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.***