"The life here is full of beautiful countryside and weather, warm and friendly people, pretty towns and buildings nestling in the hills with spectacular views of the Pyrenees and Montagnes Noires. It can be gobsmacking at times, driving back from school I can be treated to a wonderful view of sky and mountains; the other day I was doing an errand with my daughter and we stopped the car and got out just to enjoy the magnificence of the view. Its a privilege to live surrounded by such beauty and I think it impacts on us all giving the children a sense of the world they live in that you just cant cultivate in a scruffy suburb on the outskirts of nowheresville. The birds, flowers and animals are much more exotic than in England with orchids, eagles and lots of different things to catch the eye. The pace is slow and lunch time is sacrosanct. Just down the road is Toulouse, a beautiful little town with a comfortably sophisticated feel" (CB, November 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in the Midi-Pyrenées. Whereabouts do you live?
Caroline Bombarde, Im 49 and weve lived in the Midi-Pyrennées for just over a year. We live in a tiny village (180 inhabitants) east of Toulouse.
Why did you decide to move there?
We all followed my husband who changed jobs to this area.
What nationality are you and your partner?
British and French
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
Tilli, 14, Suzie 13, born in Britain, Charlie and Tom 9, born in Japan.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
Oh Id love to do something but 10 years in Japan and 3 in France plus family have kept me away from the full time job scene. Unlike the other super mums on this site!!! Id like some ideas of working from home?
What was your experience of relocating to the region with your children?
Our relocation went very smoothly. I have to say, moving with the support of an employer is the easy way, not to mention cheaper! It was also our thrird move in three years so were getting the hang of it. First priority is always how the children settle. On the whole they are happy and have picked up their lives without too much difficulty despite being in a very good school in Lyon where they had lots of friends. Following that, the paper work is likely to keep anyone on their toes. Im lucky to have a French husband to do the bulk of it but things like changing our securitie sociale, re-doing the car number plates, schools, doctors, dentists etc can take a long time. My advice would be not to panic but keep on going and have faith that it will get finished in the end. The lovely thing here is our mairie that patiently help me with the forms and necessary documents - a world away from the town centre offices with their numbered queues and grim faces.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
One child slipped into the new life very easily and well. For the others it has taken a little longer. I think you need to be ready to step in and help, be there with support, ideas and advice - of course thats what being a parent is but it is certainly more important during a change of schools and social life. This will also come at a time when the move itself can mean the parents are snowed under with other pre-occupations, all too easy to listen with half and ear and brush away your kids concerns. I have often had to mentally shove all the papers off my brains to-do table so that I can sit and concentrate on what is bothering a child.
What language do you speak to your children?
English, husband speaks French but English is definitely the dominant language.
Do you rent or own a property and how did you find the renting/buying process?
We rent. The first time we rented was on our return from Tokyo in 2008 when the property was let via an office that oversaw our apartment building which was also the contact for any business or problems re the apartment or rent. They were not too pleasant to deal with. Never impolite but I think they were understaffed and very focused on financial efficiency above all else, so getting anything done or our money back when we left was tough. Since then, its been face to face with the landlord, which is much easier. A word of warning to would be renters: when we came here we were asked to pay a huge sum as guarantee, it ran into over 10,000€ I remember. We queried it and it was dropped but when we spoke to our bank they confirmed that this was becoming the norm and that it shocked many foreigners coming to France for the first time. I have no idea how widespread this is but it will add significantly to the costs of those hoping to rent on arrival.
Do you think it essential for someone to speak French when relocating to the Midi-Pyrenées?
Well yes, this is France and you cant hide inside an expat bubble here as you can in the big international cities. Just open your mouth and try, youll find people will be helpful. That said there are a LOT of English here, I cant walk down the street of any town without hearing accents or English spoken so it might be fairly easy to tap into someone who can help you and a good number of the shops advertise English Spoken.
How welcoming have the locals been towards you and your family?
Lovely. People are always open and friendly.
How would you describe a typical local?
Polite, smiling, helpful and busy country men and women.
What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?
We chose this particular catchment area of Lavaur as this is one of the better Lycee in France and we didnt want our children to suffer from the move from Lyon.
