C’est Adam et Yves, Monsieur! – Becoming a Tour Guide.

About  two years ago, in total naivety, I popped into the Bureau de Tourisme to see if they ‘had a job going’. The women behind their desks peered at me as if I had just landed from a different planet (which indeed I just had) and sent me packing, and I spent the rest of the evening thinking how dreadfully rude they were.

rouen tourist info 001

Two years on I see their point!

This January, a few curious jobs later, the door of the Bureau de Tourisme inched itself open just a little bit as I managed to get a place on the ‘Formation Guide Conferencier’ having quite by chance made a second tentative the day the Bureau had started recruiting. If I had had any inkling what I was about to put myself through, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so keen. But that’s niavity for you.

So it was that I turned up for an intensive three month lecture series, spending the worst part of the sub zero winter temperatures shivering in freezing monuments, led by two lecturers who can only be described as walking ‘Masterminds’ who spent a good proportion of their time, when not delivering the essentials, embellishing miniscule details and corroborating, or disputing each others event dating down to the sheerest milli-second. Clearly this level of detail was ridiculous…

Or was it?

Curiously, over the space of three months, the thirst for linking each historical event and ancient monument became almost unquenchable. The fact that the canons at the cathedral became so irritated by the merchants at the herb market in the cathedral square for using the cathedral as a meeting house when it rained that they demanded the markets relocation,  which in turn lead to the location of the future Palais de Justice on the same site in 1499. Equally interesting was the fact that the wife of King Charles the Mad held, in 1393, a fancy dress party for him as a distraction from government, in which all the men wore feathered costumes heavily impregnated with highly flammable glue. The Queen’s lover, the Duke of Orléans turned up with a candle, and all the costumed guests, with the exception of the king, burned to death. I am not sure, however that that was the queen’s plan! Who was she? She was the woman that handed the French throne to the descendent of the English crown, which in turn led to the arrival of Joan of Arc.

“Do not”, said our lecturers,” make an error on dates”. Dates, if anyone has not yet tried them in a foreign language, are hellish. Then followed a discussion on how the Germans, in order to route out foriegners and spies, would deliberately lead the conversation around dates, where the unwary would inevitably blunder. If the accent didn’t give me away first, clearly the dates would!

The trouble with the history of Normandy is that the English just didn’t know when to leave. In practically every epoch, or so it seems, the throne of England and the Duchy of Normandy were held by the same man – and more often than not the English king had designs on the French throne. Clearly the English were not very good at throwing in the towel and returning home, however much more simple that would have made the revision process for me.

Clearly I have more English genes than I had anticipated, for even when the crowd of suited Directors of Tourisme and Directors of Normandie Patrimonie headed for me on Tuesday morning; when I should have seen their approach and run off down the road screaming in terror, I stood resolute, nurturing my limited vocabulary, ready to give my very best shot.

Part of the exam process had been to select a little blue envelope from the pile of 20 or so on the table. Good fortune was shining on me when I opened mine to discover the coveted ‘Aitre St Maclou, the macarbre Black Death cemetery’. Twenty minutes of preparation and we were at the location ready to begin the presentation.

Not to be deterred by the black suits, I led ‘Le Direction’ into an obscure corner of the cemetery to show them one of the few carvings that had survived the anti-iconographic destruction of the Wars of Religeon.

“Note the exceptional carving of Eve, tempted by the serpent” I said.

“Yves?” said Monsieur Le Direction, looking bewildered,

A hasty discussion ensued amongst the Direction, clearly concerned that Paradise had been inhabited by Adam and Yves, before Monsieur Patrimoine managed to clarify that it was an error of pronunciation,

“Ehv” he reassured.

When we moved on, Monsieur Patrimoine was clearly tempted to look at the statue of the murder of Cain and Abel, despite being very mutilated in the Wars of Religeon and in its very undignified position almost in the toilet, where-upon Madamoiselle Patrimoine expressed more than a passing interest in the location of the toilets. I rather suspect she went back there afterwards!

Twenty minutes later it was time to wrap up.

“The cemetery is now on the list of….” but my brain was weary and could no longer recall the translation for  ‘Historic Monuments’.

