Your interactive family guide to France as recommended by local mums | Last updated 4 weeks ago

Interviews

Helen Saks - Toulouse

"Finding work in Toulouse as a foreigner isn’t easy so I decided to be pro-active. I set up two associations, one to teach english to kids, another teaching swimming, and both were a success. Typically though as I was launching my english association, I was offered a job in communications at Airbus, so I was juggling for the first year (good practice for things to come!) I managed the internal magazine at Airbus until the birth of my first daughter.
As a Mum, I decided to work part time to my own schedule, rather than being chained to a desk, so I started working with Usborne Books in 2009. It has been the ideal job for me in so many ways, with a ton of potential, for when I eventually get a bit more time to move the business forward"
(HS, October 2011)

  • What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Toulouse? Which part of Toulouse do you live in ?
    I am Helen Saks, I am 36 years old and I’ve lived in Toulouse for 6 years.

    Why did you move there?
    My brother initially moved to Toulouse, with his french wife, to take a job at Airbus. We visited from London and saw the sun shining, and the outdoor culture and wondered why we were still living in London. What is the area like where you live? We live close to the River Garonne and I love it as it’s open and spacious. We are close enough to the city to shop or go to the cinema but also have gardens around us, so we don’t always have to take the car out. A stroll along the river in early evening blows the cobwebs away.

    What nationality are you and your partner?
    I am English and my husband is South African. How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
    We have two girls, Tilda, 3years old and Thandie, 6 months.

    What was your experience of having a baby in Toulouse?
    I had two very positive pregnancy and birthing experiences in Toulouse. Clinique Amboise Pare is exceptional in their care. Throughout both pregnancies I felt very well cared for. I saw the same obstetrician, an english speaking German doctor, throughout both pregnancies, and he looked after me exceptionally. I loved the frequency of the scans and the moment to see what was going on in my tummy was just magical.
    The three day hospital stay was welcome, although the interruptions frequent, the way in which the nurses helped me to care for my newborns was so appreciated. I had no idea what I was doing the first time round. I had to write everything down though, because my mind was a sieve, and I was terrified of forgetting to give this or that vitamin, especially with the language complications. I speak french but my head was not in language mode in the days following the births.
    Compared to UK horror stories I’ve heard of over crowding and my best friend who almost gave birth in the waiting room as no room was available, I felt quite pampered in my private room!

    Do you work and if so what do you do?
    We moved to France with my husband’s job so I left a career in television production behind in London. It was quite unsettling at first, as I joined language school with a bunch of students, questioning my sanity in leaving my career and all things familiar in London.
    Finding work in Toulouse as a foreigner isn’t easy so I decided to be pro-active. I set up two associations, one to teach english to kids, another teaching swimming, and both were a success. Typically though as I was launching my english association, I was offered a job in communications at Airbus, so I was juggling for the first year (good practice for things to come!) I managed the internal magazine at Airbus until the birth of my first daughter.
    As a Mum, I decided to work part time to my own schedule, rather than being chained to a desk, so I started working with Usborne Books in 2009. It has been the ideal job for me in so many ways, with a ton of potential, for when I eventually get a bit more time to move the business forward.
    I sell ‘Usborne Books,’ which as most mums know, are the best english kids books on the market. I work as an “organiser,” meaning I bulk buy and sell the books on at book parties (think tupperware, but with books), at Christmas or Spring Fairs, to schools, libraries, mediateques, anyone who is interested. There is a large international community in Toulouse, so demand is high. I work as much or as little as I can, and it gives me my own project and income, so I think it helps to keep me sane!
    In the UK there are teams of Usborne “organisers” and I’m hoping to build a team here. There is a huge potential for selling english books in France and the response I get is always a positive one. I have no sales experience, but the experience you have as a mum stands you in great stead. I miss the camaraderie of working in a team, so it would be great to achieve this in the future with the books. (if you’re interested, get in touch at helensaks.growingreaders@gmail.com)

    Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
    We rented a flat when we first came to Toulouse but dreamt of a family home. We used to cycle around the area we now live in, and saw a sad, dilapidated family home that was clearly uninhabited. After a spot of stalking, we saw a neighbour park his car in the garage - the ground floor that was to become our kitchen! Eventually we traced the owner to Bordeaux and it turned out that he had inherited the house and had no interest in doing anything with it, and so began our campaign to get him to sell it to us. It was remarkable to us that he would prefer to let the house rot, than to do it up and rent it out, but therein lies a culture difference. We knocked everything down apart from the external walls and re-built in a long, painful, but ultimately satisfying journey.

    How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
    I’d love to say completely but that’s probably not the whole truth. Thanks to Airbus, Toulouse is a very multi-cultural city with many Brits, Irish, Americans, and Germans. Our friends tend to be the ex-pats, although that’s not intentional. A lot of our friends now are from the Mums and Tots group, and they might have a french spouse but at least one half of the couple is native english speaking.
    The french don’t tend to have a culture of after work drinks, or those kind of moments where work relationships can become friendships, so breaking down those barriers has been harder than expected. What language do you speak to your children? We speak to the girls in english but Tilda speaks french at school. Tilda at the moment mixes languages but her repertoire of french songs is impressive, as is her pronounciation of her friend Hugo’s name. ‘No, Mummy it’s “Oo-go, not Hugo!!!” It does make me chuckle.

    What is your impression of childcare and education in Toulouse? We’re just stepping into the world of education as Tilda just started in maternelle. I’ve heard mixed things about french education, but I’m hopeful it will work out. The class size is a little alarming, at 28 kids, but I understand that’s not unusual. It’s a huge step though, from being one of six at the creche, to one of 28. I wouldn’t be happy for our kids to grow up in France but not speak French, so it’s important that they have french friends. The school is walking distance from home, so I see a lot of advantages in staying in our quartier for school.

    What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Toulouse? One disadvantage is that I always feel a little on the outside when it comes to the creche or school. It feels harder to build relationships with other parents when I don’t have the same first language. My french isn’t bad, but it’s not the same as chatting with english mums. That feels like a shame and makes relationships harder to build.
    A positive is how supportive the other international families are. As everyone is away from home and their families, we become each others families and support each other as much as we can. I have made some wonderful friends here. I think we develop a bond quicker than we might have done in the UK as to be frank, we all need friends!

    How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Toulouse?
    We didn’t really get a welcome, but then we didn’t really expect one!
    Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live? Our area is very residential. The playparks could use an investment and I sometimes wonder if there is the equivalent of lottery funding to spruce up the play areas.

    Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
    There are many and there is a guide coming out thanks to our Mums and Tots group, that I’m sure can be forwarded to you.

    What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Toulouse with children?

    Get involved in the local Mums and Tots community. They are a life saver! English speaking mums get together a couple of times a week, the kids can play, and there is a huge network of support there. Book swaps, clothes swaps, a listening ear, nights out. I feel hugely indebted to the women who came before us and set up Mums and Tots because it is simply brilliant.
    There are also groups such as English in Toulouse and Americans in Toulouse, TWIG (Toulouse Women’s International Group), so there is a lot of support for english speakers here, no matter what age and stage.

    What couldn´t you live without in Toulouse?
    My house, my family, my friends, Mums and Tots, the close proximity to Biarritz.

    What could you live without in Toulouse?!
    The need to always do things twice. Nothing ever seems easy when you’re dealing with “the system.”

    October 2011