"From France, I love the freedom we have now, the space and the mountains. I love the locals and how everyone says hello to each other still. It’s something we used to have in the UK, but it’s rare to find these days. Warm summers would also be difficult to replace! I would also miss speaking French. There are days when I just don’t want to, but I actually quite enjoy it." (CS Nov 2010)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in France?
Christina See, 33, 2 and a half years
Whereabouts in France do you live?
What nationality are you and your partner?
English and Irish
How many children do you have and what are their names and ages?
1 child, Eva Grace, 5 years old
Do you work and if so what to you do?
Yes, I run a B&B www.mazametcentral.com and I also work freelance as a translator German to English mainly
What was your experience of relocating to France with children?
Fairly easy once you work out which forms you have to fill in. Make sure you use removal people recommended to you as we had a bad experience and had no furniture for 3 weeks with a 2 year old in tow.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
Completely. I spoke French to A level standard, but hadn’t practiced and now my level is fairly fluent I’d say. My partner Stephen didn’t speak at all, but now runs his own electrical business with mainly French clients, plays rugby for the local team and is also fairly fluent now, as he completed a course with an organization called Greta which is 6 hours of French lessons, free of charge intended for foreigners trying to better their French in order to find work. It gave him confidence to speak the language and definitely improved his standard in addition to just speaking to the locals. Eva is completely bilingual and very happy at school. She has mainly French friends, as do we.
What language do you speak to your children?
English – she speaks French all day at school and with most of her friends. The headmaster advised us to speak only English to her so she doesn’t lose it and doesn’t pick up our mistakes in French. We have both English and French TV at home and she chooses either depending on how she feels.
What is your impression of childcare and education in France so far?
Excellent. Childcare is much cheaper than in the UK, but the only problem in our town is that there are no facilities for children who are 4 years old during the holidays and on Wednesdays. If you work, then this can be difficult. It is possible to get a nanny and get 50% of the cost reimbursed at the end of the tax year, but it’s difficult to find a nanny just for the holidays, or for random days. Eva goes to a private school which costs roughly 150 Euros a year. I’m extremely happy with the school as they have set up a special class with only 15 pupils (classes are normally 25 to 30), 8 brighter pupils from Eva’s year and 8 from the year above who need a little more help. This flexibility is brilliant and the teachers have been excellent. We chose private rather than state school, as although we are not hugely religious, I wanted Eva to learn about religion. This is not taught in state schools at all apparently. Also, it’s only a 5 minute walk to school, if that.
What school do your children go to?
St Jean, Mazamet
Why did you choose this school and are you happy with your choice?
See reasons above in my impressions of childcare. We’re very happy. Eva loves going to school and is learning a great deal, so we can’t ask for more. There are 6 other English children in the school of about 150 pupils and the school is used to having other English families. This really helps as they try to put the children in different classes, but make sure they play together in the same playground. I think this really helps their confidence without allowing them to speak English all day.
Where you live, how good are the facilities for children (shops, restaurants, activities etc)?
Excellent if you have children who can walk and sit in a chair on their own already. Pavements here are not designed for pushchairs, so it’s a little difficult. Shops are very child friendly, but restaurants don’t always have high chairs, so as we live in the middle of town, we’ve often just taken one with us. There are loads of activities here for children. The local MJC (youth club) takes children from 5 years old and is packed with activities for them on Wednesdays and during the holidays. We also have a number of events organized by the tourist office and local places children can visit. There is a cinema, sometimes showing English films, library, 3 local parks and even a circus school and a lake with mini-golf about 10 minutes drive away. There is also a soft play centre for small and large children with bouncy castles and inflatable things to play on, which is good in bad weather, ice-skating, indoor swimming pool, aqua park, quad biking etc all within easy reach which makes this a brilliant place for sporty children. We also have a cycle and walking path designed for families and disabled people. From our point of view, there is plenty here, but as we also run the B&B we can see that many families come here and are surprised by the amount of activities on offer for children. The only real negative is that people or children with limited mobility would find it difficult getting around, but I think that’s the case in many parts of France, not just here.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in France?
You need to speak French. Most schools will have someone who speaks English, but it is expected that you learn the language. If you don’t it can be very difficult. Apart from that it’s difficult for me to say what the advantages and disadvantages are, as we have more French than English friends, and so are more part of the local community than the International one. I think if you don’t manage to master the language it can be a very lonely place as there aren’t many young English speaking families in this area.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives in France?
I think life is pretty good for children here. The French community is far more child friendly than the English one I’d say. Perhaps a forum or meeting where children can go to meet other children and discuss their problems and help each other. There are plenty set up for adults, but very little for children. It’s hard for adults at first and support is always greatly appreciated. I know children generally just tend to get on with things, but I think it may help them.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to France with children?
Rent somewhere first and make sure you are happy with where you are living before you buy in case you find all is not as rosy as you first thought. I love living here and couldn’t go back to England now, but even for the people who really enjoy living here, there are many obstacles to overcome at the start. Understanding forms, tax, childcare, bills, legal info, etc etc and I’m lucky that Eva has fitted in so well. If she wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t have stayed. It is a massive change for the whole family and it is not ideal for everyone. Although it’s good not to have to move kids around too much, better they move a little than end up in a place that the whole family is not happy with. Do your homework and speak to people who have already moved is probably the best advice I could give. Try and get involved with local activities and learn the language.
What couldn´t you live without in France?
English TV. I love life here, but French TV is really bad and it stops me getting homesick. From France, I love the freedom we have now, the space and the mountains. I love the locals and how everyone says hello to each other still. It’s something we used to have in the UK, but it’s rare to find these days. Warm summers would also be difficult to replace! I would also miss speaking French. There are days when I just don’t want to, but I actually quite enjoy it.
What could you live without in France?!
Tax forms! And any other forms for that matter! You have to fill in so many forms for everything.