“Monuments Historiques” filled in Monsieur Le Direction, and my lecturer squeezed me a sympathetic smile.

I left the monument gutted at my linguistic inadequacy, sure of failure.

But a long five hours later an email popped into my in-box from the Direction.

“J’ai le plaisir de vous informer que vous avez réussi votre test en français ce matin”

“I have the pleasure to inform you that you have passed your test in French this morning”

The door of the Bureau de Tourisme is open wide. Their office is my office; I am now an official ‘Guide Conferenciére de Rouen’. There has been gain from the pain!

It was nearly the death of me!

So to all planning a visit to Rouen –


Bulotamy and La guide Touristique.

For some years I’ve had a little soft spot for the word ‘bulot’. It’s come about after a little incident with the word two years ago when I decided to ‘demission’ from my first job in France.

‘Monsieur’, I wrote ‘Je veux arrêter mon boulot au fin du mois’

I can assure you that, as kind as my French  spell check has been today the ‘arrêter’ did not have a cap on the ‘e’ in the original letter, nor did ‘boulot’ mean job!

For those of you who cannot read French, what I inadvertantly wrote was..

‘Monsieur, I want to finish my snail at the end of the month’.

The letter is quite possibly still on the wall of the directors office to this day, exactly where he pinned it two years ago, having gathered the rest of his staff to watch the event in a state of hysteria.

Two years on, I am as keen to find my way in the French job market as I was then, and so I have invented this new word, ‘bulotomist’ in honour of the ‘linguistically challenged seeker in search of the perfect job’.

rouen tourist info 001Bureau de Tourisme,Rouen

Just before christmas, on my way back from the Ecole de Beaux Arts, where I am now studying to become Monet II, I spotted a glut of American tourists; and where there were tourists, there were guides. It occurred to me that one thing that I did have going my way was fluency in English and knowledge of the city, and this was surely a ‘sure thing’ where such employment was concerned.

After all, when one is obsessed by architecture, fine art and patisserie, is there such a thing as having a finger in too many pies? Not letting the sun set on a good idea, I dropped off my CV at the Bureau de Tourisme with all the panache of a serial bulotomist.

During my ski adventure in Switzerland I received word that i’d been accepted onto the ‘Formation de Guide Accompagnateur’, and today I arrived at the venue to be formed ,reformed or transformed, depending upon how one likes to look at it! To add to the authentic French atmosphere, a street musician serenaded my arrival with his accordian.

rouen tourist info 002

This morning’s lecture was two hours on the History of France with special reference to Rouen. A title worthy of  ‘Mastermind’.  My pride in my quasi-bilingualism was quickly devastated by my new found colleagues introductions. They were for the most part trilingual French and Spanish, a potential quadlingual Japanese, along side which my skills looked somewhat pathetic; there were unformed guides and several preformed guides from other regions… but only one architect. Ha!  The thought of glamourising my attributes in ropey French having heard the introductions of my counterparts set my heart racing. Thankfully, the effort of concentrating on the French wiped away all traces of nerves and if there is one thing I have learnt since living here is not to take myself too seriously. I delivered the potted me!

In four months this little oral introduction will have been transformed into a 15 minute oral exam on an aspect of the history of Rouen or its monuments, a suprise topic selected by the tutors.

‘If you pass the French oral, you get to do it in your native language’. they said.

And that’s where the fun begins!

For now we have an intensive study period from Charlemagne, and the Vikings, to Colombage, and the Renaissance. In June the Armada tall ships arrive to dock in Rouen bringing with them thousands of tourists, in July and August the Japanese arrive in their groups requiring city tours and accompanied exclusive shopping, and the summer sees a return of ‘The City of Impressionism’ and the celebration of Monet and his ‘friends’.

If all goes well, I’ll be in the thick of it…

…if not, it’ll be ‘escargots’ for me till next time!

boulotimage thanks to parispainter.blogspot

Introducing Atelier M.

Some of you may have noticed that a new menu button has appeared at the top of the page.

For a while now it has been clearly necessary to modernise myself and get all my projects and artwork digitised and on-line . If there has been a certain level of silence for a while it is because I have been sweating away with an uphill battle to do exactly that.

All architects in France have an online ‘book’ as a graphic representation of their work, so without any further delay I am presenting mine.

