, still our FB and Instagram posts look pretty good.

This morning, my husband and I were at the supermarket. I was calm, strolling the aisles, reminiscing fondly about the time a few weeks after our first arrival in France (long before But you are in France, Madame) when my husband, knowing not much French, swiped a massive jar of cornichons (gherkins) off the shelf. With a resounding crash, it ended up in a puddle and it was only thanks to my daughter's robust lack of fear of making mistakes that the whole affair was sorted in her developing French.

He, my husband, on the other hand, was subject this morning to the invisible-man phenomenon...again. I'm non-plussed, but he can be standing in front of the yoghurt, cheese, wine or canned tomato displays, obviously making his selection, when frequently he will be forced aside as someone (usually a woman) will weasel her way into the narrow gap in front of him, to reach for her product. No 'excuse-me', no 'sorry', just a slide, grab and body contact exit. Today, though, two days before Christmas, the aisles were a parking lot of trolleys and trolley-pushers. Caught in a jam, he felt the first nudge from behind, turned, spied the woman behind the offending trolley and turned away, patiently waiting his turn to move forward like those he was jammed up against. He felt the second jab. Same trolley, same woman. Surprised, yes, but still with nowhere possible to go. Third jab from behind the laden trolley and incomprehension. It was very lucky that he is a veeeery patient man, otherwise her Christmas may have gone off the rails just like her trolley was attempting to do to my husband.

Some years ago and still living in France, we were showing friends around our special patch. We went into a gift shop, had a short browse and, with a chorus of overly grateful 'mercis', we turned to exit. "Thanks for nothing", in good-enough English, came back at us. I was horrified, mortified. I was a French devotee, doing all that I could to win people over to my side, taking them out, proud of where I was living and what I was doing. This was a personal affront, one which to this day remains with me and prevents me from ever stepping back into that store.

But - I was also at the doctors this morning - for the third time in 9 days. He may have been taken-aback initially by our presence, but laughed when I asked him as we were packing up to go, if he was "Le Père Noël". Not unkindly, especially when I elaborated that, as he was the village doctor and the village mayor, plus I had seen photos of Father Christmas at the village school that resembled him, that he could feasibly be 'him' too.

Off to the chemist and business concluded, I was asked if I had yet been given a copy of the store's Christmas calendar. "No". But, how lovely. I walked out with my festive tube. A quick chat with the friendly waitress at the coffee shop and it was starting to come back to me. That was what I missed. Not the pushy trolley pusher, not the distrust for any English speaker (who actually spoke French), but a sense of belonging. Living alongside people with whom I could share light-hearted moments, who acknowledged me, accepted my family and I as part of the community and who appreciated that we were there to give, not just to take.

Wherever you are, whatever you do at this time of the year, I wish good things for you.
Thanks for being a part of this virtual community. If you haven't already done so, but would like to read more of our family story, "But you are in France, Madame" here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy

If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Saturday 16 December 2017

I can get satisfaction

 Not quite as snowy but still magical with the twinkle of the Christmas lights.

It was a last minute decision to go up to the market in Thônes. We didn't stop to have breakfast at home as the BMW IBU WORLD CUP BIATHLON is taking place at Le Grand Bornand this weekend in excellent snow and we knew that this would mean heavy traffic on top of the general Saturday ski crowds; so best to be away early in an attempt to get a jump on everyone else.

Talloires is at lake level and snow had fallen here this morning, but it was colder with a much thicker cover just up the hill. Despite the passage of the snow plough, roads were icy and as recently arrived left-hand drivers, we took our time winding up through Bluffy and beyond.

On the way to the market
Due to the snow, the market was smaller than on a regular Saturday in Thônes, and whilst we would normally shop and then stop, today we opted for breakfast first. Tempted to return to a familiar café, we nonetheless headed into an unassuming little place facing the church. The slightly overdone wood and check Savoyard mountain decoration helped us feel at home straight away.  Unsurprisingly (you are in France, Madame), there were no croque-monsieur available despite the 'Croque-monsieur à toute heure' sign, but the coffee and croissant were fine substitutes, the service was friendly and the snow flakes thick and luscious outside. We were the only guests, but the barkeeper, deep in conversation with a friend, headed towards the door to continue talking out of earshot. Clearly still worried about our possible indiscretion, the ladies headed outside to stand in the snow and continue conspiratorially.

