It’s been 3 months since I officially moved to France, leaving my work at Nationwide and stepping into the « unknown ». My family had already been here for a month and I was excited to join them and discover everything that the region had to offer our family. I thought I’d give a summary of some of the differences I’ve noticed since arriving:
One of the main differences for me is the language! I am so grateful that my children already have a basis that they can draw on. All I had was what I learnt at school and 3 years of night school after we got married. But living in the country is a whole different thing. In the UK, I was in charge! I could be the lead on everything, taking responsibility for work that need doing, engaging with companies etc. Here, because of my (self-inflicted) lack of understanding I have had to rely on Sabine for everything. She has had to take the point with schools, authorities and workmen. This has been hard for both of us but we are finding a way to work together in it. I have been taking French lessons 3 times a week and slowly my understanding is increasing although speaking is still difficult.
Or should I say « lane discipline »? Virtually non-existent here! For example, if you want to turn left at a roundabout (the equivalent of turning right in the UK), you should be on the inside of the roundabout. That is not exactly the case. You need to be prepared for someone on the outside to be going all the way around. The chance is that they will not be indicating either! If you can accept that and get used to it, then you won’t have a problem. Just expect anyone to do the unexpected! Much similar to the UK really. Motorway driving is a lot simpler. In most places, there are only ever 2 lanes. You can drive faster (up to 90 mph – 140 kmh in places) and the quality of the roads is much better. Yes, you have to pay tolls in places but I believe it is worth it.
There are many more French cars here. Especially the Citroën Picasso, which is very popular. So much so that we’ve even bought one!
The school day is longer, finishing at 4:30 pm for Abigaël and 5:00pm for Elliot, but no schools on Wednesday afternoons. The way of learning is more ‘academic’, having to learn a lot more theory with less practical. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. Elliot is expected to take control of his learning, being given scheduled study periods. Furthermore, in the collège, if the teacher isn’t there, there is no supply teacher, students are expected to use time for study. They are also given more chances to do other activities, like sailing, canoeing, windsurfing and stamp collecting! Finally schools meals are exceptional! Both are given a 4 course meal every day, which makes tea time so much simpler.
« Give us today our daily bread » has a strong meaning here. Fresh bread is eaten like a cake! Going to the « boulangerie » is a real experience: the smell as you walk in is striking and so welcoming! The main difficulty is to choose which baguette you want! Truth is, the French baguette you get in the UK isn’t really one: I don’t really how to explain it, but here they taste different, so much fresher. Is it in the flour? The preservatives (or rather the lack of it!)? The baking? I don’t know.
Cakes and desserts
Walking in a pâtisserie is like walking into an art gallery! When you look at each cake, you can
imagine someone spending hours creating it. The intricate details they put into a cake and the decorations is astounding. So much so that you don’t really want to eat them, just look at them. But once you’ve bitten into it, you can tell that the artistry also extends to the flavours… If you have seen the film « Ratatouille », I’m sure you can see what I mean.
At first, stepping into the local Lidl felt just like walking into one in West Swindon. However, after a closer look you realise it’s actually different: the food on offer is definitely French! In other supermarkets, differences are all too evident: food is very varied and choice is much bigger. The wide range of cheeses (over 1,000) is very well known, but you can expand it to yogurts, breads, desserts, meat, fish, vegetables… the list goes on! You can tell the French really care about their food, not only through such a variety but also in the quality. Each town has at least a weekly market and everyone is used to buying local food there, but also items of clothing, bags, jewellery etc.
From about mid-November, they have brought out Christmas chocolates. Do you remember what I said about choice? Well, for example, they have at least 10 different options for Celebrations and 6 different infusions of After Eights!
I keep forgetting that lunch break is still very much « alive and kicking » here. Many places still close for 2 hours at lunchtime. I need to check the opening times of shops, petrol stations or even the post office to make sure they are open. On Mondays, we’ve also discovered that banks, bakeries and temp agencies are always closed.
