About me

Franglaise MummyHi, I'm Sophie, a francophile Brit, living in London after 12 years on the French Riviera, wife to a Frenchman, mum to two half-English/half-French daughters. I blog about parenting and lifestyle, often with a Franglaise take.
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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

PostHeaderIcon What I love about France

Recently I wrote a couple of blog posts (here and here) about why I can’t see myself moving back to France anytime soon. Notably in the second one I listed the negatives about France (and the French Riviera in particular), which helped me to make the decision to leave that beautiful part of the world 4 years ago.

View from Nice Chateau in February www.FranglaiseMummy.com

View from Nice Chateau in February

I feel really bad about only sharing the downside to a country that I still consider my home (in the same way I thought of the UK as home when I lived in France for 12 years). So this blog post is going to be all about what I love about France, the French, and the French Riviera.

Shutters

In the UK, around this time of year, it is light from around 4am until around 10pm, yet nobody has shutters on their windows. It drives me demented being woken up at stupid o’clock because of the vast amounts of light coming in through the flimsy curtains. This never bothered me before I moved to France, but now I’ve got used to absolute pitch black in the bedroom I really struggle sleeping with so much light.

Humour

I know that the Brits think the French are very unfunny. And it’s true that British humour is probably one of the best in the world. But French comedy is not to be knocked. Anyone who has watched “Les Bronzés” or “Les Bronzés font du ski” will back me up, I’m sure. Sadly they don’t translate well into English, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Les Bronzés Jean-Claude Dusse www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Jean-Claude Dusse (played by Michel Blanc) in Les Bronzés (1978)

And where do you think Jean Dujardin, star of “The Artist” started out? In the French hit comedy series “Un gars, une fille”.

Jean Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy - Un gars, une fille www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Jean Dujardin, with on-screen girlfriend and off-screen wife for a period, Alexandra Lamy, in Un gars, une fille.

Weather

Having lived on the French Riviera for 12 years, I have to concur that the weather is a huge positive. Eating lunch on New Year’s Day on the beach in Juan les Pins with my feet in the sand, watching the Bastille Day fireworks on a warm summer’s evening in Nice, getting up early to drive from Nice to the local ski resort of Isola 2000 for a day’s skiing as a normal Saturday activity, walking out of our apartment to the end of the road and being on the beach, organising picnics and barbecues without having to worry about them being rained off, having a summer wardrobe that you can actually wear without freezing, needing sunglasses in my handbag all year long (just in case), and knowing that if the sky is grey today it’s unlikely to be that way tomorrow. These, and many more, are all things I loved, and that I miss, about the climate of the Côte d’Azur.

Isola 2000 ski resort www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Isola 2000 – our local ski resort (just over 1 hour drive from our old apartment in Nice)

Dad and daughter on beach in Nice in July www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Hubs and L (age 2.5) on the beach at the end of our road in Nice, in July.

Food

As you may have gathered, Hubs and I love our food (as you can tell from our food blog), and when you love food and wine then living in France is just perfection. Wine is cheap, so good wine is very reasonably-priced – I still want to cry every time I see the price of a bottle of wine here. Food is taken very seriously. It is not uncommon to be invited to somebody’s house for lunch at 12pm, and to still be at the table at 5pm. Food is sociable. Food is enjoyed. Of course everyday meals are often rushed and nothing special, like in the UK. But meals with friends are long, leisurely, and full of tastebud-tastic treats! The love of food, and a variety of food, is shared with children from a young age. L and C have both been eating all sorts of weird and wonderful grub from the youngest age: olives, blue cheese, radishes, capers, charcuterie, foie gras and more.

5 year old eating whelks and oysters in France www.FranglaiseMummy.com

L eating whelks and oysters at Christmas in France, age 5.

And I can’t talk about France and food without mentioning bread. I LOVE bread. And I love that in France you can find a boulangerie anywhere. With fresh bread. I miss stopping at my favourite boulangerie after collecting L from school, buying a baguette, sharing part of it on the way home with L, and then eating it with dinner, especially with the  - daily – cheese course. And yes, I know you can get French bread in the UK. But it’s either nowhere near as good as in France, or stupidly expensive, or I need to do a massive detour to get it. Just as well the lovely Mel from Le Coin de Mel shared her easy crusty bread recipe with me, as this is my saviour!

There are many, many other aspects of France, the French and the French Riviera that I miss, but above all it is my lovely friends, family and adopted family across the channel that I miss the most – so I’m grateful for trips to France to see them. All in all though I think I will always consider France as being “chez moi”, as well as England, and that’s what makes me Franglaise :-)

PostHeaderIcon Where to visit in Normandy for D-Day history

For those of you who know me you’ll know I’m passionate about 20th Century history, in particular the Second World War. When I was little I used to quiz my Grandma about what it was like during the war, and then when I moved to France it was the turn of my gran-in-law to answer my questions about how different it was for the French during WWII.

As I’m sure you’re aware today marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings – more commonly known as D-Day (and Jour-J in French) – and I’m lucky enough to have been given this fab infographic D-Day guide, by Brittany Ferries, to share with you in case you’re considering visiting the area in the coming months, and want to take in some of its history:

A trip to remember - where to visit in Normandy to discover the history of D-Day: An infographic

Image source: Brittany Ferries presents the D-Day guide.

