Thursday, 14 June 2018

A pizza-vending machine out here?

Out and about in France, in a small village, not at all on the beaten track, we came across...a roadside pizza-vending machine. We were curious. After all, this wasn't the usual fine, fresh French food that we had grown to love. 
Article in France Today magazine. Would you have stopped to give it a go?


I don’t remember the exact moment that my husband and I decided that we should leave Australia with our three young children and try out France for a year, but I have no difficulty recalling our arrival in France with only one and a half of us speaking French (myself and our six-year-old son) and a burning enthusiasm for our new adventure. We had no family or work to go to, no friends to call on and no knowledge of the place that we had chosen to live (Giez, 22 km from Annecy in the Haute Savoie) and it is an indisputable truth that it was tough, in a gentle sort of way. After all, for each new discovery and surmounted challenge, we not only felt more settled, we also felt proud of what we had achieved, and that is always a good thing.
Alongside the difficult (finding accommodation, buying a car, understanding the school stationery list, driving on the right side of the road (but the wrong for us), doing research without an Internet connection), came the delightful. Our flat, bayside Melbournian suburb had been replaced by mountains; real mountains, not Australian-sized ones, in the middle of which was a lake and a town with canals, old stones, disorder, colourful markets, strange opening hours and different light and smells.
Shopping was no longer a thing to tick of the weekly to-do list. Buying food from the market, queueing at Carrefours or enjoying a stroll around a vide-grenier (village garage sale) became excursions and mostly the children enjoyed them as much as my husband and me. 
Years into our French living (one turned out to not be enough), there is no doubt that the supermarket has lost its novelty, but we still look forward to our market and vide-grenier outings. To know what it is on and where, we take a look at vide-grenier.org. Sometimes, our findings are not altogether expected, as was the case recently.



Monday, 11 June 2018

A Parisian Life - Part Two


I hope that you enjoyed Part One of my interview with Tahnee (@treasuredjourneysin which she talks about the decision to move her family from Australia to Paris for a year and gives many useful pointers regarding the preparation phase of this family adventure. If you missed it, you can find it here.  

In today's blog, Tahnee continues the story. Even though we haven't met, I have so enjoyed hearing about her family's experiences; many of which brought back memories of similar triumphs and struggles for my own family. 


You chose to live in Paris. This sounds very romantic and exotic. I’d love to hear why you chose Paris and some snippets from your Parisian life?

We chose Paris for our love of the city and, yes, it is so very romantic. There is beauty everywhere you look. There’s a village feel in each arrondissement so, even though it is a big city, it can feel intimate too. Every member of my family loves this city and, in my humble opinion, Paris truly is the most beautiful, wonderful, enchanting, interesting, history filled city. I have traveled a bit and Paris always takes my breath away. I never took it for granted, and every day we lived there I would reiterate this to my children. I would say to them as we walked around to breathe it all in and soak in all the beauty. Even in the car we looked at everything, as if it was the first time we were seeing things. Having a sunroof was awesome for being able to look up, too! Paris is everything you read about, every cliché, it is also what you want it to be. I believe that you make it yours, and if you have eyes of appreciation and a spirit of positivity, then the way you view things really reflects what you’re giving out. In effect, we saw Paris as food for our souls, so we were very well fed!

Our decision to move relied heavily on finding the right school for our children. We knew that this could make or break the experience for them. They needed to be happy, as this would be the place that they would spend the majority of their time. I had researched schools in France and, after a very long process of elimination, chose either Lyon or Paris. My husband and I visited both cities in May 2015 on our reconnaissance trip, but when we walked into the school in Paris, we knew instantly that it was the right one for them.

Initially, we were aiming for 18 months away. This we felt was too short a time to put the children into the French system. It would have taken a good six months or longer for them to acquire the language- so they probably wouldn’t have understood most subjects taught. We didn’t want to potentially set them up for failure, as this would have had a negative impact on them emotionally. If we were moving there for a few years, then yes, we would have gone down the road of the French schooling system. Instead, we chose the British school of Paris, where the curriculum was in English, but they were taught French there too. Joining after-school sports clubs where all communication was in French was a good compromise for us. (Although our son’s soccer coach hailed from Manchester, so when he had trouble understanding, some English was spoken!).

