Eating King Cake in France, la Galette des Rois for Epiphany…and guess who’s queen? This little porcelain “fève” is what my daughter found in her slice. I know she didn’t cheat, because we followed tradition. Since she’s the youngest, she hid under the table and called out who would get each slice. And just look how cute that is! It’s a little rolling pin, and on the outside is written “recette du quatre-quarts aux pommes“, which means basically “apple pound cake recipe”. On the inside, do you see the little scroll of paper? It’s the full recipe! How cute is that?? BTW, if you’re wondering, the galette came from “La Maison Carratié“. If you come through Béziers, it’s a must stop. And guess what? It’s owned by a French-American couple, Laurent and Carmela. How fun!
Tomorrow it will have been exactly one year since our container from St. Louis had arrived and we were beginning to move our furniture into our apartment. With our place being on what the French call the second floor, but to Americans is actually the third floor, those 54 steps up to our new abode were a challenge, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. One year ago. Sometimes I wonder where the time went, and other times I know exactly how each moment was spent. Since it hasn’t always been easy, sometimes I wonder how it’s only been a year. We were still in the midst of scrubbing walls, floors, doors, toilets, and sinks when our container arrived. It was exciting, yet frightening to finally enter the door and step into our new life in France. We’d opened the door to enter that corridor of relative homelessness when we’d left our home and friends in St. Louis two months prior. The corridor was familiar territory, not much different than spending two months on vacation in France as we had for the last 15 years. When the container arrived and we set up house and home in Béziers, started filling the cupboards and purchasing school supplies for the kids, the corridor disappeared, and porthole to a previous life had been sealed. It’s not a short term stay, we’re not ephemeral expats living out a dream to spend some time in France. This is our new home. That was one year ago.
I’m a teacher, have always been a teacher. Of course I’d be teaching in France. The idea of teaching English in France frightened me a little, but annoyed me more than anything. “Tu devrais enseigner l’anglais à l’université”, “On m’a dit qu’ils cherchent une prof d’anglais par-ci et par-là.” Wonderful, thanks for your concern, but I’m not an English teacher. I’m a French teacher. I started thinking about that, long and hard. Why, I asked myself, would I consider doing something that I didn’t want to do at 41 years old? Didn’t I deserve more? I really love French, and love teaching it. That was when what I identify now as “the American in me” took over. I can do whatever I want to do, as long as I’m willing to work very hard, and not be intimidated by the threat of failure or having to teach myself how to do something new. One year ago. I told myself that I could do it. I learned to ignore those who told me I couldn’t. I overcame my fear of telling French people that I’m going to teach French here. I started a new business in France. I became an English speaking French teacher in Béziers and on Skype. I told myself that I am good enough. I realized that I am. When I started writing this blog several years ago, I didn’t even want to tell my family and friends about it because I was embarrassed. I was sure my writing was bad, and that nobody would be interested. I didn’t tell my husband about it until I’d been writing for at least 6 months. When I started recording French lessons and putting them on a YouTube channel, nobody knew. They didn’t know because I didn’t tell them. I’m not sure why my self-esteem had dropped from the time I was a young 20-something, but during the last year and a half I have seen myself change. I see now that the greatest hurdle was telling myself that I am good at something, and learning to realize that people who don’t believe in me don’t have the final word on the matter. One year ago. I didn’t know I was good at much. Somewhere inside I guess I knew it, people had told me, but I didn’t believe it. This first year of living in France has taught me that I’m not good at everything (like stress management and not taking on too much for one sane person to handle). However, I’ve accepted that I’m a really good French teacher, and I’m good at meeting new friends. I’m a good mom, too. I’m good at taking on a challenge, and I’m good at learning new things. I guess the most important thing is that I’ve begun to accept myself, and I feel like I’ve made a new friend in me. Now I need to learn to trust my new friend. I think she cares about me more than anyone else can.
I’ve been inspired to write this post by a message I received a few days ago from a reader who is planning a move to France in about 18 months. She has three small children, and is desperate for information from experienced families who have already made the transition. In this particular family, nobody speaks French for the time being, though they’re very interested in starting to learn before making the move.
