Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sailing on Lac Hourtin-Carcans- Maubuisson-Gironde region France

 A Day on Lac Hourtin-Carcans

About a week ago, we had the privilege of going sailing on Lac Hourtin.  Personally, I had been on a sail boat in years.  It brought back many memories of my youth, spending summers on a lake and taking our sunfish sailboat out now and again. This sailboat was much bigger complete with a cabin.  This day was a gift from a friend.  (She and her family had won this voyage at an annual church bazaar and unfortunately, had to move back to the States before they could use it - so she passed it off to the girls and I. For that we say Thank you!)

Lac Hourtin is located in the M├ędoc region - just Northwest of Bordeaux, in the Gironde region. It is one of the largest lakes in France, and the largest freshwater lake, by surface area, situated entirely in France.  It's 18 Km (11 miles) long and at it's widest point 5 Km (3 miles).  It's relatively shallow with a maximum depth of 10 m (33 feet).  Much of the Northwestern side has been designated as a nature preserve of dunes and marshlands, so the lake remains very natural, unspoiled and sparsely populated.  

Our day out included starting from the Southwestern domaine of Bombannes and sailing North to an isolated bay for a picnic barbecue on the beach.  
We set sail up the Northwestern side of the lake and the girls enjoyed the experience. Initially they had to adjust a bit to the leaning of a sailboat, but the smoothness and natural feel soon gave way to their enjoyment of the experience.
We were in experienced hands with our knowledgeable skipper, who maneuvered us gracefully up the lake.  As we arrived in the designated bay, we anchored and took down the sail.  The girls enjoyed swimming, as we barbecued sausages on the shore and organized our beach lunch.

After our wonderful picnic on the beach, we set sail back down the lake.  This afternoon included a practice 'man-overboard" drill - throwing out the buoy and also the girls taking turns controlling the sailboat.  You can see from the photos, how much fun they had - especially my youngest!!
It was a beautiful afternoon to sail.  A bit hot, but with a gentle breeze it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  Lac Hourtin-Carcans is known for sailing - it's a great place to learn and enjoy.

Once we arrived back in Bombannes and said goodbye to our excellent skipper, the girls and I headed to the beach in Carcans-maubuissson.  They wanted to swim more and enjoy the cool waters that beckoned them. Even if one doesn't have immediate access to a sailboat, there are plenty places where they can be rented. Other water boats are also available - kayaks, windsurfers and paddle boats just to name a few.  

The final part of our afternoon, the older girls decided to kayak and wind surf.  It was a perfect time to do both and a great way to end our day on the lake.

I love this lake, as the beach is shallow, not overly populated, and the water is fresh but not cold. It's a great alternative to the strong ocean waves.  This is definitely a family place to enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reflections of a three and a half year expat....How I've adjusted to life in France

Still Adapting to French Life

I was just thinking lately how much my life has changed in the past 3 and half years.  Yesterday, as I was working, I had some people mistake me for being got me thinking - do I really seem French to others?  Have I changed that much?  Do I blend in more?  What happens to us as we live longer and longer in an "adopted" country?

I know I will never be French - and I'm very proud to be an American also.  But I enjoy the fact that people don't stereotype me as just an American.  It's nice to be seen as an individual.  Maybe I seem more French, now that I've lived here longer.  I know I walk slower, my voice is quieter, I think I've also adopted some French gestures that help me blend in more.  I know I'm more easy going, life is just slower here.  My spoken French is better and I'm more confident in joining in conversations, There's a natural ease that wasn't there before.  I find myself even thinking in French sometimes. I would say my fluency in French has happenned mostly in the past year as I started work and also began managing my life on my own.

Three and a half years has also made a difference as I'm more aware of how to get things done...who to contact, what to ask - managing the idiosyncrasies of French bureaucracy.  Yes, there are still surprises in life - I still don't like to talk on the phone too much (this is never a problem in English) - and certain accents are still hard to understand.  Yes, like the US - there are regional accents here in France - Northern, Parisian, Bordealais, Toulousian et Provencals - just to name a few.  Not to mention, there are a large number of Moroccans & Tunisians here in Bordeaux and like myself, speak French with an accent.   It's interesting to really be able to hear the differences, where as before I wasn't as turned in to accents in French.

