Living in France– 6 months already!!

So we have been here in France now for 6 months.  Every place has its pros and cons, even France.  It was still pretty cold this winter, we all had colds and got a bit sick over Christmas break– and with a large family, it was one sick person right after another.  One of the kids missed 2 days of school earlier this week and another missed 2 days at the end of the week.  And then– knock on wood – “touche le bois” — we should be done with that stupid illness.  The days are slowly getting longer and it doesn’t seem quite so cold.  Also, our van wouldn’t start on Monday morning, but we did manage to get that fixed.  It was helpful to have a friend call for me to make sure I knew what it was they were fixing– it was the starter and it got replaced and works great now.

So the point of the rambling story is that even in a foreign country, a lot of things are still exactly the same. We still have to cook and clean.  We still have to get dressed and go grocery shopping and make sure we are paying our bills.  Life goes on as normal in a lot of ways, especially at home.  But outside, it really is quite different — and that is the advantage of coming to a country where they speak a different language and one of the reasons we chose to come here.

This is the outside of our house– it was built in 1780 by the ferryman who would give people rides across the river before the bridge was built.

This is the back, obviously these were taken in the summer:

There are fields everywhere, we are pretty out there in the country, I just loved how this photo turned out:

This is the inside of our house.  It was completely furnished and has plenty of beds for us.  We didn’t bring hardly anything, so the smaller space is just fine.  It is a little weird, kind of like 2 houses hooked together with loft areas with beds on either sides.  The kids love it, there are lots of little places to go.  It is not child proof though and if we had little kids I would be quite worried about all the rickety little stairs.

This is the river that we are right by.  It was especially nice in the summer when we only had a small rental car, we didn’t feel too trapped inside.  We went for walks pretty much everyday and once we were able to get bikes, we went on lots of bike rides.  It was a truly lazy summer!

I think the language is definitely the hardest part.  I underestimated how hard it would be to learn — Dutch wasn’t that difficult– I was conversant after 3 months, I am fluent in Spanish already, I even minored in it and wrote papers and read books in it– I didn’t think French would be that tough.  But wow!! Was I wrong!!   I should have had a hint when I started a conversational French course and had to listen to the CD about 5 times before I was even able to distinguish the sounds they were making enough to repeat them– and that for simple things like hello, I don’t understand, I speak a little French.  WE made it through the first level of that course and I spent a lot of time watching French videos, but when I first went to the store here– uhhhhhh — huh??????  I could understand absolutely nothing!!  And I had no idea I was supposed to weigh my own vegetables before bringing them to the checkout, and I had no idea what the checker was trying to tell me until she finally just had someone come get my produce and go weigh it in the produce section for me.

Fortunately, we have had people offer to help us with different things, and one of them has been especially helpful, he has taken time to help my husband get all the government papers in order and put together and then goes with him to translate to make sure we know what is going on.  Most of the people here also speak a little bit of English and when they saw us struggling, they would struggle through their English to help us– that was very nice.  So getting established and set up has taken much longer than we expected.  It took us a month before we were to a point that we could buy a car, we had to rent one for awhile which meant that we couldn’t really go anywhere.  It took a full week to get the internet set up in the house.  It took 3 weeks to get a bank account so that my husband could get paid by his company.  That first month was a little stressful.  But our house is right by a river with a nice path and there is an artisanal bakery within walking distance and with one car we were able to go to the store and get food ( and the food is amazing– everything tastes better and is way better quality than what you can get in a regular grocery store in the states) and a TV and some other creature comforts, so the kids were in generally good spirits.  Everything was also new and exciting, and we learned to adjust our expectations of how long it would take to get adjusted and established.

This is a view of our small town, St. Senoux from the library.  There is a little pond with a forest and hills and walking trails on one side and then the main road on the other.  All the kids from both elementary schools in town eat at the cantine or lunch room which is right by the library, so they walk down here everyday.  They also do sports over here sometimes, sometimes they run all the way around the pond.

This is the little playground across from the church.  One downside here is that we have not found any bigger kid playgrounds– no monkey bars or big climbing things, just little kid stuff and ping pong tables.  Oh well, it sure is cute!

This is in the forest area with the trails, a little grotto, a place to pray to St. Senoux to protect the area.

And here is the church, it is very unique and very nice.  The little, delicious bakery is the little building with the red shutters on the other side of the church, just wanted to point that out!

And it is nice that we look like we are French– no one realizes we are not French until we try to speak French.  I expected that it would be a bit difficult– having grown up in Mexico for 5 years of my life and returning periodically – I expected that France would be different.  However, having spent time in Belgium which is just like living with your long lost cousins– they even all speak English– I kind of thought that France would be more like Belgium and less like Mexico.  But it has turned out to be more like Mexico than Belgium, as far as getting settled and the difficulty of being able to do different tasks– like get our residence card, open a bank account, get the trash picked up, get the internet, get the kids enrolled in school and various other tasks.

More shots of the town:

Sign pointing to the private school my boys attend:

This is right behind the church from the other photo, you can see that the Mairie or town hall is right there and the little school is right next to it behind some other buildings, but it is built out of the same stone with a fenced in schoolyard.