While searching school options in France, there are a few options…
For those who have the financial means, the desire to do so, and the possibility of living in or near a large city with lots of expats, there are exclusive international and bilingual schools. I don’t have any experience with these kinds of establishments, so I can’t really comment as to whether I would send my children there. I have known American families who have come to France for work, and their companies have paid for schooling for the children. Everyone I know in this situation seems to have had a positive experience, but the kids didn’t necessarily go back to the States fully bilingual. I’m assuming that’s because many of their classes were taught in English, most of their friends spoke English, and the parents didn’t learn French to the point where they were speaking it at home with the kids.
A much more economical solution, and the most “natural” in my opinion, is to send your children to French school. Public or private, this particular option seems like the most frightening, especially for parents, but it is the most efficient way of immersing your family into French culture and learning the language. Now, it’s true that before moving to France last summer, our children were already bilingual (we’d always made a special effort to speak only in French at home while living in the U.S., and their dad is French). However, when we got married sixteen years ago, we did spend almost a year living in Béziers. At that time, my eldest son (who is now almost 23!) was only 7, and he didn’t speak a lick of French when we put him in French school. He was fully bilingual (using the subjunctive correctly and everything) by January 1. Enrolling your children in French school is a way to help them integrate, find friends in the community, and it’s also an excellent means by which your family can befriend other families in the area.
Depending on where your’e coming from, French “private” schools (and by that, I mostly mean Catholic schools) are a lot less expensive than you may be expecting. I’m saying that from an American point of view, but all I can say is that in St. Louis, we were paying almost $800 per MONTH for two children to attend a parochial school (yes, it’s a great school, but come on). Here in France, the equivalent costs us 114€ per month for two children.
Here’s a question I have for anyone reading this post who may have a response, because I personally don’t know, and I haven’t heard any of my anglophone friends here in France mention it. Are there FLE (français langue étrangère) resources for non-native speakers in public French schools, like the ESL resources provided in American public schools? I’ll see if anyone has any knowledge on that topic, and I’ll also ask around here in town to see what kind of response I can find.
I’d be very curious to hear input on this topic. Feel free to share your opinion: public, private, bilingual? Reasons why?
Elementary school testing in France is a lot more intense than anything I’ve seen in the US. I used to teach in a very competitive high school in St. Louis, and what elementary age children have to prepare for here in France is quite similar to exam prep for quarter, semester, and final exams.
Here is a photo of part of my son’s list of what to study for the upcoming “exam week”. He just turned ten, by the way. These aren’t national exams, they’re just the regular exams that children in France always have a week before the next vacation begins. That means they have intense exams about once every two months. In our region, the next school holidays will begin on February 28 and will last until March 17. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, every spare moment is spent getting ready for testing.
I’ve noticed that the stress involved in preparing for such an event is not downplayed by either parents or teachers. It’s as if rigorous testing were a right of passage into the harrowing realm of higher education in France.
There are ups and downs to every school system, and what I say next may surprise you. I like it. I like the testing. I don’t necessarily like the stress involved, and I don’t think it’s good for the whole class to know who is first in the ranking and who is last. But I do like the testing. I like that the kids are held accountable for remembering what they learned two months ago, and I like that they have to learn to study. However, it must be torture for students who struggle in school. That’s the part that sucks.
Children who test poorly, but who are otherwise quite intelligent and creative, visibly have a hard time finding their place in this system. The French school system is not set up to encourage creativity. If you can focus well enough to pay attention in class at least 80% of the time, not talk out of turn, and memorize your lessons, chances are you have a shot at success. Just forget about ADD / ADHD.
We will aim to keep the creativity alive, all the while raising the bar high for success. I feel very fortunate that language isn’t a barrier for our children. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for expat children who attend French school. And what about parents who are still working hard to learn to speak French? It must be quite frightening when the study guide makes it’s way home less than a week before exams begin.
