"Being a ‘quiet observer’ myself (in terms of my personality) I was very happy to patiently watch and wait, and for friendships to develop with the local people naturally. And they did, but slowly. People were very curious to know why we were in France (when many of them considered New Zealand to be paradise). Our French neighbours were wonderful - lending us cutlery and crockery the minute we stopped our car outside the house. We attended the English-speaking Anglican Church in Minimes, Toulouse in order to have a safe haven of English speakers to connect with, and that was an invaluable source of contact and community to start with. Children’s birthday parties were also a fabulous way to invite French parents into your home too, and we quickly found that many of them spoke the most beautiful (if hesitant) English. We always tried to speak in French first though and that helped a lot" (SM, Feb 2012)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Toulouse? Which part of Toulouse do you live in?
Sara Meade, 45 years old, and we live in Ramonville St-Agne (south-east of Toulouse). We moved to France from New Zealand in September 2009.
Why did you move there?
My husband was accepted into the doctoral programme at the Toulouse School of Economics to study for his PhD. We moved to the small town of Ramonville St-Agne because:
1. we didn’t want to live in the city,
2. we wanted to live in a community not full of expatriate families (as we wanted the genuine French experience of living in France)
3. we needed to be on metro Line B for easy travel for my husband each day to university.
What is the area like where you live?
Ramonville St-Agne is a very convenient, modern (yet steeped in history) welcoming community, with fantastic educational, sporting and cultural activities for children. There is also excellent health care and access to local shops (plus the St Orens and Labège shopping centres are not too far away). I really like that we are a stone’s throw from the beautiful countryside where we can walk and wander and enjoy the beauty of the changing landscape throughout the seasons. And of course the Canal du Midi is just down the road.
What nationality are you and your husband?
My husband and I are both New Zealanders (although I also have British citizenship through my English father).
How many children do you have and how old are they? (2012)
Three children currently aged 11, 9 and 6 years old - two boys and a girl.
You recently had a book published about relocating to Toulouse. Why did you decide to write it? Which particular aspects of your relocation does it follow?
Yes, my book called ‘Waking Up In France’ was written to share the story of my eldest son’s adjustments to total immersion in French life, culture, language and school during our first two years in France. He found the changes to be the hardest of our three children, but thankfully the story has a happy ending and he is now fluent in French and functioning as well as (if not better than) some of his classmates.
I wrote the book firstly as a family keepsake and then realised there could be a wider audience amongst the expatriate community, or for anyone who wants to know how a child (my particular child anyway) copes with massive turn-your-comfortable-predictable-life-on-its-head kind of change. It also touches on our two other children’s adjustments which of course followed a different path, not without their challenges too! The story is written with my son’s voice, perspective and humour, and I hope it provides a refreshing perspective in terms of all the books available on moving to France, plus it is illustrated with over 100 photographs which really bring the story to life.
In fact before we left New Zealand I hunted high and low for stories of children moving to a new country and coping with all the change that entails. I didn’t have much luck. In a way I guess I wrote this book as the book I wanted to read at the start of our adventure.
The book is currently being translated (very slowly) into French as I work through it each week with my French teacher, although I have applied for funding through the French Embassy in New Zealand for a professional (and quick) translation. I am hoping that the French Ambassador to New Zealand will also be writing a foreword to the book which will be added in a future version.
It is available at my CreateSpace eStore: https://www.createspace.com/3722904, (an Amazon company), or you can find the ebook at all major Amazon sites, or the hardcover from www.lulu.com.
I have previously written articles for a parenting magazine in New Zealand, plus I have my own blogsite (www.nzfrance.blogspot.com) onto which I occasionally post my observations and thoughts on life in France. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My next writing project is to collate my father’s writings from the last 30 or so years and publish them for him.
And just to finish this little blurb, one lovely expat French reader called Debbie gave this feedback on Amazon after reading my book:
“This book is wonderful. For anyone who has moved to France with children and thought they knew what their children were going through, read this book. Beautiful photos, and an innocent childlike view on life in France. Lots of lovely short chapters, so an easy to pick up and put down read. I loved reading it!”