I needed a city that could keep me busy during the school day. There is so much to do and see in Paris; one can never be bored there, there is always something new to discover. Even sitting on a park bench and watching the sun change the way the tiles on roofs look, and the buildings reflected in different light, is magical. Something as simple as this made me happy. I didn’t need to be in a museum or shopping: just being there was enough, hearing French spoken, the ambience, just everything about the city made me happy. That said, most days we would set off to discover new areas, and walk the streets. Our compromise after the terrorist attacks, though, was that we drove quite a bit more. We had arrived in October 2015, three-and-a-half weeks before the Paris attacks, and this really shook us up. I was a little hesitant at first to use the metro, as I felt very vulnerable. My thought process was that if something happened and I was stuck underground and couldn’t get to my children, I’d freak out, which made me a little anxious. So we drove a lot and felt more in control. This proved to be invaluable as, rather than traveling underground, we saw where we were going, and really got to know the city quite well. I’d even say we got to know some sneaky side streets!

Going to the markets to buy food, not being allowed to touch produce, but having it being chosen for you wasn’t my greatest joy. You are sternly told off if you touch any fruit or vegetable or pick it up to smell it. I never took to this, as sometimes I would be given produce that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Needless to say, the French all seemed to accept this and waited patiently in long queues to purchase. 

There is a real sense of village life within a big city when you use the local markets. I got to know the vendors quite well, as I bought everything from individual sellers; the fruit and veggie lady, the cheese man, the baker, the butcher, the fishmonger etc, so food shopping was an entertaining time for me and the shopkeepers were all very tolerant of my French.

After some time, it was nice to see people that I knew or recognized on the streets or in shops, and so nice when sales assistants recognised me and made conversation.

With children in school there is a certain routine that you need to adhere to. My husband and I would explore during the day but as soon as school finished we were back to routine: sport training, homework, just like life back in Australia. But nearly every weekend, if there wasn’t any sport on, we travelled. We drove to different cities and loved exploring the beautiful country that we were calling home. We’d involve the kids and ask where they’d like to go, and found by doing this that they had more of an invested interest in where we were going. Our eldest son became quite good at researching nice restaurants to go to as well!

If we weren’t traveling on the weekends, we would go into Paris and once again explore. The kids all had favourite areas and places to go, so they would ask to go to these.

One thing I would laugh at was when tourists would ask me for help, thinking I was French (which I loved). They were almost always relieved to hear me answer them in English!

Life wasn’t all roses though. The French are very good at making simple things hard to achieve and do. In fact they having a saying, for this - 'pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué' (why make it simple when you can make it complicated). Paperwork, no one taking responsibility and passing things onto other people who then refer you back to the person you have just seen, waiting in hospitals whilst all the French people were seen before us even after they arrived after us, plus a heap more interesting times were all a test of our patience. If patience isn’t your thing, you sure learn to get some after living in France.

A major difference between Australia and France is that in France in order to enroll your child in any physical activity, you need a doctor's certificate, stating that your child is fit to play or participate in the activity. I found this quite amusing. So, for every activity, a new certificate was required, and once the year was up, you needed to get another one! Needless to say many trips to our doctor were made for the compulsory fit-to-play slip.

As for swimming lessons - just forget it! I went to the pool to enroll my youngest son. Of course, I was told he needed a doctor's slip. I made an appointment that week and got the slip. Back at the pool, I was asked for the slip. "Yes here it is." Oh, now he needs to have a test. Right. When can we do that? Any day is good and any time. Fabulous. The following week, we presented ourselves for the test. First question - did I have the doctor's slip. "Yes, I am here for the test." "Great."At this point, she phoned through to the instructor, to then inform me that she was sorry but all classes were full! Remember that I mentioned being frustrated with processes? This was just one example.



You have three 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?

My children have always loved Paris, so moving there was met with excitement. Yes, there were many tears when we left home and there was a period of them being unsettled, missing family and friends, missing certain foods from home, missing our dog, and just missing Australia. Certainly, the terror attacks shook them all deeply. Never had I ever had a conversation with them about what they would do if a terrorist entered their school in Australia. But, after the attacks, these were confronting conversations we had to have, and also to give them advice on what to do in the unlikely event of this happening. They were all very scared to begin with, my daughter in particular. She would become so anxious and teary when we were in the city. Slowly they all regained confidence in the city we loved so much. It was a tough lesson in resilience. I said to them “the Parisians aren’t going anywhere, this is their home, and ours, too, now. We need to stay strong and continue living and not let this ruin our time here”. And so this is what we did. We continued our journey.

Once they all made new friends, life for them became very settled. The thing about going to a school where the majority are ex-pats, is that friendships are formed very quickly. Friends become like family, and their school was extremely inviting, inclusive and welcoming. My oldest two children had the privilege of going on school camps: my son to the Hautes-Alpes, south east of France near the Italian border and my daughter to the Ardèche, south of France. Due to the terror attacks, they couldn’t take the train so the school hired coaches and the usual three-hour trip took them eleven hours. They both came back saying the seven-day camp was one of their school highlights, and one-and-a-half years later, they still talk of it fondly.

