"For myself and my husband integrating has always been a little harder, not for the lack of willingness or trying. For my husband it is pronunciation and making himself understood, although he seems to do this better after a glass of red wine! For me I mix perfectly well with my neighbours and the French people at the school gates but there seems a cultural difference that even now after seven years in France is still a barrier. I like French people, I can speak to French people but still it is easier to make true friends out of those who speak my mother tongue language. When I socialise with my French neighbours or attend a school function, I join in and all is well but apart from our immediate neighbours with whom we are forming stronger friendships it is hard to form the kind of friendships we might have once made in the UK." (AF, July 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Rhone-Alpes?
Alison Farley, 39, since June 2006
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
3 children, all girls, Eloise is 9 and was born in Chichester in the UK, Maisie is 7 & she was also born in the UK (Chichester) and little Lily who is now 6 and was born in Quimper in France.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I have done all kinds of things since being in France as I hate being idle but I currently work for Currencies Direct as a Regional Coordinator and I am about to launch my own regional based website www.guide2rhonealpes.com which incorporates the Ain, Ardèche, Drôme, Haute-Savoie, Isère, Loire, Rhône & Savoie. I wanted a platform to tell people about the Rhône-Alpes which is such a beautiful and diverse region and a Guide2 site fitted the bill perfectly.
What was your experience of having children in Rhone-Alpes?
Life in the Rhône-Alpes with the children is brilliant, no doubt about it. My children have the chance to be truly bilingual but also we live close to Lac Léman so there are water-sports and sailing in the summer plus of course skiing and other snow-sports in the winter. My youngest, Lily was on skis at 2 and a half years old which to me seems an amazing privilege when all I wanted when I was younger was to go on the school ski trip!
For those who don`t know, can you describe what is Rhone-Alpes like?
The Rhône-Alpes is a huge area incorporating 8 different departments including the Rhône whose capital Lyon is one of the largest and most vibrant cities in France. Much of the region is mountainous with a number of stunning lakes, rivers and mountain peaks including of course Mont Blanc the highest mountain in Europe and Lac du Bourget which is the largest lake in France. It also borders Switzerland (amongst other countries) and Lac Léman is owned half by the French and half by the Swiss. It is the land of brilliant blue skies and crystal clear lakes and even now 5 years on I have to pinch myself to make sure it is not a dream that I live in this amazing place. There is an emphasis on the great outdoors in this region and whatever time of year locals and visitors alike enjoy everything this part of France has to offer.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
I would say my children are completely integrated with the local community and within France. They are in a state run French village school, their friends are in majority French and the road in which we live is a predominantly French community. For myself and my husband integrating has always been a little harder, not for the lack of willingness or trying. For my husband it is pronunciation and making himself understood, although he seems to do this better after a glass of red wine! For me I mix perfectly well with my neighbours and the French people at the school gates but there seems a cultural difference that even now after seven years in France is still a barrier. I like French people, I can speak to French people but still it is easier to make true friends out of those who speak my mother tongue language. When I socialise with my French neighbours or attend a school function, I join in and all is well but apart from our immediate neighbours with whom we are forming stronger friendships it is hard to form the kind of friendships we might have once made in the UK. The advantage to living where I do in the Rhône-Alpes (close to the border to Switzerland and Geneva) is that there is a large international community so I have the best of both worlds....I can integrate myself and my children as far as possible but there is always another English speaking mum out there to have a cuppa and a natter with!
What language do you speak to your children?
French & English. French at school and English for the most part at home although they will slip into French when playing amongst themselves.
Do you feel that you need to speak French to be fully integrated in the area?
The answer where I live is no to be honest. There is strong international community and many of the local French speak English out of necessity to get work in Geneva where English speakers are highly desired. However, I believe it is important to speak as much French as I can but I know many who get by on very little French.
Do you feel that having children has helped you integrate?
