" We have been getting a new lease of life - we were in a terrible rut in England, but here everyone has been so welcoming and friendly, its hard not to walk around with a smile on your face. The biggest advantages will be for our children though. We - and by default they - have a much better quality of life over here, and the region has so much to do, its almost an embarrassment of riches for them to have a go at" (SH Jan 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in France?
My name is Scheenagh Harrington, Im 39 and Ive lived in France for almost 18 months.
Whereabouts in France do you live?
I live in Castres, in the south west.
What nationality are you and your partner?
Were both British (though Im happier to say Im half scottish and James is half irish).
How many children do you have and what are their names and ages?
We have two - Eleanor is 5 and Robert is 8 months
Do you work and if so what to you do?
We both work in the same field - TV listings journalism
What was your experience of having a baby in France? (if relevant)
It was strange but very good. At first it was terribly confusing, because there was so much bureaucracy, form-filling and the like, and they set such store by appointments. But once Id passed that stage, the level of care was excellent, and the fact it was all free was wonderful. The doctors and midwives are gentle, kind, patient people, and only once did I have a negative experience, when I missed a scan appointment. There are subtle differences though - for example, we had to buy the drugs for Roberts vaccinations and give them to the doctor. That was weird, but like all things, its easy when you just accept thats how its done here.
What was your experience of relocating to France with children? (if relevant)
On the one hand it was difficult - I had to spend a month without my husband and we all missed each other terribly. But the actual logistics - finding a removals company and booking flights - was easy peasy.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
Pretty well - we live among ordinary french people, Eleanor attends a french school and Robert has a french nanny. The only other english-speakers we encounter regularly are at work. We have a few french friends, but were fairly private people anyway. That wouldnt change regardless of where we were.
What language do you speak to your children?
A mixture of english, french (not necessarily in that order) and on very rare occasions, bad.
What is your impression of childcare and education in France so far?
By and large were very impressed. The system is a bit more rigid and structured, which can be good, but it can also be inflexible. Eleanors learning fast but she doesnt get much leeway for being foreign, which I dont mind. Her teachers are firm but fair.
What school do your children go to?
Eleanor goes to a private, Catholic (not that we are) school.
Why did you choose this school and are you happy with your choice?
Our lovely former company secretary chose it for us, as she said it was the best. We have to say, by and large, she was right.
Where you live, how good are the facilities for children (shops, restaurants, activities etc)?
We live 15 mins walk from the centre of Castres, so were close enough to be able to access things very easily, but far enough away for us not to feel crowded. A car is a must for supermarket shopping, but the furthest one is only 10 mins in the car.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in France?
The main advantages for us have been getting a new lease of life - we were in a terrible rut in England, but here everyone has been so welcoming and friendly, its hard not to walk around with a smile on your face. The biggest advantages will be for our children though. We - and by default they - have a much better quality of life over here, and the region has so much to do, its almost an embarrassment of riches for them to have a go at.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives in France?
At the moment, no. Though Eleanor would probably say more trips to the seaside or swimming pool, or parties with her friends.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to France with children?
I would heartily advise them to come to this area - though be aware others arent as friendly. Having a baby here is easy as long as youre prepared to go with the flow. They are very solicitous - especially if there are any problems (I had pregnancy diabetes and my appointments doubled), and it can get a bit tiresome. But I have to say the standard of care, both before and after, has been outstanding.
What couldn´t you live without in France?
My husband and children. Everything else is just stuff.
What could you live without in France?!
English people who cant be bothered to try.