Monday, 12 November 2018

Take a chance and do something different (Amazing Annecy - Part Two)


In Amazing Annecy - Part One, we met Fiona and her family. Originally from Melbourne, Fiona took us through their pre-departure preparation (including their choice of visa) and their arrival in Annecy. It had been a long-held dream to move country and experience life differently but their journey was not to be all French fun and laughter. Today you will read, despite major setbacks, of Fiona's bubbly personality and strong optimism, which serve to emphasise the 'doing' - now, not later.


Can you share with us a couple of the most memorable/funny experiences that you have had living in France? 

We arrived in Annecy during the French summer, thinking we would have a couple of months to settle in before school started. However, while it did allow us to explore the region at a beautiful time of year, it was more difficult getting things organised with small kids in tow. For instance, we were trying to buy a car, but we kept turning up at the car yards around 11am, spending ½ hour looking around and waiting for someone to help us, and then, when they finally did, they’d say that it’s too close to lunch time to test drive a car now and to come back after 2pm! All normal here but quite frustrating at the time.

Our kids were not enthused about going to see yet another car yard either. On one particular occasion, Ben said he was tired and sat down on a mat inside the dealership building. We wandered outside to look at some more cars, but before we knew it, the shop had closed and locked its doors - with our son fast asleep inside! We knocked (banged) on the door and rang the phone number but it seemed as though no-one was there and Benjamin was fast asleep on the mat. Eventually, someone heard us, but instead of opening the door for us, they scooped Ben up and carried him to us!

Of course, we have also had many more memorable experiences while living over here. We love being in the Alps and enjoying the mountain sports (downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, cycling, hiking, staying in mountain refuges, rock climbing, etc), and also the lake and water sports when it’s warm (beach picnics, stand-up paddle boarding, wake surfing, rowing, etc). Just writing this it amazes me how much there is to do here - and still lots more we haven’t even tried yet. 

We’ve also had some great side trips to other areas that are so hard to travel to from Australia. Some of our favourites have included Italy (Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, an opera in Verona, etc), Jordan (dead sea, Petra, deserts), Greece, Morocco (camels, desert camping, Souk markets), Netherlands, Croatia, Portugal, Sardinia, Germany, London, and Cambridge.


What have been the most difficult aspects?

By far the most difficult aspect was uncannily similar to your story. In fact, I was gobsmacked when I read your book, first realising how close you were living to us, and then when I learned you’d discovered you had breast cancer while here, I couldn’t believe it. After we’d been living here for about a year, I found a lump in my breast which didn’t seem right. I went to the doctor thinking it would end up being nothing, but after a series of tests, it was confirmed to be breast cancer. After more tests, I also discovered I had thyroid cancer.

As you can imagine, this was a huge shock to me - I was healthy and at 41, I considered myself to be too young for any of this. I was also unsure of what to do - should we abort this French experience and head back to Australia for treatment? Or maybe just go back to Australia short term and then return? Fortunately, some Australian doctor friends of ours had just finished a 6-month sabbatical in Lyon so we sought their advice on the relative comparisons between the two medical systems. We had a discussion over FaceTime with them and came to realise that the two systems are equally good, and also that the treatments were likely to be long. We decided to stay in France.

Navigating the French medical system was challenging at times, but all of the medical staff were extremely helpful and prepared to take the extra time to ensure we properly understood everything. Paul attended all the early appointments with me so that we had two brains to decipher the French. (We now know a lot of French medical terminology I never expected to learn!) I ended up having two surgeries, chemotherapy, and two types of radiation - all of which took about 9 months from the diagnosis.

I was lucky that I handled the treatments quite well without the side-effects being too severe, and we were so lucky to be surrounded by lots of good friends that rallied around. Our families from Australia also helped a lot with my parents coming to spend Christmas with us (our plans to travel to Australia that year had to be cancelled), and Paul’s parents taking our kids on a trip through the UK for their school holidays. Some of my friends also booked trips over to spend time together and cheer me up. It was a hard time but there were lots of silver linings!

 I know that you and your husband have continued to work in France. Can you give us a snapshot of a typical day for the family? 

Paul and I both work from home on different technology businesses. We are lucky that we can do this work remotely which has enabled us to continue living here. Paul mainly works on Powerdiary.com- a practice management system for health professionals, and I’ve started a new business - Actioned.com- a productivity tool for individuals and teams. I also do some coaching for small businesses.

A typical day usually sees us waking around 7am (or earlier if we have a lot of work on). Paul generally gets straight to work in order to overlap with Australian business hours. I’ll usually get the kids ready for the day, do a few chores, then drive them to school. A couple of times a week I go straight to a boot camp class where I get some exercise and mix with others in the neighbourhood. Then I’ll go home and work for the rest of the day until the kids get home. For me, that involves managing my developers (I currently work with two who are both located in Ukraine - so only one-hour time difference), refining the app design, writing content, preparing marketing messages, etc. I’ll also have a few video calls throughout the day. Paul works closely with his team of developers for most of the day and will sometimes go out for a ride with friends in the afternoon, or in winter, go cross-country skiing. 

The afternoons see us picking up the kids and sometimes shuttling them to their various activities (at the moment, that’s piano, gymnastics, trampolining, and art classes). We eat dinner together and then Paul and I generally get back to our computers and work - usually until midnight or later (but I’m trying to change that!). We’re lucky to enjoy our work and usually, it doesn’t actually feel like work!

Wednesdays, there’s no school, but the kids have some activities, and often playdates with friends from school. In winter we try to ski most Wednesday afternoons (it’s only 30 minutes away so really easy to do).

