"My first two children were born in the UK. The third here in France and that was quite a shocking contrast to my British experience. The system here is very medicalised and nothing is left to chance. The assumption is that you will have an epidural, then the birth is managed with scary precision by what seemed to be the cranking up of a drip. Each of the 5 babies born that night came in turn and as my turn arrived a nurse came in, turned a knob on the drip and said, "ok, your turn now"! I kid you not. The aftercare was similar with scary nurses young enough to be my daughter telling me off if I demand fed. It was clear they did not like the breast feeding thing but found themselves living in changing times and seemed to be having to make uncomfortable adjustments. I was obliged to stay in hospital for 9 days because my son had not put on enough weight (a matter of grammes - I can assure you he was FINE). I was so shocked by this regime" (AS, October 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Grenoble?
I am 50 and have lived in France for 10 years, all spent in the mountainous Grenoble area.
Why did you move there?
We moved as a family because my husband was offered a choice of a job in America or Grenoble. We came on the charm trip and were bowled over by the beauty of the area and so chose Grenoble.
What is the area like where you live?
Grenoble is a small provincial city of around 664,832 people. The city sits in a bowl nestled among three mountain ranges: The Vercors, The Chartreuse and the foot of the Alpes which then go on east to Italy and north to Switzerland. The area is of course mountainous and very beautiful with lovely alpine meadows, brown cows with bells round their necks and snow capped peaks well in to June. The city is attractive with an old quarter as well as having plenty of modern sites too.
What nationality are you and your partner? How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
My partner and I are both from Yorkshire in the UK.
We have three children of 26, 12 and 7 years.
What was your experience of having a baby in Grenoble (if relevant)?
My first two children were born in the UK. The third here in France and that was quite a shocking contrast to my British experience. The system here is very medicalised and nothing is left to chance. The assumption is that you will have an epidural, then the birth is managed with scary precision by what seemed to be the cranking up of a drip. Each of the 5 babies born that night came in turn and as my turn arrived a nurse came in, turned a knob on the drip and said, "ok, your turn now"! I kid you not. The aftercare was similar with scary nurses young enough to be my daughter telling me off if I demand fed. It was clear they did not like the breast feeding thing but found themselves living in changing times and seemed to be having to make uncomfortable adjustments. I was obliged to stay in hospital for 9 days because my son had not put on enough weight (a matter of grammes - I can assure you he was FINE). I was so shocked by this regime
that I wrote a help book about Having a Baby in Grenoble, which is distributed to residents by the local expat association, Open House: www.openhousegrenoble.com
What was your experience of relocating to Grenoblewith children (if relevant)?
Moving my oldest daughter of 15 years to a new country and school provoked a huge amount of anxiety in me. there were many black days where I felt I had made the wrong move, particularly with reference to her. She was lucky enough to be enrolled in the American School of Grenoble: http://www.americanschoolgrenoble.com/ which being an American based programme gave her lots more freedom than her previous girls only, uniform wearing school in the UK. She was also taught intensive French and took some lessons in the French host school. All this in the end gave her huge advantages and experience, she matured so much in those years. However, I cannot understate the difficulties we all had in adjusting to life here and that is not even taking in to account the language. Everything was a challenge - just to walk out of the front door presented a challenge. BUT I took the view that - we are here and we have to maintain a grim determined optimism -
it could be worse, we could have been refugees. And the French, in my experience they are so charming and helpful, I cannot count the amount of times people have gone out their way to help us. It helps if you are open minded, dont assume people are out to get you and you are prepared to learn French.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I have never worked in France. In the UK I was in advertising and direct marketing and then Secretary to a Director in Education. Not sure those skills are transferable. My husband works in the IT industry.
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
Initally we rented here for three years and then bought our own house in the same village. The house buying process was pretty smooth. By then we had enough French to get by. The renting process was a bit of a challenge.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
I am not sure my husband and I will ever be fully integrated in the real sense of the word our French is way too basic. My youngest children appear to be fully integrated.
What language do you speak to your children?
Our home language is English, always. In fact our house is like walking in to a little England. We have TV in English, we speak English and I read English books to the kids, though of course we intersperse this with very badly read French books too! Speaking French to each other would be too false.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Grenoble?
Childcare is fantastic. It is plentiful and cheap. My two youngest went to the local Halte Garderie four mornings a week. Education! Education here is unbelievably prescribed. They learn principles of grammar from the age of 7 and then it continues. The school day is long 8.30 - 4 for the youngest of 7 and sometimes he has to attend extra help classes until 5 pm and for the 12 year old - 8.00 - 5.00. Wednesdays are free or half day only, but still it is a long day and then on top of that they get homework of about 30 minutes for the youngest through to 1 hour for the oldest. The constant evaluations are a headache and a lot of weight is put on their being a success. Education is verging on grim and hard. British kids are far luckier.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Grenoble is family friendly but like the rest of France, public toilets though modern are not plentiful and provide the barest essentials for baby changing. Some cannot fit pushchairs at all. Breast feeding in public is not frowned upon but there are no dedicated areas for it. As for children in restaurants - I have been offered stacked chairs or telephone directories for my children to sit on to enable to reach the table - but well behaved children are usually welcomed. French children seem to be programmed how to eat properly in restaurants and refrain from zooming around the tables. I took one of mine at 18 months to one of the most expensive restaurants in Grenoble and they were so good to her. Activities for children are plentiful and there are good parks in the city centre. France doesnt go in for the big fancy attractions that the UK and USA have so museums are aimed at adults and even museums with automated puppets (a peculiarly
French thing) can come across a little fusty and museumy. Circuses are something they do here - usually small scale - on family with grandparents and kids all joining in and a little clump of animals - shetland pony, camel, snake, pot bellied pig and cats (!) Kids activities here have a ancient innocence about them, which sits well with the use of individual little chalkboards at schools - yes honest they really do!
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?
Yes Open House Grenoble has extensive recommendation lists with English speaking doctors and other professionals through to advice on how to go skiing!
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Grenoble with children?
Having a baby - assuming you are here already. Join the Mother clubs in Open House Grenoble, the women there have been through it and can help you. If you have children older than 7 and intend to relocate here for more than 3 years or so, think long and hard. Short term relocations can be regarded as a hiccup in your life and one in which to gain the best international experience possible while here. Permanent moves on the other hand require a lot more thinking about. Including things like - what are the opportunities for my children when they qualify? What will we do if our child doesnt fit in at school? What if we simply disagree strongly with the harshness of the education system in France?
What couldn´t you live without in Grenoble?
The mountains, the French