Just Moved · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Back In The 21st Century!

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I actually have Internet access today (woohoo) so I thought I’d write a quick post to reconnect before we lose it again with five things from France.

Le Voila….

This, along with ooh la la, is one of La Belle Fille’s must used expressions. It’s odd to watch your daughter turn French.

……but I still want to marry James

After starting to comment on things with the addition “just like we did in England” it became obvious that La Belle was starting to realise that not only did she like her new home, but the country it was in wasn’t completely alien either. Phew! But then I noticed a new phrase; she’d come into the room and say, out of nowhere, “but I still want to marry James”. Ahhh, so sad.

Spiders

Living in the French countryside is all we dreamed it would be; however the dream didn’t include the reality of spiders – they’re everywhere. The other day I went through the house with a large duster sweeping away the cobwebs (which were being spun frantically as soon as my back was turned I’m sure) and bashing a few of them over the head with it too. Country living is bringing out my savage side. I was fine until I started to imagine a Roal Dahl like, spider’s revenge scenario. Not good.

Baked beans, fish cakes and fish fingers 

All, all with garlic in them. We’re Catholics so we eat fish on Friday and whenever Le Marie is away on busines this will often be fishfingers and baked beans. The other week I cooked them and Les Petites and I sat down to eat. Oh mon vache! They were bad! The fishfingers themselves tasted as if someone had taken haddock, added garlic and battered them. I’m pretty sure they inspired the painting The Scream.

I started sneakily feeding them to the cat. La Petite Fille outright rejected them. La Belle struggled on valiantly; apparently stunned by the cognitive dissonance the situation had created. You could almost see a think bubble above her head – “but fishfingers are good??!”

I kept asking her if they tasted ok and she kept saying yes in a small, broken voice. Eventually I couldn’t do it to her anymore – they all, including those still in the freezer, went in the bin. My advice – never buy French fishfingers.

The long lunches and long days

I must admit when we saw the school day times I was worried about how La Belle would last; 08.45-16.45! But the thing is both she and I are a lot less tired. The British school days, along with their shorter lunch times, are so rushed. In the UK, in secondary schools at least, it’s become the norm to see kids wandering round with a bag of chips and a slice of pizza. Here in France they sit down at a table to have a three course meal with cutlery and a napkin. Apparently the cook (this is her telling it, so probably not the actual cook) comes and tells La Belle to manger when she doesn’t want to eat what’s in front of her, and she does! They then have plenty of more time to digest and play.

For me that means there’s no rushing around and I actually get to rest too. At the end of the day I’m not as exhausted and I have more time to spend with her. As La Marraine said this evening in our miracle Facebook messenger call (ahhh Internet, I’ve missed you) their brains are well nourished too!

 

Just Moved · Moving To France

La Bise And Bonjours

imageDropping off La Belle Fille at school she was met by her little friend and greeted with a kiss on the cheek. In France it’s not just the adults who greet each other with une bise, not teachers to children, but the child to child too.

It’s so innocent and sophisticated at the same time.

Unfortunately when it came to my first adult to child une bise I think I failed miserably. A little boy who’s an acquaintance of La Belle said hello and seemed to offer his cheek. Maybe it was the startled look in my eyes or my clumsy kiss on his cheek, but the next time we met he firmly offered me his hand to shake. I thought I was over being rejected by boys.

Sometimes in goodbyes too I’ve heard the expression “Bises” called to a departing back. I don’t think I’ll ever get the nerve to nonchalantly call that, except perhaps en famille.

It’s not just la bise that has my head in a whirl either; salutations in general are still giving me a problem. I’ve finally got used to saying “bonjour” to shop assistants before I continue with my request, but am failing miserably in other situations.

When we go to mass the priest welcomes everyone not at the door with a nod and a hello, or even just the British shy nod, but goes to each person saying hello and shaking their hand. Unfortunately myself and my family arrived at mass this week flustered; battling with the pram through an ancient church door, trying to stay quiet with a four and a half year old and a 22 month old whose going into her terrible twos (and demonstrating this by shouting angrily all the time). It wasn’t until after we sat down that I realised that the poor priest had approached us and we’d basically bustled by him! We must have looked so rude!

Then in the hairdressers I said hello to all the ladies working that, was shown my seat and sat down happily. It wasn’t until a little while later that I realised when another lady came and greeted everyone around her that I hadn’t done the same. I’d done the shy British smile to the woman next me, but no hello!

Just Moved · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Meeting La Belle From School And Her Second Day

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Last Thursday La Jolie Fille and I went to l’école maternelle to meet La Belle. Waiting at the school gates with the other parents I anxiously looked for her. After a little while she appeared, holding the hand of another little girl in a crocodile. She was all smiles as I waved madly. Madame France greeted me and said au revoir to La Belle, asking for une bise goodbye – then off we were going home.

