Just Moved · Moving To France · School System · Uncategorized

La Jolie Fille Is Starting Crèche – And How Brexit Almost Ruined It

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If you’re thinking about moving to France you might want to learn from our mistakes with regards toddlers and their socialisation/schooling.

With Hindsight We Should Have Taken The Pre-School Place Offered

When we were making our arrangements to move last year we visited La Belle Fille’s school. At that time the directrice had asked us if we had wanted to enroll La Jolie Fille too. They were unusual for a school in that they could take children as young as two. As we were just about to move I thought that it would be better to take her to playgroups as it would give me opportunities to socialise and I felt she was too young to go to what basically was a pre-school. “Give it a few months first, then she’ll be ready I thought.”

This was a mistake. These places went and there were none available later in the year when I changed my mind for the reasons I’m outlining below. So the advice I’d give to anybody is don’t just assume the opportunities are going to be the same in France as they are at home; As With everything else, although at first glance it looks similar, that can be deceiving. France is a different culture and this is reflected in childcare arrangements.

The Early Years System In France

When we arrived it took us a while to get settled and finding our way around in another language, as well as encountering different social norms, I found that I didn’t actually get her to the play groups until the October.

Playgroups, or Associations Rerispontre Échange Parents Enfants, are run by the state. You pay something like €2 a year (yes, for the whole year, not a session). They have keyworkers there to listen and give advise.

When we arrived at one I was late. I expected to see lots of mums, maybe some dads and lots of toddlers; the same experience as at home. It was by that time nearly 3 o’clock and the session started at 2, but there were no other children there. Just me and the two key workers attached to the group. As the time went on two other mothers came and a grand total of three children, however as this was nearly 4 o’clock when they arrived and I had to leave at 4.20 to pick up La Belle, we really didn’t have much time to meet anyone.

Playgroups Aren’t Well Attended

The same group of keyworkers run another group on the Tuesday and Friday. The Friday one I could never find, it still holds a mystical aura for me like Brigadoon from the Gene Kelly film, but we did manage to go to the Tuesday group. Even less children.

One day I plucked up the courage to ask; ” Are there ever any more children who come”. The response wasn’t one I was expecting; “Oh, the Monday group is a lot busier.” Really?

I don’t know what it is in France but, at least here in the provences, no-one seems to use these groups. By the time we moved into our rental out of our friends gîte in December I kind of gave up going as it really wasn’t benefitting the little one.

I said earlier the culture is different and it affects things that are available for children and i often wonder to myself if it’s the strong  family network that’s still prevalent in France that makes playgroups less attended. After all, When you spend your time in extended family, why would you need it?

As I said, I decided I’d see if I could get a place at La Belle’s school, but it was now fully subscribed, I had to fill in an application in the new year. Around mid-January I decided to look for another crèche as I was really worried about La Jolie Fille’s interaction.

Be Prepared For Appointments and Paperwork

The first one I went to I spoke with a receptionist. Nobody seems to speak to you in IMG_9154France without a rendezvous, so one was dutifully made. I went back a few days later and filled in the forms. Their very kind directrice then told me she’d have to look to see if there was a place. I must admit I was left wondering why she didn’t look that up before we arranged the meeting.

When she did contact me there was no place available. So I had to start the process again at another site, further away. As the directrice of this one had been ill for some time I had no ability to have the requisite meeting, and so we waited for her to return.

When we did meet she had a space (yay) so we started to fill in paperwork. I brought somethings with me that I thought would be helpful; my passport, La Jolie’s birth certificate and a bill with our address on it. I didn’t have enough. She asked me for another document, I think it must have been a carte de séjour, but she looked completely flumuxed when I said I didn’t have one. She didn’t have a clue what to do, what to charge me, if I could even go! She found Le Mairie’s office; yes I was a resident, yes I could have access to the crèche. She put the phone down and said “but you have left Europe!” Completely non-plussed. Ahh, I get it, Brexit.