As we have family in Brittany, which is not too far from Normandy, I really hope that Hubs and I will get a chance to take the girls over to northern France at some point, to share with L (and C when she is older) the importance of D-Day, and to make the history come alive for them.

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PostHeaderIcon Moving back to the South of France Part 2

Yesterday I blogged about how much I loved the south of France and how I never imagined I would ever leave the French Riviera, which you can read here. Today I’m going to explain why Hubs and I made that incredibly hard decision to leave.

For a very long time the sunshine, warmth, beaches and mountains made up for so many negatives, but in the end the downside of France and the French Riviera got the better of us and we headed back to the grey, cold, rainy UK.

View of Nice, France from the Chateau #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

One of my favourite views – from the Chateau in Nice.

You might be wondering what on earth could be that bad, so I’ll try and explain here. As with everything on this blog, this is based on my own personal experiences of the south of France, and the French Riviera in particular.

It is hard to have career progress in France. France is a funny old country, where the word “entrepreneur” originates from, but where it seems to be seen as a swear word. In the UK I have found that with hard work you can do a lot of jobs (obviously not specific roles like a doctor etc), whether you’ve got a university degree or not.

In France it is not so. If you don’t have a degree it is unlikely that you will ever earn much more than minimum wage, unless you become a professional footballer or pop star. Even if you do have a degree it’s still not that easy: anything less than a 5 year master’s degree (called Bac +5) is sniffed at, and then there is the league table of all the higher education establishments – in France you have universities, “écoles” and “grandes écoles” which are roughly the equivalent of Oxbridge in the UK. Not to mention the importance of what subject you study.

Hubs used to work for a fairly large IT company, and when they interviewed candidates for jobs they had a table to calculate the starting salary based on which “école” the candidate had gone to and which year they had graduated. Your previous experience or any capability doesn’t enter into the equation. I know of 50 year olds who are asked by recruiters which “école” they went to and which year they graduated.

In France your whole career for the rest of your life is based on decisions you made at age 16-18! It doesn’t matter how hard you work, or what you achieve post university, you will always hit a ceiling unless you went to the right “école” at the right time, and studied the right subject.

My fellow students from my modern languages degree course in the UK have gone on to impressive careers, with good salaries, promotions and responsibility. In France my degree is the worst possible one you can do, as it’s the course that everyone does when they don’t know what else to do.

So over the years in France I found myself working as a trilingual PA to a man linked to the Russian Mafia, who I saw on the local news one Friday evening in handcuffs, being led out of the local courthouse. Then several years later I worked for a self-professed witch: she claimed she had been burned at the stake in a former life, and that she had found the cure for cancer but the Illuminati didn’t want her to share the information. I used to work two days a week at her stunning mansion, where she would serve me up a child-size portion of salad for lunch and say “that’s enough for you”, strangely enough with the stress and food restrictions I lost a lot of weight in that job!

It is very hard to get hired on a permanent contract in France as it is almost impossible to fire anyone, so employers are very wary of committing to a CDI (contract of unlimited duration) which means that the job market is far more static than in the UK. This also means that people often stay in jobs or companies from graduation to retirement.

For a long time Hubs and I were happy enough to just go along with things like this – he had a good job, in a good company, with good perks. For several years I taught English to professionals in companies, which meant I wasn’t busy during the holiday months, and used to spend July and August teaching a few hours around partying in the evenings and lazing on the beach during the day. (Although my salary reflected these low hours too, sadly.) Following this I got a great job, for a great company, with great perks. But the office in France was very small and there was only so much progress I could make there.

Over the years Hubs and I set up a business together, I also set up a business on my own, and gradually we both realised that France is not very supportive of anyone looking to get ahead. In France there is a culture of paying for and working “au black”, which means undeclared work or cash-in-hand, and literally everyone is at it, because the taxes and the whole system for running a business makes it impossible to do everything legally (as we found out the hard way!).

The last straw career-wise came when Hubs started working for a company who had promised to take him on as headcount after 6 months, so he worked hard, proving himself. After the 6 months his line manager told him that he wouldn’t be able to take him on. The reason why? His hard work was making the other long-term colleagues there uncomfortable as it was showing them up, and the line manager didn’t want a fight on his hands, so it was easier not to take on the person who was going to stir things up!

Sadly, running your own business is not a viable alternative either, there is no equivalent to the sole trader status we have in the UK. I ran my own business in France under the “auto-entrpreneur” system (the closest to UK’s self-employed status), which was great for the first few months, then I realised that I was fast approaching the ceiling of 32,900€ (approx £26,800) in annual turnover, meaning I would have to move over to something like a limited company, and pay an enormous percentage of my turnover back to the government.

Neither of us could handle being in a country where, aged 34, we felt we were treading water until retirement.

Funnily enough since arriving in London we’ve met so many career-minded French expats who have left France for the very same reason and have had huge professional successes in the UK. These are often intelligent hard-workers, who didn’t go to the “right” university, or do the “right” course for France.