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
We are renting our property here in Ramonville St-Agne. We actually first saw it on a website when we were still in New Zealand (www.seloger.fr). When we arrived in France we stayed in a friend’s apartment at Château de la Cépière (great fun!) and within a few days we found this house. It was straightforward as we had a friend who helped us through the process of opening a bank account so we were able to move ahead quite quickly, plus we had a guarantor lined up in Paris. We were also very aware of the need to have ALL NECESSARY PAPERWORK and so we weren’t really taken by surprise (e.g. we had all our important documents translated into French while we were still in New Zealand).
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
I would like to say that we are well and truly part of the community … well, from our point of view we are although I’m sure that to others here we are still the ‘novelty-newcomers-from-New-Zealand’, with our curious French and funny accent. The children however are all well ensconced into the French life, language and culture at school, and all of their friends are French (although we do relish the time we spend with our English-speaking friends too). They are also involved in the community here with their extra-curricula activities, of which there seem to be way too many each Wednesday.
I should mention that the children knew little to no French (a few words) when we arrived, and we thrust them into the (lovely) local French school to learn by total immersion. We didn’t have the option of international or bilingual schools so really it was all we could do, short of homeschooling for which I can state that I am completely unequipped to manage successfully!
Anyway, we really wanted our children to learn French and ‘be French’ whilst we were here and although total immersion can be pretty rough to start with, the children don’t remember those early days at all now. My eldest son said recently that he really couldn’t remember what it was like not being able to speak French! Wow!
What language do you speak to your children?
We speak English at home but if I want the children’s attention I use French (Attention! Arrête! Allez-y! Ecoutez! Doucement! etc) as they seem to hear me better, oddly enough.
Do you think it essential to be able to speak French when relocating to Toulouse?
I think it is certainly a jolly good idea to have some of the basics of French and to be determined to learn more by daily trial and error. Just knowing vocabulary without necessarily being a French grammar expert will get you quite a long way. I have tried to embrace the feeling of being embarrassed and blushing when I mangle the beautiful French language through my lack of skills! It’s much easier now but as I didn’t learn French at school I had only a limited number of lessons (at Alliance Francaise in Wellington, New Zealand) to draw on. I found that even though I had knowledge in my head I had difficulty getting myself understood, or understanding. Actually, it’s one thing to learn a few French words but when French people speak, well, that’s a whole different matter…!
What is your impression of childcare and education in Toulouse?
I didn’t use child care facilities in New Zealand like creche as I was a stay-at-home Mum, so I can’t compare them with the facilities here.
In terms of education, our children were at a Montessori preschool and primary school in New Zealand so the change to the French state education system was noticeable but not unpleasant. Our children are receiving an extremely thorough education and we are very pleased with their progress. It became essential, however, to employ a part-time tutor to help the two oldest children (who were 8 and 6 years old when we arrived) to catch up on the important beginner French that they had missed. The tutor stills works with the children twice a week and their progress is amazing!
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Toulouse?
Advantages: I love that I don’t have to follow the social rules, mostly because I don’t know them(!), so I can bumble my way along and make mistakes and still be warmly received because I am a foreigner. Thankfully with the rugby connection in this area means that we are considered to be ‘friendlies’ and people often start demonstrating the haka to us when we say we are from New Zealand. (The haka is a traditional Maori war dance of the native New Zealand people that is performed before the All Blacks play rugby.)
I love seeing that parents have the same joys and concerns here with their children as they do in New Zealand (parenting truly is an international challenge), and I have made good French friends through the parents at school.
I love breathing different air, seeing different sights and hearing different sounds. New Zealand is a very young country in terms of the time it has been populated by Europeans, and I adore the living/surviving history that is all around me in France.
Disadvantages: New Zealand is a long way away when you run out of Vegemite (breakfast spread for your toast, well known in New Zealand and Australia. Like Marmite, ONLY BETTER!)
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Toulouse?
Being a ‘quiet observer’ myself (in terms of my personality) I was very happy to patiently watch and wait, and for friendships to develop with the local people naturally. And they did, but slowly. People were very curious to know why we were in France (when many of them considered New Zealand to be paradise). Our French neighbours were wonderful - lending us cutlery and crockery the minute we stopped our car outside the house.
