"I have always felt at home here geographically but it has taken a while to become integrated socially. The Mayenne is a very rural and traditional area with families who have lived here for generations. The mindset is not very open and change is not on the agenda so the influx of British people into this area gets mixed reactions. Most people are polite and nice but there is a barrier that has to be forced open before any real friendship can be formed" (AP, Nov 2010)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in La Mayenne?
My name is Anna Powney, Im 32 and have lived here for 4.5 years (nov 2010)
What took you there in the first place?
We had just closed a business in England and wanted to invest in a small property in France that we could come and do up and use as a holiday house. When we got here the only house we fell for was to large and had too much work to do on it to be part time so we spontaneously decided to move here and give life in France a go.
What nationality are you and your partner?
My husband and I are both British.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?.
We have 2 children, a boy, Joseph, born on 26th Jan 2006 and a girl, Romilly, born on 11th July 2008.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I am launching a new camping product in France called Blue Bio, for more info go to www.bluebio.co.uk.
What was your experience of having a baby/babies in La Mayenne ?
My second child was born here and, being my second, I didnt make much use of the pre-natal / post-natal support that was offered to me but it was available if required, as were breastfeeding groups. The routine checks and examinations were faultless and they do a monthly blood test, you can ask for a nurse to come to your house so that you dont have to go to the hospital each time. The healthcare system here is very thorough and Ive had a good experience with it so far. Most doctors speak a little English if you get stuck with communication and medical terms are all very similar anyway. I think if it had been my first baby I would have been a little overwhelmed and would have missed the support and social aspect of groups like the NCT, as would I if I had had any problems with the pregnancy. By the time Romilly was born we had enough friends, a good enough grasp of French and previous experience of labour to not need extra support.
The birth itself was somewhat old fashioned, I had to wear a hospital robe and was wired up to a drip, unlike in the UK. They also were quite insistent that I should lie on my back to give birth. The normal amount of time in hospital after giving birth here is 5 days (although I managed to escape on the third as it was a national holiday) and one is supposed to tell the staff the childs name before they are born so they can start the registration process (this is customary not imperative, I didnt make my decision until the following morning). I had three midwives attending to me and the hospital was spotless if a little unimaginative – no water baths or big rubber balls to get through labour with. The hospital rooms were twinned, for a little extra per day you could buy a single room if you wanted the privacy. The only real complaint I have is that they served me a slice of tongue for dinner that evening.
What was your experience of relocating to La Mayenne with children? (if relevant)
Joseph was 1yr old when we moved here and it was hard at first to find friends for him or a community with young children. There were toddlers afternoons organised by the council once a week in the local towns but the mothers didnt befriend eachother and the groups were unstructured. At first we struggled to find suitable childcare for Joseph. We could only find childmiders or nourisse who looked after up to 5 children (of differing ages) in their own home. Most of these people already had their full quota of children and those who had space had it for a reason. This type of childcare is done on a contractual basis which also didnt suit us as our working hours were very variable. We searched for a more traditional nursery but with no luck so ended up employing a English woman on an hourly basis who was great. However it did mean that Joseph was on his own and not in a french environment which I believe affected the speed at which he integrated. He hated living France until fairly recently and flatly refused to speak French. We started him at school in the mornings when he was 2 and a half in order to surmount this problem and now his communication is better he is far happier and more comfortable. In the 4 years since we moved here things have changed, there is now a fantastic nursery that Romilly goes to in the local town which can be used on an hourly basis. A tip to anyone who is lookng for a nursery in France – the term is a Halte Accueil or a Garderie.
Would you do things differently if you did it again?
My only regret is that we didnt find the nursery for Joseph. Otherwise Ive been very happy with our decisions.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
I have always felt at home here geographically but it has taken a while to become integrated socially. The Mayenne is a very rural and traditional area with families who have lived here for generations. The mindset is not very open and change is not on the agenda so the influx of British people into this area gets mixed reactions. Most people are polite and nice but there is a barrier that has to be forced open before any real friendship can be formed. Other people are so defensive that communication is impossible. It is easy to fall into a predominantly English social group because it is something you all have in common. We determined not to be lazy and have given a lot of time and energy to building friendships with locals, making sure that we work hard at learning French and constantly reaching out to people in order to integrate as well as possible. Because we both work from home it has not been that easy to meet people so we have to be very open when we do. Making friendships with other mothers has been important for me for Joseph and Romillys sake. I make a point of always inviting children round to play and organising parties and activities for them so that their friendships strengthen. There are only 10 children in Josephs school and only 2 his age so it has been important to enroll him in extracurricular activities and keep up his friendships with children outside his school. With Romilly it has all been a bit easier as we found a nursery in the local town and she has lots of friends there, plus we have been more fully accepted into the community now that we have outstayed the 3 year average time for Brits to be in France!
