Sunday, October 21, 2012

One year later - in Bordeaux, France

Can't believe it's been a year!!
Reflections of One Year 

First day of School - September 2011
Saratoga Springs, NY
Wow, time really flies!  We have been here a year now.  We arrived a year ago, Tuesday, the 25 of October 2011.  I still remember that day....My husband had been in  France for a month and had started working. The kids and I got delayed a bit in the States due to processing my long-term VISA.  (That's another whole blog post in itself..the process and time to get a French VISA - and believe me, every expat has their own story!)

Our house in New York

Packed up and ready to go on the truck

We had said goodbye to our friends, and our home in Saratoga Springs, NY a few weeks earlier.  The girls and I flew out of Rochester, NY after saying goodbye to my mother and then after a quick connection in Madrid (translate connection time of 1.5 hours and running end to end of the Madrid airport with 3 sleepy kids, no stroller for the then 4 year old - and tons of luggage!) we landed in Bordeaux.  My husband met us at the airport and we drove the 10 minutes to our new home.  I still remember him telling me, this is the boulangerie (bread store), the fruit stand, the grocery store, another boulangerie, a pharmacy, a third boulangerie..."look how close everything is to our house" he says as we drove to the house.

He had been in our house for a month - living very basically.  Our furniture was in transit, having been sent out of New York State the 22 of September - and being told it was about an 8 week process.  He had a few pieces that his parents had given us - a kitchen table that had been his grandparents, his and his sister's old twin beds, a few chairs and a new mattress for our room. By mid-November, our things arrived in Bordeaux, via a British moving company.  When we moved, we purged, we packed, we purged, we stored, we purged and really used the opportunity of moving to pair down. At a year later, I can say it feels good and we look at things differently now - how much do we really need?

Unloading and unpacking here - Note the rainbow above the truck...A sign for good things to come?

In France, due to space, people live different.  They don't have as much stuff as Americans.  This seems to be changing some, but overall, people work with the space they have and when things start getting full, they purge!  We are fortunate to have found a four bedroom house - but there is no basement.  Each bedroom has a wall of storage shelves/closet and we have one extra walk in closet/pantry next to the kitchen.  Other than that - every one's stuff needs to be kept in their own room.  So we keep purging...having been here a year now, my youngest has already changed clothing sizes almost twice.  The rooms are also smaller so the closet shelves also serve as the kid's dressers.

Our new  home in France

So back to our first day, it was surreal arriving in a sparsely furnished house.  This was the first time we had moved in 10 years and 3 kids later!    The schools were on Fall break (the 2 week late October break - Toussaint) so we had a week to settle in before school began.  My husband had already registered them at the local schools- and had met with their teachers.  My husband still laughs to this day - as the older girls wanted to go swimming at the local indoor pool that afternoon - and they did.  My youngest and I took a nap to adjust to the initial jet lag.  He took me around to the grocery stores, and showed me where certain things were located.  All a big blur at this moment.

So fast forward a year later - here are a few things I've adjusted to:

I can now shop at the grocery store and it doesn't take 3 hours - only 1.5.  (Early on, not only did I have to figure out the store, I had to understand what I could and couldn't buy in this country - i.e. no jello, no peanut butter, no chili powder,  no fresh cold milk.) In addition to that - I needed to learn about items that we had no equivalent to and understand how they are used....i.e. Creme Fraiche, Fromage blanc, creme liquid.  And the cheeses - so many different tastes.  The bigger grocery stores have individual scanners so that speeds up the process - love that!  Also love that you can buy wine at the grocery store - it's heavenly around here...I've learned that  2005 & 2009 were excellent vintages for French wine.

We buy bread on a daily basis at the boulangerie...hard to pass up a nice warm baguette.

Weekly food markets are the best places to local fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and poultry - but one needs to find the producers not the distributors.  Always good to take note of which stands are crowded and which stands sell out of their stock.  These are usually well respected by the locals.  Go early for best selection.  Our markets are Tuesday & Saturday mornings - with the large market on Sunday mornings.

I now buy in smaller amounts and several times a week due to market shopping and buying Fresh meats from the butcher, fresh fish from the poissonerie and of course bread.  Much of daily life here revolves around food.  Although, fresh food is best, there is an awesome frozen food store called Picard.  This small store sells only frozen foods.  Their quality is high and most things taste really good.  So for something quick and easy - this is a great place.  However, can add another stop in the routine of shopping for food.  (But what's one more...).

When you see your friends each time you kiss them on the in Bordeaux it's twice - once each side - but down further South it's 3 times.  There are complicated rules about kissing here... when  you first meet someone, you shake their hands...but kids will kiss adults and their friends.  When we first arrived friends of my daughters would come over and greet me hello by leaning in to give kisses.  Initially their parents shook my hand - but soon we moved to cheek kissing too.  Once you start kissing someone, you always do it.  It's considered a matter of respect and inclusion to kiss hello.  If you enter a room or some one's house, you need to go around and greet everyone - or someone might get offended - same thing is done when you leave.    I'm still learning on this one - but most people seem to give me a bit of space, as I'm the American.  The people we have met here have been wonderful and very sweet.  Even meeting parents of my kids friends, they have all been very welcoming and helpful.  It's a good feeling now to have a few people that I feel I can turn to when I have questions about school and/or activities.