In case you cannot see everything on the study guide, here’s the list:
Jeudi 13 février:
Vocabulaire: Livre de Français: p. 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 118, 119 + Règles de grammaire: R5, R6, R7, R8
Calcul Rapide (maths): Critères de Divisibilité. X11, X 1/2, X 1/3, X 2/5 …. pg. 84, 90, 91
Opérations: Divisions à un et deux chiffres… pg. 104, 106
Vendredi, 14 février:
Grammaire: Livre de Français: p. 52 à 59, 94 à 99 + R7 – R11 (règles de grammaire)
Géométrie: pg. 68-69, 74-75, 126-127 + R4 & R5
Mesures: p. 36-37, 118 (#1 & 2) + R10
Lundi 17 février:
Conjugaison: Livre de Français p. 104 à 109, 146-147 + R8 à R12
Numération: p. 140 à 145 + R11, R12, R14
Mardi 18 février:
Orthographe: cahier de règles; Bled série 12, 13, 18, 23; orthographe d’usage: riz, pâle, trouver, paysage, aucun, désigner, équipage, joueux, redire, rayon, muet, respecter, horloge, rempili
Problèmes: Problèmes de logique; Rédiger la question d’un problème; Problèmes avec des +, -, X, /
Jeudi 20 février:
Production d’écrits: Le dialogue
Poésie: # 5, 6, 7, 8
Note: Je n’oublie pas de regarder mes cahiers de classe, mon cahier du soir et mon trieur.
So what do you think? Let me know if you are curious and have any questions about this study guide. This is the kind of thing I would have loved to show to my students back in St. Louis, just to give an idea of how different things are in France.
Even though it’s tough, I have to say that we are very fortunate that the school we chose is a very good one, and the kids love their “maîtresse”. We’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences concerning school so far. Everyone at the school has been nothing less than helpful from the very start. I feel that they’ll be well prepared for what’s to come. Just for the record, in CP (first grade) they also have a week of testing coming up, but there is no studying involved. I think the only thing she’ll have to study will be the last four poems they’ve memorized.
For this American French teacher, moving to France, and specifically to Béziers in the Languedoc-Roussillon (the “other” South of France) meant quitting my steady job back in the US and starting a new life and a new adventure. It is exhilarating to be starting my own business teaching French online via Skype, and being able to work from home. I never regret the decision we made, ever. I mean it. But. There are still a few pros & cons that are worthy of mentioning on this 4th day of FEBRUARY, 2014.
For now, I’m going to keep the short list very short. If I had to state only one awesome thing about living in Béziers, and only one rather miserable aspect….today, and just for today, I would say:
PRO: The sky is blue, and it’s almost 60 degrees. It’s heavenly.
CON: It smells like dog poop literally everywhere in this city.
Now if that doesn’t make you want to move to France, I don’t know what will. There are ways to forget about the dog poop, like walking past a fromagerie, for example. Smells bad, but tastes lovely. However, nothing can take away the feeling you get when walking to pick up your kids for lunch to bring them home for crêpes, and it’s practically t-shirt weather. Yeah, it’s February 4. Life is good.
La Crèche, La Galette des Rois, Carnaval & Mardi Gras
I began this post to write about what it was like to be invited over by a very French couple today, and to share a glass of champagne and the tradition of the galette des rois. As I was writing, my thoughts began to morph into a sort of reflection on this time of year and the tradition of the King Cake, both in France and in Louisiana (Home Sweet Home). Now it is my goal to tell you about my lovely day while musing upon “the reason for the season”…and another excuse to eat cake and drink champagne.
After a solid month of festivities to celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, my son’s and daughter’s birthdays, by this time we’re usually getting ready to wind it down. But here we are in France, and January 2 means it’s the first day that many pâtisseries begin selling the celebrated “Galette des Rois”, known to Louisiana folks like me as “King Cake”. If you’re not from an area where Mardi Gras is revered, you may not be familiar with the tradition of the King Cake. Even if you are from an area where Mardi Gras is celebrated, and especially if you aren’t Catholic, you may have never heard about what it truly represents.