Of course there was an avalanche of questions.
Did she enjoy herself?
Yes, she’d got to play in the playground twice. Twice! She repeated, with added emphasis to show me just how fantastic that was.
Did she play with any of the other children?
Yes, a boy and some girls.
What were there names?
I don’t know.
You’ll have to ask them tomorrow.
Why?
Because you’d want to be called by your name wouldn’t you. (She changed the subject, unconvinced and not wanting to try)
Do you remember how to ask someone French their name. (She adamantly changed the subject)

I gave her her gouter and we drove back to Les Grandparents Francais. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to share my children’s lives with my folks. Living so far away from both sets of grandparents in the UK was hard; I move country but I’m closer to my family! That’s a win!

All the same questions again, from multiple sources. Everyone is received that she’s had a wonderful day – she seems ecstatic!

All evening and the next morning she’s trying to remember the words in French she’s learnt and asking me the names of other words. It takes her a while to settle down as she’s still so stimulated by the day she’s had.

The next morning, whilst answering another 100 questions on what so and so is in French I encourage her to think about how to ask someone’s name again. “Do you remember how to ask? Comment tu t’appelles?” On the drive to school we sing a song with the words for asking someone’s name and saying ‘I’m called…’ In French.

When we arrive I see the same little boy and his father from the day before. I say hello to him and he offers me a hand to shake. “Hello” he says in English. La Belle looks on shyly, but later on she recounts this event with absolute astonishment. “He said hello to you mummy – in English!”

I complimented him on his English in French, and his dad translated my words to him because – and I’ve experienced this before – no children understand my French. (I’ve tried to have a conversation with children at the church childrens group and they’ve looked blankly at me. Then ones turned to the other with a loud “oh, c’est prês d’ici”, repeating exactly what I’d just said like she’d cracked the enigma code).

His father let me know that we were meant to take the children to the classroom were image we met Madame French, La Belle’s teacher, again. I call her Madame French because my brother (who I’ve been quietly calling b****y Sean under my breath ever since) convinced La Belle that her teacher would be called Mrs French. That’s what La Belle keeps calling her, no matter how many times I tell her that’s not the case, even under Madame’s nose.

As we waited to speak to madam another girl came near the door with her father and looked shyly by, a navy blue, flowered hairband in her hair. “Look mummy, that’s my new best friend” La Belle said.

All considering things couldn’t be better. I’m off now to answer another few hundred questions about what somethings called in French.

Recipes · Sweet Saturday · Uncategorized

Sweet Saturday; Nougat, Chocolate Chip and Oat Cookies

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I had planned to make the oat biscuits I normally make with La Belle Fille the day before she started school. When I spotted a packet of nougat pieces in the baking aisle of LeClerc it got my mind going and I ended up with this recipe.

I should warn you though, the cooking times are going to be a bit vague, so you’ll have to keep an eye on the cookies as they bake and then decide how long to cook yours for. The reason? The oven in our little home.

I remember my mum having one of those old gas ovens when I was young, you know the type that looks like this……

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In fact I even had one like it in my own house, but as I very seldom cooked I don’t think it was ever a problem. This oven thigh is a mystery. Firstly, unlike any old gas oven I’ve ever come across, the gas jets aren’t at the back. I know the ignition didn’t work and I was waving my lighted flame towards the back of the oven trying to find where on earth I needed to light it. Eventually I found where the gas was released; right at the front in the bottom of the oven. In fact all the gas jets were running down the length either side of the oven base, not along the back.

When La Belle and I had made the cookies and we’d put them in the oven I placed the two baking sheets about 1/3 and 2/3s up respectively. I’d been wary about the time so I checked them half way through and found the ones in the bottom burning underneath, the ones on top – where you’d expect the majority of the cooking to be happening in a none fan assisted oven – were hardly touched.

There then followed a series of experimentation to get the remainder of the cookies right. Different oven positions and flipping the cookies over like a burger halfway through (?) were the two methods I tried. Eventually the final set turned out perfect, even though I only put them in the oven.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it’s because I hadn’t let the oven heat up enough before starting to bake them. I guess I’ve got used to fan assisted ovens and their quick heating times. Tant pis!