With the arrival of another gentleman, it was back to business. Madame la serveuse realised at this point that the music had stopped. Was Monsieur there to sing for her, she called out, laughingly.
Tomme de Savoie


I was too far away to attempt to eavesdrop on this conversation, and too shy to zoom in and get a clear photo, but would have loved to be a part of this tête-à-tête (which then technically would no longer have been a tête-à-tête).



Back in Talloires with blue skies trying to wipe the grey slate clean.

A perfect culmination to a market visit is displaying our produce and making our lunch selection.
Personally, no fancy restaurant necessary, I can get my satisfaction with what you see below. 

PS If you are thinking that there is a lot of cheese on this lunch table, you'd be right. Promise that the wheel of tomme fermière, the log of goats' cheese and the two wide wedges of Comté and Beaufort made it through more than just lunchtime.

Soup, bread, cheese and ham

As always,  if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame', here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy.
If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

My Johnny story

"On a tous en nous quelque chose de Johnny"

"We all have a bit of Johnny in us..." wrote Emmanuel Macron this morning after learning of the death of French rock star Johnny Hallyday.

Even me, from a country far, far away.

I encountered Johnny on my first visit to France as a young, impressionable assistante d'anglais. Everything in that year was new, challenging, exciting and terrifying in equal measures. With no money to my name, buying CDs was out of the question, but I was aware of this icon of French music. I had no real idea whether I was supposed to admire him or not, but listen I did.

My favourite song was Laura, written for his daughter in 1986.

In 2009, it was the turn of my husband, and my three children to return to France with me and prior to our departure from Australia, I introduced them to Johnny.

Today, like so many, I react with sadness and say chapeau Johnny.

PS Johnny himself used these words in relation to Jacques Chirac in 1988. A neat way for Macron to politically salute Monsieur Hallyday.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Then and Now - Cycling France in 1957

Below, the original article that I wrote after a lovely, lengthy email communication with 82 year-old British cyclist, Peter Newman. As you will read, Peter and three mates did a cycling tour of their own in 1957, which crossed paths with the actual Tour de France. They had none of today's tools to assist with their preparation or their day-to-day comfort, making what they did a real exploit in my mind. Read on to discover more, or if it is easier to read the web version;  here it is - web article in France Today

Thank-you to Peter for his indulgence with the clarification of details and the time that he gave to answering my many emails. It was lovely to get to know him over the miles.

As always,  if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame', here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy.
If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Thursday 9 November 2017

From Australia to France with love

The beautiful Annecy Lake

Jodie and her family (herself, her husband and 3 school-aged children) returned to Australia after a six-month period living in the French Alps. I asked her if she would mind answering a few questions about her experience, as often I get questions from Australian families who are interested in long-term stays in France. Happily she didn’t and here is what she had to say!

What was it that prompted you to head to France?

A desire I had to give my children an experience of another country, culture, language and all that that offers. I have had a love affair with France since my younger days as a chalet girl in the French Alps.

Why six-months?

Longer would definitely have been better, but we could not manage this financially, as we were unable to rent out our house back in Sydney. My husband would be returning to work back in Sydney for 6 weeks with our son who was coming back to sit Year 8 end of year exams. Having a teenager meant we wanted to consider his experience and his wishes to complete Year 8 in Australia.

If there were no limitations, what length of time would you have chosen?

Definitely at least 1 year but ideally 2 years. As we only had 6 months, we hit the ground running, so to speak, and made friends and connections within the community of Menthon Saint Bernard quickly. Signing the girls up for extra curricular clubs helped this transition into a new community and also helped their language development.

View from Jodie's kitchen window
How did you choose the village of Menthon-Saint-Bernard near Annecy?

