Your interactive family guide to France as recommended by local mums | Last updated 3 months ago

Interviews

Emma Nelson - Toulouse

"I found the quality of care during the births themselves to be second-to-none. Fantastic midwives, very caring and capable. The midwives accompanied me through the labour itself and the obstetrician only got called right at the end when the baby was about to appear, or in the case of my first, because he was refusing to appear! This didnt strike me as completely fair. The midwives did all the work but he got all the glory! Having said all that, this wasnt the case for the birth of my second child which involved a pretty tough labour, brilliantly managed by a wonderful midwife called Veronica. When the doctor arrived at the eleventh hour ready to do his stuff, he asked me if I wanted Veronica to deliver Sam seeing as shed been doing such a great job. I said yes and Sam was duly delivered!
Based on my experience, it seems to be much more ‘medicalised’ than in the UK. Not sure the midwives at my clinic would have known what a birthing pool was! This didn’t particularly bother me coz I’m all up for ‘managed pain’ involving lots of drugs but I can see how the set up wouldn’t appeal to everybody. They also seem to like you to give birth lying down with your legs up in stirrups - at least that’s what I had to do! The only frustrating part was the many and varied (and occasionally, forcefully put) opinions of the different midwives who came by in the days following the births, at various times of the day and night, to give me completely contradictory advice about breastfeeding. Not overly helpful! I dont think the clinic I was in had a hugely pro-breastfeeding policy. The midwives I encountered were quite quick to push a bottle in my hand when things didn’t go according to plan.
I was lucky that my Mutuel covered the cost of a private room and I would highly recommend that! As I understand it, there are no wards in French hospitals. It’s single or double rooms only I believe, so you’ll never be packed in with a load of screamy newborns, but if you can get a private room, then do so! On each occasion, I found myself sharing with another new mum for the first night, then got transferred to a private room the next morning. They kept me in for four days I think after each birth, which possibly wouldn’t suit everyone but didn’t bother me. The quality of the food in my clinic was pretty good and frankly I was enjoying being cooked for and cleaned up after!
" (EN, Feb 2012)

  • What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Toulouse? Which part of Toulouse do you live in?

    My name’s Emma Nelson, I’m 41 and have lived in Toulouse since April 2002. We live in the Patte d’Oie area, so fairly central.

    Why did you move there?
    Because it seemed like a good idea at the time! I and my French boyfriend (now husband) were both living and working in London, and both tired of city life. Early in 2002 he lost his job, I was ready to leave mine and so we got out a map of France and chose Toulouse, based solely on its proximity to the mountains, the sea and the fact that Airbus HQ was there, which meant there might be jobs for us! We rented our London flat, packed up the car and drove south. Somehow, it all worked out!

    What is the area like where you live?
    I like it. It’s not the prettiest area of Toulouse by a long way, but it’s nice enough and really practical. I live one minute from the metro, the kids schools are a five minute walk away (and set in parkland which is really unusual for Toulouse). It’s just 5 minutes up the road from St Cyprien which is a great area with a popular market and a lovely park for the kids. Also, if I’m feeling energetic and don’t want to take the metro, I can walk into town in 20 minutes and the centre of Toulouse is gorgeous. It’s a very pretty city.

    What nationality are you and your partner?
    I’m English and Guillaume’s French.

    How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
    I have three children. Eddie was born in 2003; Sam in 2005 and Anna arrived in 2008.