Last night at at a little after midnight  – or was that this morning in the early hours…whichever, I was tired when I finally hit – GO LIVE.



Please take a look! Click on the name!

Eureka Eureka, Je l’ai Trouvé!

The last time I used AutoCad was 11 years ago!

There’s alot of change in 11 years!

What irony that my on first day back into the working world I was handed a paperprint and asked to transfer the housing plan onto the computer.  The imagery was just a little too symbolic of archaic meets future for my liking. A kind of personal modernisation programme!

The last time I was in an architects office, the work-surfaces were covered with paper plans, sprawled in every direction, the scale-rule more often than not lost underneath hundreds of layers, the drafting pens blobbing or blocked as they started to run out of ink, and razor blades lurking on the ‘parallel motion’ in readiness to correct errors. Yesterday, there was not a paper print to be seen, (well except for my one), the worktables gleamed impeccably white, not a speck of ‘out of placeness’ , the computers state of the art and each job file uniformly blue neatly placed on tidy white shelves. Worse of all – everybody knew what they were doing!

My internal laughter was a little hysterical.

Now I am not a dunce when it comes to computers, and in my day I trained the young technicians to use AutoCad, but 11 years brings with it change. A considerable amount it would seem! So when I sat down and realised that the mouse was some state of the art invention, with more knobs, dials and buttons than a pilot’s cabin, and that I couldn’t even find the return – I knew I’d had it. (Ok so it wasn’t quite as bad as the one above, but you get the idea!) When my friendly fellow architect came over to show me how to access the drawing menu, it wasn’t the screen I was watching, but her hand – but at least now I have found the return button. I’ll ask her about the drawing files on Monday!


As I said, I wasn’t bad at AutoCad, but one thing you need to know about the french keyboard is that to obtain a number one has to use the ‘caps lock’, and to use the comma, one has to turn it off again. Surely, surely the French architects don’t spend their time ‘offing’ and ‘onning’ the caps lock to type in one simple line command? Anyway, drawing that first line was the clincher – and the computer wasn’t having any of my commands.. it just kind of sat there motionless and then left me with a stream of HTML just as an embarrassing record of my failure to communicate with the modern age. I thought about turning the screen away to avoid observation. Enough is enough I thought to myself, and frankly in a bit of a internal temper hit return having only added the X coordinate..no comma..no caps lock…. and can you believe it, I had my first line!


– I found the little ruler icon, and checked the line attributes for accuracy. It seemed to be a breakthrough!

By this point I considered myself almost flying. All that’s left for me now is to remember the icon’s (did I mention that they are annotated in French), the shortcuts, the layers and …   …and then of course we have the 3D which didn’t even exist in the old days!

what’s the french for ‘offset’ again?

Watch out Monday computer!

Linguistically Challenged Architect Seeks Benevolent Bureau!

image of Elbeuf and surroundings thanks to bordabord.com
image of Elbeuf thanks to Landry Lechevre

The simple stone exterior of the building just before the Pont de Guynemer in Elbeuf hides a chic bureau des architectes. I know so because I went there yesterday.

Several months ago a friend in the school playground had handed me a piece of paper with the web address of the ‘Ordre des Architectes’ in France. I have procrastinated for quite some time, and finally one evening last week I took a look. Why the procrastination? Well it all comes down to a case of ‘self-registration’ of disability!

After my post on the availability of Tiers Temps, I have had a few comments expressing disappointment that it is necessary to register oneself as handicapped in order to gain any benefits. However, if I self analyse, I can only come up with one diagnosis – that fundamantally, in the absence of fluency, I, and anyone else in the same position are indeed handicapped and opportunities in the working world are limited. My view is that one has to be honest about ones limitations and do whatever one can to overcome them.

And so it was with that in mind that I placed an advertisment on the ‘annonces’ section of the website – for a ‘handicapped’ Architecte Anglais, never imagining that anything would come of it! I did of course divulge that my handicap was linguistic. Two days later I received two replies to my advertisement, one of which, having forwarded my CV, resulted in an entretien, or interview.