They also all loved the school refectory! Lunch each day was a cooked meal: a meat, fish or vegetarian option plus salad bar and yoghurts. Lunchtime was a lot longer there, and very social. They shared a meal with their friends and sat and ate all together. My children miss this, as they say here in Australia kids are quick to eat and go off to play. They miss the social aspect of enjoying a nice meal together. I, too, miss not having to worry about lunchboxes! The food in France in general was never a difficulty for the children as they are used to eating a broad variety of cuisines. There was a lot to offer if you looked for good bistros and restaurants, and avoided the typical tourist traps!

My oldest son loves to play soccer. His school team won the championship for soccer playing against many other schools, international as well as French. He also made it to the final 16 boys to be chosen for the Paris St Germain junior training squad. These are memories he will treasure, I’m sure. 

Australian kids are quite sporty in general, with a lot of healthy competition. Whilst never excelling in sport in Australia, my daughter managed to do really well in France. She was the fastest girl swimmer in her year group in France, something she had never achieved in Australia. In fact, she wouldn’t even try to compete in Australia. So her confidence really grew in France, where she also played soccer. She was fortunate to be selected to sing solos in music concerts, participate in drama productions, and play her guitar in music concerts.

The school was co-ed, something that all my children weren’t used to, as they were at single-sex schools in Australia. They all really enjoyed this, and found it balanced things out. My daughter would often have a kick about with the boys at lunch and recess, and my youngest son had an army of girls willing to look after him, which he loved!

When it was time to leave Paris, they were all devastated. They didn’t want to return home. The sadness was heart breaking. Such strong friendships were formed, it was very, very hard to say goodbye. They all asked us not to take them back to Australia, they really wanted to stay in Paris. They had all grown up in different ways, and we were really seeing them start to blossom when it was time to leave. This was such a shame, I felt like we should have stayed for another 6 months (at least!). 

In our next and last conversation (Part Three), I ask Tahnee about some of the funny experiences that they had whilst living in Paris and, now that they are back in Australia, how they view their French adventure. Tahnee also has a few words to say to anybody who might be dreaming of doing something similar. Once again, thank-you Tahnee, for sharing your experiences so generously. 

A bientôt! 
PS If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.





Monday, 4 June 2018

A Parisian Life - Part One


Jardin du Luxembourg

A few blog posts ago, I re-introduced myself and explained that we are an Australian family who lived for several years in France. Back in Australia, and missing France terribly, I started to write about our France. The occasional blogpost on this forum came next and, after much hesitation, I made my first foray onto Facebook. With the tiniest bit of social-media knowledge, uploading photos to Instagram was then not as daunting and I could even admit to having a bit of fun with it.

Of course, I was hoping for some positive business flow-on, but what I had not anticipated was that through the tangle of marketing, superficiality and distance, personal connections could be formed. Many Australians, it seemed, were as curious and passionate about France as my family and I and, since our return, I have been involved in the planning of several family French adventures, including Jodie's, which I shared here.



Today, it is with great pleasure that I introduce another Australian family to you (@treasuredjourneys).  So please, take a seat and enjoy Part One of Tahnee's Parisian story, with many practical details for other families who might be considering, or starting to dream about, their own French adventure.

Tahnee and family


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


The first time I visited France I was 17 years old. Before visiting France, I had always felt a connection to this country (maybe because I was conceived in Paris!). Visiting Paris at 17 years of age really ignited a passion. I fell in love with the city, and it was a place that I would visit many times thereafter.

Before children, my husband and I had made a few trips to Europe and, once we started our family, we continued to travel, taking our children everywhere with us, showing them the world. Before our move to Paris in 2015, our children had visited France a few times, and they, too, felt a real love for France, and in particular Paris.

We have had a few ex-pat friends, who have left the safety of home for the adventures of a new country, and loved the idea of making this happen for ourselves. My husband, though, works for himself, and not being in a large company, we knew that it would be difficult for him to change working locations.

One day in April 2015, on a whim, I asked our children if they would ever like to live in another country. The answer was a very big 'yes'! They then asked where and I suggested France, which made them hugely excited. So, when my husband came home from work, we casually announced to him that we’d all like to move to France. Naturally this came as a surprise and he questioned where this idea had come from. We said to him that we felt like an adventure, we all loved France and thought it was a good idea! 

After taking this in, he was quite open to the idea; the plus side for him was that he could do some business there if he chose to. Immediately, we felt a renewed sense of living, a small fire within us all began to burn brighter. We didn’t want to be passengers on this train of life, we really wanted to live life to the fullest and share experiences together; to leave the safety of home and go to the slightly unknown, to meet new people, understand another culture, travel, explore, and have the children in a new school environment. 