The tradition of the King Cake in Louisiana comes directly from the French, and even if our cakes don’t exactly look alike, the brioche-type one from the South of France does resemble it quite a bit, so it seems the American grand-daughter has inherited some of the good genes. Though the bread part of the two varieties does taste more or less the same, the Louisiana one is typically flavored with cinnamon (like a coffee cake), topped with a sugar glaze and granulated sugar tinted in the official colors of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which are purple, green, and gold (see the first picture below). The French brioche omits the sugar glaze and tricolor sugar, replacing it with a variety of candied fruits (second picture). Both versions are shaped in the form of a circle, representing the form of a crown. The third variety you see in the pictures below, and perhaps the most common in most parts of France, is the Parisian style Galette des Rois. It’s made of puff pastry and frangipane, and it’s exquisite. All three cakes are irresistible, and all contain a hidden “fève”, which for us in Louisiana would be a plastic Baby Jesus, but here (at least in my limited experience) they’re mostly ceramic figurines from the nativity scene (la crèche). The one lucky guest who finds the fève is the king or queen for the day! Many people in France find it amusing to collect these tiny trinkets from year to year, and I know that it’s something I’ll be doing from now on.
Today we were invited to the home of the owners of our building (which houses only three apartments). They live just beneath us, and they’re a lovely, fabulously Bourgeois retired couple. They had us over to “tirer les rois”, which basically means to share a galette des Rois with them, and to see who finds the fève. The first thing they did was show us the handmade “crèche” which takes the space of about half a room. The wife is an artist, and she spent over ten years creating this magnificent work of French & Catholic culture. The crèche is a French tradition, and it includes hand-crafted, hand-painted figurines from Provence. These figurines are called santons , which means “little saints”. Besides Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and all of the stable animals who were there on that Holy Night, characters from “la vie Provençale” are also present, and these are the santons. They represent 16th century Provençal characters and trades. These characters are portrayed as bringing offerings to the Christ Child. . There are shepherds, fishermen, women with water jars, woodcutters, gardeners, millers, bakers, basket makers, hunters, blacksmiths, blind people, Bohemiens, chimney sweeps, snail sellers, and even village idiots! The list goes on and on, and if you’re ever trying to think of something very typically French to bring back home after a vacation in France, you’ve found your answer.
Just as a side note, the santons you see to the left are not the ones we saw today. I didn’t think about asking to take a picture of her creation, though I should have. I’m sure she would have been very happy to oblige, and perhaps I’ll go and ask before January 6 if I can get a snapshot. She’s gone as far as to build a village church complete with a clock and a rooster on top of that, a bakery with bread so fresh you can almost smell it, a wine cellar in which you’d love a dégustation, groups of Provençal men playing boules, plus almost any other kind of shop you could imagine from a sixteenth-century Provençal setting. She’s an amazing artist, and their apartment is stunning, especially since it is she who created all of the paintings throughout their home.
Our hosts today served us both varieties of the French King Cake, and they served them with champagne and chilled crème anglaise (that’s how it’s done in France). A friend from Wales recently told me that this custard should be served warm, but I trust the French to know how to do it better 😉 And by the way, I was the queen of the day, though I tried to pass off the fève unseen to both my son and daughter so that they could enjoy the honor. However, they insisted I wear the crown (Oh, joy!).
The King Cake represents the arrival of the Wise Men (the Magi, les Rois mages, The Three Kings) at the birthplace of the Christ Child in Bethlehem on Epiphany, or January 6, and the Eve of Epiphany represents the “Twelfth Night of Christmas”, with the first “Day of Christmas” being on December 25. If you’ve never thought about what Epiphany or the Twelve Days of Christmas are actually about, you can read more about it here. Even better, treat yourself to a performance (or at least a DVD performance) of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, you’ll be glad you did, what fun! My daughter told me today that it’s still Christmas, and that today is only the 9th Day. Where are the Ladies Dancing? I’m still waiting for them to show up. Representing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure they’ll be here when least expected.