Upon arriving in London Hubs and I quickly found good jobs with better career prospects and far better salaries than what we’d left behind in France. What’s more we were doing jobs that we enjoyed and that were leading somewhere: we were both promoted within 6 months of starting our London jobs.

I think all the other negatives of France that I list below would have been bearable for us if we’d had career opportunities. For some people this isn’t an issue. For us it was. And no amount of sunshine could make up for the lack of a career for us.

Other downsides about France/the French Riviera that made it easier for us to leave:

France is a country for the very rich or the very poor. If you earn very little money in France then the government will help you out with numerous benefits. When I was a new graduate in France my salary was the equivalent of £750/month and my rent was the equivalent of £200/month. Despite having no debts, no children, no loans, no car to run and no major expenses the state gave me a whopping £190/month in housing benefit, bringing my rent to a measly £10/month. I thought I was in heaven.

However once Hubs and I started earning decent money we were suddenly taxed lots and (understandably) were eligible for zero benefits. The majority of income tax in France is paid under a similar system to self-assessment in the UK rather than taxed at the source, but there are so many tax breaks you can claim (having a cleaner, installing a fireplace and many more), not to mention those who are dishonest with their taxes, that it means only 1 in 2 taxpayers in France actually pays taxes.

Add that to the amount of benefits that exist in France (and the number of people fiddling benefits), and those few taxpayers end up paying a serious amount of their hard-earned salary for others.

There are so so many benefits in France that you can live very comfortably off of them, very easily. Just one example – unemployment benefit is paid for nearly 2 years and you receive nearly 60% of your previous gross salary, including any bonuses! I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of France, but on the French Riviera where the weather is good, there are beaches for the summer and mountains for skiing, it attracts an awful lot of “chômeurs” (unemployed people). In fact many people work 6 months a year in order to claim unemployment benefit the other 6 months of the year, which they spend on the beach or skiing.

Bureaucracy really is a French word. In France you have to fill out numerous papers for anything and everything. To get married in France I had to have a birth certificate issued within the 3 months before we handed in our “dossier” to the “mairie” (equivalent of the registry office). My original birth certificate, issued when I was born wouldn’t cut it. Which astounds me. It’s not like the information has changed!

Changing your address on your driving licence or car registration papers requires a visit to your local “Centre Administratif” and if you’re lucky, just an hour or two of your time wasted.

When Hubs and I set up our business (a luxury travel agency) we needed a licence to exercise this type of business. The problem was we needed a piece of paper from Establishment A to be able to get another paper from Establishment B, except neither Establishment would issue their paper first. This led to a year – that’s right, a year – of fighting and threatening both of them before we could get anywhere and actually start taking on any clients.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that in France we had a massive 4 drawer filing cupboard for our recent, important papers, whilst our archived paperwork took up numerous boxes in cupboards too. We left France in 2010 and stored all our important papers with friends; when we went to visit at the end of last year we sifted through our archives and were finally able to destroy most of it. In comparison, after nearly 4 years of UK life we have 2 expanding wallets that store all our papers, for all 4 of us, including my business papers too….

Archived files and papers www.FranglaiseMummy.com

The archived papers we were able to destroy last year, leaving 1 more of these boxes still in France.

The French can be quite negative and pessimistic. The Brits seem to think that they are all doom and gloom, but believe me they are upbeat and optimistic in general, in comparison to the French. Funnily enough it is French people who have made this remark to me over the years – that the Brits tend to be more “up” than the French, and that the French tend to complain about anything and everything. And so I observed. And it is often true. The French have more of a tendency to be down on things and “VDM” (Vie De Merde- literally “life of shit”), whilst the Brits tend to give things a go more, and take a chance.

The French don’t like letting you do what you want. Still on the same subject there is a real suspicion of others in France, this fear that someone might have done better, have more or be luckier than you. So neighbours are often looking to see what next door have done to their house/garden before denouncing them to the local council.

It makes me laugh that in our London road there are permanently builders around, extending and improving houses, and when French friends come to visit they always ask if the neighbours don’t complain about the work being done.

In France you have to apply to the local council to make the slightest change to your property/land, even minor things like putting up a garden shed. And the council can decide whether or not to grant you the right.

Madly enough as well, in France you are not allowed to hang your washing out in your back garden or on your balcony. Which really is crazy as most people live in tiny apartments or houses, with no spare bedrooms and no tumble driers. I just used to ignore this and hang my washing up outside, my defence being that “liberté” was written on all French money. Where is the “liberté” of not being allowed to hang my washing out in my own garden?!?

The French can be very jealous. Harking back again to qualifications and degrees, there is a whole pastime in France that centres around being jealous of others. Of their car, their house, their clothes, their holidays. This probably has a lot to do with the whole working “au black” too. And this is possibly more prevalent on the French Riviera where there is such opulent wealth on display too (which is mostly wealth that has been accumulated elsewhere).

The French can be very selfish. There is an expression in French “seul au monde” which means alone in the world, and it is used a lot to refer to other drivers on the road. And it is MADDENING! There is literally zero respect on the roads on the French Riviera. I would be driving along the Prom in Nice (the 3 lane road that runs alongside the beach), I’d put my indicator on to change lanes and the cars would speed up to stop me from moving into their lane. That’s just one of many examples.

