One of the decisions Le Marie and I really focused on before moving to France over a year ago now was whether we should rent or buy. Brexit had just happened, as my husband is self employed it’s difficult for us to get a mortgage and the thought of stepping of the English property with its potential for significant equity were all factors in our deliberations.
To be honest though it was the mortgage situation that ended up being the deciding factor and I talked myself into the benefits of renting as a result. Wow am I happy we did this! It’s really worked for us.
Firstly, our dream was to live in the country. The french countryside is beautiful and the prospect of having more than a little patch of land is so tempting to us Brits. However having now rented in the country we’ve felt first hand the isolation, particularly as a foreigner.
Although I can now converse on all manner of topics the language is still a challenge, more so for my husband. I am sure that if we’d had more opportunity to speak with others we’d be further long than we are. Even though we have contact at the school gates this tends to be rushed and it’s really difficult navigating a conversation in another language as you search for and monitor your children.
Inevitably you face the lack of a pint of milk at home and you have to bundle everyone up in a car to drive for some distance to get some, which tends to be the supermarkets some distance away. Again, the size of these stores means that the opportunity for conversation is limited. So frustrating and isolating.
I think at the bottom of all this is that I didn’t realise how big a move it was. Truly. My folks live here, we’ve been back and forward for years, we knew the area well; it was just like going on holiday but staying there wasn’t it? Of course I didn’t think this so clearly, but underneath that was where my thoughts were. A long, adventurous holiday.
The truth is, no matter how rewarding, the move is hard. You don’t need to make it harder by complicating things with an isolated environment.
What all this is leading up to is an explanation as to why it’s taken this long, one and a quarter years, to have our first French dinner guests. We’ve had play dates, and french people have come to La Plus Petite’s baptism, but not over for dinner.
I was really worried before hand. With Le Marie’s limited French would I be able to keep the conversation going for both of us? Would they be bored? What would we have to talk about? I can tell you I did my fair share of praying over this.
Luckily they were Anglophiles, with the wife having a sister who worked as a language teacher in Bath with her young son and English husband.
When they arrived their children, typically French i.e. well behaved and charming, offered us all a bise and a courteous, warm greeting. I’m finally getting used to kissing children. With them too came a traditional French chocolate cake in a lovely little bag french women make to carry such delicacies. The husband is un homme de manage, a house husband and had made this beautiful cake, but he proudly told me his wife had made the bag.
Le Plus Grande Fille, who’s just had a birthday, was excited to show her friends her beautiful new princess dresses so she raced to her dress up box and pulled them out but, alas, couldn’t understand why boys weren’t interested.
Thank God that both our guests spoke very good English. As a result we kept the french to a minimum as Le Marie is still struggling with His French as he’s stuck indoors for work so frequently.
At the end of the meal, with all the children happily playing, we offered our guests coffee. Surprised they said ‘Not tea?’ We’d just assumed that they’d want coffee!
It turns out they both like tea, though they took coffee, so I naturally asked “But do you like French tea, or a good cup of PG Tips?” Well I say naturally, more cheekily obviously. It turns out though, with an English connection, they’re partial to a proper brew!
The conversation then turned to the English, ex-pat supply chain for all the best Blighty had to offer; PG Tips (natch), Jaffa cakes, marmalade (they’re suggestion), proper Bacon, sausages, marmite, baked beans (again, they’re suggestion – their sons love baked beans). They then told me where to get their hands on some good cheddar, Red Leicester and Caerphilly!
A phone was pulled out with a picture of her mum’s local English butcher, kitted out in as he would be in any twee country village waiting for the vicar to call! Apparently they get her mum to bring bacon, sausages and pork pies whenever she visits!
Franglais. You can’t beat it.