The girls are at college now and the teachers there have been nothing but helpful in trying to accommodate their wishes. On arrival my elder daughter was put into first year English class, English being mandatory for all students. She was bored silly of course. My younger daughter did slightly better in a higher level group. But, as soon as we raised the matter with teachers, they did their best to move them around. Suzie was put in with a group two years above her so that she could take the brevet (a bit the same as GCSE) and then not bother with English the following year. Tilli (the eldest) was excused English classes if she did the tests from time to time and worked under supervision. This was great as we were able to set up IGCSEs in English Language for both or them at the local international school and Tilli could work on that during the hours of the schools English course. Now they both have an IGCSE in English Language (which might be handy if they decide to go to university outside France) and Tilli is starting to work on her A level English Lit.
One of my boys has learning difficulties and is sometimes difficult to handle. He started at our village school but after the first day his teacher basically asked me to move him. I had to go via the mairie, who were very helpful as usual, and I put him into a school in our local town. The teachers at this school have managed him much better but, if you do have a child with problems, you will have to work very hard to get help for your child with LOTS of admin and paperwork. Ive never had a child at school in England so cant compare but doing something like this in a second language does make it more of a challenge.
My other son is still at the village school. He has felt different and found it hard to get accepted, his French is good but my husband says he speaks it with an English inflection and he certainly doesnt have the local accent yet, however, I do think this is partly due to his character as a quiet, reserved boy (with a brother like his he has never had the chance to be the noisy one) but it may also not help that I am rarely at his school and havent intergrated with the other mothers there as I need to be at his brothers school such a lot.
What school(s)/nursery(ies) do your children go to?
Primary schools in the local village and town and the towns Collège.
Why did you choose this school/these schools and are you happy with your choice?
See above. On the whole we are happy.
Are there any services, activities for kids, day-trips for kids, family-friendly restaurants or kids’ shops you’d like to recommend?
The sports facilities in France tend to be excellent with tennis clubs, football clubs and a large number of other sports found all over the country at pretty good standards. Here, in the South West, rugby is king and the clubs are well-run, very friendly and excellent organisations for all ages of kids and adults. Weve also found the other sports clubs are run by enthusiastic, caring people who go out of their way to help the children and make them enjoy sport. A real plus for France and something the country can be proud of.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the region?
I dont really feel part of an International Community.
The life here is full of beautiful countryside and weather, warm and friendly people, pretty towns and buildings nestling in the hills with spectacular views of the Pyrenees and Montagnes Noires. It can be gobsmacking at times, driving back from school I can be treated to a wonderful view of sky and mountains; the other day I was doing an errand with my daughter and we stopped the car and got out just to enjoy the magnificence of the view. Its a privilege to live surrounded by such beauty and I think it impacts on us all giving the children a sense of the world they live in that you just cant cultivate in a scruffy suburb on the outskirts of nowheresville. The birds, flowers and animals are much more exotic than in England with orchids, eagles and lots of different things to catch the eye. The pace is slow and lunch time is sacrosanct. Just down the road is Toulouse, a beautiful little town with a comfortably sophisticated feel.
If you are going to enjoy life here you need to love the countryside, walking, swimming in the lakes, skiing in winter, finding out about the history and beautiful little towns and buying your vegs and fruits in markets where you can slowly build a relationship with the stallowners you prefer.
Its not an area for city lovers; those who need to shop at lunch time, or Mondays or Sundays, Bank holidays and much of August. Anybody who thinks a three hour lunch is a waste of time should stay away, as should those who get frustrated filling in forms and providing documents in triplicate and writing out your address three or four time in a row (yes I know we all hate that but some just hate it in a more demonstrative fashion than others).
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Well the villages, and where we live, can be pretty remote which can be hard for adolescents. I think our girls miss the convenience of good buses and easy trips into town and I spend a lot of time driving people around!!
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to the Midi-Pyrenées with children?
Research before you arrive. Try to make decisions together about schools, hospitals and accommodation; in the rush and organisation of moving its very easy to split the jobs between you but I think a couple need to really hammer out the decisions as a team.
What couldn´t you live without in Lavaur?
A car and my computer.
What could you live without in Lavaur?!