I don’t think she was being delibaretely obstructive, it was probably that she hadn’t dealt with a non-French resident (it was only a small, village crèche and people always tell you the local English people) and as far as she new that’s it, we were out.

I explained that no, we weren’t. Article 50 hadn’t been triggered yet and up until the point of departure we had all of the rights and all of the responsibilities. Also I was an Irish citizen, so we will still be able to remain. She gave me a look, a Gallic shrug with an expression that says “it’s bizarre” and a lit of what documents I needed. Did I have a place? She didn’t know now, she had to contact someone else and get their advice.

I left, uncertain of what was going to happen, but with a time to call. When I did I was offered a temporary place, until the paper work was completed. I went again, loaded down; my passport, Le Marie’s passport, a bill with our address, La Jolie’s birth certificate, La Belle’s certificate, doctor’s details, immunisation records, insurance certificates. I think that’s everything. It took us half an hour to fill in all the forms; it’s France. It is what it is, what’s the point in complaining about a bit of beurocracy?

Be Prepared For Gradual Introductions

Since then La Jolie has been able to go on a temporary basis. It seems the French are very cautious about ensuring a child is suitable for the crèche in question, which I’m impressed by. She’s done a half an hour, then an hour and was about to do two hours today, but a bad cold and slight temperature made us think to perhaps put her off for a couple of days.

She loves it. The first day when I arrived to pick her up she saw me, dropped what was in her hands and waved at the carers; “awah!” They all thought she was so cute.

The next time she was happily playing outside. She did not want to leave; oh dear. I’m so happy that she’s finally getting the interaction she needs.

But, You’ll Be Delighted By The Price!

Perhaps another reason that there aren’t many mothers in playgroups is because crèches are so inexpensive? When the paperwork thing was still not resolved the directrice was worried; I’d have to pay the full amount. She said this with such trepdiation I was concerned. How much was it going to be?!!! €1,93. Yeah, we can afford that.

It’s state subsidised of course. If we had been in the system (we’re still having difficulty with the paperwork for Le Marie’s business to enter the tax system properly),  but if we were we would be paying something like 0,30€ an hour!

Brocante · Just Moved · Uncategorized

Cleaning The Fireplace

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I have mentioned this briefly before, but since we’ve moved in we’ve had an ongoing battle with our immobilier and propriétaire over the cleaning of the chimney in the salon. When we viewed the property I specifically asked if both chimneys were functioning and I was told they were and would be cleaned, as per the law for those renting in France, prior to our moving in. After this point each two years it would be for us to arrange this.

On the day I came to collect the keys from the immobilier and go round the house at the beginning of December the fireplace in the front room was still boarded up, which didn’t look promising, but the one in the dining room looked clean. When you have your chimney cleaned you have a certificate as to maintain the cleanliness of your chimney is essential for your chimney and therefore your insurance and safety depends on it.

With hindsight I shouldn’t have accepted the keys without insisting that the certificates were available. As I told you in this post the immobilier had told me that they had been, but I should just wait until she gave them too me to use the fire without them, So When the heating broke down we were left with a freezing cold house and no means of heat.

Although we did get the dining room certificate, the salon wasn’t done and hasn’t been despite persistant requests. It left me with a dilemma. As an outsider there was a real wish not to make waves, but week after week and payment after payment despite assertions that it would happen we didn’t get any further along. Eventually I decided that as this wasn’t just a contractual obligation, but a legal one I kept pushing. I was told week after week it would be done, someone was coming to do it that day, that the chimney sweep had gone on holiday, and the two that infuriated me the most – to go ahead and open up the wood from the blocked fire place and use it (dangerous) and that I could get the work done, but I’d have to pay the bill (despite having paid deposits, negotiating fees, monthly rents and it being the proprietors respondsibility).

Eventually I told the immoblier I wouldn’t pay all the rent, keeping some back which was the equivilant to the quote I’d got to have it done (€90). At first she exclaimed “But that is not legal”, but I replied that neither was not having the work completed before we moved in. I added that I was quite happy for the other party to seek legal advise about the matter, but I wouldn’t be paying and would deliver the bill.