What is your impression of childcare and education in La Mayenne?
As I mentioned before we struggled to get the appropriate childcare information when we first arrived but I think that was mainly due to communication problems. In general childcare is excellent in France and is heavily subsidised by the government so is inexpensive. Children can start school at 2 and most communities have their own school even if they are very small like ours and they have a canteen if you want your chidren to stay for lunch with a good 3 course hot meal. The education seems to be disciplined and effective though not particularly creative.
What school(s)/nursery(ies) do your children go to?
Joseph goes to the local community school in Couesmes-Vaucé and Romilly goes to a nursery in Gorron 3 days a week.
Why did you choose this school/these schools and are you happy with your choice?
You are expected to send your children to the local community school and if you choose to send them elsewhere you have to get permission from the Marie (the mayor). Because our school is very small and on the verge of being unsustainable we felt it important to support it, each local child that doesnt go there is a nail in its coffin. Its a lovely school with one teacher and one assistant and the children are happy there. The nursery that Romilly goes to is the closest to us and we are lucky that it is very good as well. Over here youre expected to use your local resources and not look to other areas, for example I recently found out you are supposed to only use one pharmacy for all your perscriptions and purchases rather than dropping in to the one closest to where you happen to be.
How would you describe a typical local living in La Mayenne?
Thats a hard question. Its a mainly agricultural community and is rural and rustic. It is easy to find the older generation still living in simplicity with longdrops in the garden and no mod cons whatsoever. It is because of this that the area is so charming. Its like stepping back an era and some of the scenes are so picturesque, old men chopping the verges manually with a scythe, ancient tractors pulling trailers of cider apples, women in floral pinnafores digging their gardens and clapped out 2CVs chugging along the empty roads. The overall feel of the older generation is hearty, warm and generous. The younger generation are different, perhaps more corrupted by modernity!
How have they welcomed the influx of Brits over the last few years? Are there other nationalities who live there?
In general I have been very impressed by how welcoming the locals are to the English, they are generally full of praise for us all and I have heard many good things. The only thing they rightfully gripe about is the fact that many of the English dont even try to speak French. I have come across some resentment that the English have bought up all the old houses and priced the French out of the market but most people realise that the houses would most likely have been left to ruin otherwise. The French dont seem to be as interested in owning and rennovating houses and the English are, perhaps because it is not such a fail safe money making scheme as it is (or was) in the UK. Renting is more commonplace. The foreign nationality here is predominantly English but there are a smattering of Irish, Dutch and Portuguese and probably many more I havent discovered.
How do most people earn a living in the area?
Most of the British do building work or gardening work. There are a few people who work in computing and an English woman has just opened a tea room in the local town which is proving popular.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in La Mayenne?
The advantages of being here are that you can have a lovely home in plenty of countryside without a crippling mortgage. Having close links with the UK is essential for us as my husband exhibits and sells his work there and it gives us the freedom of not having all ours eggs in the French basket. I would feel quite trapped without recourse to England and I cant help feeling that it gives us a business advantage. Also we are free from the restraints of culture and habit that locals have, it doesnt matter if we get it a bit wrong and dont serve the right apperatifs before dinner! I like the fact that we cant be judged or placed in a social box as our origins are foreign. That said, we are not immune from being dumped in the huge foreigners box and dismissed as such. The disadvantages are, as with anyone who uproots themselves, a lack of a sense of complete belonging and acceptance and an inability to be able to fully share the subtler aspects of communication with people. Developing close friendships is much harder work. There is also always the feeling of being on the outside but I actually quite like that, which is probably why Im happy here. I have been overwhelmed and frustrated at times but it all gets easier with time.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
The Mayenne is a wonderful place for children to grow up in but it would be improved by more children to share it with.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to La Mayenne with children?
I would say the most important thing is to make sure you have a skill that can be useful here as its not a fun place to be struggling to find work in. There is very little work here and not enough people with an expendable income to make independent business easy. Other than that it is a great place to bring up kids though as I said before it can be a little lonely at times as there is not much going on, its very different in that respect to the UK which seems to have toddler groups and coffee mornings on every corner.
What couldn´t you live without in La Mayenne?
A car. There is no public transport in this area and the nearest supermarket is 10 minutes drive away.
What could you live without in La Mayenne?
The unreliable drinking water. It is generally either brown or stinking of chlorine.