On Friday nights, Paul helps a group of teenagers learn about technology and software, while the kids and I watch a movie at home. For the rest of the weekend, we’re often busy with friends - picnics, bbqs, dinners, or doing activities like boating together, skiing, or hiking - there rarely seems to be a quiet moment!!

Do you have any words of advice for other families who are dreaming of their own French adventure?

The way I look at it, you can either live your life with more of the same, and when you look back it will be hard to distinguish one year from the next. Or, you can take a chance and do something different. Even if it doesn’t work out, chances are it will be memorable! (And chances are it willwork out anyway!)

Moving to France has been one of the best things we’ve done - both individually and as a family. It’s made the bonds between us closer, opened us up to new cultures and ways of thinking, and given us all a much greater appreciation for the world around us. It’s hard to explain many of the cultural differences that we’ve come to appreciate, but we even have a better understanding of Australian culture. It’s hard to see the water you’re swimming in, but being away has given us fresh eyes.

Learning a new language has been challenging for Paul and me, but also something that feels like it must be good for us! Our children are now completely fluent in French, and although they don’t yet realise what an amazing gift this is, I’m sure they will one day!

If you’ve got any inkling to have an experience living in France or somewhere else, I’d strongly encourage you to find a way to make it happen.

Thank-you Fiona for taking the time to answer my questions... and now a personal post-script.

Although we have only connected a few times, Fiona has always tried to reach out and help push me onwards from my cancer, which I have found very hard to do. Although I am sharing her French story here as part of my 'Australians in France' series, there is definitely a secondary theme: that of support, friendship and understanding when life throws you a curve ball. There is no doubt in my mind that she is a very special person.

For our French story - Kindle or print - click here But you are in France, Madame 


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Missed opportunity

Closed due to a lack of water

It has been a hard year in Australia for farmers, and western Queensland has been particularly touched. To me, a city girl, one rainfall this year, and that back in March, seems bewildering, yet this was the reality for some. Water restrictions in past years have reduced the length of my showers and elongated our evening routine as my husband and I set about transferring our children's bathwater, one bucket at a time, onto our garden. In those years, the lawn and the car both got browner and talk turned to re-designing gardens with drought-resistant plants. These inconveniences are almost embarrassing to divulge when compared to the struggle of trying to keep stock alive and crops growing without water.

It seems, though, that as well as a good bit of luck, the thing that gets most farmers through these difficult times is a positive attitude and a knowledge that, even separated by hundreds of kilometres as they often are, they are part of a strong community.

I was delighted, therefore, to learn of a project that recounted- no- more than that, celebrated the lives of some of these farmers. And, I was even more delighted to learn that the book, as that was what the project became, highlighted the strength, determination and courage of women farmers.

Unfortunately, this was short-lived when I saw the title of the publication. Cattlemen, it could be argued, refers to both women and men, like actor covers actors and actresses of yore. But, 'Cattlemen in Pearls' - that, to me is just wrong. It reduces, again, the exploits of women to something superficial. I am an admirer of Australia's former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop. In a recent speech, she said what this title makes me feel "if you're trying to be a man, it's a waste of a woman". The book, a brilliant opportunity to inspire and educate, leads off, instead, by representing competent Australian women as dressed-up men.

Low levels in the Annecy Lake
The Annecy Lake suffered in the very hot last summer and is at its lowest level for 70 years. The edge of the lake near Annecy looks like a sandy beach, with boats and pedalos for hire lying on their sides, families strolling in spots where normally they would be swimming and a drop in the water level of between 60 and 70 cm in places.

How to remain optimistic when things don't seem to be normal is a challenge. Sometimes, I agree, getting dressed up and going out is a good antidote to worrying. But, I can assure you, if I owned any, that it would not be by donning my pearls that I would be expressing my womanhood.

In good times at the Annecy Lake

Our French story, "But you are in France, Madame' available here






Sunday, 28 October 2018

Amazing Annecy - Part One

What is it about France that attracts? Why do so many Australians feel such a connection to France, and why do so many push convention aside for a chance to experience first-hand what French living is all about?

In my occasional series on Australians in France, we have already met Jodie, Tahnee and Meredith, all with very different, but cherished, French stories. They go some way to answering these questions.

Today, I'd like you to meet Fiona and her family in the first slice of a two-part interview.

Fiona, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. You are originally from Melbourne but have been living for several years now in Annecy in the French Alps. Can you tell us a bit about your family and what it was that prompted you all to head to France?  

For us, moving to France is a good example of what can happen when you set an intention to do something. My husband, Paul, and I got together when we were quite young and after our university years, a lot of our friends went to live in London or took off on a year backpacking around Europe. By then, we were already immersed in building a business and couldn’t possibly leave for more than a few weeks. But at that time, before we were married or had children, we decided that when we had children of primary school age, we would go and live in either France or Italy for a year.

Having planted that seed of an idea, we kept it in mind and with our youngest child about to start school, we did a 2-week recce trip to Annecy and fell in love with the place. Paul was running a business with his brother but was primarily working online with a team of developers from around the globe, so he knew his work would be portable. On the other hand, I was running a different business (WordOfMouth.com.au) and, along with my co-founder, we were managing an office full of people. At that stage, my partner and I had been working on the business for 9 years and after some deep thinking and conversations, we decided to sell. A few months later, the business was acquired, and we started putting the wheels in motion to move to the other side of the globe.