On the same subject there is dog poo EVERYWHERE, and pretty much no one clears up after their dogs. When I watched the scene in Sex and the City where Carrie walked in dog poo in Paris in her beautiful shoes, I was all “I KNOW!”.

The dog poo is so bad that the streets are hosed down every day as otherwise it would be unbearable.

The French Riviera is very expensive. Going out in Nice and the surrounding area is not cheap; a night out at the pub is always an expensive affair so it is hard to be sociable in the same way that you might be in the UK. Even after being back in the UK for nearly 4 years, when I get change back from a tenner after a round of 2 drinks it still feels like a cheap night out.

As I’ve said before I love France and I love the French. I also have lovely French friends who are not like this. But after nearly 4 years in the UK I love the career opportunities we have here, I love the respect that people have for one another – in London people fall over themselves to help me on and off public transport/up and down stairs with the buggy, I love the clean streets, I love the optimism of people, I love that neighbours are friends with each other or at worst are polite to each other (although we were lucky enough to have some great neighbours in France, as well as some awful ones), I love that those who are on benefits usually genuinely deserve them, I love that I can make money for myself without feeling that half of it is going back to the government, I love that I don’t have to spend a whole day a month going through my paperwork, and that I don’t have to waste hours in government administrative offices.

Pregnant woman in London, near Thames and St Paul's Cathedral www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Happy in London: a post-work evening out with Hubs when pregnant with C.

Do I miss Nice? You bet I do. I miss my French and expat friends who are still there, I miss the region in general and I certainly miss the climate (although the winters over the last 6 years or so have been colder and wetter than previously I’ve found), but do I see myself moving back? No. Not if I can help it.

But don’t listen to me. I said that about moving back to the UK too.

Never say never.

PostHeaderIcon Moving back to the South of France Part 1

We moved to London from Nice nearly 4 years ago, and since then people have asked me, with incredulity, why on earth we moved from the sun and warmth of the French Riviera to the rain and cold of the UK.

View from the window in Nice, France #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

The view from my bedroom window in Nice when I first moved out there

When I moved to Nice, in 1998, I vowed I would never leave the area. It had sun, it was warm, I had the beach on my doorstep and the mountains were just over an hour’s drive away. Why on earth would I leave that to move back to the UK?

I continued to feel that way for a long time. I moved out of this beautiful apartment though, as much as I loved living on the famous Cours Saleya, or Flower Market, having quiet only 3 hours out of every 24 hours, and having to park a mile away took its toll. So I moved in with my first serious French boyfriend, in nearby town, Cagnes sur mer.

I lived on the French Riviera for 12 years (1st July 1998 – 19th July 2010) and in that time I lived in 7 different apartments/houses in 4 different locations: Nice, Cagnes sur mer, Mougins le Haut and St Vallier de Thiey. Quite a variety – from France’s 5th most populous city in Nice, to a village of 3000 inhabitants in St Vallier.

Sunny terrace in Cagnes sur mer #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

The terrace of the first home I ever owned, in Cagnes sur mer.

View from apartment in Mougins le Haut #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

The view of the Alps from our apartment in Mougins le Haut.

Provençal house with pool in St Vallier de Thiey, France #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

The house that Hubs and I owned in St Vallier de Thiey, and where L lived for her first 2 years.

Girl on the beach in Nice #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

L on the beach at the end of our road in our final apartment in Nice (aged 2 and a half).

I loved each place more than the last. And I always vowed that I would never move back to the UK.

Never say never. Because I finally decided to abandon my life in France to recreate a life for me and my family in the UK.

I love France and I love the French. I used to get excited just walking down the beach in Nice, I’d get butterflies in my stomach whenever I flew back over the coastline from visits to the UK, I’d have to pinch myself at the thought that I actually lived there.

I had some amazing times there, I have some of my best memories from France. Not only did I meet some incredible people on the French Riviera who have become good friends, but I also met Hubs in Nice, married him in Cagnes sur mer (legal wedding), Cannes (church wedding) and Vence (reception) and had L in Cagnes sur mer.

Husband and wife on their wedding day in Provence #FrenchRiviera www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Hubs and me on our wedding day in Vence.

New dad with 1 day old baby www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Hubs with 1 day old L in hospital in Cagnes sur mer.

Deciding to move back to the UK was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever made; knowing I would be coming back to much cooler weather, grey skies, no mountains and whilst there are beautiful beaches in the UK, it’s not quite the same weather as on the Cote d’Azur!

When we moved back to the UK we said we didn’t know how long it would be for, that we would take each moment as it came. Then last year my FiL became even more ill, and Hubs and I talked about whether we could/should/would move back to France in order to be there for my father-in-law.

I was surprised at how strongly I felt about such a move. In autumn 2010 if you’d asked me whether I would move back to France my answer would have been quite 50/50. Fast-forward to autumn 2013 and it was something that I really, really didn’t want to do.

