"We ended up buying in the Vienne purely by chance; we decided to move to France as we were both fed up with working the hours we were in the UK, not seeing each other very much and knowing that life is too short to spend our time in jobs that we did not particularly like. We could not afford to buy a property with land in the UK so decided to look in France. We had some friends who were running a B & B in the Vienne so after looking at several areas we visited our friends to end our holiday. They had lined up two houses for us to look at, the second one being the one we bought. When we drove into the hamlet and looked at the house we looked at each other and said “this is it”, made an offer and returned home from our holiday having bought a house in France. Put our house in the UK on the market and 17 weeks later arrived with a big van in France to start our new life" (RR, Nov 2010)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in La Vienne?
Rachel Roxburgh, age 38 (nearly 39) and we moved to La Vienne in September 2005
Why did you choose to move to France and in particular the region of La Vienne?
We ended up buying in the Vienne purely by chance; we decided to move to France as we were both fed up with working the hours we were in the UK, not seeing each other very much and knowing that life is too short to spend our time in jobs that we did not particularly like. We could not afford to buy a property with land in the UK so decided to look in France. We had some friends who were running a B & B in the Vienne so after looking at several areas we visited our friends to end our holiday. They had lined up two houses for us to look at, the second one being the one we bought. When we drove into the hamlet and looked at the house we looked at each other and said “this is it”, made an offer and returned home from our holiday having bought a house in France. Put our house in the UK on the market and 17 weeks later arrived with a big van in France to start our new life.
We chose to come to France also to start a family, we did not want our children to grow up in the UK where kids grow up so fast and are surrounded by consumerism. In France they can enjoy their childhood and so can we and be grateful of simple pleasures. We both grew up in the country and wanted to be able to offer this to our children.
What nationality are you and your partner?
We are both English – I was born in Guildford and my husband in Bath
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have two children, Ruby and Rivan. Ruby is 3 and Rivan is nearly 18 months. Both were born in Le Blanc, France.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I am currently on congé parental (parental leave) and get paid to stay at home and look after my children until the youngest one is 3 years old, then I have to return to my job. It is a wonderful system here, if you have worked for a company for at least 2 years and have a CDI (contrat duree indeterminee – meaning a permanent contract), you are able to take up to three years off from your job to stay at home and look after your children. Once your youngest child reaches the age of 3 you return to work – your post having been kept open for you, with the same hours and pay. Before I had my second child I worked in a French insurance company advising and selling insurance to English clients as well as preparing some of the marketing for our English clients and will be retuning either 2011 or 2012, I have not decided yet.
What was your experience of having a baby/babies in La Vienne?
Having had both of my children in France I can not recommend the French healthcare system highly enough. I gave birth in a small friendly hospital and had a room to myself. The staff were fantastic and the healthcare was brilliant, with your first child they like new mums to stay in hospital for at least 5 days after the baby is born to give the mum and baby some time together without all the business back at home. My husband was there for both births and was able to cut the cord and help with the delivery (he is a nurse working over here). Giving birth to my second child I was much more relaxed and knew the routine, I was keen to get out of hospital as soon as possible so after 3 days they made sure that all the tests were carried out and results back so that I could “make my escape”. Visitors were welcome pretty much all day and they made my husband, daughter, friends and family very welcome (he was able to stay the night and have dinner at the hospital whilst waiting for our first child to be born). I cannot recommend it highly enough.
There is no aftercare from a midwife here, you take your baby to the local doctor each month for the first year to be checked and progress noted in their health book. For the mothers there is an appointment with the gynaecologist 6 weeks after the delivery to make sure everything is back to normal. This is the one side that I found hard, not having someone to ask questions after the delivery – more so with my first baby than the second.
What was your experience of relocating to La Vienne?
We have found relocating here an exhilarating experience, we have been accepted into the local community and our French neighbours are just wonderful. You have to make an effort to integrate when you first move here, it is very easy to end up not mixing with the French and not learning the language but I would say that this is imperative. It was hard to start with as I had a very basic knowledge of French so had to really try hard to grasp the complicated language. My husband already had a high level of French and finds learning languages easy. We are both involved in local community activities – my husband is on the local committee and works with our neighbour the mayor, I am on the parents association at the school and also involved in a newly established association offering English lessons for children and adults.
