A year in France

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Thursday 5th July 2012

When our children were little we took the plunge and uprooted to the French city of Orléans, on the banks of the Loire. My husband was offered a job working for a dynamic (and scary) Australian tycoon who’d snapped up a French business, so we crossed the channel, rented an old house covered in vines and enrolled our daughter at the local école maternelle.

Ten months later the scary tycoon changed his mind about the project. We moved back to the UK and took up where we’d left off – older, wiser and a bit better at speaking French. But sorting my office out this week, I came across some columns I wrote in Orléans and the memories came flooding back. Here are some extracts:

“My daughter finishes school this week for the long summer holiday. Despite being the only non-French child in the whole school she’s coped brilliantly. She can now speak a few words in French, count to ten and has made firm friends with a group of five-year-olds in the next class up. One of them, a little girl called Philippine, lives near us and the pair of them kiss each other on the cheeks when they meet and hold hands all the way to school.”

“My two-year-old son’s hair, bleached even whiter by the sun, is the subject of much comment in the boulangerie. ‘That hair will keep you in your old age,’ one old man told me admiringly.”

“The French are intensely proud of their cheese. Charles de Gaulle once claimed there were more than 400 varieties of the stuff so we’re trying as many as we can. But my husband was stunned when I went to Paris for the day, stumbled across a branch of Marks & Spencer and couldn’t resist buying a packet of mature Cheddar. ‘It’s absolutely sacrilege,’ he protested when I got home. ‘How can you buy English cheese in France?’”

“I never realised how seriously the French take their holidays. Instead of staggering their time off work throughout the year, everyone goes away in August. By late July my daughter’s schoolfriends have all disappeared to the seaside, my husband’s office is virtually empty and even the local grocer has shut up shop for the month. When our neighbours realise we’ve booked our grandes vacances for September, they are absolutely astonished. ‘Oh la la,’ exclaims Marie Therese, our next-door neighbour. ‘You’ll be the only people in the entire district in August.’”

“All the houses in Orléans, old and new, have shutters – to keep them secure and, in high summer, cool. We have seven pairs on the ground floor alone and closing them at night and opening them in the morning is quite a job. I haven’t quite got the knack of it yet. As I opened the dining room shutters this morning I almost beheaded a woman walking along the pavement.”

10 comments so far

  • Oh, so true!
    My friend’s child was born here and we’ve watched her grow up, go to maternelle and now she goes off on the bus to ‘big school’. She’s seven.

    I do sometimes buy ‘le chedard’ at my local SuperU – a guilty pleasure.

    We ‘receive’ in August – mostly Brits. The Loire Valley isn’t deserted in August, of course. It’s full of Brits, Dutch,Germans, Japanese. And you can’t park anyway in Saumur or Chinon for toffee. Luckily, we know those secret little places…

    And the shutters? We have traditional ‘volets battants’, but we’re not in a street so no risk of decapitation. I have surprised the cat occasionally. Yes, it’s a mini-chore, but therapeutic and a definitive sign that the day’s ended.

  • Oh, you are just increasing my desire to be there full time. I made it part of my ten year plan in 2010, but it may have to be shortened! Particularly if it doesn’t stop raining here soon!

  • I so enjoyed this, Emma. I spent three wonderful months in France when I was nineteen, and have so many happy memories of my time there, that I can just imagine how wonderful a year would have been.

    Liz X

  • It’s so lovely to hear that you identified with my memories, Alison. And your volets battants sound gorgeous. Our house in Orléans faced right on to the pavement but I think the woman I nearly decapitated probably walked on the other side of the street after that morning…

  • I’m hoping that your house purchase in France is signed and sealed soon, Linsey. And I bet you’ll be there full-time before I am! You always get cracking faster than me!

  • Thank you so much. Liz. I was terribly homesick during that year too, but we do have wonderfully happy memories of it – and now my daughter’s off to live in Paris for a year, so it was clearly the start of her love of France.

  • I loved reading your post. It’s a few years now since I’ve been to France but I’ve been a Francophile since the age of four when my next door neighbour, a retired head master who had spent part of the war in France, taught me how to say ‘Bonjour’ and surprisingly ‘cathedrale’. I went on to study French and spent a glorious six months in Bordeaux, then a year in Paris after I graduated. I would love to live there.

  • That’s so kind of you, Lisa. How fantastic to have lived in Bordeaux and Paris for a while. Two gorgeous cities. My lucky daughter is just about to spend a year at university in Paris. How lucky is that?

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