I dropped in the reduced cheque and haven’t heard anything about it since, and today as the spring flowers start to,peep out of the ground outisde I finally had the chimney swept.

In preparation I’d bought some andirons (des chenets in French) from my local brocante. They cost €9 as they were a little rusted, but I thought the faces on them were lovely and a little sphinx like. To clean the rust off I soaked them in white vinegar for about an hour, which is about €0.35 and I got about five of them. Then I could a wire pad and scrubbed the worst of the rust off. To clean and protect them I could some blacking from my local Brico (zebraline), rubbed it one, brushed it with an old toothbrush in the crevices and then buffed off with a cloth. Here’s the before and after…

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horseriding · Just Moved · Learning French · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Learning To Ride A Horse In France

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When we arrived in France last August I was determined to increase my language skills. I thought that this wouldn’t be too hard being the mother of two young girls; surely there would be lots of opportunities to get together with other mothers and talk?

Nope, pas du tout.

I’ve since realised that the opportunities to do this in France are quite different to those in England. But I’ll go into that at another time.

So, I decided what better way to expose yourself to the language than to put yourself on the back of a huge animal, attempt to control it and try and listen to subject specific language at the same time. Yes, that’s the level of stupid I’m at sometimes.

This all started last year when it was La Belle Fille’s birthday. We didn’t know many people at the time and as we where staying in our friends gite I didn’t want to invite lots of kids round to our for a party. So I set her up with a horse riding lesson.

I’m so ignorant of the activity that I didn’t know that there’s actually an English style and a western style. So when driving past a sign saying that there was a pony club and the word ‘Anglais’ I stupidly thought that the option of the English language was available. Yes, again, that’s the level of stupid I’m at sometimes. Really.

I’d gone and arranged the lessons for myself on Thursday nights and La Belle Fridays. I thought this would give me the opportunity to experience it so I could talk it through with her first and allay any of her fears.

On my first day I didn’t realise that you were meant to arrive early to groom the horse, so everything was rushed, particularly as I didn’t have the necessary helmet etc (I was able to borrow one there). This is the difficulty in experiencing things for the first time in another language when you haven’t achieved a high level of fluency. Normally I would have gone somewhere to arrange lessons and been able to think of questions to ask; what do I wear for my first few lessons? What time should I get there? All those relevant things. However when your speaking in your second language you’re concentrating so hard on working out what the other person is saying that you forget everything else.

My first experience on a horse though was marvellous. I literally didn’t stop giggling like a fool throughout. It was exhilarating, and makes all the language difficulties worth while.

My instructor, Céline, finds it very amusing at times that she has an English woman in her class (much my parish priest when I was arranging La Petite’s baptism). I often hear her talking to other students or people in front of me. “All I can say in English is “go” or “stop”, but she says she understand!” I actually find these conversations she has pretty funny; I don’t know if she realises I understand what she’s saying.

She is very patient, repeating the same instructions again and again. I really appreciate that this adds a layer of complexity to the proceedings both for her and other members of the class and she’s born them with good grace throughout.

It was my language skills that created a situation within the class that was a little uncomfortable in fact. When I’d first started to ride they gave me a very docile horse, Teene, who is given to all new riders. However, she doesn’t want to trot. Great in some ways for a beginner, you can be confident that even in the training circle she’s not going to race off and cause a new rider a fright. But trying to get a horse who doesn’t want to go to do so, whilst you’re developing your language skills is hard. Each time Céline gave me an instruction I was having to translate it, whilst at the same time trying to get an animal to do what it didn’t want to do and then do what she was asking me to do.

In this occasion instructions were again being repeated over and over again and then a conversation ensued between Céline and some observers as well as other members of the class. Again Céline was saying, in a jovial way, what it was like dealing with someone who was English. Then she said that she didn’t speak a lot of English again, but this time one of the other learners said in French that she thought it was up to the people coming to live in France to learn the language. Two other members of the class became obviously uncomfortable whilst this conversation continued and, to be honest, so was I.