But why would I feel so strongly about a country that I clearly love, is clearly beautiful, and clearly has a far better climate than the UK? I’ll explain why in Part 2 of this blog post tomorrow….(you can read that here)

PostHeaderIcon Top tips on raising your child bilingually

Quite a few readers have asked me how we manage to raise our two daughters bilingually, so I thought it was time I shared what has worked for us, raising our two daughters with two languages.

Before I start here’s a bit of background about us:

Mum
I’m English. I have a degree in French (and Spanish). I lived in France for 12 years. I am bilingual in English and French. My parents (our children’s grandparents) only speak English.

Dad
Hubs is French. He lived and worked in San Francisco for nearly a year (before we met). He has lived in the UK for nearly 4 years now. He is bilingual in English and French. His parents (our children’s grandparents) only speak French.

Daughter One
L is 7.5 years old. She was born in France. She was looked after by a French childminder 4 days a week from the age of 3 months. She went to school in France full-time from the age of 2 and 3/4 until the age of 3 and 1/2, when she moved to the UK. L is bilingual (both written and spoken) in English and French.

Daughter Two
C will be 18 months old next week. She was born in London. I look after her at home alongside other English children, who I childmind. She hears on average 75% French and 25% English. She understands both English and French, although French is her stronger language for now. She has just pronounced her first word that actually means something – “chat” in French (cat).

So here are my top tips if you want your children to be bilingual:

Speak the minority language at home
When we lived in France our language at home was English, now that we live in the UK we only speak French at home. This helps to balance out all the outside influences of the main language.

Watch TV in the minority language
L didn’t watch any French TV when we lived in France, she grew up on Disney films in English and Dora in English. Now we’re in the UK we have got a selection of her favourites in French, whether they are French classics like Asterix or American films dubbed into French like Barbie, it doesn’t matter, it motivates L to practise the minority language.

Read to your children in both languages
The more you read to your children, from a very young age, the more they will get out of books, and turn to them for enjoyment. It will also make the stories more familiar when they come to learning reading in the two languages. In general the bedtime story that we read to L is in French – at the moment she’s loving all the French cartoon books, like Tintin, Asterix etc. As for C it varies from one day to another as she already gets a lot of French daily; however if she were in an English-language setting we would only read to her in French. I recently blogged about L having learnt to read in French (as well as in English) here, and in time I will blog about how to help your children to learn to read in their second language.

Girl reading foreign language books #bilingualism #bilingualchildren www.FranglaiseMummy.com

L reading some early reader French books

Visit the country of the second language
As often as you can, go and have holidays in the country of the minor language. This helps your child see the point of learning the second language. When L was on holiday in France a couple of years ago, playing by the pool with some French children, she understood the point of us putting pressure on her to speak French all year round.

Buy toys and games that are bilingual/in the minor language
We have quite a few Leapfrog toys, as these are great for French/English children with both languages often available in the same toy. Alternatively we buy Vtech “talking” games from Amazon in France.

Listen to songs and audio books in the second language
We have quite a few books with accompanying CDs with traditional French songs/nursery rhymes, or French stories, which are great for the child to listen to in the car, or when you’re preparing dinner, for example, and you need them to listen independently.

And if your child refuses to speak the second language?
This is a tough one. It really depends how much you want them to be bilingual or not. When L was 3 and we were living in France she decided she didn’t want to speak to me in English anymore, hitting back at me with “mais tu parles français, donc je te parle en français!” (but you speak French so I’m going to speak to you in French). I had to decide whether to enforce it and risk putting her off the language, or to leave it be and see if she came back to speaking English with me of her own will.

I went for the former. I was adamant that my children would speak both languages; having spent so many years learning languages at school and university I didn’t want them to miss out on this excellent opportunity to speak two languages from infanthood. But equally I have many bilingual friends in France whose children have given up on English, as the parents found it too hard to enforce the minor language on children who just weren’t interested, especially as they got older. I couldn’t bear the thought of my children not speaking my language, or not being able to communicate with my family.

So I told L that I spoke French and could understand French, but that I couldn’t understand her when she spoke to me in French. Fortunately her 3 year old brain didn’t question it, and when she spoke to me in French and I ignored her she switched into English. Fast-forward a couple of years and she knows we understand her when she speaks to us in English (now the minor language), so we simply ignore her if she speaks to us in English at home. She soon switches into French.

It is very hard to ignore your child when they’re speaking to you, but it does work, and most of the time they are speaking in their first language without even thinking it through, just because it’s the easy option.

It is worth all the hard work though, as here is L, aged 5, announcing some big family news in both languages:

What about you? How do you work on raising your children bilingually? Do you have any additional tips for other parents? Or do you have any questions for me about it?

PostHeaderIcon I’m a promiscuous alcoholic in France

You would think that for a country that is so geographically close to the UK, and that has had an enormous amount of influence on the Brits over the last thousand or so years, France would be pretty similar to Britain. But not so.

I am a Francophile. I studied French A level. Then I did a degree in French. Over my 38 years I have lived in France for 12 years and 6 months in 3 different time frames. I have only had French boyfriends since 1998, including a nearly 3 year relationship, and then Hubs, who I’ve been with now for 12 and a half years.