I've always been able to understand pretty well - but it's beginning to feel more natural.  Now there are just certain phrases that seem easier or more comfortable in French than in English.  Even speaking with the girls, we often speak Franglais - a mix of English & French.  I know this is very common with bilingual families and since we all know both languages it works fine.  Intuitively, the kids know when to speak only English or only French to those who are mono-lingual.  That's works the same for me.  With ease, I can narrate to my clients the history of Bordeaux, describe wine regions and point out geographic phenomenons all in English but then turn to the bus driver and have a conversation in French.   Yes, as the saying goes practice make perfect.  But it's not about being perfect, it's more about being comfortable, feeling more at ease and confident in a foreign country.

It's about starting over, creating a new life in a foreign country, making new friends, and of course managing everyday life in a place where rules are not the same as the ones that I am use to from my home country.  Do we ever feel truly at home?

I'm not sure the answer to that question, but I can share how life has changed here for me and my girls. These are new habits, thoughts or routines I now know that we do differently than we did in the States.  This list is not ongoing and it's really just a quick summation of certain things that stand out for me.  I'm sure everyone has their own list/adjustments.

Life in France....

Everytime I see a friend to greet them I "fait les bises" or give cheek kisses.  One does this to say goodbye too.  This has become so common in my daily routine that I find myself doing it even to American friends or other close friend visitors who might not understand this custom.  I know when I visited the States in May, I found my body want to lean in and "fait les bises" with my college friends.  It's amazing how quickly we adapt on all levels. It's still a custom that baffles me a little, in the sense of when to start doing this with new friends you make.  It's a welcoming and acceptance gesture and more intimate than a handshake.  I usually wait to see what the other new person does, before I lean in.  Watching body language and observing others has really been one of my greatest strengths since living here and has helped me a lot in understanding the French. 

If you call and leave a message - it's likely you will not get a call back - It's much better to interact in person in France.  The French seem to really value and like the personal relationship.  In the day of Internet, emails, texts and phone messages - it still seems more productive to address issues and/or ask questions in person.  Even entering a store in Bordeaux, it's considered polite to say hello and goodbye to the store clerk.  I have grown to enjoy this personal touch. It goes both ways - they will often say bonjour et aurevior to me too.  I've heard that Paris and other cities are different, but I like this personal interaction and to find out it's a more regional habit, gives Bordeaux even more charm!

Most administrative things take a fair amount of paperwork.  If you are filling out an application for things - it's often 2 or 3 pages plus copies of assorted paperwork.  The joke is often that the French love paperwork....and that I have found to be very true!  But as the saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them - so this is just something I have come to accept and not get frustrated by anymore.  In fact, in the rare cases where less is asked for, it's a refreshing surprise!

Here, we eat our meals in courses - often simple, fresh and pretty healthy.  A normal dinner is some kind of entree (entrance course) - tomato salad, soup etc.., then the main dish and then dessert.  (The French love desserts!)  But to be fair, dessert can be just a piece of fruit.  Courses are served separated.  I've changed how we serve dinner and lunch - start with the entree - eat that first, then bring the main dish to the table and finally dessert. Socialization around the table is definitely part of life here!

Surprisingly, we have adjusted quite easily to dinner after 7pm   In France, dinner hour is that time or even later.  It's not unusual that many adults don't eat until 8pm. I, now accept that restaurants don't open until 7 pm. I also expect to be at the restaurant for close to 2 hours for a meal - it's just the way here.  Food and socialization are highly valued. In fact, you rarely see people walking around with plastic coffee cups in their hands here.  If they order something to "go", they go somewhere to sit down to eat or drink it. 

Now eating outside on the terrace is more common than eating inside in the summer.  Using a tray to take items back and forth is just an everyday occurrence for us and others here.  I don't think I ever used a tray in the States.

Gouter or snack time is sacred for kids!  Believe me, my children know when it's 4-5 pm and can't wait to dig into snacks.  Additionally, I have adjusted lunches here - sandwiches are rare and most of the time - lunch is some kind of salad or roasted chicken.  If a sandwich is made, it would be for what the French call a picnic.  

In speaking about time, the 24 hour clock (or military time) took a bit of getting use to. Finally after a few years, I can quickly compute and understand when someone says they are picking up their child at 18h - it's 6pm at night.  and it's now in my language to say that the girls finish school at 16h30.  (4:30pm). 

I now find the metric system easier to understand than the English system. - in measurement and in temperature.  There is something about the fact that freezing is actually 0.  1000 meters (1/2 mile) to an exit is still plenty of time to move over. I still count in English though....they say numbers and counting are one of the last traits that change over from your native language.