I had asked the same woman a few weeks before, on my second week actually, for help to put a saddle on (it’s quite complicated and you don’t get it first time). She had become a little brisk and when I’d said that she was very kind to help she’d replied “oui, trop gentil je pense” (yes, too kind I think) and had seemed put out.

When she’d said this recent comment she’d sounded quite stern to my ears, but to be honest I have misread the situation.

After the class my instructrice first asked in front of everyone if I understood and I’d said yes, but I was having to translate, then do the action and make the horse go which was difficult.

Then, as I was unsaddling the horse, one of the other women struck up a conversation with me about something in French, all my conversations at the stables are in French, and then added that her English wasn’t very good. I replied to her that I wanted to improve my French, but that it was ok as I did understand her. I again explained about having to translate and then do the action, as I’d been a little upset by the previous comments as I didn’t want people to think that I’d come to France without bothering to learn the language. Anyway we continued to have a conversation for about ten to fifteen minutes all in French and I think the other woman heard. The next time we met she was extremely helpful and seemed to my eyes a little uncomfortable.

The thing is, although I was put out at the time, I think that people who haven’t learntimg_8507 a second language and then attempted to function in it outisde of a classroom don’t know what it’s like and their expectations are therefore too unrealistic. For example, sometimes when things feel rushed and i don’t know what I’m doing I get flustered and lose my language skills. If you’re not a language learner you may not recognise this.

I remember years ago I was in a Wilkinson when a shop assistant had told three cashiers the story of some Polish people who had been locked in the store the night before – they’d been in the paint aisle and hadn’t heard the announcement. She finished each telling with the (very) loud declaration “Well, if they want to come to this country they should learn the language shouldn’t they?”

I was so annoyed listening to this as I’d already started learning French to move here and on my many visits had found it frustrating no matter how hard I tried. I still wish I’d said what I’d been thinking; “Don’t you know what it’s  like to learn a second language? They probably have learnt it, but as they’re concentrating on labels they missed the announcement over head.”

Uncomfortable situations aside the lessons have really helped to get me out and about and practise my language skills, but it is up to me to focus on subject specific vocabulary to make myself more able to participate. In defence of my classmate my difficulties sometimes means that there is an extra focus in the class and, if I start another new activity in the future, I’ll be sure to read up on it English first to give me some context and try to learn some key vocabulary. After all, she was right. It is my responsibility to learn; I agreed with her even as she was saying it (hence my being upset).

For any of you out there crazy enough to want to give it a go I’ve made these key word posters to go up our staircase for La Petite and I, you can download them here Horse Vocabulary.

Just Moved · Moving To France · Preparing The Children

La Petite Fille’s First French Word

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My youngest daughter has had difficulty with speech. When she was born she had a lot of medical needs and couldn’t even drink milk regularly. As a result the muscles that develop in the mouth from sucking were weak; at ten months we were wrapping muslins round her little neck and she’d have about half of the the milk in an 8oz bottle, the rest ending up in the muslin. As she hadn’t been drinking regularly it took a long time to also diagnose her with reflux, so for her consuming nourishment was associated with pain.

When children are delayed for whatever reason in their eating milestones the subsequent lack of muscle formation also effects their speech. We worried about this moving to France as, having been a teacher and read about the common three month delay on children with a second language, it concerned us that she would again face another stumbling block. However we knew too that she evidently understood language and was communicating to us using signs so we thought the risk was limited.

Once living in France she was naturally taking in lots of new information and the few sounds she’d had in the U.K. seemed to disappear. For example she can say hello quite clearly (“ewow”) and had started to say a “b” sound for goodbye, but the b sound went, although we often heard the hello. Although I’d joked to my mum that if she’d started speaking French I may not recognise the words, as time went on I grew more concerned.