Would you do things differently if you did it again?
I would probably have tried to learn more of the language but apart from that there is very little I would change.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
As they were both born in France they are completely integrated. From a year old both my son and daughter were at a local French crèche two days a week to help them learn the language and also so that they could socialise with other children as there are no other children living in the small hamlet we live in. My daughter was the first birth in our hamlet for 28 years. Ruby is already bilingual at the age of three and is at the local school 4 mornings a week. She instinctively knows whether she is talking to a French or English person and converses in the language appropriate – pretty amazing I think for someone so young.
What language do you speak to your children?
Most of the time we speak in English to them as they are getting the exposure to French at school and crèche. We do read to them in both languages but it is important that they both keep up their maternal language and this is something that we will need to spend a great deal of time on as they get older if they are to become truly bilingual.
What is your impression of childcare and education in La Vienne?
The childcare (from our experience) is excellent, the crèche that both children have spent time at is fantastic, there is a maximum of 12 children with at least 4 members of staff. They organise many activities for the children and parents (painting, dancing, swimming etc). The school which our daughter has recently started at has an excellent reputation and will take children from the age of 2½ providing they are dry. The kids get lots of stimulation and always get to play outside every day – the school see this as fundamental for the happiness of the children. They are still very young so we do not have any experience of colleges or universities, but from speaking with our friends the opportunities are endless and all the education up to degree level is paid for by the government – they believe that educating their future leaders is very important.
What school(s)/nursery(ies) do your children go to?
Our son is at the local crèche in Montmorillon (25 km away) and our daughter goes to the local school in La Trimouille (15km away). There are 86 children at the school, 26 in her class which rages from age 2 ½ to 6, then they move up to the next class.
Why did you choose this school/these schools and are you happy with your choice?
There was not a huge choice of schools, in most villages there is a public and a private school, we chose the public school because the teachers have excellent reputations, the school is well run and our friend’s children are happy at the school. My husband works in La Trimouille so it made sense to send our daughter to school there, when I return to work I will drive through La Trimouille so the practicalities will work for us all. The other school that our daughter could have gone to was very small (14 pupils) and was in completely the wrong direction.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend in La Vienne?
We do not really eat out much but this is something that we will explore as the kids are now a bit older and eating out will be a fun outing for us all – will keep you posted.
Are there any services you’d like to recommend?
There is great toy library in Montmorillon which we go to every week. It costs 15 euros for the year per child and you are able to borrow up to 4 toys for a month. The range of toys is amazing – everything from bath toys to bikes and little trampolines. There should be more of them!
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in La Vienne?
The main advantages are being able to share our experience and knowledge with our kids – knowing how it would be in the UK compared to how it is here we are able to cherish what we are able to offer them. The kids being bilingual from an early age will also be an advantage to them in later life.
Disadvantages – there are not many, probably the amount of paperwork and red tape that France has and the time it takes to get things done here. For some people we will always be “foreigners” but then they have led pretty sheltered lives and come from the older generation.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Are the locals welcoming of the International Community?
Yes providing you make the effort to speak the language
What is their attitude towards children?
Very positive, it brings new life into villages and put a smile on all of our neighbours faces when we see them and the kids interact with them. They have been very kind and given us many toys for the kids (toys that are no longer wanted by their grandchildren).
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to La Vienne with children?
Have a basic understanding of the language is key, once you have this you will be able to find out all the answers to your questions. If relocating with children to the Vienne research the schools and make sure your kids have a basic understanding of the language – it will make both theirs and your life much easier. There are lots of other mums in the area (many different nationalities) but you will need to make the effort to socialise with them, the French are not always as open as the English are and it takes time for them to accept you. Do not try to change the way that they do things, but adapt to their way after all you are living in their country.
What couldn’t you live without in La Vienne?
A car – living where we do there is little public transport so not having our own transport would be impossible. An income is also vital, for many people relocating to this area work is the hardest thing to come by, it is a poor area and there are not many jobs around. Many people return back to the UK because they have run out of money and are unable to find jobs here. The final thing that I could not live without is my family – it is why we moved here in the first place to raise our children in an environment where they can still be children, with space and nature around them and a happy active life.
Internet – we are able to stay in touch with the outside world whilst still living in our little piece of heaven