We walk more/ride bikes more - & using public transportation is just the norm. Bike riding is normal here and has become something I enjoy doing a lot. I don't think I rode my bike in the States that often and certainly not a part of everyday life. Cars are use to bikes also and are more cautious around riders and there are excellent bike paths throughout the area.  Even little kids ride on sidewalks - they learn early. 

Why would I drive downtown - when there is a tram/bus nearby?  I have readily adjusted to timing the trams/buses - how long will it take to get there by tram or bus, is what I think about first, instead of driving.  I know this part might be the same for anyone who lives in a big city - but for this suburban girl, it's a new way to think.

The independence of teenagers is amazing here.  My 14 year old leaves the house and uses public transportation to hangout with her friends. I rarely drive her around to meet up with others.  It's also not unusual for her and her friends to go to Bordeaux for a day to walk around. Getting to the movie theater is often done independently by tram or bus.  Most of the time,  the kids figure out how to get somewhere on their own.  It's not unusal that my daughter will run her plans by me, but she's already figured out how to get there and back. This reminds me a bit of my childhood where I remember leaving the house on weekends to play outside or be with friends and only returning for meals.

We, like the Bordelais, love being outside in beautiful weather/walking along river/through parks - I especially love taking photos along quai often lots of people enjoying nice weather.  The climate here also pretty sunny year round making it very enticing to enjoy the outdoors.

I'm now use to the fact that stores are not open 24 hours/7days.  It's actually very nice to know that my choices are to be outside, enjoying life instead of being a consumer.  Not to say, I don't enjoy hitting the Sales, but it's more conscious and planned, less impulsive.  Additionally, since France has 2 general sale periods during the year (July & January), I know that I won't necessarily find that "incredible" deal anytime.

Speaking of being conscious to life, I, like other French people, accept the fact that electricity and water prices are higher here than in the States.  Given that, the use of low rate hours (middle of the night or afternoon) are often used by setting timers on the dishwashers or the clothes washer to work during the night.  Only keeping on the lights that one needs is also something I think about now. I also dry most of my laundry on racks like most of my friends and neighbors.  Although, I still love my bath towels to come out of the dryer soft and warm.   All of this is good for the environment too, so I readily and eagerly accept my new habits.
Life changes and routines and habits that we use to have in the States have been adapted here, to this country, to this lifestyle.  Does it feel normal yet?  Does it feel like home?  Both are good questions.  I think anyone who is living in a foreign country always feels like life is different - but isn't that who we are as human beings - People who adapt to our surroundings, people who adjust to new norms.  As we get older and our life changes, we adapt too.

For me there is something invigorating about living here - the  French culture constantly presents new challenges and different ways of doing things. But approaching those ways from my American perspective definitely allows me to choose.  It's for that reason that I know I'm growing as an individual and as a mother.  There is no one way to do things - no one way to think about it - just choices to make .... and a conscious decision to live life and keep moving forward!

Yes, life has gotten a bit easier here and I get less frustrated by some approaches that are typically French - but I'm happy to adopt and embrace others.
I would love to hear from other expats who have lived in a foreign country for more than 2 years - how has life changes since your arrival?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July & Cap Ferret

Happy 4th of July - Enjoy your weekend
Just a quick post this morning to wish all my American readers a Happy 4th of July.  I hope everyone is able to enjoy it and spend it with family and friends.  Additional thoughts going out to military men and women who continue to protect the Free world. Their dedication is truly at the heart of what who we are as Americans.  
 In France, their Independence day is July 14th, but being American and having children who have grown up enjoying time with family and friends for the 4th of July.  We like to celebrate it in some way.  What is lucky about living in a community where we have Americans friends. This year we are headed to Cap Ferret to celebrate. 
 It will be a tradition afternoon barbecue filled with games, fun and of course swimming.  What is lovely about Cap Ferret is that there is a choice of swimming on the Bassin side or on the ocean.  Either choice is  makes for a lovely time and it's such a picturesque setting.
 So as I prepare for our departure for the day - I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few photos of Cap Ferret with everyone.  It's a beautiful - natural spot and so perfect for a hot summer day!
These photos were taken last August - this area is so natural, still a bit wild and I'm definitely looking forward to spending our afternoon there. After of week of being in some of the hottest weather that France has experienced - it will be nice to cool off! It's similar to Cape Cod in Massachusetts - you need to get an early start to avoid the masses of traffic heading out there. 
 So Happy 4th of July for those of you who are celebrating!  Enjoy your day and here' s to toasting Independence and Freedom!  Bon Weekend!

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