I have had four interviews in France. My first and second as part of a group for mundane unskilled work, and all that I couldn’t understand (essentially everything – it was early days) was conveniently provided on a flip-chart. The hardest part of the interview had been the phone conversations before hand trying to decipher the addresses. My third interview was for a job that I had already pretty well decided I didn’t want. I was asked to meet the prospective employer at a garden centre in Rouen where I was being interviewed to be their Normandy representative for stock supplies for all garden  centres in Normandy. The employer was half an hour late, and without a word of explanation,  proceeded into a half hour interview of which I understood nothing at all thanks to the interviewer’s incredibly ‘thick’ accent and ability to merge all words together at such a break-neck speed that each sentence came out in a meaningless jumble of words. I was relieved to withdraw from the post, and he was most likely relieved not to have me on the team.

There was a 50/50 chance that my linguistic ability was going to let me down this time, and ever conscious of the excruciating garden centre interview, I kept realistic as to my chances of success, leaving the preparation of my portfolio to absolutely the last minute with a  blasé esprit of nonchalence that would have left my husband (if he’d been there) in a complete state of shock. Such lackadaisical approach backfired of course when I turned a page during the interview to reveal an upside down photo!

The architects bureau was a fabulous example of turn of the century french architecture;  decorative mouldings, parquet, panelling and superb marble fireplaces beautifully modernised and offset with modern furnishings and chalky traditional paint colours. Where interior and exterior design was concerned – jackpot!

Preliminaries over, I found the director clear, informative, frank and interested in fresh ideas and directions. Things have moved on since my last days in a practice (other than my own) – for one thing, half of the architects were women and the bureau youthful. The director found the idea of a portfolio very unusual, the french have ‘le book’, which is an individual  bound representation of all their work. A ‘must’ for the future!

Thanks to http://www.graphiquesonline.com

So what had I advertised for? This is the reality. Getting a foot in the door of a professional enterprise in France is nigh on impossible, the French mistrust the qualifications of other nationalities and rely heavily on contacts, kudos of universities – or rather the superior ‘grandes ècoles ‘, as well as merit. What one forgets in moving overseas is that the the same profession has a different game-plan, rules and method and without knowing what it is, a foreign professional is at a severe disadvantage in addition to the linguistic handicap. I requested a ‘Stage de Decouverte’ – essentially an unpaid entry into the architecture profession, the value of which will be unknown until I start – because yes, thankfully I was sufficiently competent to appear lucid and comunicative in an interview situation and the director was prepared to give me an opportunity. So what is my salary –  ‘CPD’ training in communication and vocabulary,  in french architectural building regulations, and in french ‘informatique’ (Computer Aided Design systems) and of course the ever vital methodology. The  future? The bureau has an opening for an architect and i’ll have a foot in the door.

If I make it, it cannot fail to be another window into French life.

If not, at least I can leave all those French women architects knowing that English women architects have great taste in handbags…..

‘C’est mignon’ they said all gathering round – who cares about the portfolio!

18 Aout – Isolement cellulaire – solitary confinement

I had always heard that France shuts down in August, but took little notice! Shame on me! The first clue that things were going to get a little rough was the sign on the door of the boulangerie stating that they were closed for the entire month of August. A litttle disgruntled by this I quickly shrugged it off since our next favourite boulangerie is not so very far away!

I have to digress a little here because I feel I need to explain the importance of the boulangerie. When we first arrived a year ago we were used to the bread served up by Asda and Sainsbury’s bakeries, and at the time thought it wonderful. Occasionally we would go as far as buying a baguette, especially if we had guests for lunch and wanted to play at a “french lifestyle”. In their turn, we thought them delicious! Something has happened to us over the course of a year and we have become connaiseurs of the humble baguette. No two are the same!

For the past year we have had a baguette (or three)  every lunch, and sometimes the children will pop in for another after school. French mothers turn up at the school gate with long chunks of baguette with bars of Milka chocolate stuffed inside. We have discovered that our local boulangerie sells reputedly the nicest baguettes this side of Rouen. The crust has the right level of crustiness without breaking teeth, its centre is soft and tasty, and the crust to centre ratio is perfect – too much crust and it becomes a jaw breaking ordeal, too little and one might as well eat an unbaked ready-to-bake baguette from the supermarket! With a little more linguistic skill,  the next step is to ask for a baguette “moin cuite” and ensure that you receive the perfect golden crust; and to receive excellence, being a habitual frequenter of only one favoured boulangerie will ensure that the boulanger will reserve the best for you, remember your daily order, have it waiting and pass the time of day. All this makes for the perfect baguette buying experience.