    What was your experience of having a baby in Toulouse (if relevant)?
    Generally extremely positive. I found the most fantastic obstetrician in Dr Kobuch (based at Ambroise Paré in Toulouse) who I cannot praise highly enough. He speaks English fluently which was crucial for me, especially with my first child, who was born at a time when I could only understand about 1 word in 10! With each pregnancy I had about 4 scans (I think) and saw him every month. I also had a monthly blood test to check for Toxoplasmosis throughout all three pregnancies. By the time I was pregnant with Anna, my doctor had invested in a state-of-the-art 3D scanner which was very cool, and he downloaded the images onto a USB key! One thing that’s really good here (and I think this applies to France as a whole) is that the obstetrician who follows you throughout your pregnancy is the one who delivers the baby. It’s really nice to have the continuity and you have a specialist ‘on call’ for nine months, in effect.
    I found the quality of care during the births themselves to be second-to-none. Fantastic midwives, very caring and capable. The midwives accompanied me through the labour itself and the obstetrician only got called right at the end when the baby was about to appear, or in the case of my first, because he was refusing to appear! This didnt strike me as completely fair. The midwives did all the work but he got all the glory! Having said all that, this wasnt the case for the birth of my second child which involved a pretty tough labour, brilliantly managed by a wonderful midwife called Veronica. When the doctor arrived at the eleventh hour ready to do his stuff, he asked me if I wanted Veronica to deliver Sam seeing as shed been doing such a great job. I said yes and Sam was duly delivered!
    Based on my experience, it seems to be much more ‘medicalised’ than in the UK. Not sure the midwives at my clinic would have known what a birthing pool was! This didn’t particularly bother me coz I’m all up for ‘managed pain’ involving lots of drugs but I can see how the set up wouldn’t appeal to everybody. They also seem to like you to give birth lying down with your legs up in stirrups - at least that’s what I had to do!
    The only frustrating part was the many and varied (and occasionally, forcefully put) opinions of the different midwives who came by in the days following the births, at various times of the day and night, to give me completely contradictory advice about breastfeeding. Not overly helpful! I dont think the clinic I was in had a hugely pro-breastfeeding policy. The midwives I encountered were quite quick to push a bottle in my hand when things didn’t go according to plan.
    I was lucky that my Mutuel covered the cost of a private room and I would highly recommend that! As I understand it, there are no wards in French hospitals. It’s single or double rooms only I believe, so you’ll never be packed in with a load of screamy newborns, but if you can get a private room, then do so! On each occasion, I found myself sharing with another new mum for the first night, then got transferred to a private room the next morning. They kept me in for four days I think after each birth, which possibly wouldn’t suit everyone but didn’t bother me. The quality of the food in my clinic was pretty good and frankly I was enjoying being cooked for and cleaned up after!

    Do you work and if so what do you do?
    Yes, I started working again just last year. Seven years of being a stay-at-home-mum was my limit! I work as a TEFL teacher trainer at TEFL Toulouse (www.tefltoulouse.com), occasionally teach at Toulouse Language Centre (www.tlselc.com) and I teach privately too. I also run a business; ‘Jack in the Box’ offering English classes to English-speaking children (see http://jackintheboxtoulouse.free.fr for more details).

    Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
    We bought our apartment in 2005. The process of buying it was pretty straightforward. Renting was much more complicated. Easy when one of you is a salaried employee in France but it seems to be extremely difficult if you’re not. We arrived in 2002 with our ‘London heads’ on, thinking we’d view something on the Friday and move in on the Monday. Quickly realised, after the first few incredulous looks from letting agents, that that had never been on the cards! Nothing was available for at least three months, hardly anything came furnished and they wanted French salary slips from the last three months. The fact that we had the money in cash to cover six months’ rent upfront made no difference whatsoever! Eventually we managed it through a combination of getting my mum to be ‘guarantor,’ and an understanding landlady who took a liking to us - but easy it was not and by all accounts, things haven’t moved on much since then!


    How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
    Pretty well integrated I think. It was a conscious decision to move into town and not to one of the villages or towns around Toulouse like Colomiers or Pibrac, which are very popular with the English-speaking community. I think it was the right decision. The kids’ friends are all French and everyone around us is French and that forces me to use my French regularly and that, in turn, helps with feeling integrated. It helps hugely of course that my husband is French. The process of integration would have been much more difficult if both of us weren’t French, or at least, not fluent speakers.

    What language do you speak to your children?
    I always speak nothing but English to them and Guillaume always speaks French.
    Do you think it essential to speak French when relocating to Toulouse?
    Not essential, no, but it really helps! I’d advise anyone relocating to enrol in an intensive French course (l’Institut Catholique de Toulouse is not bad - slightly cheaper, and many say better, than Alliance Française) or take private lessons as soon as they possibly can. Even better, start a course of French before you leave. There are plenty of people here who speak good English and willingly so, but to be able to deal with the inevitable bureaucracy, to be able to call a plumber when your washing machine breaks down and to generally feel part of things, a certain level of French is a must. I’m not sure how we’d have coped in the beginning had Guillaume not been French. I know I found my inability to communicate very frustrating in the beginning. I can clearly remember wanting to go back home after six months coz I was finding it all too much.
    It’s extremely difficult to deal with ‘l’administration’ (which anyone relocating has to do, unless the company is taking care of everything) if you can’t get your point over. In my experience and that of several of my friends, they will try to fob you off if they see they’ve got to make an extra effort. And when it comes to all things bureaucratic, those who shout loudest tend to get heard, which makes it even more important. In the very early stages, befriending a kind French speaker who’s prepared to come and face ‘les fonctionnaires’ with you is probably a very good idea!