To undertake a trip such as yours there must have been a fair amount of preparation? What were some of the things on your pre-departure to-do list and do you have any hints for families who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

There was a lot of preparation in terms of packing up our house, putting our affairs in order, selling our cars and various other things, and getting our house ready to rent, but for us, the hardest part was getting our visas. Neither of us had European nationality and while we knew we could easily get a one-year visa, we wanted the option to stay for longer. Eventually, after reading through all the options, we decided to apply for the “Competences et Talents” visa, a 3-year, renewable visa. We were unsure as the lawyers we were talking with strongly advised against this, saying that they’d never seen this type approved. But we seemed to tick the criteria, so we decided to apply ourselves. We were very nervous about whether this would be successful so put a lot of effort into our application. Then, Paul had to fly to Sydney to present our case - but fortunately, it worked, and we were granted the visa. It shows that the professional advice you receive is not always to be relied on!

How did you end up choosing Annecy and how long did you set off for?

Our very initial thought was to spend one year in France, but as we realised the logistics of packing everything up, we questioned why we should restrict ourselves to just one year. So we left with the intention of spending “a few years” in France. (It’s now been 3 and we’re still loving it here!)

Similarly, we initially thought to find a really small town in rural France. But then, we were driving through a very rural area of Victoria on the way back from a camping trip and we realised that we’d never live in such a tiny town in Australia, so why should we do that in France?

We still didn’t know where to live though so we started asking our friends for advice. We had a few criteria we were hoping to meet… somewhere near ski fields, near a large airport and a town that was not too big, and not too small. We have a lot of friends that are keen cyclists and several of those suggested Annecy. This area meets all those criteria and more! In fact, one of my favourite things is living on the lake.

You have two children. How easily have they made the transition into French living? Can you tell us a bit about their experiences of school, making friends, adjusting to new routines, food etc? 

We were worried about how our children would go, but like most people seem to say, this turned out to be nothing to worry about at all. Our daughter, Bianca was 7 years old and our son, Benjamin was 5 (almost 6). We’d tried to expose them to a bit of French language, but it was very difficult to do this from Australia and they (understandably) were not particularly interested. 

After a few months of school here, they were speaking French comfortably. Even the transition period was not too bad - there were never any tears or protests about going to school as I’d expected. We did notice that they were extremely tired though and it was a good thing there was no school on Wednesdays as after two days, they needed some recovery time. 

As I recall, Benjamin had decided that he “wasn’t going to learn French” so after a month or so of school, I asked him how he was going with the French. He replied saying that he still wasn’t learning French, but it was ok because his teacher was now speaking a lot more English. This puzzled us for a moment, but then we realised that his teacher was definitely not speaking English, but he was understanding her speaking French - so in his mind it was English!!

Before leaving, we also wondered whether we would have any friends or whether we’d just have to get used to our own company all the time! However, as it turned out, there are a lot of expats living in this region and very quickly, we were surrounded by great groups of interesting people. Of course, our intention was also to mix with French people, and we’ve now got some great friends through the school, and also through the first Airbnb that we rented.

In Part Two, Fiona shares a personal story. A must-read for those of you who have been thinking, dreaming, talking about your next step.
Until then. Thank-you Fiona.

And, of course, another French story for you ...ours... 'But you are in France, Madame'. Here for your Kindle or as a print copy.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Loud and clear but not always obvious

"It is really well hidden."

(Quizzical smile)

"Our hide-and-seek puzzle for the next guests."

"Ah, got you." (Broad smile from hotel receptionist)

We were in Hobart for a business and (mostly) pleasure trip and had just checked in to our beautiful, barn-like art hotel with port views when I heard a gentle beeping. I tracked it down to somewhere near the safe in the cupboard next to the bar fridge... just before it stopped.

Later that evening - same, same - and then silence.


The next morning, at our third episode of short-lived but persistent beeping, I rang down to reception and a handyman came up to investigate. It was surmised that the safe's battery was going flat and was replaced expediently.

Thus it was that when the, by now familiar, sound started up again the second morning, I acted quickly. My husband was even quicker and with his never-go-anywhere-without-it headlamp in place scrutinised the interior of the safe. Nothing. Around the safe, under the safe, on top of the safe. Nothing. And still it beeped. Not one to give up, my husband lay on the floor, contorted himself into a skinny L-shape and peered into the small gap between the wall and the safe. Nothing...until...

"Bingo". (Delayed, but triumphant)

Any guesses as to what he found and where?

Perhaps it was a message. I feel like I am constantly looking for my next challenge/direction/focus. Is it already beeping at me loudly and clearly but I just can't see it for looking?

And, no, we didn't really leave the next guests a similar challenge - but we did think about it.

Hobart, by the way, is well worth a visit, as is Chez Moi French Style in Liverpool St, my newest stockist  of 'But you are in France, Madame'. Also available for your Kindle here








Monday, 15 October 2018

How did that happen!

Burgundian buddies
Last week, in a café alongside an ex-Prime Minister, I met Ali in Sydney. Some would say that was not a surprising feat, given that we currently have a rather large range of living Australian PMs to choose from. But, the main event for me was not a question of patriotism, more incredulity at the how and why that had brought Ali and I together. France, possibly?

Uh huh, but more specifically, the cover of my book.

You see, Ali, originally from the UK, now living in New Zealand, also owns a house in France...in Burgundy... in Noyers-sur-Serein... in the street... on my book's cover.

Somehow, this picture of her street came to her attention, and across time-zones and countries we connected, first by good old-fashioned social media and secondly, in person. I still can't quite believe that Ali's house is on my book.

A couple of day's ago, another beep (look left) brought to my attention an Instagram message. 'But you are in France, Madame' had done a fine job of saving someone from a Sunday washing day.