It’s easy to say the weather is different. You can say that no matter where you go: the weather in Swindon is different to Scotland’s and similarly, the weather here is different to that of the south of France, but as we are on the edge of the Golfe du Morbihan, there is a micro climate. We’ve had an extended Summer with no rain until November and we were even able to paddle in the sea on November 1st!
Oh but when it rained, did it rain! Locals told us they hadn’t had a frost in many years and then suddenly temperatures went down below 0°! Fortunately, mild weather has now returned so it doesn’t look like we will have a « white Christmas » around here!
Is non existent! No Starbucks either. If you want one of those you can go to Paris. Actually, our closest Costa is in Jersey! Apparently there is a Starbucks in Nantes, but it’s over 1 1/2 hour away. That being said, we don’t need them: we have our Columbus Café with their delicious muffins!
Children have felt really welcome by people here: Abigaël has got many friends at school and Elliot told us recently that his friends had told him they were very proud of him for moving to France! As for us, we are getting to know our neighbours and a few parents at school, especially Louis, a British Dad, also married to a French lady like me.
Local custom is 1 kiss on the cheek and many parents at the school do it every day. Apparently, in some areas you need 4 to say « bonjour » and « au revoir »! Imagine how long it would take in a group of 20 people?! If you are interested, this website tells you who does what across the whole country! As for children, I’m told they also do « la tèque » or « le tchac » among themselves, which is a secret handshake. I have also noticed how comfortable couples are showing their affection in public, which works well with Sabine and I!
Apart from « Le Meilleur Pâtissier » (the French Bake Off), which we have watched avidly up to the final as a family, there doesn’t seem to be much to watch here. News wise, Sabine follows the run up towards the general elections in May 2017. One evening, we saw 2 politicians having an argument because one decided to use « tu » (instead of the formal « vous ») to address the other with his first name, who then got very offended and declared he didn’t know him and would he please call him « Monsieur »! The first politician got so upset he started using very colourful language, live on television!
We fee really lucky to live so close to so many beaches. Going for a walk for us now consists of choosing which one to go to?! Each one is different, in terms of scenery, size and sand quality, either alongside the Golfe du Morbihan or the actual Ocean! Some are good to stay and soak in the surroundings, others to walk along and enjoy the wildlife. We just need to remember to watch for the tide!
There are lots of communal spaces dedicated to « la culture » in our local town and the whole Presqu’île de Rhuys and we’ve noticed that concerts and other art and photo exhibitions are constantly going on around here. We are now members of their large mediathèque, which is located whithin the Centre Cuturel, that has a large conference room and music and dance room. All that for 7 756 inhabitants! Both children have already watched plays locally through their schools and Elliot watched « To Kill a Mockingbird » in English with French subtitles at school. For Christmas, Abigaël will watch « Vaiana » with her school, the French version of the latest « Moana » Disney movie. And by the way, there are many French movies available here, as well as a few American blockbusters of course. I am looking forward to watching the latest « Star Wars » in our local cinema soon.
Here are a few more things we’ve noticed that are different around here!
- There are olives on ALL pizzas, no matter the flavour, which we systematically give to Sabine to eat!
- As well as letters, numbers are written differently, especially the 1, 7 and 9
- There is mustard in mayonnaise!
- A Heinz can of baked beans costs 2.70 €!
- We cannot find Golden syrup and porridge oats are extortionate (so we decided to import them!)
- Local firefighters came to sell their calendar. They knock systematically on every door
- I’ve learnt that in a rural area, there is a Gendarmerie, but in a city they have la Police municipale
- Finally, there was no fireworks on November 5th! The French do fireworks on their national Bastille Day, on July 14th.
Overall, I am still discovering things that are different to our lives in the UK and I am enjoying the discovery! I am doing things that I thought I’d never do, even climbing trees to trim them or driving with a trailer! Some days I still look at where we live and think « WOW! Did I really do this? » I feel so blessed to be able to live here. Even down to the robins living in our garden and watching our every move! I know there are still challenges ahead but I am going to face them head on.