Early photo with my husband on holiday www.FranglaiseMummy.com

With Hubs, 7 months into our relationship

So I know France and the French pretty well.

Yet in the last few months I have discovered several surprising cultural differences between the French and us Brits, which I thought I’d share with you.

When I was a student in my early 20s – at university in Liverpool, with a year out in Nice, France and Murcia, Spain – my going out “uniform”, along with a lot of my friends, was a mini skirt (despite totally not having the legs for it!). On a Saturday night 90% of the 20 year old females you could see out in Liverpool were in mini skirts, and this didn’t shock anyone. And still doesn’t I believe.

However in France only prostitutes wear mini skirts. And when I say prostitutes I don’t mean woman with loose values that might be called such names, I mean actual prostitutes.

Me in a mini skirt aged 21 www.FranglaiseMummy.com

Me in normal UK going out clothes, but looking like a prostitute in France (age 21).

I’ve known this for a while, thought not at the time when I was wearing prostitute clothes in France on a night out and getting harassed, but later on, when I met Hubs and we talked about cultural differences.

However, still on the subject of sex and promiscuity, what I didn’t realise was the attitude to sex in France. I would say, in the UK, that if a woman is single and she meets a man, who is single, on a night out and has sex with him, that this wouldn’t shock most people I know. As long as they are safe, and it’s not too common an occurrence.

In France, though, this makes her promiscuous, and the French find this kind of behaviour very shocking. Fine. I’m sure there are plenty of people who find this wrong in the UK too.

BUT, the French do not seem to find the following shocking: a woman is married/in a serious relationship and has children, whilst she is still married she conducts an affair with a colleague/friend of her husband’s/neighbour who is also married with children. Simultaneously sleeping with her husband/partner and her lover. In general she then leaves her husband, breaks up the family home and starts a relationship with her lover, who also leaves his wife and breaks up his family home. (I’m not citing anyone in particular here – I know of about half a dozen friends/acquaintances in France who have been in this situation.)

Call me strange but I find that behaviour far more shocking than two single, consenting adults having safe sex on a Saturday night!

Moving on to alcohol now. Most Brits tend to assume that the French spend their time swilling wine. Not so.

The French don’t go to bars.

I discovered this very early on and got myself a bad name in the process. I was 22, living in Nice and had just started my first office job since graduating. On the first Friday, towards the end of the day, I asked if anyone wanted to go for after work drinks.

You should have seen the look I got from everyone. I could see them saying to themselves “who is this raging alcoholic?”. The French don’t do this. It’s just not in their culture. I could not have shocked them more by suggesting this. Not only do the French not go to bars, but they rarely socialise without their partners, and almost never with their colleagues.

You can imagine my delight when we moved back to the UK and after work drinks on a Friday was commonplace :-)

Colleagues on a work night out in London www.FranglaiseMummy.com

With my boss and colleagues on a work night out in London (there was a golf theme, hence the attire!)

Whilst I worked in bars in Nice, and frequented expat bars in Nice and on the French Riviera, I discovered recently that this is not representative of France at all. The French either go to restaurants, to each other’s houses, or the 20 somethings go out to nightclubs (but only really when they’re single as this is where they go on the pull, and the French would struggle to trust a boyfriend/girlfriend going to a nightclub without them).

One last point on alcohol – the French drink a lot less of it than us Brits. A typical meal in France (in a restaurant or at someone’s house) might include an apéritif such as a Pastis or a Kir before the meal, then one bottle of wine for 4-6 adults. Compare this to a meal in the UK where you may have a couple of pre-dinner drinks, and it would be more like a bottle of wine for 1-2 adults. Not to mention nights out in pubs or bars where the Brits really drink like it’s a competitive sport!

So despite being the lightweight when I’m with my friends in the UK, I’m the alcoholic in France!

There are so many cultural differences that I have started to write a book on them, but I thought I’d share these ones with you for now.

Are you a Frog in the UK? Are you a Rosbif in France? What are the main cultural differences you’ve noticed? Or for those of you who’ve travelled to France, what struck you the most culturally whilst there?

PostHeaderIcon Proud mummy of a French reader

Our eldest daughter, L, is now 7 years old. She lived the first half of her life in France, with French as her first language. Since the age of 3 years and 7 months she has lived in the UK with English becoming her first language (she has always been brought up with both languages).

Ever since she was little she has been a real bookworm and will spend all her time reading given the chance. She has recently finished the first Harry Potter and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in English.

I have never worried about her reading in English, as she just “got” it and now can’t get enough of reading. But what did worry me was that she might not want to go through the effort of learning to read in French: a language that is very much her second language these days.

Hubs and I have encouraged L to read in French over the last few years, but her French friends are in France, and apart from Hubs and me she has no French contact on a day to day basis.

So we decided to set the Easter holidays as a time to work on her French reading.

We needn’t have worried. Suddenly she has “got” reading in French too. As we discovered when we gave her a French book to read the other day.

I couldn’t be happier or prouder of my big girl’s achievements. So here she is. Reading in French.