I ask myself frequently why these wonderful interactions keep on happening. I guess because people are basically good; happy to share the joys, dream the possibilities and champion the successes of others. Wow, that is worth highlighting and celebrating.

**For Kindle or print copies of our French story, 'But you are in France, Madame', click here ***










 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

We are here to help you


And they were!

Twice, in fact, and from a distance.

In light of our difficulties with everything administrative whilst living in France, I felt almost foolish sending a document from Australia to France, asking for it to be dealt with and sent back to me. I agree that this sounds possible, even perplexingly easy but I was supposed to include a stamped (French of course) self-addressed envelope. How, when living abroad does one do that? The kind lady at the Australia Post office did not know and I was sure that FedEx representatives would not be inclined to hang around until such time as my document appeared on the top of an in-tray in an office (which I was not even sure was the right one) and was handed back to them. So, what to do?

Send it off anyway, and take the path of lowest expectation. This was our modus operandi in France, too. After all, if you expect nothing then you can't be disappointed and you get a wonderful opportunity to celebrate if something actually goes right.

I marked my envelope send-off date in my diary and put a note to myself for two weeks thereafter to remind myself to think again of the problem, hoping that in the meantime, another solution might have waltzed into view. And, it did. In the form of a rain-soaked, soggy envelope bearing a recognisable (mine) scrawl. I was all happiness and hope. Delicately, in light of the sogginess, I tore it open.

Nous avons le regret de vous informer qu'il n' a pas été possible de ...pour les raisons suivantes

Right. Not really there to help after all.

But, wait. What was the reason that I was not able to receive help? According to my personalised letter, sent in my un-stamped envelope, it wasn't needed.

I still can't believe (but am thankful) that my un-paid-for envelope was kindly sent back. The problem is I now have to take this French letter to the Italian authorities who asked me for it in the first place and tell them that the French government told me that it was not. Not sure that that is going to work in any language, with or without postage.

Wish me luck.

**For Kindle or print copies of our French story, 'But you are in France, Madame', click here ***The link will take you to the .com store, with a clickable link on the page to the store of your country.*


Thursday, 27 September 2018

Aix marks the spot - Part Three


For those of you who have enjoyed Part One and Part Two of Meredith's French adventure, here is the final chapter (of the blog story, but not altogether...as you will read).

Can you share with us a couple of the most memorable/funny experiences of your time in France? What were the most difficult aspects?

Because I had an English passport, I was allowed to live and work in the EEC, however, my husband needed to apply for a ‘carte de séjour’, the right to reside.  We had a wonderful time with the French bureaucracy in Aix and when they told me Colin had to go to Marseille, in person, and get it there, Colin simply didn’t believe me.

We decided to book in to a hotel in Marseille, despite the fact that Marseille was only 25 minutes away.  We had heard horror stories about having to line up early in the morning, so the afternoon before we walked down to the Préfecture to make sure we knew where he had to go.  We finally found the destination in some back street, deep in the city of Marseille. I am sure you are all aware of the French reputation for ‘grèves’ (strikes), and much to our dismay, Marseille was in the grip of a massive garbage strike. The city was literally stinking.


On arrival, we noticed some people were already queuing.  We approached one African-looking person and asked if we were in the right place.  He was very helpful, confirming that we were, in fact, at the correct destination. He was already in the line for the following day and said that he would be happy to mind Colin’s spot! How lucky were we?

So, off Colin went at 6.30am in the freezing cold, through the stinking garbage to arrive with coffee and
croissants for the kind man who had spent the night on the street, holding his spot in the line from the day before.

We were the lucky ones. Only one hour later Colin was the proud owner of a five year ‘carte de séjour’ (right to live). I doubt anybody else in the queue would have had the same success. It was worth its weight in gold for our kids to see all the other people from different countries, queued a mile long, desperate to get permission to live in France. I only hope our kids appreciated how lucky they truly were.

This next little ‘histoire’ is for all the coffee addicts:
The French take their culture and their cuisine very seriously, but given that Aix is a very international city, it is natural that some coffee shops would also sell take-away coffee.  But there are limits and when an English woman got on a local bus with her takeaway coffee, the bus driver demanded:

“Madame, descendez de mon bus!”.  (Madame, GET OFF MY BUS!)
Nothing like insulting the bus driver for bringing a takeaway coffee on his bus.
Be Warned!  Take some time out and don’t rush your coffee!

Part of going to live in another country is being open to trying new things.  I had always wanted to dance salsa, so I signed up for salsa classes and my husband decided to come too.  Towards the end of the year our teacher started teaching us a routine that she wanted us to perform at the end of year ‘spectac’ (show). Of course, there was no way my husband was going to dance a salsa routine on stage, so I signed up ‘toute seul’ (alone).  In the end, the teacher managed to talk him into it. The curtain came up, and front of stage we did our 3-minute sexy salsa routine with 5 other couples in front of 300 people, including the kids.


You couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.  He turned to me and said:

“If you’d told me I was going to dance the salsa on stage in France in front of 300 people, I would never have believed you!”

Therefore, my advice would be, never say never.  Just embrace every opportunity and see where it leads you.


Did I find anything difficult?

Some of you might find this story amusing, but I can assure you my husband took a while to appreciate the irony.

Finding a suitable place to live is no easy task. Colin had sent me over on a reconnaissance trip three months before we were to leave, and he gave me an exact brief.

“I would like a four-bedroom house and pool on an acre of land with spare rooms for visitors.  I would like an open fire to lounge around, a large kitchen so I can shop at the local markets and cook delicious meals each night and all within walking distance to the local bar where I can have my coffee in the morning, my pastis in the afternoon and read Le Journal."