We chose Lake Annecy early on in our quest for the perfect place to spend 6 months in France. As it is a beautiful setting and close to Geneva airport and Italy, it ticked a few boxes. For my husband and son, we needed flexibility and wanted to be near a major airport as a number one priority. Geneva airport is very easy to get to from Annecy. This was also important for visitors coming from either London or Australia. After that it was a matter of which village on the lake? So, we did lots of research and asked many questions of the families we had already met online that lived around the lake. Looking for a home meant we were emailing a lot of locals or foreigners who owned homes locally. They were all very happy to share their knowledge. We also had the priority of wanting to be as close as possible to La Clusaz ski resort for the winter ski season and Menthon-Saint-Bernard was ideally situated for that.

Can you tell us a bit about the preparation phase? I know it was long, but what were some of the things on your to-do list and do you have any pre-departure hints for families who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

Firstly, once the location is decided, find a home, which isn’t always easy for long-term rentals, but we were very lucky we came upon a lovely home that suited our needs.

Next thing is to approach the school. We had a choice of 2 in our village, one was Catholic and small with only 50 children; the other public and much larger. We ended up deciding on the Catholic school, as they were happy for our eldest to attend even though she should have been moving up to high school at her age of 11 years.

Of course, visa application is a process that for a 6-month stay requires a lot of paperwork and everything from bank account details to proof of insurance and accommodation must be thoroughly prepared for the consulate.

One tip I have is to take as few belongings with you as you possibly can. You are not going to the North Pole and pretty much everything that you need can be purchased in France - this was very helpful advice from Catherine Berry that I wish I had followed. Being a hoarder at heart meant I over packed and our shipment back to Sydney 6 months later was probably double what it needed to be!

As far as paperwork, it was helpful to take a file with copies of the children’s immunization certificates, birth certificates and any other medical reports that may be helpful. For example, for us it was necessary to provide a doctor's certificate to the school canteen staff for coeliac disease, as proof of my daughters need for a gluten-free diet. We also had this translated, which was helpful for school holiday camps.

It is also very helpful for the children to take French lessons prior to departure. Mine started these 5 months before we left and ideally longer would be better. Their teacher in Sydney focused on vocabulary related to meeting and greeting, numbers, seasons, days of the week and school-related words they would come across. I am so pleased we did as I am sure it was all less daunting for them because of this preparation.

You have three school-aged children. Did they attend a local French school?

Our daughters who were aged 9 and 11 at the time we arrived in France attended the local school. Our son of 14 did not enroll in a French school. He had very basic French language and was happy to hang out with his parents discovering the local area. His school back in Sydney was very flexible and gave him generous leave from school. My husband was working from home in Menthon-Saint-Bernard, so my son's school back in Sydney was very understanding that it was important our son join us for this experience of a lifetime. He studied French language from our French home twice a week with a private teacher but did not attend school there.

Can you tell us a bit about the girls' school experience? 

The school experience in France was challenging of course as the girls had very basic French and were not able to make sentences. The school was quite supportive and I was in touch with the teacher each week via email to just check in and see how they were going. We employed a private teacher through the school's recommendation for 2 hours a week in school time and this was very helpful for the girls. By the time we left France the girls were having 3 private lessons a week at their request, as they wanted to improve faster. We also employed a 16-year-old French girl who would help the girls once a week with their homework. This was invaluable!

Preparing the ski jump
You were determined to learn some French before you left for France. How did this help with your transition to French living?

It really helped that I took French lessons before I arrived and like the girls it made it easier to transition. I took weekly lessons for 2 hours a week once we arrived in France and this was essential really as I also needed to improve my French so I was a support for the girls. It was all part of the journey and so rewarding to see the change in one's understanding from month to month.

Autumn in Menthon-Saint-Bernard
 Can you share with us a couple of the most memorable experiences of your time in France? What were the most difficult aspects?

There were so many memorable experiences as it was all so new and different to Australia. 