Then one day we were in the supermarket and we were about to leave she was waving wildly and making a “awaw” sound. She’d done the same thing the day before waving goodbye to my mum and I’d been reminded of her step back from the b of bye bye sound, so had been a little saddened by it. However the cashier looked delighted, saying back to her “au revoir”. This time though something about the cashiers reaction and La Petites intent whilst saying it made something click as I observed; it was au revoir. Her first French word! My humorous observation was accurate; when you are unused to a language you don’t pick up the similarity.

I immediately phoned Le Marie to tell him as well as my mum. Then over the weeks I img_0073started to doubt what I thought was happening was actually happening. Was it just wishful thinking? But over time a ‘v’ sound has been added to her “awaw”. On the day she first started to use this new, more precise, pronunciation there was obvious surprise and delight on French people’s faces as they recognised their tongue from the mouth of an English woman’s infant, so it became clear that it wasn’t just me, she was saying a French word.

In the last few weeks her ability to verbally communicate has developed significantly. She can now say about 20 recognisable words and is starting to add 2 or 3 words together. It finally looks like the second language gap is closing!

Our next stage is to organise a crèche for her, but that’s a story for another post as developing social networks for our toddler is proving far more complicated than I thought.

 

Catholic · Just Moved · Learning French · Preparing The Children

Le Baptême

img_9040With our second move last year just before Christmas I got behind on my things to do list, namely arrange the baptism for La Jolie Fille. Originally we had wanted to have it done in our nearby cathedral, but as a more permanent move was on the cards we thought that it would be better to do it when we were involved more in a community.

Since our arrival in this corner of La Manche we’ve been going to our nearest church for mass and the congregation have been incredibly welcoming. It’s funny, but it’s the same parish that my husband and I visited over a decade ago and, as we where stood there, said how we’d like to live in France.

Each week the parish priest calls all the youngesters up to say The Our Father in the mass and he gets one of the older children to read a part of the liturgy. One of the first weeks we were there Le Marie was away and I was on my own with Les Petites. Trying to concentrate on mass in a second language, whilst trying not to kill your kids for being naughty, is no mean feat (only joking about the killing part, they’re adorable 😕) and I suddenly realised when I heard the word ‘poussette’ that the priest was talking to us.

The next week it seemed like their was a bit of an organised ‘get the poor strangers involved’ thing going on as one of the older men came up and offered to take La Belle up to the alter. It was so lovely to be invited in like that.

So today off I went to speak with the priest about the baptism and we have Easter Sunday booked with two other children being baptised in mass on the same day! That makes it even more lovely.

The priest (whose name I still don’t know, because I couldn’t quite make out the pronunciation) seemed intrigued to have English people as part of the congregation; there was no mention of any other English, so I presume we’re the only English in the village as Little Britain would say. He kept randomly stopping people in the parish office and asking “Do you speak any English?” and then having a little chuckle to himself.

He also said how the baptism service would be in French and asked if that was ok; so that’s me looking up the service to translate now then.

 

Just Moved · Moving To France · Uncategorized · Village Life

Frosty Mornings and À l’étranger

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I woke up this morning to a frost so deep it seems to have temporarily frozen the pond outside our windows. I’m afraid I just missed photographing the little hen that was scratching around the outside of the pond just before I took this picture. Once again I couldn’t believe my luck that we get to live here in rural France.

Yesterday in a desperate attempt to escape the children for five minutes I made my way down to the local village to buy a baguette for lunch (Les Petites were left with Le Marie, not alone with a box of matches to play with). We’ve been here a few times, always aware of the curious looks we got and the words of our friends ringing in our ears; “The French are very nosey, they’ll want to know everything about you.”

I don’t know if this is any different from an English village; perhaps the sheer mass of people now living in England has meant this personal knowledge and curiosity has been somewhat reduced, transferred to celebrities like Brad and Angelina. But in France there seems to be a real paradox. On the one hand rigid social customs – introducing yourself by your surname and title, the use of vous, formal greetings as you enter shops etc – on the other side this formality doesn’t deter the seeking out of personal information or curiosities to spread around the village.

