Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mr & Mrs or Madame & Monsieur....

The big day dawned and our party of guests prepared for a day which they had no idea what would happen. We hadn’t dared to ask for a rehearsal beforehand and we hadn’t even seen the room before. Jacques and I waited outside together with our best man, Matt and my best friend, Ella, and all walked down a kind of aisle, him on the left, me on the right. We met in the centre at an upholstered chaise-longue where we sat and waited. It was a lady doing the servic and she smiled. Our Hungarian friend, Anniko, translated the Hungarian for us into English and we said 'yes' in Hungarian at the right moments until she signaled to Jacques to put the ring on. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as it seemed such a familiar gesture to everyone in the room.

Then the French pushed us into the side of the room and filed past kissing us on both cheeks. My English family did the same although with some amusement. Outside my dad threw paper confetti, which mystified the French side. Should it not be rice they wondered? After a few photos in the park we went by taxi to the Marriott hotel for an afternoon tea of tea, cakes and pastries with champagne.

The evening dinner was at the top restaurant in Budapest - Gundels. We had not told anyone so they were surprised to see a private room with a Hungarian Gypsy group to play for us. We served Pineau de Charente cocktails, a drink from Jacques region in France. Then we ate. We were nervous when planning the menu, eager to please both sides of the family. The starter of a creamy soup was fine, followed by chicken with roasted vegetables. But the crunch came with the cheese. One big difference between French and English formal dining is that the French eat cheese after the main course and then end with dessert. The English choose to eat our cheese last, with a glass of port. Jacques always says the French would not want to kiss someone tasting of cheese so that’s why the sweet comes last!

After much heated discussion we went French-style for the cheese but I stuck out for the traditional two tiered English looking wedding cake that seemed essential. And we did the menu in both languages, although I have to admit that food mysteriously sounds better in French! Soupe aux legumes avec une crouton du Fromage aux Cheves is better than ‘Vegetable Soup with Melted Goat’s Cheese on Bread’, let’s face it!

My best memory is of my Dad and Jacques’ mother crooning together with the gypsy band, doing a karaoke versions of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie Est Belle’ and The Beatles ‘When I’m 64’.
So Mr and Mrs, or is that Madame and Monsieur, became married. And three months later became a family…..

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Banned by the embassies.

The British Embassy in Budapest charged me a small fortune to do my ‘bans’ which seemed silly as the likelihood of anyone popping in to see who was getting married that week and making a complaint that I was already married to him was unlikely. They joked behind my back ‘Funny one this one, English girl marrying French chap, ha ha!!!’ The French Embassy was much more serious and when they posted Jacques’ bans asked him to get his papers ready for signing the pre-nuptial agreement. French law states that you must sign either a general agreement of 50% split in the case of divorce or you can agree to a split of assets before you wed. The document covers provision for children too and shared properties and belongings. Most of my English friends found it shocking to even think about divorce, but since mixed-marriages have a high rate of divorce, it seemed prudent to at least consider it as a possibility.

We went to the local Hungarian registry office where we lived. Via a translator they said that they simply could not see why on earth an Englishwoman would want to marry a Frenchman in their office. They postponed and postponed. Meanwhile the Frenchwoman in charge was determined to stop Jacques making the biggest mistake of his life by marrying an English citizen. Her reason: ‘She doesn’t speak enough French.’ This was true as every time we met I was tongue-tied. Grilled by this sophisticated middle-aged coiffured and manicured lady I was shy and unable to answer her fast firing questions regarding assets, money to be split and what we would do in the case of divorce? But I wasn’t an imbecile and I knew what I was doing. Time dragged on and as my stomach swelled as we missed our planned summer wedding schedule. I would not fit in a white dress now I knew…

Eventually I went to moan to the British consulate and they used their diplomatic clout to convince the registry office to give permission. The registry office had only one slot free in 1996 (a cancellation perhaps?) - October 26th at 2pm. There was to be no discussion about the proposed date and we had to bring translated versions of all the relevent documents. Relieved it was at least a Saturday and before the baby was due we agreed quickly. All the documents had to be verified in Hungarian; our birth certificates, and proof of address, employment etc. Luckily I found the official English-Hungarian translators office in time and got the copies with the official red seal. So we were able to book the restaurant at last.

But the French embassy would not give up and days before we were due to marry stated that 'Your fiancée does not understand the document' - making it invalid. On the Friday before our wedding Jacques’ French family arrived a day early and they all accompanied us to the signing, piling onto the plush leather sofas of the Consul's office and showing their support for their non-French future daughter-in-law. We roped in a Hungarian-French translator who spoke some English and she sat between us simultaneously translating from the Consul's French into Hungarian and then back to English for me. After a few paragraphs the translator frowned and it was obvious she was not sure of the legal words in English. So Jacques offered to translate and she would agree to each sentence before we signed. It was not authorized but at least it worked and we could sign on the line, just in time...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wedding cake tiers or pyramids?

I moved to Budapest in the summer, and we put getting married as top priority. We had decided diplomatically that a traditional ‘English’ or ‘French’ wedding would not suit us. We felt since we were both the first child marrying in both families one family would hijack the wedding and possibly exclude the other family. I wanted it to be the same for both families not one family feeling out of place in the other’s country. Budapest was our temporary home and had a romantic connection so it was the perfect choice.