It sounded like a perfectly reasonable brief to me.

However, it became apparent almost immediately I touched down in Aix-en-Provence that I was going to have a hard time fulfilling his dreams.  Aix-en-Provence was not a small French village; it was an energetic university town with a population of over 160,000 people.

So, with some reservation, I set about finding the house of Colin’s dreams.  I imagine it was like looking for the perfect man on RSVP, systematically crossing off every listing you look at. The fact was that nothing remotely resembled what Colin had in mind. Not only were these sorts of houses in the middle of nowhere, they had no charm, they were ridiculously expensive and the owners expected you to vacate during July and August so they could rent them out for more money.

However, on my second-to-last day in Aix, I was introduced, by chance, to a French lady who suggested I contact an agent she knew.

“I don’t have anything suitable, but I do have a very charming cottage in the middle of a vineyard. It’s called La Petite Maison. It is very small", she told me, somewhat apologetically.

The next day I found myself on a dirt driveway with lush vineyards on either side leading up to a magnificent house, just like the one my husband, I am sure, had dreamt of.  For the first time during my two week visit I really felt like I was in the south of France. It was picture postcard and I was so mesmerised by my surroundings that I completely missed the fact that the woman standing at my side was pointing...to a tiny cottage on my left.


The real estate agent opened the door to reveal a very cosy, 62-metre-squared, fully furnished cottage with sliding doors to a huge terrace, only metres from a vineyard, that seemed to go forever.  I fell in love immediately.  And when one falls in love, it is only natural to completely gloss over the minor imperfections associated with one’s love.

“It is very small isn’t it?  But charming, non?” remarked the agent.

I looked around and noted there were two bedrooms separated by a combined lounge living room with an open fire.  I recalled Colin really wanted an open fire and conveniently forgot he had also specified four bedrooms and a pool.  There was a tiny kitchen with a bar fridge and it came with unlimited wood for the fire. It was already connected to wi-fi and we didn’t even have to move out for two months in summer.  After all, Colin had requested land, and voilà, I’d found a house on a vineyard with a view to die for.  Surely, he would be thrilled.

La Petite Maison had our name on it.

“We’ll take it”, I cried.

And promptly signed a one-year lease before I flew out the next day.



Postscript:  Colin did end up with his pool, but I’m afraid it was one of those blow up backyard versions…

Back now in Australia, what do you miss the most? How do the children view their French adventure? Have you visited France since your return to Australia? Do you have any long-term French plans?

Probably the thing one misses most is being so close to everything.  We travelled at every opportunity, visiting Egypt, England, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and many other places. You just can’t do that from Australia.

The children settled straight back in.  Kids are generally very adaptable and if the parents are relaxed, the kids are too. They loved their time in France but were very happy to come back to Australia. We return to Aix regularly and continue the connection. For me, it feels like a second home.

In fact, I love the area so much I have joined forces with a company called On The Tee Travel to create and host some exciting ‘Golf Getaways’ to Provence', The Riviera and even Mallorca, Spain.  I hope to extend to Bordeaux and other parts of France going forward.

Combining my love of France with my obsession for Golf is my ultimate dream job.

When we were living there a friend gave me a lovely little olive tree in a pot and, before leaving, I asked our landlord if I could plant it in his oliveraie (olive grove) of 200 trees out the back. He happily agreed.

It is now huge and I visit it every time I go back.  I love that I own my own olive tree in the South of France! How cool is that?

Overall, would you recommend the experience to other families?

I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Giving your children an experience of living abroad, especially in a place like France, is such a gift.  I am sure my boys will fully appreciate it when they are older.

I truly believe that taking people out of their comfort zones empowers them with greater life skills. I have no doubt that it was the best thing we ever did.

Thanks so much, Meredith. Your energy and positive attitude shine through and no doubt contributed in no small measure to the success of your family's adventure. Best of luck with On The Tee. I'm afraid our journeys by necessity part at that point as my past experience with golf was not note-worthy⏤ except perhaps to the members who, from the clubhouse, witnessed my step-up-and-thwack-like-a-hockey-ball drive, which propelled the divot spectacularly further than the ball.

***A reminder to US readers that the latest Kindle deal for 'But you are in France, Madame' finishes today.***


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Like a version

Pyjama-clad with coffee brewing -  this morning's view

There was no alternative but to go shopping yet again. We could almost see the grins on our Australian friends' faces, as they would email slyly from a safe distance on the other side of the world, 'what are you and hubby doing all day?’ They would have been disappointed to hear the truth. For a long time our days were most unromantically consumed with shopping, waiting in queues to try and solve our telephone or Internet or transport or banking problems and ferrying the children to and from school four times a day. In particular we were struggling with getting a ‘justificatif de domicile’. This was something that confirmed that we had a fixed address and we needed it in order to open a bank account and get a RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire or chit with our bank account details). We needed the RIB to give to the car insurance company and we needed the car insurance before we could collect the second-hand car that we had far too quickly paid a large deposit on. It was a frustrating circular conundrum.

That first perfect French morning tea in the park-like gardens of our little wooden home had been replaced by treks out to the nearest McDonald’s hamburger store. Neither my husband or I were lovers of the food but they had free Wi-Fi. We would order coffee, which was surprisingly drinkable and affordable, and work hard through our list of things to do. Sometimes if we didn’t have a lot of things to research we would just sit in the car park outside the store for a few minutes and hook into the network from there. Of course it felt wrong. We had gone to France for the family-run village cafés with atmosphere-inducing French background music and where the menus would reflect the seasonal produce; not fast food, bright lighting and English pop songs.

