Category Archives: France

Il y a un an . . . we moved to France


1010452_10151640711113374_1425742124_n 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. couloir 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.

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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. unnamed                           unnamed 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.

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Rugby – Vin – Féria


Some people complain about tourists.  I have a lot of Parisian friends and family, and they moan and groan about the tourists.  That’s kind of understandable, because Paris is a huge world capital, and there are always a lot of people out and about.  Down here in Béziers it’s a little different because when there are no tourists, you don’t tend to see many people.  For about a month we’ve been seeing more and more people in the streets, restaurants, and cafés.  That’s partially due to the amazing weather we’ve been having most of the time, and partially due to the mostly Northern European tourists who think that it’s delightful to take a dip in the Mediterranean when the water is only 19 ° (66° F).  If you’re from Northern Europe, tell me if it’s true  that you love the “plages naturistes“.

Tourists bring vitality this region, and it’s what the economy here thrives upon!  16 years ago, when we lived here for one year after getting married, someone told me that there are 3 passions in Béziers:  le rugby, le vin, et la féria!  I see now how true that is, and I think that this passion draws tourists to the region.  It’s what drew me here summer after summer, until we finally decided to move here last year.  Back in St. Louis, summer was definitely not my favorite season.  It was too hot to even get outside.  Here, even in the summer there’s often a slight sea breeze, and there’s no humidity to speak of.  I love to go and sit at the pub across the street and drink a cold beer while the kids ride their bikes and scooters on the big square.  I don’t even feel like we need to leave here to go on vacation this year….. but don’t worry, I won’t let that stop us!  Until then, I have to say that I LOVE MY JOB, and giving French immersion tours and French lessons in the region this summer is going to be so much fun.

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What’s it like for English speaking children to go to French school?


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?

4th Grade Testing in France / Les évaluations du CM1


 

IMG_4327Elementary 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.

 

Bonnes Révisions!

 

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.

 

L’OFII & La Carte de Séjour


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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.

 

Coming home for lunch, and living life in a different way


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!

Feeling right at home in Béziers


Girolles!

What a lovely way to start the day…..

Last Friday, as usual, François and I headed over to the “Marché du Vendredi” after dropping the kids off at school.  It’s a weekly pleasure, going to the market with a list of things we must have to create all of the wonderful little dishes we’ve dreamed up to prepare for our little family, and always coming home with twice as much as we planned.

This time, we came home with more than we expected!  As we stood in line at the butcher, trying to decide on a veal or pork roast, we were greeted in English by a beaming lady from Blog Land!  She asked us if we were American, then introduced herself and her husband.  They’re from New York, and have owned a place here for about ten years.  Just about two years ago, they moved here with their daughter (who happens to be Charlotte’s age!!).  She’s heard about my blog (!) from a friend who also lives here.  Since there’s a big picture of both of us on the main page, she recognized us at the market.  Talk about a small world!

I’m so looking forward to getting together with Ellen and Will for coffee sometime soon, and to meeting more people around and about Béziers. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting together a monthly meeting, at a café or something, for any other anglophones living around here to get to know each other.

Le Marché du Vendredi


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I love, love, love Fridays in Béziers.  Friday is market day!  There are many markets that take place every week, but the one on Friday is the largest, and it’s practically downstairs from where we live.  For the last few weeks, since the kids have been back in school, we have been enjoying going to the market to find something delicious to prepare for our family to eat together at lunch.  Today, we chose “loup de mer”, which is sea bass, or sea perch…I’m not really sure what the difference is!  To go with that, we steamed some little potatoes, then served them with butter and parsley.  We also made a little mixture of seasonal vegetables, eggplant, bell pepper, and zucchini.  Then we ate cheese.  Oui, la vie est belle!

Total Immersion!


Read what fellow blogger, travel journalist, and English teacher living in Barcelona had to say about her recent “Total French Immersion” experience with me in Béziers a few weeks ago. Immersion classes are so much fun, both for students and teacher!

Destino Infinito

So I decided it was time to try and learn French.  Having been presented with a Master’s research trip and project based on alternative tourism in France I knew I would be frustrated if I didn’t understand what was going on, if I wasn’t able to communicate and make myself understood.  I knew I had to try and learn, and quickly.  But as always, learning a language is a daunting process.  We are faced with hours of grammatical study, with the frustration of listening exercises, and with the shyness behind ‘getting it wrong’, ‘making a fool out of ourselves’.

But I knew there must be a more fun way of going about it, that learning French could be different.  I knew there had to be a way to learn a language in a more vibrant, confidence building way.  I just needed someone there to guide me, to help me…

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Our apartment in France, here’s what a typical South of France apartment looks like


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Thanks to one of my French teacher friends back in St. Louis, I’ve finally made a video showing our apartment in Béziers!  She is soon going to be beginning a chapter on different kinds of places to live in France, so she asked me to help out and make her class more interesting.  I decided to share this video on Skype, and also on my blog.

We’ve only been living here for two weeks at this point in time, so everything’s not quite perfect, but we don’t have to be perfect to be happy!!  I hope you enjoy this tour of “chez nous”, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have!  I remember when we were getting ready to move to France, I loved looking at International House Hunters, so here’s my version 😉