In May 2015, my husband and I visited France for 10 days, where we arranged to view a few schools and get a feel for where we'd like to relocate. Upon returning to Australia, there was no doubt in our minds that it would be Paris. My spoken French was ok, so the language barrier wasn't very daunting for me. I also have family in Monaco, so we liked that we could see them more and if we needed help for anything, they weren't too far away.


Tahnee and her children in Paris

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?

Visas, finding a home to rent, appointing a relocation agent in France, giving notice to the children's schools, making sure all the children’s immunizations were up to date, clearing out our home, selling one car, plus little things like informing our security company of our friend's phone numbers instead of ours, setting up a bank account with HSBC in Australia, but for an account in France...these were just a few things to start with.

In May 2015 we decided to move, and set a departure date in October.  This was a very small time frame to get things done, but with the desire to go we pretty much ran on adrenalin. There was a lot to do. Getting French visas was the biggest hurdle. There was so much paperwork involved. But first, I needed to get an appointment at the French Consulate in Sydney. The online visa application appointments weren’t set very frequently and I would log onto the French Consulate website to find none available. Plus there was no facility to call anyone; it was all done online, which was really frustrating. 

On top of the infrequency of appointments, you are not permitted to book them too far in advance of your departure date. I finally got 5 appointments, one for each member of the family. Yes! Done!  Now to book flights to Sydney for the appointments. Done! But within 2 days of making the appointments, they were cancelled, due to staffing issues in the office. This was incredibly frustrating, as we had booked and paid for flights and accommodation and, as non-Sydney residents, we didn’t have the luxury of just getting the next available appointments, hopefully all one after the other. I did email them to explain our situation. Thankfully, I managed to get a response and we were put near the top of the list for the next available appointments.

We were asked for information at our interviews that wasn’t outlined ANYWHERE on the visa declaration forms. So, being more than thorough would be my advice with this part of the process. I remember being asked for immunization records. This wasn’t on the application when we were applying for the visa, so we had to get our GP to send something through, and when we returned home, we had to send copies as well. On one of our bank statements, only my husband's name was listed. They asked how I would manage financially in France. Of course, I would be supported by my husband, which seemed rather obvious to us. But this assumption wasn’t enough for the interviewer, we had to get a statutory declaration signed by my husband and stating that he would support myself and our children for the duration of our stay.

As we had friends moving into our home to look after it for us, I had to empty our entire house, including cupboards, and remove furniture. This was a big job, but I tackled it room by room so it wasn’t too overwhelming, and started the process months before our departure, so it wasn’t left to the last minute. As simple and as obvious as it sounds, being organised was definitely the key.

We also packed some boxes of essentials that we wanted to use in our day-to-day life in France. The day after our departure, my parents sent these off for us. A company came to our home, weighed our boxes, and took them to be airfreighted for us, which was very economical. They usually arrive between 7 -10 days after they are sent, you get an email telling you what commercial jet they are on, their arrival date and time, and where to go and collect them.

We found a fabulous relocation agency that took care of a lot of the paperwork on the French side. The agency personnel also spoke fluent English, which was very helpful. I had found a home online, but they went and viewed it for us, plus a few others to give us some options. I had spoken with the owner of one house and we face timed so that I could look around. When we were doing this, I saw their car in the garage. As it was what we had been looking to buy once we were there, I asked if he would consider selling it to us too. He said 'yes', so we rented their home and bought their car! It was there waiting for us when we arrived, which was really convenient, as we hit the ground running, so to speak. We could go to the supermarket straight away to buy fresh produce plus everything else that we needed to set up our new French life. 

Our relocation agent helped us to switch the car to our name at the prefecture but, as just one example of the difficulty of everything administrative, we were told cash was fine, yet once we got there we were told payment needed to be made by cheque. So, our agent used her cheque book, as ours hadn’t arrived yet, and we gave her the cash. She also helped buy mobile phones, set up accounts, organise our gas, electricity and water for the home. Her assistance was invaluable.

Three weeks before our departure date, I flew to Paris for eight days to organize the home that we had rented and to buy all the things that we would need upon arrival (pillows, sheets, duvets, towels, soap, all kitchen things, plates, dish cloths, toilet paper...). I washed everything and put it all in our cupboards, ready for us to use when we arrived. This was really helpful, as we felt a little at home straight away. I even had some non-perishable goods in the pantry in case I needed to make something for us to eat upon arrival.

I ordered school uniforms online, so that they would be delivered after our arrival along with organising many, many other little details.

All the work-related business issues, I left up to my husband to organise, including the paperwork and financial requirements.

Phew! We were nearly ready to take off...

In Part Two, we will hear more about the family's day-to-day life in Paris, including how the children managed the transition. 

A bientôt!