More pics of the inside of our house, I love the ceilings:

And then the language!!  So I mentioned how I could understand nothing when we got here even though I had studied some.  We made the kids only watch French shows, we started on the French workbooks we brought and we went to church every week which is 3 hours.  Then we were able to get the boys into school in September because we knew there was no other way for them to learn it– we would not be able to teach it to them.  The girls started at the lycee the end of October right before the first 2 week break.  The 5 younger kids are all improving- the 12 year old is close to fluent even doing a lot of the work for his classes all in French and speaking French most of the time he is at school.  The 14 yr. old is having a harder time with the language, he just has a harder time remembering words and naturally focusing on academics just isn’t one of his strong points, so it has been tough, but he comes home happy, seems to be making friends and is in good spirits.  The girls are doing OK, but I’m sure they would be much further along if they had been able to start in September.  And the little boys’ teachers tell me that they understand and are speaking a little, although they won’t speak any French to me.

I have put in hours and hours of study time with French.  Pimsleur is the conversational course I have been doing.  I have learned how to say things that way, but it has not helped me be able to understand very well.  So I went through a period where I could ask a question, but I was unable to understand the answer.  I started watching more TV in French and listening to the radio more and that has helped a lot.  I am now conversant, I can understand a lot, but I have a really long way to go before I could be considered fluent.  But it is really nice to understand the checkers at the stand when they ask if I have a customer card and if I am ready to check out.  I am always excited when I understand something that I did not understand before.  That part is fun.  But it is equally disappointing when just when I think I have been making progress to then be in a situation where I understand — nothing!!  So we have all been learning to be more patient and more gentle with ourselves and to accept that it may take a full year to become fairly fluent rather than 6 months– and at this point– that would be great– if we could all actually become fluent in French!!!  That would be a huge accomplishment.  The hardest part is to keep at it and to not get discouraged.  I hope we make it!!

Our friend told us that it is like pushing an apple press– it would take a lot of effort and horses to get it moving, but once it got moving then it was easy to juice the apples.  He said that learning another language is that way– it is hard to get to point where you can speak and understand, but once you do, then you learn really fast after that and get better and better.  And his English is pretty good, so there is hope!  I am really looking to that.  Once we know the language well, everything will be much much easier.  It is already way easier than it was when we first got here.

Another thing that has been a bit surprising to us all is how familiar the American culture is to France.  During Christmas, they played American Christmas songs in the stores– they often play American songs on the radio and in the stores even when it is not Christmas.  Our town is really small and they have been so excited and happy to have us here.  The kids have been treated very well and are even kind of like little celebrities.  The elementary school kids smile at me and say “hello, hello” with their cute little French accents.  The people in the stores seem to treat us even nicer when they realize we are Americans.  A lot of them even seem excited to have an opportunity to use their English.  I am not as worried about speaking French anymore because I have come to realize that they really don’t fault me for not knowing it well and they really appreciate that I am trying.  But they also really want to help me and speak as much English as they can.

So far, the people and the culture of France is my favorite part.  It is a beautiful country and I can’t wait to see more of it when we are not trying to make sure they pick up the trash, trying to get the kids  to school on time and trying to learn French.  They are very polite and still very down to earth and fashionable all at the same time.  I cannot pick up or drop off my kids at school or go to the store in pajamas or workout clothes– I would stick out a lot.  They come dressed and ready for the day– some wearing dresses, most wearing nice boots and scarves.  Sometimes I can’t help myself and I wear my jeans and running shoes, but I have worn a nice scarf a few times and I have a nice coat to cover up my ugly sweatshirt from high school that I still wear and lugged all the way across the ocean and Europe.  I think I need to get a nice sweater too.

But anyway, the people always smile and say bonjour.  There aren’t any “cool” moms at least at our little school.  They all seem to know each other and they greet each other with kisses.  Most of them live near their families and they get together regularly.  I love the school and the teachers.  The perfect elementary school in my opinion would be one where the kids would go for about 4 hours a day 4 days a week.  What we have here is pretty close– the kids go for 3 1/2 hours in the morning 5 days a week and then 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon 3 days a week.  It has been really nice especially for the younger kids– they are at a great age to learn French.

Also in learning French, I am understanding English better– dejavu — deja means already and vu is seen.  And pretty much all the hard words to spell in English come from French.  They just don’t pronouce a lot of their letters.  Written French and spoken French are almost like 2 separate languages.  If I had to reform my homeschool curriculum, I think I would add French to the program– it is very advantageous in understanding English.  I also now see how much easier Spanish is than French.  I think that if you can learn French, Spanish will be a breeze.

Our kitchen– the oven doesn’t work, so we bought a countertop oven that is pretty good size, the fridge is teeny, the freezer fits 3 little bags of frozen fruit, and an ice cube tray and 1 bag of frozen peas.  We have a nice new washer, no dryer. But we do have a dishwasher although no garbage disposal, but we didn’t have one in NH either.  I really haven’t minded much, I like having fewer things.  I am getting used to more trips to the store and just buying for a couple days instead of for an entire week.  And I am actually keeping up on the laundry fairly well– I think because we don’t have too many clothes anymore.

We have a nice big table in the kitchen than seats almost 20 people, and a nice big fireplace which we don’t intend to use, but it is pretty cool.  Overall, I like it, it works, we have enough room and the river with the trail really makes it nice.  And the food quality is awesome!!  I will often make the same recipes that I did in the states, but they all taste way better here.  The herbs, produce and seasonings are just fresh and good, you can tell.  And that is just in the regular grocery stores, then there are the open air markets in every town, France definitely deserves its reputation for fine food.

Well- that’s it for now.  I’m really glad we have the opportunity to be here.  We will definitely be here at least another year so we can benefit from all the work we’ve done to get established, and I want to use my French a lot and make a whole bunch of French friends to speak with!!  And let the kids have some time being able to talk to people and use their French too!


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