On one such visit a sweet-sounding song came onto the radio blaring through the loudspeaker. It was soothing and I was a bit pent up with coping with our new life so I stopped what I was doing and leaned back momentarily on my bench to let the words flow over me. “La, di dah di dah, fuck you, la di dah di dah”. My head jerked up and I looked at my husband. “Did she really just sing what I think she sang?” I asked. How appropriate. Lily Allen was singing for us and sweetly saying what we felt like yelling out loud every time we were told that what we desperately needed to do was not possible. I felt quite elated. Somebody out there understood what we were going through and I found myself humming her tune frequently. I am not good at remembering words to songs, but in this case I only needed to know two. (excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame')

This morning, my view was different; literally and figuratively. Standing in my pyjamas, listening to the cockatoos and kookaburras (and the golf course lawn mower), I was on familiar, comfortable territory; making my own coffee and choosing my own music. But, something was the same. Lily Allen was back in contact.

Friday mornings on Triple J radio is a bit of a weekly personal highlight (please don't judge). The morning crew of Ben and Liam invite musicians to chat on air before performing one of their own songs plus a cover. Cleverly named 'Like a version', I have never heard a bad segment. Lily's radio time with the hosts this morning was no different. She performed a rather melancholic, stripped-back track, 'Family Man' from her newest album and an equally soft and evocative version of 'Deep End' by an unknown-to-me artist, Lykke Li.

Her voice took me back to France. I could see myself bunkered down in a little McDonald's booth with my husband, felt the pressure of not knowing how things should be done, recalled the precariousness of staggering forward trying not to alarm our children with my lack of control, the solitude of knowing no-one and the complete uncertainty of whether we had done the right thing in heading to France.



I know what happened next. And, this is what gave this morning's melancholy a beauty. You see, difficult does not only make for bad memories.

I will leave you today with a newspaper extract. Here you will read that a self-published, Amazon-only distributed book has made it onto the long-list for the Renaudot Prize, a highly valued French literary prize - and the reaction of one bookseller.

She is highly indignant and, taking the opportunity to generalise, makes it clear that from her perspective, Amazon is a menace. As for me, I'd rather that bookstores just said 'yes' to my book without having to loan them my third born. I know, too, that readers love a bargain, so much so that even .99c is sometimes too high - which for those who have laboured in the production (authors) is hard to swallow. Not all groups can be pleased simultaneously, and as this is a competition, it makes sense to simply judge the book by its story...and whilst we are addressing the subject, maybe even acknowledge that Indie authors aren't by definition pariahs of the literary world.

Kindle copies of 'But you are in France, Madame' available here
Kindle deal for US readers running all week. Many thanks for your interest and support.











Thursday, 13 September 2018

Great. You're famous. Now, let's go.

"Great. You're famous. Now let's go."

No, not me, but overhead yesterday.


My husband and I were on our way to Canberra where I was to speak at the Alliance Française. As usual, an event like this took a fair bit of behind-the-scenes preparation, not the least of which was packing for our 15-year-old son who was to stay overnight at a mate's place. Should I have let him pack for himself? Most definitely, but...clean socks - meh, two school shirts? (oh, one for today and one for tomorrow), name on trumpet (but I won't lose it...mmm). Loveable, loving and loved, by me, capable of indulgently tolerating the not-so-niceties of his teenage years. Other Mums - let's just say, I was taking precautions.

But, back to my eavesdropping en route...We had stopped for lunch and an obligatory browse up and down the main street of the country town. I read a blog recently, written by a French visitor to Australia, where the main streets of non-big-city destinations were described as flat, colourless, lacking interest and rather run-down. With the exception of the shop outside of which I was window licking*, she may have a point. This shop was bright, attractive and filled with gorgeous fashion creations of decades past. And, apparently, these had belonged to my female pavement companion.

"Look. In the window. My dresses!"
"Great. You're famous. Now, let's go," replied her male friend.

I love moments like these. They make me laugh, they make me reflect and I love bringing them up in conversation as they invariably lead to shared stories.

My author talks are like this too. They are not always big affairs; after all, I'm an incognito in the literary world, but those who come, do so to listen to our story and share their own. I meet travellers, mothers and fathers who are contemplating their next move, students who are garnering the courage to study overseas in a foreign language, readers, teachers, language lovers and, as was the case, with last night's event organiser, Elodie, French students, here in Australia, to explore the world down-under.

Let's shop. Paris, not said country town.
Despite our exchanges being warm, light-hearted and friendly, Elodie and I spoke in French, politely using the 'vous' form. It struck me that even after all these years of living and speaking French, this cultural difference still sets me apart. I wanted constantly to use the 'tu' form. Despite my comparatively advanced senior years, I didn't feel any hierarchical need for distance, my instinct was for a rapprochement and I felt a degree of discomfort with my inability to quickly broker the gap between stranger and acquaintance.

I've just returned from a meeting of a different kind. There, I wasn't expecting a reception in French. I got it, though, and it was diffident, officious and remarkable coming from the first point of contact in the organisation. It put me on the back foot, and reminded me yet again, despite how much I know about France and French living, how much I will probably never quite get it. One might say, "But you are in France in Australia, Madame"...

A big thank-you to the Alliance Française de Canberra for your welcome last night, especially to Elodie for helping pave the way for our event. It was lovely to meet you all.