Thursday, 17 May 2018

Marque my words


I am not a brand name person. It has never interested me to pay more for, let's say, an item of clothing just because it is populating the populace, might make me popular or, perversely, more easily non-identifiable. I'd rather stand out, or save my money; simple as that.

Perhaps this comes from being a second child. Perhaps it comes from my non-lavish and threadbare childhood where cents counted. Our family was no different to those around me, so, perhaps, it was just the way it was.

My husband, three children and I took one bag for our planned year-long French adventure plus a small back-pack each for our travel items. For the children, these smaller bags were to double as school bags and for me, as a hand bag. As much as possible, I packed with a practical mind. We were going to France, but I was under no illusions as to my capacity to slide gracefully in amongst the fabulously styled French women whom I was expecting to encounter. And, I chose to interpret the gift of a soft, long white scarf and matching gloves from my Melbourne French friends who farewelled me, as concern for my wellbeing in the cold climate of the French Alps rather than a start on a necessary new French wardrobe.

Fortunately, too, the children at 6, 9 and 12 years old were not at all demanding, and were more interested in having a supply of coloured pencils and their parents with them than the latest brand anything.

Used to wearing a school uniform in Australia, they enjoyed the novelty of being able to choose jeans and a jumper for school and were only momentarily bewildered by the need to wear slippers in the French classroom. But, the eminently practical and suitable back packs set aside for their school paraphernalia did set them apart.


What we discovered was that the younger children were either pulling back-friendly 'wheelie' bags - not out of place at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport - or wearing brand items, such as the pleasing four-euro Naf-Naf one (see left) found at our first vide-grenier.


For the collégiennes, gone was the practicality and in was the style. I had forgotten about these little Vanessa Bruno school bag substitutes until last week, and when I saw them in Mosman at Montmartre Concept Store (see right), they brought back a whole host of memories.

My most favourite of which is that they all seemed to be carried identically, and in a very particular way; let's just call it 'the teapot tip'.

I hope you enjoy this musical interlude by legendary Australian group, The Wiggles, by way of explanation and if you haven't come across Jacqui's French Village Diaries, now is a good time to visit as in this entry, Jacqui herself is performing as a little teapot to groups of very appreciative schoolchildren in her role as librarian.

***Copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.***

"I'm a Little Teapot" is an American song describing the heating and pouring of a teapot. The song was originally written by George Harold Sanders and Clarence Z. Kelley and published in 1939



Friday, 4 May 2018

Le Florion Des Moines - a forgotten cheese


The story of the 'Florion Des Moines'. 
The ancestral cheese of Talloires-Montmin

Once upon a time in the fields and meadows of la Tournette above the village of Talloires lived three farming families, each specialising in cheese making - one made the Reblochon, one the Tome and the third, the Florion Des Moines. In the 15th century, tragedy struck Antoine de Charrière, maker of the Florion. Accused of heresy and witchcraft, he was tried and burnt, and with him died the practice of Florion-making. The two other cheese-making families, aghast at this happening, and out of solidarity with their old friend, informed the monks (les moines, who still wished to be provided with their Florion) that they did not know how to make their mythical cheese. Fortunately, the recipe did not disappear altogether as it continued to be passed on through the Comte de Talloires' family, whose ancestors had been working the fields at Casse and at the Chalet de l'Aulp for generations.



To link back to this prestigious past and in celebration of the 1000-year anniversary of the Talloires Abbey, Pierre Comte spoke with specialist cheesemakers from the region; Monsieur Bastard Rosset from Montmin, maker of the Reblochon and Monsieur Alain Michel from Annecy. As a result of this discussion, the three men decided to bring the tradition of the Florion, this important monks' cheese, back to life.

This cheese re-birth will shine a light on the unjustly neglected cheeses of the hillsides on the east bank of the small section of the Annecy Lake. It is true that cheeses from this area are known to have been of quality, but grape growing assumed even greater prominence. The monks, themselves, decided to prioritise grape-growing, being a much more profitable activity than cheesemaking. Given that these days the vines have also disappeared from Talloires Montmin, it is only natural that the cheese should now take its revenge. Thus it was decided that the production of the Florion Des Moines, a cheese of quality from this area should once again take place on site.

If you want to fully appreciate the Florion, be advised that traditionally those from Talloires and Montmin ate it with fresh walnut bread and a good glass of Mondeuse.

Bon appétit!
(photos from Les Fromages d'Alain Michel and translation as recounted above)

As always, copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.







Monday, 16 April 2018

A chat about our French journey

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldjH19EFVGU&feature=youtu.be

The steps: The words - The book - The promotion - The surprises

I have meandered along this path, not altogether blindly, but with only a vague destination, no route map or compass, a very small support crew (my husband) and many passages up dead-ends, steep cliffs, never-ending, unremittingly straight roads, in earshot of the happening parties just out of sight over the next crest.

