Category Archives: moving abroad

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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Baby it’s cold outside!


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 ;-).

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!

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 😉

 

An unexpected surprise at Les Halles


What a wonderful weekend in spite of the thunderstorms that took over Saturday afternoon.  I have to tell you about our trip to Les Halles on Saturday morning.  “Les Halles” is an indoor market that’s open every day, even on Sunday.  You can purchase practically anything you want there:  fruit, vegetables, olive oil, meat, poultry, HORSE meat, fresh eggs, pastries, and the list goes on and on.  We’ve been to Les Halles many times in the past, but on this particular Saturday, it was getting close to noon.  We were there with the kids, and all of our stomachs started to rumble at about the same time, so it’s no surprise that we all scoped out “La Gargote des Halles” at the same time.  We hadn’t planned to eat out, in fact we were shopping to have “de quoi manger” at home.  It was time for a compromise:  l’apéritif!!   And why not, it was the weekend after all!  

The plan was to just have a little snack of chorizo.  Needless to say, we wanted a glass of wine to go with that.  Then we ended up ordering an assiette de cochonailles (a plate of charcuteries),  a bit more chorizo, a plate of homemade fries, some fried pimentos like they eat in Spain, and another glass of wine for each of us and a Coke for the kids to split.  It was so much fun with the bustling atmosphere and friends meeting up left and right, and it was also very inexpensive.  By that I mean 40€ for the four of us.  Now here’s the most interesting part, and something we’re planning to do very soon.   You can go shopping at Les Halles and pick up whatever it is you’d like for lunch, whether that be meat, fish, seafood like mussels, etc.  You bring it to La Gargote des Halles, and for 2€50 they cook it for you!  If you want some of their to die for homemade fries to go with your meal, it’s just 3€50 extra.  Oh, and a tempting glass of really good local wine will cost you less than 2€ a glass.  Definitely worth a trip to Les Halles de Béziers.  This may become a weekend tradition chez les Crespin.  I don’t believe there’s one out of the four of us who would complain about that.

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On my way to pick up the kids from school in France


Every day, I have the great pleasure (and I mean it) of walking my kids back and forth to school a total of four times a day.  That’s 8 trips, at about 15 minutes each.  I absolutely love it.  I bring them to school and walk back home in the morning at 8:00, then I pick them up for lunch at 11:45, bring them back at 1:45, go back to get them at 4:45, and then walk back home.  When I pick them up for lunch, we stop at the nearby bakery for a baguette, and this is a really good bakery, by the way!  Then at 5:00, we pick up another baguette for dinner.  The kids know it’s a special treat when I let them get a snack in the form of some type of pastry at 5, just to tide them over until dinner time.  This is one of my greatest pleasures, being able to walk to and from school, bringing them home for a healthy lunch and family time at noon, and getting freshly baked bread for each meal.  It’s a much slower pace than what we’ve ever known, and much healthier as well.  I’m happy to get in two extra hours of walking each day, not even including walking round and about town while they’re in school.  I recorded the following video while walking to pick them up from school at the end of the day today.  I hope you enjoy the new video format… Just wanted to do something different for a change!

The Simple Life


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We have officially been living in our apartment in Béziers for three days now.  It’s like a dream come true.  We absolutely love our apartment, imperfections and all!  We love the neighborhood and it’s cafés and gardens, and can’t wait for school to start next week.  Last night I was on our balcony (I always wanted a balcony), taking in the view, and I took a few minutes to take into account that this is really happening.  We have moved to France.  It’s no longer something that we “want to do someday”.  We’ve done it, we live here now.

When I was growing up in Louisiana, it was always in the fall that my “new year” began.  Since then, the only profession I’ve ever known is that of a teacher.  In my mind, next Monday (la rentrée or first day back to school for the kids) will mark the first day of a new year, a new beginning. The difference this time is that the beginning of this new year will not take place in a classroom.  It’s a new life for us, a new business to get off the ground, new friends to make, a time for new life experiences.

The kids are ready to start CP (first grade for Charlotte) and CM1 (fourth grade for Tristan).  To my great surprise, they told me that they’re tired of vacation, and they’re ready to get back to school!  It’s true that they’ve had a bit of an extended summer vacation this year to the tune of about three and a half months total.  I think they’re ready to meet some kids their own age.  It’s funny how kids don’t get worked up about things the way we adults do sometimes.   French school, American school, it’s all the same to them.

We plan to take a “trial walk” to the kids’ school today to see exactly how long it takes to get there by foot.  I’m thinking 15 minutes or so, and since we’ll be doing it 8 times a day, it should be good exercise!  In case you’re wondering why we’ll make the trip 8 times a day, it’s a round-trip in the morning to drop them off, then a round-trip to pick them up for lunch.  Add a round-trip to bring them back to school at 2:00, then another round trip to pick them up at 5:00.

Before leaving St. Louis, one of the students at the school where I taught read in the school newspaper that I would be moving in Béziers with my family.  He came to my office to tell me that he has a cousin who recently moved to Béziers (small world!) and that she and her husband own a bike shop here.  I plan to go meet them today, and maybe see if they can help me put my bike back together.  For now, we don’t have a car, so having our bikes would be pretty handy, and fun too!  It’s so liberating to live a simpler life, without the things we considered to be necessities back in St. Louis.  I love the idea of being able to get (almost) everything we need for daily living just by walking down the street.

P.S. Yesterday we ordered the mega-electricity-transformer that one of you so graciously took the time last spring to tell me about, and we received it only 24 hours later!  We can now vacuum and play on the Wii.  Life is good!