My older daughters' Ecole Primaire or Elementary School.

The Maternelle or Pre-School for my youngest.

French schools do not ask for that much parental involvement like in the States.  Your kids are in school all day - and only on the occasional field trip will they ask for a few parents to help out.  Other than that - school is teacher's domain.  Actually it's also very hard to get into a French school - during school hours for protection purposes, doors are locked.  If you need to pick up your child, you have to ring the bell and wait for someone to come to the door to answer - there is no office or reception area for parents.  Kids play outside a lot each day.  Recess and lunch are 2 hours long!  The school playgrounds are more like concrete courtyards - not a lot of play equipment - this means the kids interact more with each other - games like tag, four square, hop- scotch and dodge ball are often played in large groups.

First day of School in France - November 2011

Standing in front of their "new " school - November 2011

Activities are pretty similar here for kids - my girls are taking ballet and modern jazz classes.  This year, my middle daughter is taking swimming lessons, my oldest daughter is on a synchronized swim team and my littlest one is taking a circus exploration workshop held weekly at her school after classes each week.    The big difference with activities here is they are all year long - you register either in the summer or the first week in September for the year.  The other difference is that since there is no school on Wednesdays a lot of activities are held on that day - or they are held between 5:30 and 7:30 in the evenings.  There are some activities also scheduled on Saturday mornings.  But not on Sundays.  Sunday is family day.  Since we arrived last year in October, we missed out on several activities that were full by that time - so this past Fall, I was definitely more on top of enrollment procedures.

Stores are closed on Sunday!  Big difference and probably the hardest to adjust to....a few exceptions to this rule - Some grocery stores are open in the morning until noon.  Boulangeries (bread stores) are open all day.  The French need their fresh bread.  Some pharmacies  and garden stores are open in the morning also.  Other than that - everything else is closed.  The concept is Sundays are for families to be together and a day of rest.  If it's a nice day you will find many families in parks walking around with each other.  A big meal is often eaten at Sunday lunch also.  Dinner time here is later - restaurants don't open until 7 pm for the evening meal - and families then to eat between 7-9 pm.  I do think some of that is changing a little - for families - dinner is often around 7 or 7:30 - so younger kids can get to bed by 8:30.  Families of really small children - the kids eat early and then go off to bed and then parents eat later.  Some French find it really difficult to eat dinner before 8 pm.

The pace of life is just slower here - no need to rush - things will get done.  People walk slower, eat slower, and talk slower.  There's a certain enjoyment that is taken around enjoying a meal together or enjoying a coffee together.  (Another thing that is different here - coffee is truly espresso - and it's served in a very small espresso cup - black, with sugar on the side.  If you want cream or milk in your coffee you have to order it that way - cafe creme or cafe au lait - The French sit and enjoy their coffee - at least for a few minutes - you don't see people walking around town with coffee cups in hand.)

Enjoying a Sunday afternoon in  Parc Moulineau - Gradignan

I've learned how to call for an appointment with doctors, hairdressers and dentists.  When one asks for an appointment in French  - one says a rendez-vous.  However, it still sounds bizarre to me to ask for a rendez-vous with my doctor!

Another French word that is also bizarre for my English speaking brain is the word for an official stamp, name stamp - or craft stamp - In French it's called a tampon.  So when you go to the town hall and need your official form stamped with their seal - you say I need a "tampon" for this form.  In craft stores, they have sections labeled "Tampons" to meet all your crafting needs.  

Laundry  - another large adjustment - it's takes forever here.  A washing cycle takes 2 hours - machines are smaller and dryers not used too often.  Again, this is a space issue for many families.  The washer is often in the kitchen and they hang their clothes out to dry.  We are lucky and have a small room where we have our hot water tank and heater are located and there is room for a washer in there - but we have a newer house.  We opted for a combination washer/dryer in one - so I have the option to dry a load if I really want to - but I have come to prefer air drying for most things.  I still love my towels to go through the dryer to be soft!

So a year later....we feel a bit more settled - still learning the culture, the language and the way things are done here.  Some times, I'm still confused about how to go about and get things done - The French are not known for their clarity in processes - but learning that often even the French themselves are confused or don't know the answer either, makes me feel a bit better.  I will always be the American in France, but it helps to feel a bit more settled.  

First day of School - this year - September 2012 - All ready for  Kindergarten, 3rd grade and 6th grade!


  1. Jenni, I have really enjoyed your posts this past year. You take wonderful pictures and have a great way of describing things!

    Your daughters are beautiful and they look so happy. This is such a great experience for them.

    My neighbors moved to Prague last year and she said the exact same thing about the shopping. It takes much longer to do, you have to go around to more places to find everything. She misses Wegmans the most.