Thankfully, along the lonely way, people have happened along to say 'hi', including Annette, from A French Collection (above). Both Australian, we connected through my book and her website, discovered that we live only 170 kms apart (not far in Australian terms), have three children each of roughly the same ages and share a somewhat inexplicable attachment to France.

We met up for the first time last week and, after a simple lunch, we sat and chatted in front of the camera. If you are curious, you only need click on the link here, or above, to find out more.

As always, copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.

Lastly, let me say a sincere thank-you to everyone who has been a part of this publishing journey to date; your encouragements and heart-warming appearances at the sidelines have kept me going and have motivated me to see how far we can go.




Monday, 9 April 2018

What to do?



You are right; it is not the sexiest, or most interesting, of photos to lead today's blog. In fact, given all the pretty pictures of France that are out there to entice you, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't make it past a quick glance...just like we nearly didn't make it past the silent sentinels. 

I'm never sure whether it is just us, or whether other families have car-moments when unfamiliarity and indecision turn a happy outing into stressful, white-faced, rapid-fire discussions amongst the 'adults' whilst those in the back become unusually...menacingly...quiet. 

Our first such moment, in the Montpellier underground carpark into which our GPS had unwittingly led us, did not get a photographic record. I was incapable of movement, as I waited for our car to bottom- or top- or side-out at every inconceivably tight turn. Parked, I drained myself out from my seat, through a car-to-car gap the size of our keyhole to gaze in wonder at the big 4x4s neatly aligned nearby.

Time we had a-plenty on our second car-moment, as we rounded a corner on our one-way street and nearly into the metal bollards above, before idling quietly to consider our options. There were no other cars around and, other than backing up along a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone lanes and through the afore-mentioned carpark, we had only one way out; forward. Would we glide quietly into the stubbornly unmoving posts, or perch ourselves atop said obstacles, as they disappeared then re-appeared in an untimely manner? Neither, as it turned out. Our angst was unwarranted and, as we inched forward, the posts slid from view and we exited unscathed.

But everyone knows that two negatives make a positive, right? And, FREE seaside parking offered itself up as proof. Let me know in the comments if you know why?

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.






Sunday, 1 April 2018

Bunny with a message


I sent an email to a girlfriend last week. She lives in Melbourne and we were particularly close when we lived there too. I still consider that we are close, despite the fact that we had had no contact for over a year at that point. 

"Well, well, well", came the reply that afternoon, as she stepped off the plane at Sydney airport.

My Scottish grandmother believed that coincidences like that happen, and that they happen for a reason. 

So, what do I make of cute bunny below?

Do you see the difference with exhibit number 1 above?

Bunny number 2 (below) who hopped off the supermarket shelf and into my daughter's boyfriend's basket ... in Australia ... had successfully worked his incognito magic and was indeed a little French one. 

There is definitely a message in there somewhere.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques!

Stowaway French bunny 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Just about us


I could blame my non-existent recent posts on lack of time. Isn't that what busy (read important) people do? But, I'm not...so I can't. Truthfully, I have many blogs ready and waiting to go, which I'll post after they are written...and if I could find a comedic Youtube sketch portraying the things people do to avoid doing other things, I'd upload it here (please share if you have one up your sleeve).

Instead, given that I received notification that my blog was amongst the Top 100 French blogs*, and some of you reading But you are in France, Madame for the first time would be struggling to get a real sense of what this blog is all about, I thought I'd re-introduce myself.

But is Madame actually in France? Read on...

Australian-born, but French-at-heart, some years ago, I persuaded my husband to come with me on a year-long adventure to France. That one year turned into several, a book, the purchase of a house and an ongoing commitment to a place, a people, a language and a way of life.

Our three children, then aged 6, 9 and 12 came along for the ride. They were willing accomplices; completely uncertain as to what they were signing up for and, despite leaving with only one smallish suitcase each and arriving to no family, no friends, temporary accommodation, a new school system, a new language and new food and routines, they thrived. Naturally, we had our down times, our difficult times, our downright scary times but, now back in Australia, they recognise the wonderful gift that their life in France was to them.

Why France? Je ne sais pas. My first French lesson was in high school at age 12 and hooked I have been since. Could it have been Italy, Germany, Japan, Indonesia if one of these languages had been my compulsory first second-language? Maybe, but I suspect not. School French lessons turned into university studies followed by many fulfilling and happy years teaching the language to secondary pupils.

Why did we choose Annecy? This post of many months ago might help to explain.

Why, if we loved our French life as much as I proclaim, did we return to Australia? For that, you'll probably have to read my book, as it has no easy or short answer. As to our choice of life in France, I have no regrets, only pride that my husband and I did not 'do normal' and that that has given our lives a richness for which we are eternally grateful.

