Category Archives: south of france

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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Visiting the Médiathèque (MAM) in Béziers


This is a new blog about the Languedoc, and about Béziers in particular! It’s written by my teenage ESL students in Béziers. Their goal is to share everything they love to do around the region with English speaking tourists. What a neat idea! I’m so proud of them. Check it out, and if you have a minute, let them know what you think of what they’re doing. It’s a challenge to do it in English, but they’re motivated!

B- ezier(s)

Practical Information about the Médiathèque:

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the Médiathèque opens at 10:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m.  On Sundays, it is open from 2-6.  On Mondays and Thursdays, the Médiathèque is closed.  It has ten sections on three floors.  The inscription fee is 18€ for a year, but free if you’re under 25, and you need a card if you want to borrow.   Since it’s a public library, you can always go there to read or watch movies, etc. for free.  There are computers and activities for children and teenagers.  The address is 1, Place du 14 juillet 34500 Béziers.  The phone number is 04 99 41 05 50, and you can access their website by clicking here.

MISS J, 12 years old

Would you like to improve your French at the mediatheque ?

Like lots of different languages such as German, Spanish…

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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.

 

Pros & Cons of Living in Béziers, the Short List


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.

It may be January 2, but the celebrations never end in France (sounds like Louisiana)


La Crèche, La Galette des Rois, Carnaval & Mardi Gras

Tirer des Rois à l’Épiphanie

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.

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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.

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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!

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 ;-).

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!

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 😉