"Most people (but not all) are either champagne producers/grape farmers and their families have been here centuries. However, over the 16 years we’ve been here, I’ve noticed a change in their attitude. At the beginning, they were closed, and not interested in anyone else’s culture. But over the last couple of years, there’s been a distinct increase in their interest in learning English, and I think this has got something to do with the internet. I now teach English in my village because I was asked. This wouldn’t have happened even 5 years ago." (YH, Aug 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Champagne-Ardennes?
I’m Yvonne Halling, I’m 56 years old and I’ve lived in Champagne for about 16 years.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
I have two daughters, Chloe, 20 and Lucy 18, both born in Tokyo then we moved to Champagne when they were 4 and 2 ½ respectively.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I own and run a B&B business at our home in Verzy, which I started in 2001. My website is http://bedandbreakfastinchampagne.com where you can see pictures of us, the house and the region of Champagne
What was your experience of having children in Champagne-Ardennes?
My children were born in Tokyo. My experience of living in Champagne with my children was a good one. It is an excellent place to raise children, where the streets and the area are safe, and old-fashioned values are still intact.
For those who don`t know, can you describe what is Champagne-Ardennes like?
Champagne is a little-known corner of north-eastern France, famous for the drink, but not much else. In fact it’s a beautiful area with lots of vineyards, forests and natural beauty. It’s quiet and peaceful, and only 45 minutes from Paris by the TGV. The main towns are Reims (about 200,000 people) famous for its magnificent gothic cathedral. It’s elegant and stylish and now the new tramway is finished, easy to get around. Epernay, the Capital of champagne (the drink) is a small farming town of around 25,000 people where life is very much dictated by the rhythm of nature. We lived in Epernay for four years before buying our lovely home in Verzy which is a vineyard village about half way between Epernay and Reims via the local roads.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
To begin with it was difficult. We came to Epernay because of my husband’s job at Moet et Chandon. At that time, in 1996, there were only four other English speaking people living in Epernay. We were regarded as strange, foreign (which we were, of course) but not understood. When we spoke English in public, people stared at us! However, they got used to us, and we enjoy living here now.
What language do you speak to your children?
We speak English
Do you feel that you need to speak French to be fully integrated in the area?
Absolutely, it’s a must.
Do you feel that having children has helped you integrate?
How much French and how much English culture do you think your children are exposed to?
We have all been lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of French culture. This area is very French, and we’ve been priviledged to have been invited into their lives and shared some fantastic occasions with them.
How welcoming were the locals when you moved to Champagne-Ardennes?
As I said, it was difficult to begin with. However, on the first morning of school, I was befriended by a lovely French lady, who has been my friend ever since, and through her, we found a great group to belong to. However, we sometimes felt on the “outside”, but the group were very friendly, and helpful
How would you describe a typical local?
Most people (but not all) are either champagne producers/grape farmers and their families have been here centuries. However, over the 16 years we’ve been here, I’ve noticed a change in their attitude. At the beginning, they were closed, and not interested in anyone else’s culture. But over the last couple of years, there’s been a distinct increase in their interest in learning English, and I think this has got something to do with the internet. I now teach English in my village because I was asked. This wouldn’t have happened even 5 years ago.
Do your children go to a nursery or have any childcare, and if so how do you rate it?
They both attended Maternelle when we arrived here, and the care was good.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend in Champagne-Ardennes?
The region itself is very child friendly, with the outdoors and natural beauty accessible everywhere. Activities for kids include acrobranche in our village, canoeing and kayaking on the River Marne, kids clubs in the school holidays, plus several theme parks within an hour’s drive. There’s also the wonderful Lac de l’Ailette just an hour north in the Aisne, which is now owned by Centre Parcs, but you can still spend just a day there by the lake, on the beach with lots of water activities. We used to go there a lot when the girls were younger, and it was always great fun.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Champagne-Ardennes?
When we arrived in Epernay, there wasn’t an international community at all, and I don’t think there is even now. But after a couple of years living there, we heard about an international class within a normal French school in Reims, and decided that as soon as the girls were old enough, they would go there. So that’s why we moved to Verzy, so they could attend that school. It was a great experience, and we got to meet other English speaking people and became part of that community, while still being part of our French community in Epernay. Advantages…. It’s great to have your own nationality and culture around you, and to be able to tap into that network whenever you feel the need. Disadvantages: now that the girls are grown up, I have to consciously choose to interact with French people,otherwise I find that I don’t, which is a pity.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Nothing, but you’d probably be best asking them!
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Champagne-Ardennes with children?
It’s a great place to raise kids
Can you ever imagine moving back to the UK?
We did move back, after 10 years in France, and then after 5 years in the UK, we came back “home”. We prefer to live in France now.
What could you live without in Champagne-Ardennes?
The lack of interest in service sometimes irritates me.
What couldn´t you live without in Champagne-Ardennes?
The peace and quiet and closeness to nature. I love living here, and feel close to the natural order of life. It’s peaceful and tranquil, and the clean air is amazingly good. Couldn’t live without the internet, either!