Do we return to France? Yes. As often as work, school and other commitments allow, we return to our second home. Each time, I am fearful that the magic will have dissipated. Each time, I try and not count down with sadness the days until our departure and concentrate instead on loving re-living in France.

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.

*Really not sure about this, and so, unwilling to put you all through unnecessary email bombardment from clicking through to unknown links, I will refrain from pasting the pictorial award.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Whatever you feel, really feel.

Path next to the Pont du Diable


Just over twenty-one years ago, I was toughing it out in a labour ward in Melbourne. My mind was firmly on things other than the traffic, visible through a flimsy curtain. Despite my lack of attention to what was happening outside and the agony of what was happening inside, I burst out laughing. Something had caught my eye.

"Don't take pain, take Panadol*" read the advertising on the side of a bus.

It happened again today - not the childbirth, but the distracted awareness of a passing bus. My mood was a lot more melancholic, as I had just finished walking alone along the beach, watching the waves through the mist of the salt spray and conscious of the noise of the cafés which, like the waves, were pumping, full of couples, families, not-a-care-in-the-world groups of beautiful singles.

"Whatever you feel, really feel."

I have no idea what the ad was for. Here's hoping it wasn't for condoms, as that would be completely ironic in light of my previous story.

But, the words on the bus, whatever they were for, legitimised my state of mind.

Three years ago, my husband, son and I headed back to France to finalise the purchase of our first French home. First, not because we have many, but, because a first, just like the child about to be born above, is memorable. The melancholy came from missing them both - France and the family-life that began at that moment; both of which, in the natural way of things, keep changing, keep me guessing, but perhaps most importantly, keep me feeling.

* Paracetamol-based tablets.



If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

Round, wooden thing that you put cheese on


Should you look inside one of my kitchen cupboards, you'd see a large range of drinking glasses - mostly recognisable as former jam, pickle or Vegemite pots. Open another door and a plastic bag, bulging at the seams, will not launch itself at you, as it has been solidly packed with flimsy supermarket shopping bags, ready for their second and subsequent uses, and wedged against the cupboard hinges. Look closely at my right summer sandal and you might detect the faint marks of the clamps and glue used to reattach the strap to the sole, and if you flick through family photos of a decade ago, you won't see those sandals, but you might see the jumper, jeans or dress that appear in my recent holiday snaps. I am not a hoarder (my children's memorabilia and my teaching books aside), so that's not the reason for such peculiarities. It is; however, one of the reasons that I adore everything about the French vide-grenier.

These joyous community events give pre-loved trash and treasure the opportunity to begin afresh, just like my array of glassware. Up and down village streets on vide-grenier day, I wander, intermittently aware of the friendly banter, good-spirited bargaining, occasional loud-speaker announcement or distant chimes from the cows and goats in the surrounding fields. The excitement does not leave me until I have perused, assessed and walked past each stall, picked up and cradled several items and made eye-contact and subsequent small talk with one or two stallholders, deserving of my attentiveness after a night of minimal sleep and maximum preparation to enable my colourful, visual tableaux.

Unsurprisingly, such events are not as frequent in winter. So, there is no alternative during these months, but to head further afield and discover more beautiful country routes and picturesque hamlets. Hardly a chore, this is exactly what we did recently and which led me right past the subject of today's blog - cheeseboards.

I hadn't paid much attention to the details of our destination. I didn't know the village, but knew that the drive through the Bauges would be possible, as the big dump of snow predicted for the week would not yet have impacted easy circulation. Usually, it is enough to note the name of the village, type it into our GPS and, when within a two-kilometre radius, follow the line of people walking from make-shift carparks to vide-grenier central. This time, we parked in front of the church...easily, which was not a reassuring sign, and, stretching from the drive, looked around. No crowds, no sounds, no tempting hot oil smells from the barquettes de frites.

Avoiding eye-contact with my own tribe,

"I might have got it wrong. Perhaps I misread the date, but let's go for a walk."

It took as long to get dressed - hats, scarves, gloves and jackets - as it did to check out the village. There was a sign on the school fence saying that a case of chickenpox had been confirmed at the école, but, whether directly related to this or not, there was no-one there.

My family are kind. They made no fuss, pretending that this crumbling wall on that ancient barn was an excellent reason for an hour-and-a-half in the car.

After fifteen minutes of sustained, deliberate looking, I turned to my husband,

"What if we were to actually look up the address?"

And, lo and behold, we were in the right village, on the right day, and nearly-the-right place, with fifteen minutes before the event was due to conclude.

We raced back to the car.

It looked promising from the road. With each newly sighted piece of bunting, van and trestle table, my spirits lifted.

