Can't believe it's been a year!!
Reflections of One Year
|First day of School - September 2011|
Saratoga Springs, NY
|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 cheeks...here 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!|