*faire du lèche-vitrines - window-shopping (but literally to do some window licking)
**For Kindle copies of But you are in France, Madame, click here **


Thursday, 6 September 2018

Aix marks the spot - Part Two


In previous blogs, I have introduced you to other Australian families who, like us, have been so drawn to France that they have up-ended their 'normal' and headed there to live. What is interesting is that each of us has a very different story. Of course, there are similarities (from the simple - markets, fresh food, administrative hurdles... to the complex - profound emotions) but our stories - what we have each done, what we hoped to get from our experiences, how long we stayed and where we stayed - have varied quite significantly.

In Part One of Aix marks the spot, we met Sydneysiders Meredith, her husband and their two children as they readied themselves for departure followed by their early experiences in Aix-en-Provence.



Today, in Part Two of 'Aix marks the spot', Meredith relates a funny story, which I enjoyed so much that I thought it was deserving of a Friday blog of its own. 

One of the most amusing things about living in France at that time was the fact that my husband bore an uncanny resemblance, in both age and appearance, to a ‘très connu’ (well known) French policitian, fondly known as DSK.  Dominique Strauss Kahn seemed to acquire more and more notoriety throughout our stay due to  his involvement in several financial and sexual scandals. 

Highly intelligent, charming and sophisticated, DSK was the Head of the International Monetary Fund and was tipped to become the next President of France until a lurid sex scandal turned him into a total pariah.  Even his wife of 20 years threw him out.  His career and political aspirations came to a rather spectacular end on 14 May 2011 when, in high international drama, his Air France plane was stopped on the runway, he was escorted off by the US authorities and arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a New York chambermaid. Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper dubbed him ‘le grand séducteur’ (the Great Seducer).

So, whilst DSK had a monopoly over the world stage and the front cover of all the local french newspapers, for sexual assault and general bad behaviour including orgies and pimping, Colin and I thought nothing about attending the local Set Club for a summer cocktail party.  I was quietly sipping my rosé, chatting with some friends I played tennis with, when friends of their friends started showing up.  I noticed they were laughing and pointing at my husband who was about 15 metres away:

Oh mon dieu… Regarde là-bas!  C’est DSK!”.
(Oh my god.  Look over there.  It’s DSK)

I chimed in :
"En fait, c’est mon mari”. 
(Actually, that’s my husband).

When I walked over to share this with Colin he declared loudly in their general direction:
“Ce n'était pas ma faute. J’ai demandé le service en chambre, c'est tout”.
(It wasn’t my fault, I asked for room service. That’s all”….)


To find out what Meredith is doing these days, head to the following sites. https://www.onthetee.com.au/provenceandluberon/

For Kindle copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', click here

Monday, 27 August 2018

Earn more money...by learning a second language


It's human nature. A good headline grabs our attention.

Take the following...

Why did Personality X have to leave her high-paying job on  (insert name of show)? 

Me pretending to be scandal-pursued Personality X

Oooh...Scandal? Intrigue? No, just foolishness on my part to have been conned into clicking on the article, as it was an ad, pure and simple, for a new product that Personality X was selling.


Is this what I've done to you today? No doubt my blog stats will give me a partial answer. Perhaps this is what we need to do to our secondary students to improve the startlingly low (and declining) numbers studying a second language in Australia? I'm willing to give it a go, but I suspect that they are way too savvy - and also, given that the anniversary of the death of Francoise Dolto has just passed and debate has once again sprung up about the 'enfant roi' in our recent parenting strategies, they may not be at all inclined to take what they may consider as an unnecessary, hard road ahead ..."I only need English. The whole world speaks English", I hear them say.

Hold on a minute. Give me a chance to convince you. Consider the new improved language-learning you* who can

  • tune out noise more easily
  • see things with a different perspective
  • make sharper judgement calls
  • have a better memory
  • focus better in a crowd
  • have improved mental well-being
  • be a better problem solver
  • have superior listening skills
  • multitask masterfully

AND,

... wait for it...you can EARN MORE MONEY.

Plus, my dear teenagers, these benefits are for life - they don't just evaporate as quickly as the proud glow of making it through your final school exams; they may actually provide you with resistance to the onset of Alzheimer's or dementia. OK, that as a clincher is probably not going to work.



I had a blog post going round and round in my head last night. Eventually, in order to get some sleep, I had to get up and jot down some notes. It was vaguely centred around the differences between French and Australian education, and was probably prompted by my son's enthusiastic description of his last Friday's Maths class. (Haha says the teacher in me, the choice of Friday afternoon was not a coincidence.)

His class had been taken to the sports oval where, along with another class, they had been asked to make a straight line. Then, representing an angle corresponding to their position in the line (my son was number 66), they were to work out the sine of their particular angle and walk to this spot along an imaginary y-axis. A lovely flowing sine curve (and the possibility that he will remember the value of sin 66 for a long time) was the result. Woohoo - a great lesson from his perspective. Why? Because it was physical and visual but also different and communal.

How, though, did my son's description of his Maths class lead me to thinking about language learning? Some might argue that most things do. The thing is that headline-grabbing subject descriptors, or promises of future success are not enough to convince high-school students that they should take a particular subject. No doubt, the bells and whistles do help, but a teacher (like my son's Maths teacher on Friday) who is not only knowledgeable, but passionate, motivating and inspired to change things around according to the particular group of students that she or he has is, for me, the biggest factor in student success.

And this is where I am brought back to France and French education; it is true that language learning there is viewed as a significant plus and, from my admittedly limited experience, the expected level of the foreign languages taught is high (and higher than in Australia), but the students remain lacking in confidence and the teaching is often rigid and uncompromising.