    I also have been following a blog about a guy hiking through France and he said the same thing about the stamps. Everytime he hits a checkpoint on his hike he has to get a tampon. He said it was really hard for him to adjust to that!

    Keep up the great posting. I am looking forward to reading about your next year and all the cool things you will be doing.

    Take care and keep in touch!

    Vicki Sachdev Crozzoli

    1. Thank you so much for reading the blog and commenting as often as you do. I am finding it a lot of fun to write. I have never really enjoyed writing before - but it's great to find my voice. It's fun to share and this blog has grown in ways I never imagined. Thanks for all of your encouragement! It's so great to be in touch!

  2. Jen, this is so nice to read. You have the family talent, not only for photography,but also writing.Looking at the recent photos of the girls is bitter/sweet as we feel we have missed a year of their growth and change, but also wonderful to see them thriving in France.We look forward to visits when you return to the states.Love you guys...Pat & Bruce

    1. Thanks Pat & Bruce for your comments and support. It's so nice to know that you are enjoying it! It's fun to write and put the posts together - and it's turning into a really interesting creation. You can see the girls are very willing subjects! Look forward to seeing you this coming summer.

  3. Happy French Anniversary! It all sounds so familiar. I have found we have all felt much more 'at home' since our one year anniversary and everything that happened 'this time last year' was also in France. So happy to have met you this year.

    1. Can't agree more...that one year mark, that full cycle definitely makes things a bit more comfortable and a little less strange. I'm so happy to have met you's such a pleasure to read about how other families like ours do the same kind of adjusting. Thank you for your kind words. Have a great week!

  4. Wow.
    You arrived 6 days before us.
    I could pretty much cut & paste your whole post!! Some minor changes of course. But eerily familiar.

    Milk. One of our biggest culture shocks.

    1. yes, forgot about milk...maybe because I have visited for so many years that I just don't drink it that often...I've substituted all that delicious yogurt! But every once in a while, I miss that nice FRESH cold glass of milk.

      I've enjoyed reading about your home remodeling..that's definitely a French experience in itself. Nice to hear from you - hope your daughter's adjustment to school is going well. Have a great week.

  5. Jennifer,
    I loved hearing the story of your move! Your girls are beautiful and it's fun to live vicariously through you.
    Beth (in Saratoga!)

    1. Thank you was actually a lot of fun to put that post together and relive some of those first few's going to be different to say - "Last year at this time in France, we were doing this...." instead of thinking about life in the US. Looking forward to Halloween this year's a relatively new holiday for them...but we have learned that there are pocket of "trick or treating" that happen - and there are parties! Have a great week - so great to hear from you!

  6. Happy 1st French anniversary! I enjoyed reading about your move to France and your transition to life in France.

    1. Thank you..I still can't believe it's a year already. We are really enjoying life here...even with it's ups and downs. Come back and visit my blog anytime - it's so nice to hear from new readers.

  7. I would LOVE to live in France! Cute home :) Have you learned to speak French?


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    1. Thanks for visiting again, Taylor - it's great to hear from you. I was fortunate to speak some French before moving here...The government provides free classes for non-speakers - so it's pretty easy to learn for those who don't know it at all. Just by hearing it daily and living French has definitely improved.

  8. We are considering a move to Bordeaux. My wife is French from Lyon, and I am American with french citizenship. We have two kids. The culture and assimilation are not a concern for us. It is more the cost of living, as my potential job pays about half what I earn now. I would be working as a scientist for INRA. There are perks to a government job, and we know our expenses in the states are higher than what they would be in France.

    Could you give some indication of a decent monthly salary (net) for a good quality of life for a family of 4 in Bordeaux? We have good funds for a house, so anticipate a mortgage to be low.

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    1. I would be happy to try to respond to this question, but would prefer to do it in an email. Please email me at

      Thanks for reading. Love hearing from new readers.

  9. I loved my visits to France, would love to do what you did and move there. Lived in Rochester; you definitely made the right move, those -20 winters just don't compare.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog , always nice to hear from new readers...yes, enjoy the weather here alot!! I do miss the snow a bit - but can always head to the mountains for that..nice benefit! Come back and visit again.

  10. Hi Jennifer! I just finished to read your interesting story. I think it is a big change from NY to Bordeaux, but experiencing a new culture especially for your kids pays off. We're planning to visit Bordeaux in the following weeks. For this reason I was doing some seach on the net and I came across with your lovely blog. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts and photos; I 'll be following you :-)) cheers. PS. I f I need some extra info, can I contact you?

    1. Thank you Monica for your kind words. My blog has become my labor of love and my journal of sorts. We love it here - even though there are days we have to laugh as the culture clashes...but it works. You are more than welcome to contact me - my email is located on the "About - Me" page of my blog (Link is in upper right hand corner of blog post. I would be delighted to answer any questions you may have. Have a good night. Thanks again for following and commenting - so nice to hear from readers especially new ones.


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