Most definitely, having children gave us the chance to meet people and creates a common talking point. We have recently built a house in a road where the majority of the owners have lived for the past 25 years.....we had fears that this may cause us a problem, a young family, three very lively young girls in a nice quiet street but in fact my children have been brought up to be social creatures and they have enchanted the majority of those who live here. We are mindful that early morning and lunchtimes to try and keep the decibels down as much as possible but on the whole having kids has definitely made integration much easier.
How much French and how much English culture do you think your children are exposed to?
The children are totally French at school and at their friends houses and we go to the cinema and things like that in French. We do I am sorry to say have English TV but more for the choice and they are more than happy to watch French films and listen to French music. They attend puppet shows and the such like in French but we do also have the benefit of an English drama Society in Geneva so they have seen English theatre too. At home we are like any other British family, we still eat our main meal in the evening and often have a Sunday roast, so in that respect we are still British to the core.
How welcoming were the locals when you moved to Rhone-Alpes?
Very welcoming, there are all nationalities here and you are not singled out as an oddity which we did feel a little bit more when we lived in Brittany.
How would you describe a typical local?
Well, locals here are very different to locals 20kms away up the mountain! Locals within my community are usually well educated and friendly people. Up the mountain they are equally as friendly but to be honest I cannot always understand the French and they have often (certainly the older generation) lived in the same village for most of their lives.
Do your children go to a nursery or have any childcare, and if so how do you rate it?
I have been lucky enough to work from home and therefore not used French childcare but I have friends who have used French child-minders and have found them excellent.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend in Rhone-Alpes?
Restaurants and shops are much more child friendly in France than in the UK and it is perfectly normal for the whole family to arrive in the evening for a meal (dog is also welcome) and near to me there are several particularly children friendly ones, La Casolette, Massongy and run by a husband and wife, I cannot praise their food or their welcome high enough. There is also the Restaurant la Ferme à Elise at St Cergues which is a fab restaurant to take the kids where (safely behind a glass screen) you can watch the farmyard animals - seems perhaps a bit gross when taken out of context but it is definitely a hit with the kids. Activities, well these are countless but do not miss the beach at Excenevex, we may not be anywhere near the sea but we have a sandy beach on the lake complete with ice-cream, chips and pedalos!
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Rhone-Alpes?
I think the advantages for us are in this region and certainly where I am based is that you are not seen as a minority and especially when you have children and involve yourself in school activities and outings that kind of thing people remember you and feel at ease that you are a foreigner, it is normal here and British people are just one of the many nationalities with the area. In the school where the children go for example there are Spanish, British, Italian, Dutch and German children. The disadvantages for me is the language progression, many people can and even want to speak English and this of course can hinder your attempts to improve your skills and broaden your vocabulary. Sometimes I find myself in the bizarre situation where I am speaking French and the person I am speaking with is answering in English (not because they do not understand me but because they want to practice their English and I want to speak French) it is really very odd at times!
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
The only thing I feel they really miss out on is family, I am lucky enough to have my mother also living in the area but I mean, their cousins, their aunts and uncles and other grandparents. Although they visit of course and we sometimes return to the UK for a visit we cannot all meet up for BBQ or a Sunday lunch.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Rhone-Alpes with children?
The Rhône-Alpes is a great place to live, year round there is something going on and if you like the outdoor active life you could not pick a better region. There are also great work opportunities in and around Geneva and also in Lyon. Lily who I did have in France but in Brittany. I have heard from other mums who have had their children in the Rhône-Alpes and cannot rate the care high enough. A midwife usually will stay with you throughout the labour and there is plenty of care after whilst in hospital. If you are a first time mum giving birth in France though bare in mind that after you leave hospital there is very little support unless you ask for it so if possible have your mum, sister or good friend on hand for a few weeks after the birth.
Can you ever imagine moving back to the UK?
What could you live without in Rhone-Alpes?
Sometimes the snow and ice on the road first thing in the morning in Winter, or having to de-ice the car but apart from that nothing springs to mind.
What couldn´t you live without in Rhone-Alpes?
The lakes, the mountains, the fresh air, my house and the view from my kitchen window, my neighbours. The kids pinked cheeks after sledging or building a snowman, the raclette or tartiflette on a snowy day. So much!