    What is your impression of childcare and education in Toulouse?
    My experience of childcare has been excellent. All three of my kids went to the local Halte Garderie which would take them for a couple of days a week. I was a stay-at-home mum so didn’t need to take advantage of the various crèches that were available to me. Childcare is much cheaper than in the UK coz it’s heavily subsidised by the government. The out-of-school hours club (CLAE) which means I can drop my kids off at 7.30am and pick them up at 6.30pm costs me 15€ a year! It’s also extremely well run with tons of activities to keep them occupied. Its important to say though, that this is just my experience at the schools my children attend. Apparently other parents are not so lucky with their CLAEs. They can be more expensive, work on a different timetable and sometimes limit the number of places. It seems to vary from school to school.
    Education. Hmm. That’s slightly more complicated to answer! Being the daughter of a teacher and working in education myself, I have a view on how education should be and it’s pretty much the polar opposite of what they do in France! However, I’m making a conscious effort to put those worries/prejudices aside and not criticise before I actually have a reason to! All three of my children enjoy school, are thriving in the environment and go off happily every morning. Whatever I may think about the philosophy behind the system, they are obviously doing something right. All the teachers I have met so far (with just one exception) have been excellent and the children have had good relationships with each one.

    What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Toulouse?
    I’m not really sure I can list advantages or disadvantages. I suppose that because there are so many English-speaking parents here, it’s easy to exist in a comfortable English-speaking ‘bubble’ which maybe means your French stays at survival level for longer than it should, and the ‘integration’ process takes longer. But then, what’s the big hurry? Not sure that’s such a terrible thing. One of the reasons it has worked out for us here is because of the fantastic friends we’ve made in and around Toulouse, the majority of them being English-speaking.

    How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Toulouse?
    Very. We have great neighbours and the locals in the area couldn’t be nicer. I don’t think I’ve ever felt unwelcome anywhere in Toulouse.

    Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
    It’s family friendly, yes. We could do with a park though – there are two in the vicinity but both are a ten minute walk away on a busy road.
    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?
    I’d recommend my doctor, Guillaume Kobuch at Ambroise Paré. I can also recommend a good English speaking pediatrician, Thibaut Willig (also based at Ambroise Paré).
    A good Chinese/Thai place called ‘Ytaing’ – nothing to look at from the outside but really good and inexpensive, and they do takeaways. They don’t deliver unfortunately (hardly any do) but it’s worth the five minute walk!
    One of the best things we’ve found around here is the Academie des Arts Martiaux on Avenue de Lombez which is where my eldest goes to do Tae Kwando. A really lovely bunch of people.
    L’Espace St Cyprien have loads of things going on all the time for kids, and there’s a theatre there too. This is big city after all, so shortage of activities for kids is not an issue!

    What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Toulouse with children?
    Id say go for it. It’s a fabulous place to bring up children. All the countryside within a 30 minute radius of the centre is stunning, the weather is great, the food is … well, it’s France! You can be on the slopes in an hour and a half, or at the Med in the same time. The Pyrenees are on your doorstep. Barcelona is a 4 hour drive away and the Atlantic coast is do-able in a day - just about!
    If youre re-locating with kids Id advise that you do your research on the school administration procedures. You will need enough French, or have French-speaking friends willing to help you out, if you encounter problems with this. Procedures appear to differ from department to department. A friend has just had a nightmare trying to get her 8 year old into a new school in Toulouse in the middle of the school year. She was told one thing by the administration and quite another by the school. It worked out in the end, but there was a lot of stress and anxiety involved in getting there. Luckily, she was surrounded by French speakers who made the relevant phone calls and went along to shout at the powers-that-be in person, but without that support network, Im not sure what the outcome would have been.
    As we can’t afford a country house, which is what many families in Toulouse have (usually a flat in town plus a small house in the surrounding area) weve found the next best thing in our caravan which we keep in a lovely campsite in the Gers (www.lecampdeflorence.com) all year round. We use it almost every weekend in the warmer months. On a Friday evening in June we are usually to be found lounging about by the campsite pool, watching the sun go down, kids splashing in the water, and no one else around. Sometimes I have to pinch myself! We live a life here that just wouldnt be possible for us back in the UK.
    And generally, here in Toulouse (and maybe this applies to France as a whole) I find that kids are able to stay kids for longer, and I reckon that’s no bad thing.
    What couldn´t you live without in Toulouse?
    Radio 4 in the kitchen.

    What could you live without in Toulouse?!
    That stuff dogs tend to leave behind in the streets! That’s a real problem in Toulouse. They’ve tried to sort it out by introducing on-the-spot fines, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

    Feb 2012