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Our friends have become used to being an object of village fascination. A neighbour who drives a white van always deliberately slows the vehicle down as he passes their drive in order to better peer in; what are those crazy English up to now? Who’s staying? They are often met with other neighbours informing them of their knowledge of who has recently come to visit as a result of these observations.

One thing the European Union had given me was a sense of closeness with old Europe at least; that they were cousins rather than mere strangers. But I think to many in rural France there is something exotic about an English family coming to live among them. That’s hardly surprising as we have a population of just over 500 people, many of whom have lived here all their life and married the girl or boy in this or the next village.

So as I went into the little bakery yesterday I greeted the baker and the male customer, and the latter literally looked me up and down with a curious smile as he left the shop. My accent as I’d greeted them had been a dead giveaway of course.

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The baker herself asked me if I lived nearby. Our landlord lives 1km down the road and we’ve already tried to pay the mayor a visit (he was out, we only managed to speak with his secretary). When I said yes she asked where and which house. Very exact. So, I guess this will now be public knowledge, if it wasn’t before.

It’s kind of exciting to think that we’re beginning to become a part of this villages life.

Lou Messugo

For more information on All About France you can take a look at the introductory post I wrote here. This linky will stay open until 11.55 pm on Wed 11th Jan and be back again on Thursday 2nd February.

Catholic · Christmas · Holidays · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Our First Christmas Chez Nous

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My parents moved here over a decade ago, so this wasn’t our first Christmas in France. It was, of course, the first Christmas we’ve spent in our own home in France. What a blessing we got to move in before Christmas; even if the move itself was taxing.

The night before Christmas Eve La Belle Fille and I were in the nearby town of Coutances with its imposing cathedral. La Jolie Fille was at home with Le Marie as she’d been poorly with a tummy bug, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for my eldest to get out of the house and meet with her relatives who’d come to see my folks.

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As we drove into town and saw all the Christmas lights I couldn’t help but be struck by last year’s visit on a similar day. The town’s beauty had impacted upon me then too and I had been filled with excitement at the prospect of finally moving to France this year. Now living here that visit seemed eons ago, and our life in France the norm. It’s funny how quickly I’ve become accustomed to the idea of this being our home.

This, however, was the quiet before the storm. When La Belle and I arrived home the whole family has supper together. I remarked to Le Marie that my stomach had started to feel a bit funny. Then by the early hours of Christmas Eve it was obvious I had come down with the bug too. I had to spend nearly the whole day in bed and drank water all day, opting for a crust of bread in the early evening like a Dickensian period drama extra.

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The worst thing was our plans were going to be affected. You see, some weeks earlier I had taken to Le Bon Coin to find a puppy to purchase for the little ones as their main Christmas gift. I had found a Tebetin Spaniel, coincidently the same breed of dog my family had had when we were children. I’d arranged for the owners to keep it until Christmas Eve, when I’d take it to my parents to look after until Christmas morning.I had been due to travel to the vendors home to collect it, but Le Marie had to go in my place.

On Christmas Day the children slept in late, as did I. They were still asleep at 9 when my husband came in, worried they weren’t awake yet. Perhaps we hadn’t made Christmas exciting enough for them? I think you can figure out my response.

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Inevitably I didn’t go to mass, which I still feel guilty for, as we did go to my folks. I took tablets to keep the virus at bay, but felt worn out throughout the day. But you can’t exactly cancel Christmas plans with two little ones can you?

We got to my parents with plans of how we were going to introduce the kids to their new puppy. Code words were exchanged between the folks and us about hiding it just prior to our arrival. We got in the house and, as the kids settled in, I snuck off to get it. We presented the puppy and waited for the reaction….. We got, what can only be described as really, a “Meh”.

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So Christmas Day was spent with little indulgence in the land of the gourmet, my ignoring the infant Jesus at the mass and a completely luck lustre response to what is meant to be the gold standard Christmas present.  Ah well. It just goes to show; you can move country, but your life won’t suddenly be perfect. Your problems come with you. Or, as Ecclesiastes says….

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

Well, part from the God-child lying in the major of course. You know, the one I’ve ignored. Catholic guilt anyone?