Consequently, after a year of munching the most perfect baguettes, we were devastated to hear that the boulanger was leaving for his annual holidays (congé d’été) for the entire month. Anabel had already declared that it would be very difficult to return to live in the UK since she has transformed from bread loathing to bread-loving thanks to the french bread! It was therefore a double disaster to discover that boulangerie number two was also closing for the same weeks. When I expressed my dismay at the situation an english friend sent me a muffin receipe! No matter how hard I try, my home made bread is not a patch on tat of our boulangerie. The place of the boulangerie is fundamental to day to day life. It is simply incomprehensible to  the non-french to make such a drama out of a crisis. But in what other country could you double park with abandon, clogging up the entire city traffic circulation, and get away with it – so long as you return to the car carrying a baguette. After all, surely Marie Antoinette was beheaded for suggesting that the peasants resorted to cake, when the bread supplies dried up? The french solution to the their boulanger’s congé d’été is to take their annual holidays at the same time! There-in lies our second dilemma!

One of the little known facts about working for a French organisation is that the employee must build up holiday entitlement. The result of this is that for the first year in an organisation there is no entitlement to paid holiday. The employee pays into a “Mutuelle des Congées”, a sort of savings plan for holiday pay, and the organisation that the emplyee actually works for only pays for the days worked. Therefore, a two week holiday will reduce a monthly salary by a half! At the end of the first year the payment plan becomes active and pays during the second and ensueing years the missing salary directly into the bank account, at the same time adding a 30% bonus for those essential holiday “extras”. Before the end of the first year, any holiday taken will leave you broke, and is probably better not taken. Consequently, after a year without holiday, as soon as the mutuelle kicked into action, we took off on holiday. It was July! We had a wonderful time but arrived back to Rouen just as all of the Rouenaise took off to other places!

Still on our French learning curve we discovered that the mutuelle had paid our holiday pay at the end of June, and having not “cottoned-on ” to the fact that this money was to supplement the July paycheck, spent a little more than we should have! When the “Bulletin de Paie”  from Harry’s organisation arrived on the last day of July we were aghast to learn that only 162 euros had been credited to our bank account (once social security, rent and health allowances had been deducted at source). It was going to be an extremely meagre month!

Being penniless and friendless and baguetteless for a month was not quite what we had anticipated when we moved to France. It was time to come up with some clever ideas! We were then devastated furthermore when Harry’s sister rang at the last minute to cancel their trip to visit us thanks to the UK economic situation, and to hear that the UK government, in all its “wisdom” had cancelled all the “Building Schools for the Future” programme, which made up a large part of Harry’s UK office’s workload. Since Harry’s role was overseeing the financial planning of these projects from the financial team’s office in Rouen. Things were starting to look unsettled.

With a lack of french friends on the horizon, we opened our doors to our english friends. Anabel benefitted from  the stay of a long-term girlfriend for a week. Her arrival augmented the necessity to find a solution to the bread problem since being Coeliac, she was unable to consume any form of wheat product. Having produced a reasonable variation on pastry, using gluten free flour and ground almonds, we rustled up a variety of quiches supplemented with baked potatoes and chips and frangipane tartlets.  The arrival of a second girlfriend with her family who were holidaying near-by necessitated a double sleep-over which roller-coasted me into a contact lense/missing bag scenario, never to be  forgotten!

Being new to contact lenses, Anabel’s friend came down that evening (about midnight) to tell me she had only been able to remove one of the lenses and the second stayed resolutely in her eye. I am completely clueless when it comes to contact lenses, but her eye was becoming increasingly red and sore from all the prodding and poking around trying to grab the edge of the wayward lense. Eventually after a brief call to her mother to ascertain whether the lense would end up on the far side of her eye-ball, and being midnight, we decided that she would have to sleep with it in. Expecting a disturbed night I was amazed to find the girls following true teenage form with a spectacularly long “lie-in”. The following morning, after some chivvying, I managed to get them downstairs dressed and ready for a visit to the optician. It was necessary to arm myself with some fundamental vocabulary, and I was delighted to find that contact lenses translate as “lentiles”, and since the child in question was vegetarian, it was spectacularly easy to remember! Being a monday it was necessary to make a reluctant phone call to find an optician that was actually open, and having arrived at our destination we were disappointed that the optician declared it more than his “jobs-worth” to touch her eye before redirecting us to “urgence” (casualty).

