Showing posts with label family adventure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family adventure. Show all posts

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Ten years ago - Not holding back on the emotion

I knelt down in the garden and looked back towards the house. It was empty of all furniture, all personal possessions, almost all traces of our precious family life. We had packed up for a year but instinct told me that we would not be back and that our one-year French adventure would in fact take us further, and for longer, than we had planned.

This morning, I was again out in the garden, a different garden, absentmindedly pulling out weeds and thinking back to that day ten years ago when our departure from Melbourne finally became a reality. As a family, we are pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to marking milestones, but with a bit of luck all of us were able to be together for a few hours over breakfast.

Of course, we did reminisce but the question of where we would be in another ten years was waved away. Back then, a family movie night involved making a selection from the DVDs on the shelves of the video store down the road; my cool new flip-open telephone let me make phone calls and not much else; our cameras were separate, heavy devices to our phones; Facebook was a few years old but Instagram not yet invented; emails were still popular and effective ways of communicating and when it was suggested that I blog about our experience, it didn't even occur to me to take this as a serious suggestion. We had one computer for the whole family which, although technically portable, weighed a lot and had limited storage. How is it possible that that was only ten years ago? I haven't even touched on all the personal changes. No wonder we were a bit reluctant to project forward another ten years.

What I can say, though, and here is where my emotion really ramps up, I wish that I could flick a switch and do it all again. If you have read our story 'But you are in France, Madame', you will know that it was not easy. You will know too that our one year did indeed turn into several and that our French life was not at all what we had thought it would be. I don't want to do it again to get it 'right'. Truthfully, I'd love to gather my little ones around me, hold their hands to run to the playground or walk by the Annecy Lake, discover snow and skiing with them for the first time, hear them becoming little French people joking and singing in their new language and watch them learning joyfully about themselves and their world.

It was good to be together this morning.

PS I am once again linking this post with #allaboutfrance and other French-inspired blogs.

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 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 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, 9 November 2017

From Australia to France with love

The beautiful Annecy Lake

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

What was it that prompted you to head to France?

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

Why six-months?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, would you recommend the experience to other families?

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 September 2017

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

But you are in France, Madame by Catherine Berry

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 1 November 2015

It's Done !

The book "But you are in France, Madame" is now published and available for sale from Blurb as a softcover print book or an ebook for ipad via the link below.. I hope you enjoy it.

At the collège for a parent-teacher interview, I met my daughter outside in the courtyard and she showed me up to her classroom. Her teacher was busy chatting, so we waited patiently in the corridor. When he did come out, he indicated that the meeting would take place downstairs and headed off with us in tow.

Before sitting down, I introduced myself using my first name, and put out my hand to be shaken. He mumbled back his full name as he took my hand, although I suspect he would have been shocked if I had actually dared use it. By this stage, I had already understood that teachers did not expect to be questioned about their practices. Of course, I did—question him, that is; politely and almost deferentially. There was a slight pause, as he dipped his head to better digest what he had heard. Then, with the assurance of a perfect, unarguable answer, he replied, “But you are in France, Madame”.

Some months before, my husband, three children and I had casually unzipped and discarded our comfortable Australian lifestyle and slipped on life in the country of haute couture. On arrival, there was no celebrity designer waiting for us, ready to pin and fit our new life to us; so we threw it on and wore it loosely, tightly, uncomfortably, any old how—until we learned for ourselves how to trim, hem and stitch à la française. This book is testament to the joyous, but not always easy, journey that we took along the way.