"I must admit that my children learn a lot, but in general I would say that there is a lack of fun and joy in French schools. School is to work, if you like it or not, and it is not up to the teacher to make things fun to learn. Here I find that the French education could learn a lot from their North-American colleagues" (LT, Sep 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Grenoble?
Lonneke Timmerman, 38 years old and I live in Grenoble since 2009.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
I have two children. A 9 year old son (Coen) and a 6 year old daughter (Julie), resp. 2002 and 2005
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I have my own business as a personal stylist and image consultant. I help women dress to their full potential. Many of my clients lack time or inspiration to dress appropriate for all different kinds of occassions in life. My job is to help women to look elegant, fashionable and confident, every day of the week! The company is called Your European Stylist and the website is www.youreuropeanstylist.com
How do you find working in a foreign country?
Except for the tons of paperwork to set up a business, I dont find it very hard to work in France. My clients are mostly English speaking women. I work individually so I dont have any experience in the typical french workplace.
Do you find it hard to juggle being a mother and working?
I have the perfect job being a mom! Being an entrepreneur allows me to schedule my work around my family life. My kids are picked up for school at 8 am by another mom who lives around the corner (my kids go to the international school) so my workday starts early. I go to the gym in the early mornings so I start my day fresh and energetic. I work at home or on location downtown Grenoble or other cities of preference). In the afternoons, it is my turn to do the pickups. and usually that is where my working day ends. I spend time with my children, we eat together, well do homework, etc. When they go to bed, I usually do my emails and other stuff to prepare for the next day. Of course there are times when I am very busy. Therefore it is very very important to have a circle of friends/moms/neighbours, etc. that can help me out. Since most French women work full-time, France has many companies that provide nannies. I find that it easy to find a nanny. Also, the activity centers are just great!
What was your experience of having children in Grenoble?
My children are not born in Grenoble, but I believe Grenoble is a nice green and relatively safe place to grow up.
For those who don`t know, can you describe what is Grenoble like?
Grenoble is a medium sized town, the capital of the French Alps. The city is big enough to have theaters, shops, sports clubs, bars, restaurants, etc. and of course the winter season is just gorgeous! Most people are friendly, although I have had my experience of people being very reserved and rude ("you are not one of us" because you have an accent!)
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
My kids are very well integrated in Grenoble. They are trilingual (Dutch, English and French) and that without any accent! I have noticed that children, at least mine, are very flexible. The adjust so easily to new situations and even a new language. Of course in the beginning it was hard for them, but to fully immersed in a French system means that after not even one year, they spoke French. My children have both English and French speaking friends and it is just amazing to see how easily they switch from one language to another.
What language do you speak to your children?
Do you feel you need to speak French to be fully integrated in the area?
YES. 80% of my friends are French. I have to admit here that both my husband and I love to really integrate with local people and not only other English speaking expats. We have taken the difficult path but it has been so rewarding. I believe living in France without being connected with the French people is not a full integration. The easy way is to stay in your comfort zone and only look for other English speaking friends. But I would sure advice everybody who is new in Grenoble to make an effort to connect with locals. It takes time, it is hard, but in the end it is so much fun and it is so refreshing to blend your own culture with the French culture.
Do you feel having children has helped you to integrate?
Oh yes very much indeed. Like I said, people are reserved. I think without my kids, it would have been very hard to make friends with other moms. I was lucky to speak already a decent level of French, but still, I was new. Parents were always in a rush to drop off their kids and go back to work so it took a while before I started connecting with other parents.
How welcoming were the locals when you moved to Grenoble?
There was no neighbour with homemade cookies (haha), but thats OK!
How would you describe a typical local?
Reserved, loves the outdoors, friendly.
Do your children go to school and if so how do you rate it?
The French school system is something I could talk about for hours. My daughter, who was 4 when we arrived, went two years to the Maternelle. My son started the International School right away. Note: Grenoble does not have a "true" International School for children in the age of 3 to 10. It has a French-system school with international language sections (English and German). Each day, my children get one hour English. Since the classes are small, even with one hour per day, they maintain to follow the British curriculum for English so they wont fall behind. I must admit that my children learn a lot, but in general I would say that there is a lack of fun and joy in French schools. School is to work, if you like it or not, and it is not up to the teacher to make things fun to learn. Here I find that the French education could learn a lot from their North-American colleagues.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend in Grenoble?
My kids love Buffalo Grill and I know there a tons of Italian pizza joints that are good for families. I prefer to take my children out for lunch rather than evenings, since the French eat late. For lunch in summer, I like to eat outside on one of the terrasses near Jardin de Ville. It is a square with many different restaurants. Children can play and cant go out of sight when I am still sipping my wine.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Grenoble?
I think people who come from abroad bring in new energy. That is a huge advantage. I cant think of any disadvantages except for all paperwork.
What advice would you give anyone having a baby or thinking of moving to Grenoble with children?
Get them as soon as possible in schools and activities to learn the language. And as for the parents, get yourself French lessons, before arrival. If you speak French, then it will be much easier to communicate with teachers and other parents. Another advice: take time to adjust. Dont put your child in school and go to work immediately. I think it is important to have a parent at home for the first few weeks/months. Even though children are flexible, they need a safe haven to return to from their first experiences in France.
Can you ever imagine moving back home?
Hmmm, hard to tell. We will probably move to another country, not back home. It will be difficult to find a place better than Grenoble for skiing, the nice hot summers, and of course the food, cheese and wine.