Anyway, the cookies were delicious. If you want to try them, even after my uninspiring baking description, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients and Method

100g (4oz) porridge oats
50g (2oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) nougat
50g (2oz) chocolate chips
100g (4oz) softened butter
50g (2oz) honey
50g (2oz) golden syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3.
2. Measure all the ingredients in a bowl and stir them well.
3. Using a table spoon scoop up some mixture into one spoon and them take another to level the amount and then scoop it onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. This will keep the cookies a similar size (the mixture is a little moist for normal cutters).
4. Bake and check after ten minutes when the oven is at the right temperature. Check that they’re golden on top, then remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Even though they were trouble to make La Belle and I agreed – they’re worth it! In fact after threatening to eat them ourselves in the normal ‘you have to eat your dinner or you won’t get…” threat La Belle Fille rebelled. “You’re not going to eat them. You have to go straight to bed.” It’s quite something to be told off by a stroppy four year old!

Just Moved · Moving To France · School System · Uncategorized

La Belle’s First Day

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So, the day finally came. La Belle had her first day at school today. Over the last few days she’s had a love, hate affair with French. Some days she wants to speak it all the time, others she won’t want to know. This has obviously been a reflection of how she is feeling about starting her school at the time.

Last night I got her school clothes together, letting her choose between a set of French clothes I’d bought here and a dress with cats on that I’d bought in England. She chose the cat dress.

Le Marie used our leopard glove puppet to tell her all about his (the leopard’s, not Le Marie’s) first day of school. Leopard had been very worried too, because he spoke only English. But when he’d got there he’d had lost of fun and games with the other leopards and made lots of friends.

As this was going on I was in the kitchen adding labels to all of La Belle’s equipment scolaire. When we’d first enrolled her I’d been given a list of school equip,ent to get for her and it all had to have her name on. I added the name of each item in French too; as La Belle can read in English I thought this would help her learn the French words too. If nothing else it was a way to give her a little sense of control and therefore comfort before she started the next day.

That night she’d had trouble getting to sleep. I went in her room to give her one last cuddle and we spoke about how Ellie Elephant had been nervous on her first day at Peppa Pig’s school, but Peppa had looked after her. “You’ll meet your Peppa, don’t worry” I told her. I also pointed out that she had been watching lots of children’s programmes in French and understood what was happening. She seemed a little more settled.

At breakfast leopard made another appearance to remind La Belle all about how well his first day had gone. I spoke to her about her first day at pre-school in England when she was two. I told her how she’d only been able to count to twenty and had very few words beyond that (she’s a maths wiz) but she’d still made lots of friends.

In the morning as she was washed and dressed and grew increasingly excited I sat her down and read to her the école maternelle book again, which has everything that happens at school so she knows what to expect. I also showed her the little laminated cards of various activities which I’d put in the side pocket of her backpack.

As we set off on the journey La Belle asked for English songs to be played. Oh dear, I thought, that doesn’t sound good.

Then we drove into the cathedral town where her school is. I couldn’t help but think of all the mum’s I knew in England going through the same car journey today. How there day would be similar, how it might be different.

I’d never been at dropping off time before so I hadn’t seen this before; all of a sudden we could see everywhere little children with their backpacks on heading towards the school. La Belle became more and more excited as she pointed them all out. As we got out of the car all her cares had apparently gone and she was eager to get inside.

Now it was my turn to worry. I had to locate her teacher. I’d been sent an email about a week ago telling us where to wait and what the teachers name was. I couldn’t pronounce it. I saw three different teachers and waited anxiously before finally spotting La Belle’s. I manager to be understood and to understood her; was she staying for lunch, the time to pick her up and where, does she stay after school, there’s no telephone number for her (ahhhhh, telephones).

La Belle had gone shy by my side whilst this was going on, but she didn’t looked so shocked now when the teacher greeted her with a kiss (by this time so many adults have greeted her with a kiss she’s getting used to it).

Then more waiting, but La Belle now wanted to happily play. I kept pointing out a little boy is seen registering for the same class. She refused to go and say hello, but started to play near where he was. I stood having a conversation with his father. La Petite Fille was running round like a mad thing with Le Marie holding her by the reigns so he couldn’t join us. I wanted so much for him to be there, make friends. We’re fishes out of water – just come and nod! But of course a 22 month old will not be still for niceties and it’s only my anxiety that’s causing a problem.

La Petite attracted attention wherever she went. The French showing the adoration for children one woman questioned her and ran a commentary on her responses; was she going to the class? Oh no, no! She was going to stay with her mother. Quite right too!

Then announcements came over a loud speaker. I can’t hear what’s being said through those things in English, let alone French. I didn’t even try, but watched the father of La Belle’s classmate to see where I should be going. Then we were off to the classroom. I became worried again. What if we got separated? Le Marie speaks very little French, mine is great. What if we missed instructions? Got seperately from the crowed? I can’t pronounce the teachers name!