I hope this little post will serve as a reminder that it’s not over till it’s over. Here in France, once Epiphany has come and gone the galette des Rois shall also disappear, but keep in mind that in my hometown in Louisiana, you can eat King Cake all the way up until midnight on Mardi Gras. Then the 40 days of fasting will bring us all back to some semblance of sobriety until Easter arrives. Then it all starts up again. Bonnes fêtes, tout le monde!
November 29, 2013
Free Skype Lesson + 50% off Online French Course
Coupon Code: BLACKFRIDAYFRENCH2013 (click on the link in the title)
I’m pleased to offer an online Beginner French lesson, in the marketplace now at Udemy.com. The regular price for this video course is $20, on sale for only $10 today. In addition, the first ten new students to enroll in the course TODAY ONLY will receive a FREE 45 minute French course with Jennifer on Skype. Coupons are limited, and the free lesson is only for the first 10 to enroll in the class today. Looking forward to hearing from you! À bientôt!
I feel like such a wimp saying this, but it’s freezing out there! What I mean is that it’s 5 C / 41 F, so feel free to put me in my place if you come from some place where it’s colder . My husband came back from the Friday Market this morning and told me people were saying it had snowed in Bédarieux, about half an hour away from here. Come to find out, there was a light frost.
That said, I’ll stick to my guns and say that the nice weather was definitely one of the attractions to this small little corner in the South of France, with average temperatures still remaining quite moderate.
If you’re thinking of moving to the Languedoc region, or if you’ve already relocated and are living here, I’m curious to know what your main reasons are/were for making the move. Since we came over all the way from the US, some of our reasons may not be the same as yours. Weather really had nothing to do with it for us ;-).
The last time I wrote about the administrative paperwork I’d be needing in order to live in France was back in May when I had to go back and forth from St. Louis to Chicago, dealing with my passport-visa fiasco. That was quite an adventure, and one I’m very happy to have behind me. Upon arrival in France, I had to send in a document that the French Consulate had sent to me when they returned my passport containing my long-stay visa. This document had an official stamp, declared my name, the number of my visa, and the dates of its validity. I didn’t need this document to enter the country, but I couldn’t lose it. I would need to send it to the OFII (Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration), along with a copy of the visa that had been put in my passport. This document had to be sent in within three months of my arrival in France. Of course, when I was ready to send it to the local office in Montpellier (two and a half months after arriving in France) , I thought I’d lost it. Then I realized that I’d asked François to file it with some other important papers.
I’d arrived in France on June 19, and finally got around to sending in the document around September 1. About a month later, I received a letter in the mail which was a summons to appear at the OFII in Montpellier on October 17 for a medical exam (to prove that I meet the sanitary conditions for remaining on the French territory), a welcome interview (including an evaluation of my level of French and basic knowledge of the “values of the Republic”), and a “collective training session” (this was just a 15 minute video about France that I watched with a group of others). They said that I should count on spending half a day there, and that would not have been a problem, but in reality it only took one hour. At the end of this half-day, I would have:
- signed the CAI (le contrat d’accueil et d’intégration – the welcome and integration contract)
- scheduled a civic training session which presents the values and principles of the French Republic
- attended an information session about life in France
- scheduled an appointment with the unemployment office in my town to address my professional competencies
- scheduled to begin up to 400 hours of French classes if my level in French were to be found insufficient
The medical exam was a breeze. They just asked me my height and weight, if I’d had the necessary vaccinations as a child (but didn’t need any proof), and if I was currently taking any medicine. They did take an X-Ray of my lungs, and evaluated them on the spot. One little cultural difference was that when I went into the room for the X-Ray, the female technician asked me to remove my shirt and bra, then to walk across the room for the X-Ray. It’s not a big deal, but very different to the way it would have been done in the US. There was no changing room, no gown. It reminded me of when I once tried on a bra in Paris at the Galéries Lafayette. The sales girl just came right into my dressing room, without knocking, to declare if it was a good fit or not.
The contract that I had to sign was also very simple. It basically states that by choosing to live in France, I accept to integrate into French society and the fundamental values of the Republic. I will have to participate in a whole day of civic training, during which I will learn about the fundamental rights and main principles and values of the Republic. This contract will last one year.