Imagine if, in Australia, we could find some of the discipline (subject matter) attention and importance attributed to languages as per the French approach to language learning and if, in France, the language classes could be more exciting, student-centred and communicatively (less grammatically) oriented.

Who knows, we might then be speaking each other's languages.

* full article here   

PS  For more, take a look at this TED talk (where language changes your perspective) 
http://bit.ly/2J6QI3H

*** I wrote about our family's French adventure in 'But you are in France, Madame',  click on the following link for a Kindle  or a print copy


Monday, 20 August 2018

Aix marks the spot - Part One


In previous blogs, I have introduced you to other Australian families who, like us, have been so drawn to France that they have up-ended their 'normal' and headed there to live. What is interesting is that each of us has a very different story. Of course, there are similarities (from the simple - markets, fresh food to the complex - profound emotions) but our stories - what we have each done, what we hoped to get from our experiences, how long we stayed and where we stayed - have varied quite significantly.

Today, in Part One of 'Aix marks the spot', we meet Meredith, her husband and their two children who left Sydney for their French life in Aix-en-Provence. 

What was it that prompted you to head to France with your family?  

My husband is a natural cook and had studied catering with the French chefs.  From that day on, he wanted to live in France.  It was all my husband’s idea, although he would say that I made it happen.  

 To undertake a trip such as yours there must have been a fair amount of preparation? What were some of the things on your pre-departure to-do list and do you have any hints for families who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

There is an enormous amount of work that goes into living in another country.  We made our decision to leave Sydney around February 2010 and were on our way 4/5 months later.  My husband had been talking about wanting to live in France for so long that I was sick of hearing about it.  I gave him an ultimatum, that we either go in August 2010 or that he simply never mention it again.

He looked me in the eye and said “Alright, let’s do it”.   
I held out my hand and replied “You have to shake on it”. 
And he did.

We always felt that 1 year would never be enough and assumed 1-3 years would be the probable outcome. The children were 7 and 10 years old when we left and almost 10 and 13 when we returned, two and a half years later. 

So, probably the main piece of advice that I would give to any prospective families wanting a similar sea change is to allow as much time as possible.  It takes most people a year to settle in and the last thing you want to do is to have to turn around and come back.  

Of course, packing up a family and moving to Europe is no easy task.  You just need to make extensive lists and work your way through them. Given that I have a British passport and my husband and I both spoke some French, we had quite an advantage to start with.

I would certainly suggest that anybody thinking of living in France should start learning the language in earnest.  On the other hand,  don’t be put off if you don’t speak French.  Most French speak English and it is relatively easy to get around without it. 


How did you choose where you would live? Did this area live up to your expectations? 

Once we’d decided to move to France, I asked my husband the same question,
"Where do you want to live?".   He looked at me as if I was an ‘imbécile’,
“The south of France, where else would you go?”.  And he was right.

My search began with schools.  We assumed the kids would go to an international school and I could only really find three such schools in the south.  There were two on the Côte d’Azur and one in Aix-en-Provence.  Put simply ‘Aix marked the spot’ and that was where we went.

Aix-en-Provence boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, is 25 minutes from the sea, 3 hours by TGV to Paris and is the gateway to the Luberon valley.  It was no surprise that Aix was voted the most desirable place to live in France by the French!
  
I really didn’t have any expectations.  We were going to live in the South of France and we were going to have a totally different life experience with our kids.
  
Of course, it was extraordinary and the best thing we ever did.

You have two children. How easily did they make the transition into French living? Can you tell us a bit about their experiences of school, making friends, adjusting to new routines, food etc? 

We actually decided to put the kids in the local French school initially, which only lasted 4 months.  My youngest son was struggling with phonetics in English and therefore he was drowning in French.  I was very proud of them both, they never cried.  They just went off every day to school and came home talking about what they had for lunch. That is the best thing ever. The French schools provide a 3-course lunch every day for the kids and it is outstanding.

We quickly decided that having an authentic ‘French’ experience wasn’t as important as having happy children and therefore settled on an ‘International’ experience, moving them to the local International school.  They were ecstatic and loved the change.

They adapted very quickly to their new school and once they had English speaking friends they were very content.  They quickly became connoisseurs of olive oil, cheese and what was the best saucisson at the market.  But they never really embraced going to museums and art galleries, they were far more interested in skiing and climbing trees.


Once settled, what did a typical day look like for you and your husband?

A typical day started with us checking our emails for any work issues back home.  Then we would drive the kids 15 minutes to school stopping on the way back for a morning coffee and a few fresh goods at the market.
  
If it was a Tuesday we would be going direct to the hiking group, a combination of French and international people being led all over Provence to places you would never find on your own.

Two days a week we would go into the centre ville for our French classes.  We only lived 5 kms from town but it was always fun to go into Aix for French lessons followed by a wander around the market and lunch.

We had to work a bit from home but this would normally be followed by walks around the property, a visit to the local Set club for tennis, or an excursion around the region.
We were kid free during the day so we had plenty of time to explore.

And my husband would delight in deciding what he would cook for dinner and then cook something delicious every night.

In Part Two of 'Aix marks the spot', Meredith will share some of their more colourful moments living in France and talks about their eventual return to Australia. 

PS A sneak preview to the continuation of this story is that Meredith loves the area so much that she joined forces with a company called On The Tee Travel to create and host some exciting ‘Golf Getaways’ to Provence, The Riviera and even Mallorca, Spain.  More next time...


Plus...in Part Two, a funny episode related to the following photo will be revealed.

I wrote about our family's French adventure in 'But you are in France, Madame', please contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.

And finally, I am linking this post with #farawayfiles - varied collection of travel stories.