Showing posts with label Orléans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orléans. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A year in France

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.”

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The art of speaking French

“You only ever say three things in French,” said my son. “Bonjour, s’il vous plait and merci.” Crushing words, but the trouble is he’s right. Even though I studied French till the age of 18, spent four months in Paris as the world’s worst au pair and lived in Orléans for a while, I’ve forgotten virtually everything. Worse still, by the time I’ve figured what to say in French, five minutes have passed and the conversation has moved on to something even more incomprehensible than before.

Luckily my husband and teenagers are doing far better. My daughter has the advantage of having spent a term at an école maternelle in Orléans, on the banks of the Loire, when she was four. She was the only non-French speaking child in the whole school and when I left her on her first day she looked petrified at the prospect of not being able to communicate.

Her French school was a world apart from the nursery class in Blackburn she’d left behind but she loved walking home for lunch everyday and not having any school on Wednesdays. Then again, she hated having to sleep on a mat for an hour in the afternoons (“some children take dummies,” she told me indignantly), learning that peculiar swirly French writing and not being able to chatter nineteen to the dozen to the other children in the class.

After two days of her new régime she stomped home in a complete strop. “I’ve been here for two days and I still haven’t learned how to speak French,” she said crossly. But within weeks she’d picked up a smattering of the language and could count to ten, order croissants at the bakery and greet her new best friend Philippine.

But 15 years on, I reckon those tricky months at French school made a real difference. She’s still a firm Francophile and even though lots of secondary pupils drop languages like a hot coal at the age of 14 she didn’t. She’s now studying French as part of her degree and excitedly making plans for her year in Paris (or Montpellier or Avignon – opinions gratefully received!) next year. Which is great by me.

PS: If you’re looking for a great beach read, Tasmina Perry’s Private Lives (Headline Review, £14.99) is out this week. Set in the world of glamorous movie stars, go-getting media lawyers and super-injunctions, it’s just the ticket for holiday time.

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