I had a little chat with one of the ladies who works there, in her office. She quickly assured me that I won’t have to take any French classes, and she asked if I thought I needed any help to understand how the different governmental offices in France function. These would be things like Social Security, etc. Since my husband and I have already been round and round with all of the administrative red tape that’s necessary in France, I feel as if I already have a pretty good understanding of how things work. In exchange, she granted me the two certificates you see in the photos above. The one for the French language states that I have “satisfait aux épreuves du test de connaissances en langue française”, meaning I passed the French language test (which is really just a conversation). The one about life in France states that I have “bénéficié d’une information sur la Vie en France”, meaning that I was given information about life in France (I didn’t really, but we decided I didn’t need to).
I have a few appointments coming up, notably the day of “formation civique”, civic training? It will be on a Saturday in December and it lasts from 9-5. I have no idea of what we’ll actually be doing, but it may just be a little fun and interesting!
So that’s that, and I now have a “Carte de Séjour” that will last for the duration of my long-stay visa (one year). That doesn’t mean I’ll have to go through all of this again after one year. I’ll just have to make sure to apply for a renewal, and pay for another “timbre fiscal”. How could I have forgotten to tell you about the “timbre fiscal”? This is a tax that foreigners have to pay to live and work in France. In my case, this cost me 241€. Hopefully I won’t have to pay it again, because now that I have my Carte de Séjour, I plan to ask for French nationality. Since France and the United States both “tolerate” double nationality, and especially since my kids and husband all have both nationalities, I’d like to do the same.
I’ve been meaning to write more, but we’re still figuring out our new life here in France, and all of this marketing, cooking, and eating takes up a lot of time! For the last week I have been wanting to write about something that is so foreign to most American families, and something that was unknown to us for the 14 years we lived as a family in St. Louis. It’s something as simple as getting the family together for a main meal lunch, homemade with love, (almost) every single day of the week (except for the occasional lunch out on weekends, of course!).
As I’ve written before, the kids come home for lunch almost every day. We pick them up from school at 11:45, and return them there at 1:45. We have started having them stay at school for lunch one day a week so that they can socialize with friends, and we can have one whole day just to do what we want… and most of the time that means working without interruption. However, yesterday the kids stayed at school, and we went out for sushi and to see the new Woody Allen movie (in English!). They enjoyed eating freshly made paëlla and tomme noire cheese for the first time, and we enjoyed a day together.
It’s lovely to share the midday meal as a family, and to hear about what everyone did during the morning hours, but that’s only one part of the pleasure of spending a few hours at home in the middle of the day. Very often, when we arrive at home with the kids, after bringing the freshly purchased baguette to the table, they’ll go and lie down on their beds or on the sofa and read a book while we’re finishing up making lunch. This down time seems to do wonders for them. By the time we sit down to have lunch, it’s usually about 12:30, and everyone is all smiles. We’ve usually finished eating by about 1:15, which still leaves them about twenty minutes to play. That’s what they do, they play. We don’t have them work on homework to try and get ahead, or multi-task in any way. They play, and they’re happy.
Now if I were back in the US reading this, wondering if I’d ever be able to move my family to France and make a drastic life change… I would wonder how it’s possible to find time to shop, cook, pick up the kids, and have a two hour family time every day at noon, while still trying to earn a living. I would assume that the person who had written this was independently wealthy, and didn’t have to work. Let me assure you that this is not the case with us, not at all. We happen to be very fortunate to be able to work from home, but it wasn’t always this way. Until the end of May 2013, we ran the rat race every single day.
It has taken a lot of planning and hard work to get to where we are, and there’s still a lot of hard work involved on a daily basis and we’re having to really focus on working as a team to make it work, but this is a choice that we consciously have made in order to improve our quality of life. We are living simply, and finding such liberation in the absence of stress. Well, not a complete absence of stress… I’ve just noticed the time and realized I have to go and pick up the kids for lunch, and I don’t want to be late! I welcome your comments, reaction, and comments. À bientôt!