At the mention of Clinque de Cédres, both he and I sighed a sigh of relief, he, for not having to give directions, and me, because I was on familiar ground! Five minutes at the Clinique  however and we were back in the car heading for the CHU (Centrale Hopitale Universitaire) where there was an eye hospital. Having unloaded the girls from the car and made our way to the security barrier we were assured that we had reached the wrong CHU, and needed to head into the centre of the city. From this point on the trip took a more complicated turn, firstly as I had no idea where I was heading, and secondly that there is one major issue with my car, and that is parkability! It was Anabel who got me out of the first scrape when she began to recognise her surrroundings before declaring that this was the route to the school sports stadium and that they always passed a hospital en-route.We succesfully negotiated the busy traffic only to arrive at the multi storey hospital parking, the roof of which was 50 mm too low for my people carrier to pass below! There was nothing for it but to sweet-talk the security barrier guard to gain access to  the doctors’ open air parking. He did not give in without a struggle, but after several minutes of gesticulating over the height of my vehicle, interspersed with unhelpful comments from Rory over the Britishness of my accent, we were through. After parking haphazardly “á la francaise” in a semi-bay we tumbled out of the car again in search of the “urgence” department. A few wrong turns later we arrived at the accueil and settled in to complete the mounds of paper-work before being directed to the eye department. The receptionist was extraordinarily helpful – “C’est midi” she declared – “all the opthalmic staff are on lunch – come back at 2.30” It was midday, there was no earthly point in waiting whilst the doctors consumed their four couse meal. With a sigh of utter frustration we made our way back to the car clutching all our papers and headed home for lunch!

As afternoon approached we set off back to the hospital, inwardly groaning at the necessity of a further conversation with the Doctors’ parking security guard. Having explained the issue of lunch, and cringing under the long-sufferingly sympathetic eye of the guard that surely we should have known that ALL the french stop work at midi, we found ourselves once more parked up and heading for the eye department. This time the receptionist let us through to the “salle d’attente” with a benevolent sweep of her hand, informing us of an hour long wait. The seven children that i’d had the dubious pleasure of bringing along with me emptied my purse into the snack machine in the corridor to dispel boredom, and as it approached four pm the optician took us off to the examination room. After some prodding around and a rather unpleasant turning inside out of the poor girl’s eyelid, the optician declared that there was no contact lense in the eye, and sent us on our way clutching several prescriptions for antibiotics and eye lubricants, in the overzealous and slightly neurotic way that defines french healthcare. It was 4 o’clock.

The girls had planned a shopping trip into town rather than a close up view of the french medical service, and were delighted when I reminded them that all was not lost, as french shops close at 7pm. It was a shortish run into town from the hospital , and once close enough I pulled over to drop them off for the city centre. It was at this minute that the friend who had not necessitated hospital treatment came close to requiring it by declaring  – “oh, I must have left my hand bag in the hospital waiting room. Its got 70 euros in it”. I am supremely proud of my restraint! I solemnly got back into the car and headed back the way i’d come – safe in the knowledge that I would be required to chat to the doctors’ parking security guard one time too many. This time he regarded me through his glass screen with a look of utter disbelief and raised the barrier without a word, leaving me to scurry through the hospital corridors to retrieve the bag, thankfully still intact. Needing a few minutes “chill-time” I made  a call to Harry to pick up the girls from town when he finished work and bid a retreat for home!

