Wednesday, October 25, 2006

La rentree and moving on

September came and the wonderful summer ended abruptly. Signs offered sales for la rentree and countrywide the back-to-school/work mood was felt strongly. Marc went back to school, along with his two cousins, Francois and Manon. The weekend antique markets stopped as did the theatres, concerts and eating out on the lawn. The house was suddenly cold and we couldn’t play outside so much. We urgently needed to get the sewage system sorted and the heating installed and started working on finishing Jean’s house before it got too cold. On weekends we went picking blackberries and mushrooms or roasted chestnuts on the open fire with the cousins.

I felt my weekdays needed some activities so I found a weekly playgroup called Croque-Lune for Nina in Melle, a nearby town. We started going regularly, and enjoyed the free children’s activities, singing French nursery rhymes and the soft play-area. But no-one talked to me at all. I worried that my French was the problem, but then by this point I could chat easily to French people. I eventually realized that the young French mothers had an extensive circle of friends, family and neighbours around them and had no need to talk to me. They didn’t speak English and simply avoided me. Their lives were busy and full with shopping cooking, picking up children and or part-time jobs. I tried to chat to one or two who lived near me, they were friendly but there was no chance of a ‘playdate’ or even an invitation for coffee. The same happened outside Marc’s primary school. This was better, since I saw my sister-in-law, Gaelle, every day and a couple of her friends would small-talk with me, but still I was having problems making new friends of my own.

Gaelle helped run the local branch of La Leche an association which promoted breast-feeding. I had breast-fed Marc and Nina for respectively nine and twelve months. Although I had stopped feeding Nina by now I was allowed to join as a temporary ‘honorary’ member. I loved the monthly group meetings and the women were keen to talk here, about babies and motherhood, subjects I could talk about too. I finally had a chance to step away from my close family and feel part of the wider community too. After a bad start with the English-living-in-France community intially I bonded well with June and a couple, Terrry and Joyce, who offered me cups of tea and compared notes on France. Both had huge conversions projects going but were more open to the locals and positive about their life there.

Marc was not a great talker but he managed. His teacher told me he was doing well. There was not much communication between school and home anyway, I collected Marc from outside the school gates, so unless there was a problem I had very little idea what he was doing. Nina meanwhile was learning to talk fast and as she approached 18 months of age her words came quickly. She mixed wildly, unlike Marc who had always taken care to separate the two languages. She would say things like ‘Give me lait!’ and ‘Me aime duck!’ Her grammar was mixed-up too; she said things like ‘I him like’, which was a reference to the French Je t’aime, where the pronoun preceded the verb. Nobody corrected her or bothered about her mixes. I would just repeat back the right words, as would Jacques in French.

Probably because she was our second child, and the fourth grandchild in France, we all assumed it would sort itself out. The fact that she was so chatty and communicative made you just understood what she wanted anyway! French was much more ‘real’ for her than it had been for Marc and she was very comfortable with both languages. French was all around, while in the house we mostly spoke English. I did have a few problems though, when the cousins came to play they would ask me to read. Most of our books were in English and I had to simultaneously translate, a task I am not so good at!

Jacques and I had to stop the gardening and house-clearing as Autumn arrived. By November the house we were living in was nearly finished and Jean had tenants coming in January. We realized that our sabbatical was coming to an end and Jacques would have to get a job in Paris or look for a job somewhere else. Surfing on the internet he saw many jobs advertised in the UK’s Financial Times, and began to apply. Very soon he was practically commuting to London as he traveled for numerous interviews with agencies and companies. He was trying to change his job focus from Project Manager to Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and had his work cut out proving to skeptical English interviewers that his French qualifications were sufficient, his English language excellent and that he was up to the challenge of a new job. We were quite open to live anywhere, and aimed for Asia at first. But as the options narrowed down and Christmas approached he still had no concrete job offer. One British company had expressed interest but had not got back to him.

Jacques decided to be closer to London and just before Christmas we moved all our belongings into storage in the house in Caunay. We went to live, temporarily, with my parents in Nottingham so Jacques could attend more interviews. It was a stressful time for us as we felt unsettled and were fast running out of savings. I missed France and the countryside life we had there and compared it unfavourably to the surburban life my parents had. However, it was good for the children to be with their English grandparents on a kind of extended Christmas holiday. At the end of January Jacques finally got a job as European CFO and was sent immediately to Berlin for two months to sort out the finances there. Since we had no school and no home yet I decided to join him with the children. Instead of the company paying for a good hotel for Jacques we were able to rent a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the center of Berlin for the same price. So off we flew to Berlin, traveling lightly and ready for some adventure again….

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