We attended the English-speaking Anglican Church in Minimes, Toulouse in order to have a safe haven of English speakers to connect with, and that was an invaluable source of contact and community to start with. Children’s birthday parties were also a fabulous way to invite French parents into your home too, and we quickly found that many of them spoke the most beautiful (if hesitant) English. We always tried to speak in French first though and that helped a lot.
I had also made contact with an American girl in Toulouse - another mother with two boys the same age as my boys. She helped me to put my feet on the ground and find my way here, and I remain very grateful to her. We enjoyed some lovely lunches in Toulouse together, and that helped me to feel part of the place.
We received nothing but help and kindness (really, really!) in our dealings with French officialdom and we knew that there would be queues and waiting and lots of paperwork so perhaps we knew to take it in our stride a bit more. A Swedish friend with fluent English and French helped me incredibly generously with her time and language ability when it came to some of the visits to the officials, as did another lovely Australian friend. (Thank you so much Samantha, Malin and Marie-Therese!)
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children’s lives where you live?
Yes, Ramonville St-Agne is family-friendly, and a lovely place to live. I’m a bit worried that with all the new buildings in the area the local schools will burst at the seams though, so I hope that the local mairie has that issue well in hand. The local college has a good reputation and I look forward to finding out more about the rigours of college life next school year.
Our school has fun events (concerts, loto, kermesse) to attend, and I try to go on as many school trips as I can, which our children love.
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?
Kinei/Osteopathy : Chantal Deficis, 1 Rue du Salas, 31520, Ramonville St-Agne, tel: 05 61 75 01 18: she works miracles.
Doctor: Dr Amelia Arnaud-Battiston, 37 Chemin de l’Eglise 31320 Auzeville-Tolosane, tel: 05 62 26 35 83: a mother of two young children herself and absolutely delightful, knowledgeable and professional. She speaks enough English so that we can work out the stuff I miss.
USR Tennis Club Ramonville St-Agne: great holiday programmes for our two active boys who need something to do in the holidays.
Ferme de Cinquante (Ferme 50), Ramonville St-Agne: with a real live working farm with animals. Great Wednesday and holiday programmes too, and you can visit in the weekends. It is located in an enormous old farm that was gifted to the community, and is located right next to the Canal du Midi and the skateboard and BMX parks. Fantastic fun!
Canal du Midi: just a gorgeous place to promenade, cycle, walk with your friend while she is trying to learn English and you are trying to learn French, picnic, scooter, rollerblade, etc. The trees and water cool things down in the heat of the summer which is just lovely.
French restaurants: such great value for money at lunchtime especially!
Regular walking tours around Toulouse with the extraordinarily knowledgeable Elyse Rivin: www.toulouseguidedwalks.com.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Toulouse with children?
(I’ll choose the ‘relocating to Toulouse with children’ part of this question as my babies were born in New Zealand.)
Visit the Americans in Toulouse website for great information on living in Toulouse. Read up before you arrive, and then read it all again once you are here. Good information on culture shock too (www.americansintoulouse.com).
Learn at least a bit of French and don’t expect life in France to be like your life in your home or former country. Embrace the differences! Keep an open mind! Different doesn’t mean wrong! - (they were my mantras in the early months).
Consider the local French school as a realistic option for your children (read my book to find out more!).
And read ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ by Pamela Druckerman. I’m reading it now and it’s a fascinating outsiders observation of mothering, babies and raising children the French way.
What couldn’t you live without in Toulouse?
I’ve reworded the question to mean “What do I love about Toulouse”: The Canal du Midi (just knowing it is there is life-enhancing), hiking in the Pyrenees (not exactly Toulouse but close enough), foie gras, fresh cherries, roasted chestnuts in the winter, juicy, sun-ripened figs (preferably from a friend’s garden), the proximity to Puycelsi (a gorgeous hilltop village well worth a visit) and the opportunity to sing in the fund-raising choirs at St Corneille, Puycelsi, each September, the wonder of wandering around the city centre of Toulouse and soaking up all the ancientness and the beauty, learning to speak French in a French village with real French women, and free telephone calls to New Zealand.
What could you live without in Toulouse?!
Sadly, there’s too much litter. And doggy-do-dos.