As I was trying to follow Le Marie and La Belle and the rest of the group, edging my way through the crowd, when all of a sudden parents who had been waiting behind me managed to get through the gap past me – the French don’t do queuing. “On y vas, Madame” they kept saying. The gap between Le Marie and I became bigger and I became more needlessly worried. I took my opportunity and pushed my way through. “On y vas, Madame” said a man who’d I’d just gone in front of. Had I offended him? Behaved rudely? He seemed jolly and smiling. I’ve worried about it ever since, but I’ve a feeling there was no harm done.

Then into La Belle’s class. All was as it had been in her école maternelle book. She was so excited. She started to play next to the boy whose father I’d spoke to outside. La mattrice went through the same instructions again as outside, we kissed La Belle and then we found ourselves walking outisde.

I hope she’s having fun.

Just Moved · Moving To France

Phones, Mice and Confession

(This was written last night, but due to internet problems I’ve posted today)

Firstly, (and you can imagine Adele’s ‘Hello’ in the background as I say this, as it’s apparently a similar theme) I’m sorry to everyone that I haven’t messaged, read their blogs, facebooked etc. I’m still using the Internet connection at my folks at the moment so I’m literally going there, copying and pasting things I’ve written and uploading, responding to direct messages on the blog and then I have to get offline as the kids are normally destroying Les Grandparents Français house by that time.

When Le Marie returned to France we went to la posts for a SIM card. We didn’t want to commit to a contract as we’re not sure of the type of signal we’re likely to get. We put the SIM card in an old mobile that Ma Mère had as my iPhone had broken irreparably on the journey over. Each time we try opening the phone it’s blocked. I’ve been back once to la post, where the assistant was very helpful, and she unblocked it; but as soon as we got outside it went down again???!!! I’m sure we’ll get there in the end, but until we do I’m staying in this 1940s type bubble. No war though, thank God.

The lack of Internet has driven Le Marie out of the home and into Les Grandparents Français house, where he has set up his office. The upside? We have a spare room – woohoo!

Apart from this slight frustration I’m actually enjoying the peace and quiet away from modern life. The girls and I eat together, they play outside happily, I wash dishes and hang out clothes to dry on our warm, sunny days. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about the lack of a tumble dryer in the winter, but presently there’s no problem.

I think if we didn’t have a washing machine that would be a horse of a different colour. Les Simms* have this wonderful, high-tech Samsung washing machine. It plays this happy tune when it’s turned on, like the sing-songy voice all French shop assistants greet you with; “Bonjour Madame”. If anyone has any doubts of this melodic greeting that welcomes you in all French shops let me clarify – I don’t live in Paris.

The same melody calls to you when the load is done. Honestly, it’s like Cinderella and her lovely voice have been trapped in a machine. I’m extra nice to it; I don’t want to be an ugly sister. “Merci” I sing back. It’s like a really quaint version of the isolation madness in The Shining.

Except that hasn’t extended to a Cinderella like love of mice. I’ve been obsessed with sweeping the house since we’ve arrived, warning La Belle Fille continuously about crumbs and the mice that follow. Even if they do try and make me a dress and wear jaunty outfits I’m adamant; I don’t want them in my home.

This morning I came downstairs and our cat Moo had been hard at work and for the first time I was grateful for it. The top half of a field mouse was lying on the floor, with an appropriate horrified look on its face, paws raised, claws out. I’m ashamed to say I had no sympathy for it. I just let out a relieved yell to Le Marie to come and clear it away.

Then off I went to the cathedral, leaving Le Marie with Les Petites for a little while.. I imagedon’t know the prayers in French yet and it wasn’t the day for confessions, but time was of the essence as it’s First Friday this week and I want to attend mass and receive communion. I knew there was a morning mass at nine o’clock so I thought I’d try and speak to the priest and ask.

As I sat in the cathedral during the mass I couldn’t help but think again of poor father Jacques. I should have asked him to pray for us and me for him.

The elderly priest was lovely and, as I explained in my stilted French I didn’t know the prayers yet, he indicated it didn’t matter. I managed to get my message across thinking “well, this is really to Jesus and he knows what I’ve done and I’m trying to confess” and managed to get something across. Admittedly, not my lack of sympathy for the mouse. The little old priest seemed to be thinking along the same lines as, smiling, he seemed to consider what to do when I finished. He opted for no penance, probably unsure if I’d understand what he was saying, and just gave me absolution.

Tomorrow is La Belle Fille’s first day at school which she’s been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. Keep her in your prayers tonight.
A bientot!

*Because of family circumstances I don’t give anyone I know’s real names or post pictures of Les Petites. So Les Simms are named after Alistair Simms of English, early twentieth century films. Both Monsieur Simms and Madame Simms are classic English types; very direct, wry, a little eccentric, are wonderful hosts and can swear beautifully. They always remind me of these types of films.