Leaping out of the car, not bothering this time with careful dressing, I raced to the first stall, noting that there was a flurry of newspaper at the three alongside. Yikes, they were packing up and I had not even begun my slow browse.

A chipped Ricard jug caught my attention. I'm not opposed to chipped anything, but searching for the price, my eyes slid downwards to a circular piece of pock-marked wood.

"What do you think?"

"Get it", said my husband.

"Mmm, do you really think so?"

"Yes."

Interpreting my cautious decisiveness as a reluctance to pay the price, the stallholder offered me a five-euro reduction.

"Plus the jug?" I asked cheekily.

He nearly went for it, too, but outsmarted me by proffering another, even more battered than the first, and suggesting that I pay for just the more expensive and get the two.

"That's ok. Thanks anyway. Bonne journée, Monsieur."

Grinning happily, I thanked my son who, taking the board from me to carry it back to the car, allowed me to fit in a quick, unencumbered lap of the Méry event.

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.






Tuesday, 6 February 2018

We made it to February 5




We made it to February 5, our day of departure, and against all odds we were ready. Busy until the very last minute and with the pressure of being the only responsible parent, I had no time on that last day to give in to excessive emotion. The children on the other hand cried through the morning, again on the bus home from school and as I turned the key for the last time in our beautiful old wooden door before hiding it under the stone in the corner of the garden bed near the barren wisteria, and taking my seat in the car. This time our suitcases, like us, were well-travelled and worn; this time the excitement of our departure four years previously had been replaced by a dullness, and this time, it was not the rain but the snow, which had stopped falling to make possible our departure, which started falling in earnest the next day. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

It is hard to believe that five whole years have passed since our return to Australia. I look at the photos of the castle above, as we looked at them every day and in all seasons from our balcony in France, and the emotion is still there. I was weary, exhausted actually, from packing up a whole house, three children...our entire French lives. Some items, I sold on the French equivalent of eBay, le bon coin; some things I gave away; I sorted and packed boxes and boxes to be shipped back to Australia; our travel suitcases had to be carefully packed to include items that we would need immediately upon return; utilities had to be cancelled; the house had to be cleaned; friends had to be farewelled and normal everyday cooking, shopping, washing and mothering had to be fitted in, too.

We arrived back early in the morning to a hot summer's day. On the other side of the world, we had been suitably dressed in jeans, jumpers, thick coats and scarves but sweltered uncomfortably through the long customs queues in Sydney. Fragile and smelling less than desirable, we emerged into the Australian sun where underneath the animated chatter of our reunion with my husband we were silenced by the different light intensity and the sounds and smells that were no longer familiar.

The following day, I ventured into an Australian supermarket feeling lost and decidedly out-of-place. I wandered aimlessly picking up, putting down and picking up again a packet of Hot Cross Buns from the shelves, needing the comfort of my favourite bun despite wanting to resist the judiciously placed display for an Easter still far away. To these I added a few items that I thought I could use for making up the long-forgotten-about school lunch boxes, wincing at the copious layers of wrapping that enveloped all of the easy morning options. That was enough, I had to leave. Passing through the checkout, I realized that I only had one little foldable bag with me, a grabbed souvenir from the roadside throwaways on the Tour de France and apologized to the male cashier as I was trying to squash everything into it as quickly as I could. He looked at me and asked kindly if I was ok packing my own bags. For a brief moment, I had no idea what he was talking about and then realized that that was no longer how things were done. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

For many of you who have been following our adventures through this blog, or who have read our story, you will know that the adventure did continue. But, in both directions, I still make mistakes. It takes time before I remember to take our re-usable bags to the supermarket when we return to France, to say 'bonjour' before beginning a conversation, to find the right words once everything is properly back in French, to anticipate the shops shutting at lunchtime, or to hop into the driver's seat on the right side of the car in order to remain on the right side of the road. Despite the passing years, the emotion is still strong. Our last week in France is always hard, as I countdown not only all the jobs that need to be done to restore our house to perfect holiday rental conditions, but the days left to savour morning walks to the bakery, throwing open the shutters to greet the day and the mountains, unashamedly sitting idly by the window watching the snow fall, anticipating the treasures that I will find (not necessarily buy) at the permanent second-hand stores, perusing the lunchtime set menus and knowing that there is no need to schedule further afternoon activities, catching up with old friends, walking and skiing amidst the grandeur of nature...

To finish, let me share some village news. Jean Sulpice, head chef and owner at Le Père Bise in Talloires has just been awarded two Michelin stars, which is another excellent reason to visit our special place in France. Click here to read the full article from L'Express

I am again linking up to All About France. Head over to read other French-themed stories.

Or, as always, if 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