One I will never forget was the first snowfall in our village and the children getting their skis and ski gear on and making ski jumps in our backyard each day; the Christmas markets in Colmar were like something from a fairytale and these images we will never forget; dog sledding in La Clusaz for my birthday was a dream come true; hiking through the French Alps in Autumn to a refuge for a plat du jour; collecting mushrooms in the woods near our home with French friends and at other times foraging for chestnuts then roasting them on our fire... I could go on and on and on!

There were not many really difficult aspects, aside from the girls having to be resilient and front up to school each and every day when at first they had no idea what was being taught and would have much rather stayed home.

I do remember some challenges like learning to put on snow chains in a blizzard; explaining what coeliac disease was time and again in restaurants and trying to fill the car up with diesel late at night or on the large motorways when petrol stations were closed except for automated purchases and our Australian visa cards were often refused at these machines - panic!

Now that the children are back in Australia, how do they view their French adventure?

They have very fond memories of our time in France and would have been happy to stay had my husband and I decided to; however, they were given a rock star welcome from their friends on their return to Sydney and they are loving that they understand EVERYTHING their teacher says. We are planning a return trip next June for a Summer Camp on the Annecy lake and they are ok with that idea. 

Overall, would you recommend the experience to other families?

Absolutely, I loved every minute of it and miss it daily!!! Go, go go if you can and give this experience to yourself and your children. If things were different and we could have stayed on longer, we would not have hesitated to stay on and enjoy more of the richness and beauty of the French culture, it  would have been an easy decision. We are so grateful for the time we had and none of us will forget this precious experience.

Thanks so much, Jodie. Maybe that has sown a seed for other families!

As always, If you would like to read more of my family story, here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy of 'But you are in France, Madame'.
If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word a day. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Linking for the first time with Faraway Files hosted by Suitcases and Sandcastles

Thursday 5 October 2017


'But you are in France, Madame' in store and online at French Cargo in Sydney

Rosemary Puddy produces and presents The Book Podcast Talking With Australian Women Writers. It was my turn this morning to be interviewed and I'll be sure to let you know when our discussion has aired.

It was fun, although when I'm listening to myself there is every chance that I will be physically or figuratively cringing. I suspect I rambled a bit, and Rosemary's attentive listening encouraged me to talk, and then talk some more. We finished up, but once the microphones were off, more stories came out, including the rawness of living for much of the time in France as a single parent.

A couple of months into our year-long (or 4...) adventure, my husband headed back to Australia. It wasn't supposed to be like that and I remember clearly the solitary drive back from dropping him at the airport. Stopping for fuel, a wave of vulnerability engulfed me. What if I put the wrong fuel in the car? What if my credit card wasn't accepted? What if my French wasn't as good as it needed to be? What if I got lost, or one of the children got sick, or if the heating stopped working, or the car broke down or...

I had no friends, no family, no work or work colleagues, no routines and no 'normal'. I did have three young, dependent children who were counting on me to be all the things that an adult is expected to be. Looking back now, how do I judge myself? Even though on paper, the words foolish and irresponsible come to mind, I will refute this every time. I am proud of our tenacity and our just-keep-going spirit, our sense of adventure and determinedness to take the road less obvious, and am thankful that our children have discovered the joy of thinking differently.

PS If you would like to read more of our family story here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy.
If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Friday 22 September 2017

New Kindle deal for US and UK readers - But you are in France, Madame

But you are in France, Madame by Catherine Berry

Kindle Countdown deals are on again, starting at .99 cents/pence at 8am Friday 22 September - for US and UK customers.

For US readers,  the link is   here
For UK readers, the link is   here

Also available as a print copy on Amazon or Blurb (search by title).

Merci beaucoup and I hope that you enjoy reading about our family adventure living in France.

Friday 8 September 2017

What the hell are we doing?

