Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Then and Now - Cycling France in 1957

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

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

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

Thursday, 9 November 2017

From Australia to France with love

The beautiful Annecy Lake

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

What was it that prompted you to head to France?

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

Why six-months?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, would you recommend the experience to other families?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 October 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 September 2017

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

But you are in France, Madame by Catherine Berry

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

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

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

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

Friday, 8 September 2017

What the hell are we doing?

8 September - Five go to France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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