The following day, the second friend was collected by her parents after a lazy lunch and some guided sight-seeing around the historic quarter of Rouen. We visited the Joan of Arc museum which the children found hilarious, if only for the accent of the electronic guide to the waxwork exhibition, and for the coloured waxwork soldier who had at some point had his hand replaced by a white one. How much of the story they absorbed I do not know but every visitor with children should visit it! We passed under the Grosse Horlodge and to the Cathedral, putting in a quick trip down to the River Seine to visit the extraordinary orange “stick sculpture” representing the flames of Joan of Arc’s funeral pyre.  Our final stop was in the beautiful collombage antiques quarter and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, with its mummified cat, before walking back up to the top of the hill and the Station where we had left the car. Suddenly a voice piped up beside me – “oh, I think I’ve left my bag back at the fountain in the antiques quarter – its got 50 euros in it”  Needless to say, I was speechless!

The end of the month is nearly up. We managed to squeeze a three night camping trip to the D-day beaches, and were amazed by the beauty of Omaha beach, and profoundly moved by the war footage at the 360° cinema at Arromanches and subjected to the onslaught of rain during the night that forced many campers to evacuate.

School term is but a week away, along with fresh injection of salary. There’s a world of jobs to do before september. “Yellow pages” rang to see if I was prepared to deliver the next batch of “annuaires” and my weekly delivery job will start up again next week. My car needs new brakes, the kids need the last few items on their “liste des fournitures” for school. This is the second time round and I hope we are  a little better prepared than last time. Let’s hope the results come more easily too!

17. Juillet – Fin d’année – end of a year

We have reached the end of our first year. It is a time to take stock of what we have experienced. It has gone extremely quickly and when I look back at the things we have gone through I am really impressed at my family’s approach and determination. Those early days were hugely difficult, especially for the children, yet they took every day as it came and faced each new one with courage and determination! If I had known the hoops we would jump through and the length of time it would take for the children to learn the language, would I do it again? Probably not! I feel their pain keenly! However when I watch Rory today with a friend round for the day, chatting in french, explaining the wii controls, and later mucking around at the swimming pool, I feel hugely proud of his achievement. He has opened up future prospects for himself in this competative world. For the others, they are only a few months away. We are getting closer and closer to ditching Amazon.fr english section books, and starting to read french novels. It can only get easier!

The horrible truth is that, from originally being the best french speaker (with the exception of Harry) I am sliding down the scale; Rory is better than me with a great accent and Anabel closing in on me – and demonstrating her ability only yesterday by correcting my translation of the optician on a recent visit. Soon they’ll have left me all behind!

My regrets for the year are that I didn’t have a better level of french at the outset, and that I didn’t make more effort to immerse myself by watching french tv instead of english; Whilst I can chat more than the kids, they can understand far more than me – the real result of total immersion in class (or in the office for Harry). However getting a job, no matter how inferior was definitely the right move for me as it forced me, not that I really needed forcing, out into society and into all sorts of unplanned conversations! My other regrets are not having been able to have the traditional “maison ancienne” and  vegetable patch; let alone the time to discover the markets and brocantes of the region.

We have benefitted hugely from being able to lunch en-famille, and the school/work/home proximity. But the children would have benefitted from lunching at school. Our biggest restriction has been finance. We underestimated the cost of living and it would have been impossible to have paid for school lunches daily for the children at 23 euros/day. Paying rent in France and the mortgage in the UK for 6 months nearly wiped us out.

The french community have been excellent, inclusive and welcoming, and also hugely supportive of our attitude to total immersion. We are a rarity here, and have met only two english speaking families in the year; The second family only in the last week. This has opened up oportunities for teaching English, which I will look at as next term starts.

The French attitude to life is more complex than most British would probably believe. The gaullic shrug is less prevelent than one might think, especially when you have just lit a bonfire in the garden on a saturday afternoon! It will not be long before a neighbour has called out the police to put you straight. Shops are closed on sundays, which takes some remembering after 10 years of buying milk on a sunday afternoon ready for the new week! Planning and preparation are essential; and after a year I am still not used to being unable to get “cash-back” at the supermarket till. However, as irritating as it can be at times, it is preferable to the “open all day” attitude of the British, and great personally not to be the “brakes” on my teenage daughters spending habits. There’s nothing better than to be able to point out that she will have to argue with the french politicians if she wants it any other way!

Missions for the coming year are to find an architectural job, start my own vegetable garden, improve my french and entertain more. If I can find an ancient, more centrally located house, closer to school and the chic quarter I will!

A bientot – à la prochaine année!