8 September - Five go to France

Some dates, usually related to stress-inducing health check-ups, make me jittery. This morning, I had nothing medical marked on my calendar, but I was on edge. I took the dog for a long walk and, in my please-don't-recognise-me-and-try-and-say-hello clothing, I marched around the Plateau. By rights, I should have at least registered the view. It is spectacular and the long stretch of beach on one side of the peninsula, the lake on the other and the natural vegetation in between is deserving of at least a glance. But, I trudged on, eyes averted under my brown fisherman's hat.

I only worked out why when I was drying off my hair afterwards. Just over eight years ago, I was standing in front of a different fogged-up mirror doing this same mundane task and somewhat angrily pointed my hairdryer towards the glass. I fully expected it to crack. We had been planning our year in France for years, and nothing, but nothing, was going right. And yet, come September 8 of that same year, five of us, against the odds, went to France.

That's why I was agitated. It was the anniversary of the start of a period in our family life that was unique, special, and to which I return constantly. Not physically, but emotionally.

This morning, one of my girlfriends (thanks, Kylie) shared an article. Despite it being one of those, for me at least, dreaded introspective articles, I read it. Entitled, 'The Difference between Healing and Changing', it didn't go far enough for me to truly appreciate the article, but it did make me stop and think...that, now, back in Australia, I still have not managed to move on from our French life.

Writing 'But you are in France, Madame' was helpful albeit unintentional, and our changed location, where we live, is undoubtedly spectacular, but if I could be heading to the airport right now to start our adventure again, I would.

Coincidentally, this morning, on another doddle around my usual web links, I landed on a winery in Provence, Mirabeau; created by a family of five, who left a busy corporate London life in August 2009, just like us, and headed to France, just like us. Strange how different lives, inspired by the same objectives, are led in parallel.

I console myself by reminding myself that I was in France, Madame, and can be again.

Monday 28 August 2017

My default position...

... is to expect nothing in return. Self-preservation dictates this. I used to send out letters and emails, and leave phone messages and suggested contact times, and then happily await responses. Not so, these days. I am inordinately joyous if an editor replies with a negative, as long as it is still positive.

My most scathing reply to a submitted article was along the lines of ‘we only accept well-researched pieces, not short, bitty ones’. OK, no beating around the bush, even though it did take me a couple of prods to get those few words. Honestly, was the submitted article worthy of such ‘ouch’? Probably. At least, I got something back. But, I’d still be curious to work out how one can be on the job pile one day and dish out such delicacies the next. What is the timeframe for editors and publishers to go from being generous, humble and supportive to condescending and indifferent?

I’d come across this attitude previously, in circles other than publishing. My medical specialists’ secretaries have always been particularly good at giving me the brush off, defending at all costs their partner-by-association superiors and unaware of how much more important kindness and compassion are following unsettling consultations.  

Living in France, I learnt that it was easier to start something expecting a ‘no’. Before attempting to do anything administrative, I’d mentally rehearse all that needed to be said; prepare and sort all the documentation that I figured would need presenting; take a few extra bits of paper for good luck; expect a long wait to be seen and subsequent parking fine; and practice simultaneously clenching and rolling my tongue between my teeth in an attempt to stop the tears that would start to spurt when being told that what I had come to do would not be possible.  

Fortunately, there are still some kind-hearted, generous people out there: Amongst others…established authors (#patricialsands) who started following me on Goodreads when there was not much to follow; fellow Instagrammers and bloggers (#eatlivtravwrite) who chose to buy and review my book despite being sent postboxes full of free ones to review each week; interviewers (#thebookpodcast) who feature known, prize-winning authors…and me; store owners (#frenchcargo, #languagebookcentre) who not only stock my book but promote it enthusiastically; blogger/authors (French word-a-day and An Accidental blog) who listed my book on their sites and did not ask for anything in return and everyone who has purchased our family story 'But you are in France, Madame'. To all of you, 'thank-you'.

...and, if you haven't already purchased my ebook and would like to do so, it would be lovely if you used the link in Mardi Michels article, as it is part of the Amazon affiliate program...just a small way of showing your (and my) appreciation - and it costs you no more. If you would prefer a print copy, then another affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. Again, a purchase here would be so very much appreciated by us both. Merci beaucoup.