"We were one of the very few english here at the time, we were viewed as a bit of a novelty and everyone fell over themselves to befriend us, never had anything negative at all. gradually over the years i have felt the atmosphere change, not so much towards us , but to new arrivals, making it harder and harder for intergration" (SKS, Sep 2011)
We lived in Suffolk in the UK and after our third child we descided that we needed a larger house with a garden..so during our search i came across a misplaced advert for a property in France, apart from the location, we were very keen!! But it sowed a seed and so we looked into the idea of moving to france. My husband and I twisted some friends arms to take the children for a week or so and we headed over here to see what we thought;
To cut a long story short we found a property that we could aford and that was habitable and descided to put in an offer. In the meantime i found out that i was expecting our fourth child and was rather nervous about giving birth in a foreign country. As if French women never do!! lol. anyway because of ownership dtails being a bit complicated we didnt proceed with the purchase but accidently found another property that was for sale, offered and bought it overa weekend, which was very scary. we sold up,packed a van and headed into the unknown.
Ian still worked in the Uk so i lived as best i could in a ramshakle house with 4 children who were at that time aged 9,7,4 and almost 1. it was not much fun, cold and lonely. I had very little french and no friends. our nearest neighbour turned out to be a lovely Breton couple and the lady, Mimie, used to come down every day and take me by the hand to her house where she plied me with chicory (substitute coffee) and crepes while showing me photos of her family and the village in years gone by. she patiently taught me how to speak french, literally by miming things and explaining slowly what she was doing. She loved the children and made me feel very welcome. The children were all enrolled at the local school who had one other english family who had been here about a year. The headmaster made it a rule that only french was to be spoken at school and although we often sat up very later struggling with homework together over a dictionary i think it was an excellent rule as the children were more or less fluent within 3 to 4 months...they began to make friends and settle into our new life.
Another mum took me under her wing and helped me a great deal with getting registered with the CAF getting carte de sejours and a social security number. Ian came home on holiday and we toured the job centres to find him some work. Mimie had a family member working in a central heating boiler factory nearby and as Ian is a welder, she suggested he went along..so no french and wife and baby in tow, we hit the administration together. Amazingly he got work and before long had a full time contract which was fantastic as we could all live together again. This was in 1998 and we were one of the very few english here at the time, we were viewed as a bit of a novelty and everyone fell over themselves to befriend us, never had anything negative at all. gradually over the years i have felt the atmosphere change, not so much towards us , but to new arrivals, making it harder and harder for intergration.
We lived and worked hard on the house, getting it up to a livable standard, taming the garden, enjoying our rural life. I found out i was expecting again and was recommended to go to a clinic in a town about an hour away. I had had all our other children at home in the Uk, no medical intervention at all and had rather enjoyed each birth. What a shock when i was talked through my birth plan with the midwife.....epidural given at so and so cms, drips etc..well protest as much as i liked that was how it was done here..so when i went into labour i was very aprehensive and set off to the clinic dreading what was going to happen. I had a different midwife to the one i had met before and told her i didnt want styrups, or an epidural or a drip and she acted as though i was a nut case but respected my wishes, with my husband standing guard to make sure i had what i wanted, we delivered a little boy , healthy and naturally..the midwife, hugged me , told me how brave i was and promptly got me to sign loads of papers that said the birth was unassisted at my request. I had to fight to go home after 3 days in the clinic...Our sixth child was born in the local hospital with a completely different attitude, the midwives fell over themselves to let me do exactly as i wanted and I went home 3 hours after the birth...so it pays to shop around if you have a birth plan you really want to stick to.
I went to work full time and left the baby with a french nourise...that was very difficult but she was very good and I felt she did her job well. Wednesdays when the children are off school is a very difficult day when working full time...childcare is reasonably priced for one or two children but when i had to have all of them in activities or with childminders it was costing me 60 plus euros a day. School holidays are also a nigthmare although Ian used to get help for activities for the children from his employer. I found it hard to get work here, I have O levels and am reasonably intelligent but as i havent done my BAC here in France, it was very difficult to persuade employers that i had a brain!
I really feel that if you live full time in France and take part in the local school and make an effort to speak french and fit in , then all the locals are happy to meet you half way. People that move in and make no effort to speak french and only socialise with other non french speakers are obviously not viewed well and make it harder for all of us.
Our children are now 23,20,16,13,10and 5 and all speak French and english fluently. All read well in both languages and the older 2 have relationships and jobs that make france home for them. The others are at school and I feel the education system is very good if you use it to its full extent. i think jobs are very limited here and there is not much insentive for kids to push into higher paid jobs..but we are happy we came,happy we made the effort to learn another language and another culture..whether we stay forever, who knows but it has been a very positive and rewarding experience.