I’m joining up with Loud ‘n’ Proud as I’m bursting with pride at my L’s achievements over here :-) Click on the linky below to see similar posts:

3 Children and It

PostHeaderIcon How I lost 12kg eating the French way

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for the longest time, and in the end if felt like it made more sense over on the food blog that Hubs and I have created – Franglaise Cooking. So if you want to know how you can eat French food and not get fat, head on over there, by clicking here.

Over on our Franglaise Cooking blog: How to eat French food and not get fat

Over on our Franglaise Cooking blog: How to eat French food and not get fat

And here is a rough idea of what I looked like when I moved to France (left), then several months in, and 12kg (nearly 2 stone) lighter (right)!

Before: UK eating habits After: French eating habits & 12kg later

Before: UK eating habits
After: French eating habits & 12kg later

They’re not the best photos and they don’t illustrate the difference as much as I’d like, but it was all I could find as it was in 1998!

PostHeaderIcon What makes me an expert on France and the French?

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you’ll know that I often write about France and the French, comparing it/them to the UK and the Brits, and various people have asked me what makes me such an expert on the subject, so here goes:

I am bilingual and have a French (and Spanish) degree; I studied French culture, society, history and politics as part of my degree. I lived in France for 7 months as a student, and upon graduating I moved to the French Riviera where I then lived for the next 12 years. I am married to a Frenchman and we raise our half French/half English daughters bilingually and biculturally (in London now but previously in France).

Despite living in Nice and the surrounding area and having some non-French friends I didn’t live the expat life; I generally worked for French companies, alongside mostly French colleagues, or ran my own company in the French system. During my time in France the majority of my friends were French, and I was in a serious relationship with a Frenchman, who spoke little English, for 3 years before meeting Hubs who I only spoke French with for the first 3 years of our relationship. Over the last 15 years I have spent a lot of time with both my ex-boyfriend’s family and my in-laws, with whom I only speak French.

Whilst I was in France I mixed with a very broad cross-section of society, from cleaning ladies to lawyers, from bartenders to high level directors so saw a variety of ways of living, from those living in small studio apartments, scraping by on very little, to those living in mansions with no money worries.

I feel that all of the above allows me to comment on France and the French, and to make comparisons between their country and culture and the UK and the Brits (being British myself and having lived in the UK for 25 years).

Voilà! Now you know everything!

In front of the most French of all women: Marianne, who can be found in all mairies (town halls), on our wedding day in 2003 with the mayor of Cagnes sur mer.

In front of the most French of all women: Marianne, who can be found in all mairies (town halls), on our wedding day in 2003 with the mayor of Cagnes sur mer.

PostHeaderIcon Is UK schooling really that bad?

In the UK we seem to always be hearing how terrible our schooling is, how the children learn nothing and how we should change EVERYTHING. So I thought I would share some comparisons between schooling in the UK and in France, having recently spent a week with French friends whose daughter, A, is the same age as L (age 7 and in Year 2 (UK)/CP (France)). While they were with us talk turned to schooling, as it became blatantly obvious that despite there being just a month between L and A, there was a world of difference in their reading ability.

Reading has been a key part of L’s schooling, from the basics in Reception class (age 4), which progressed to actual reading in Year 1, and has really taken off this year.  She is now at the stage where she will happily read a 100+ page book  on her own over the space over a few days.

This came as a great surprise to A’s parents, as in French schools children don’t learn to read until CP (our Year 2), when children are 6-7. It was so strange to see our 2 daughters, who are a month apart in age at such different levels of this key part of education. L started with the reading basics in September 2011 and reads pretty much anything now. A started learning to read at school in September 2013 and so is understandably nowhere near this stage yet.

It is important to note that some schools in France teach the basics of reading in Grande Section, the equivalent of Year 1, in the same way that some schools in the UK don’t start with reading until Year 1. It is also interesting to see that by the end of CP (Year 2) the majority of French children know how to read fluently, despite having only started to read at the start of the school year.

Homework was another area where we discovered that France and the UK differ wildly: in general British children in Year 2 will have one or two pieces of fairly light homework per week, in addition to reading most days/every day depending on the school; in France children in CP (Year 2) have homework every day which by all accounts is taken very seriously.

Another thing that both A’s mum and I found surprising was that although French schools have far longer days than UK schools, the amount of schooling across the day is actually the same. After quizzing various friends across both countries I’ve established that most primary school days in the UK run from 8.45/9am until 3/3.30pm with around 1.5-1.75 hours break across the day, making up around 5 hours of schooling. The majority of primary schools in France run from 8.30am until around 4.15/4.45pm with around 2.5-3 hours break (they all seem to have 2 hours for lunch, with some pupils going home to eat), this again gives 5 hours schooling.

Interestingly French primary school children don’t go to school on Wednesdays, whereas I don’t know any UK schools that do anything less than 5 days a week. Many French mums (and some dads) don’t work on a Wednesday and this tends to be the day for children’s extra-curricular activities, so is not necessarily a rest day either.

Another big difference is the school holidays, I am sure many people are familiar with the term “les grandes vacances”, but did you know that France has 3 weeks more school holidays a year than the UK? 13 weeks for British school kids vs 16 weeks for French children.

So that means across the school year UK children have 975 hours of schooling vs 720 hours of schooling in France. Last year Education Secretary Michael Gove gave a speech, talking about lengthening the school day and reducing school holidays, but as we can see British children have a great deal more schooling than France already, and shorter holidays too.

Something that is interesting to bear in mind when comparing the two systems is “who is this best for?”. As a working mum in France and in the UK, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I prefer the French system: when L was at school in France (age 2 and 3/4 – 3 and 3/4) we used to drop her off at 8am (we could have dropped her off at 7.30am) where she had an hour of pre-school club, then after a day’s work we would pick her up at 6.30pm (which was the latest she could stay) where she would have been at after-school club from when her classes ended at 4.30pm. On Wednesdays the school (like most schools) provided a Wednesday club and she did the same hours. So having a school age child and working full-time were fully compatible. Even if your child is only at school for the usual school hours in France, this is around 8.30am – 4.30pm so you have a fair amount of time to get work done.

When we moved to the UK and L started full time school (a whole 2 years later than in France), it was a massive difference and a shock to the system: her school day starts at 9am (there is a breakfast club which opens at 7.45am) and ends at 3.30pm (there is an after school club that ends at 6pm). This means as a parent you have far less time to get to work and do a part-time job/work from home.

So absolutely, without hesitation, as a working parent I prefer the school system in France.

Now, let’s look at it from the point of view of a child: my primary school finished at 3.15pm and I had no homework until Year 6; my secondary school finished at 3.35pm and I had homework every day, but I was home by around 4pm/4.30pm, which gave me a long time to get it done. I remember coming home from school and going out to play when I was at primary school, or having chill out time of an evening when I was at secondary school.

When L finishes school at 3.30pm we either stay and play in the school playground/go to the local park if the weather is good, or come home and play, and talk and relax. She has weekly homework which is usually done at the weekend, or one evening a week, it is always something fun (and educational) and doesn’t take more than half an hour in general. This leaves time for imaginative play, reading, writing, crafting, baking, and generally being a 7 year old. (Not to mention the days when she has activities after school such as swimming or gymnastics etc or playdates with school friends.)

L’s friend, A, only has school 4 days a week but she finishes at 4.45pm and then has homework to do, there is no time for playdates and not really any time for fun, as it’s a race against the time to get the homework done, dinner eaten, have a bath and go to bed. Now I’m no child psychologist or professional, but I was once a child and I have a child, and it seems to me that you have your whole life to work all day 4-5 days a week, with little time to let your hair down, what a shame to start at such a young age.

This is not meant to be a criticism of either country, I think there are pros and cons to both systems. If this were all about me I would rather L went to school in France so I have more time to work, but if I’m doing what I think is best for L then I choose the UK system. Interestingly a British friend whose children have attended state schools in both the UK and France tells me that although they were very happy in France they say they prefer school in the UK.

One thing I do know is that I liked the fact that L started school when she was nearly 3 in France, and I liked the school day that she used to have there, I will miss C not having that in the UK when she is a bit older. L used to have classes 9-11.30am, followed by lunch and a nap, then more classes from around 2pm (or when they woke up from naps) until 4.30pm. I think this is just right for a 3 year old and L absolutely loved going to her French school.

I don’t think there is any right or wrong, and often one country may be preferable for one child whilst the other system suits a different child. But one thing is sure, the debate is still raging over UK education, which is a shame as I would say it’s really not that bad at all, and the teachers do a bloody good job.

L reading to herself before bed last night - her love of books has been fuelled by school.

L reading to herself before bed last night – her love of books has been fuelled by school.

Footnote
It is hard to compare French years with years in the UK schooling system as the UK breaks these up by birth dates before 31st August and after 1st September, whereas in France the cut-off is 31st December/1st January. As L was born in December 2006 in France she would be one of the youngest in class CE1, whilst her friend A was born in January 2007 so is in CP, whereas in the UK the two of them would both be in Year 2. Bearing the different cut-off dates in mind I believe these are the class equivalents from the UK to France:

Nursery – Petite section de maternelle (3-4 years)
Reception – Moyenne section de maternelle (4-5 years)
Year 1 – Grande section de maternelle (5-6 years)
Year 2 – CP (6-7 years)
Year 3 – CE1 (7-8 years)
Year 4 – CE2 (8-9 years)
Year 5 – CM1 (9-10 years)
Year 6 – CM2 (10-11 years)
Secondary school
Year 7 – 6ème (11-12 years)
Year 8 – 5ème (12-13 years)
Year 9 – 4ème (13-14 years)
Year 10 – 3ème (14-15 years)
Year 11 – Seconde (15-16 years)
Year 12 – Première (16-17 years)
Year 13 – Terminale (17-18 years)

Confusion is added by the fact school is obligatory in the UK by age 5 (at some point during the Reception year), whereas in France only from CP (Year 2), also in France you can (and often do) repeat a year if your grades aren’t good enough, so Hubs did his baccalaureate (A level equivalent) with a 21 year old.

Disclosure: it is hard to generalise across a whole country, but I have done my research on this. The information above has come from asking numerous friends/acquaintances from different regions and from different social backgrounds across the two countries, as well as reading many forums in both English and French covering both countries and both school systems.

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