Weddings are very culturally specific I realized as I began to plan. English weddings are fussy, all the ladies wearing hats, the chaps in morning-suits and top hats and cute bridemaids and pageboys dressed to match the bride. Often the main aim for guests is getting as drunk as you can at the free bar. The church service is usually traditional – the well-known lines about promising to have and to hold until you die or for better or worse.

Everyone sits where they are told by the church ushers – bride’s family on one side, groom on the other. Then the couple and family pose for hours for photos by the church or in a nearby beauty spot. There is a lunch or a dinner, which is usually pretty awful, with dodgy prawns and under-cooked chicken or solid slabs of beef with silver service soggy vegetables and fussy sauces. Everyone is seated properly with a top table for the couple, close family and bridesmaids and best man. The cake is white and in tiers with rather tacky models of bride and groom or lots of sugar flowers. Early on in the night the bride throws her bouquet to a lucky girl who will marry next, and the couple disappears for their honeymoon, leaving everyone with a disco for amusement or Scottish dancing till they drop drunk or with food poisoning.

In France it starts formally, before the ceremony the couple signs a pre-nuptual legal document in front of their guests to agree on the split of assets. French weddings are usually Catholic and have long masses which I never understand except the Halleluiah and Amen bits. Hats are frowned on, and I was once asked to take mine off in church as it was blocking the view. You can sit wherever you like in church and photos are done as a group shot and over quickly.

After the service there are long dinners with ten courses (if you include all those amuse bouches or glasses of sorbet in between). The food is very good and well cooked and beautifully presented on the plate. Even in a tent it looks good. Seating is less formal and the bride and groom often sit at a table like everyone else. For a cake they usually have a pyramid of stuffed profiteroles called a piece montee literally glued in place by rock-hard caramel. You are served two or three profiteroles per person. The party lasts until 3am or 5am and includes lots of dancing and waltzing with the bride and groom taking centre stage. Sometimes friends will perform a sketch or sing a song for the couple or play games to amuse or embarrass the couple. The couple stays all night and even hangs around on the Sunday too to offer more food and another day of eating and drinking with friends and family.

We decided to invite our families and a few friends to come to Budapest and put up both families in hotels for the weekend. We were just 25 in all, which was good for me as I hated big weddings. We decided to have some parts of each wedding culture. Religion – none as he is Catholic and I am Church of England and neither of us wanted to go to the other’s ones church. Food – Posh and French-inspired food and wine in a good restaurant. Lots of wine and music from Hungarian musicians. Hats were welcomed as was an English-style tiered cake and an English afternoon tea in between wedding service and dinner. And most importantly we would stay and look after our families the whole weekend and not run off and abandon them. Once the plans were made our first action was to register with both embassies for our bans....

Babies and springtime in Paris

In 1996 I found my life busy enough to even think about getting married and having babies, although I could have quite happily adopted some of the wonderful kids I taught. However, family came rather sooner than I had planned. I had stopped taking the Pill after a health scare linked to thrombosis, and after a routine check up in England was told I had something wrong with my cervix. I had to go back to Poland and find a gynecologist there. The woman rambled on and on and then gave me a prescripion in Polish. Misunderstanding my Polish doctor, and being too shy to ask my Polish colleagues to come and translate for me I did nothing. I assumed that there was a major problem and I could not get pregnant. This was the complete opposite of what she said.

So after returning from the April Easter holiday break in Budapest I felt rather odd and nauseous and after waiting a few weeks I decided to do something about it. In May Jacques and I had been invited to a wedding in France and we met at Roissy airport in Paris. I bought a test at the airport, with much embarrassment as the French woman couldn’t understand me when I mumbled ‘Enceinte?’ and finally with some gesturing sold me the blue stick test. We did the test in the hotel and it was positive straightaway.

Jacques seemed very happy and we went out for dinner in a daze, romantically deciding our first child would have the name of a street in Paris. We ate somewhere around Rue St.Denis, but in the end Dennis didn’t really seem such a good name after all! On the 1st of May he proposed as we wandered around the Jardins Publique holding the tradtional symbol of spring , a sprig of lily-of-the-valley or muguet and I, of course, said yes right away.

After the wedding we went to visit his family who seemed happy. To see if I would make the grade his mother passed me the newest member of the family. Francois was just six weeks old and the first child of Jacques brother, Phillippe and his girlfriend Gaelle. Holding this tiny doll of a baby was comforting that at least he seemed calm with me. As he looked up at me I sang the English lullaby ‘Rock a Bye Baby’ and told him how cute and handsome he was. Everyone around the kitchen table looked at me. Then Gaelle said in French with a shocked voice ‘But he doesn’t speak English!’ Not knowing whether to laugh or cry I passed him back. It occurred to me that I would have to either learn a few French lullabies and Basic French Baby Small-Talk or try to convince them that this wonderful future cousin of my baby inside me could be bilingual too… my baby would surely be….

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eastern Europe - so near and yet so far

Our jobs were undemanding, he was home at around five pm every night and my jobs in a Chinese Art Gallery bookshop in London and teaching English to summer school kids were easy and finished early too. Our evenings were spent cooking, walking in the summer or talking. We talked a lot, now he could speak good English and English became our language of communication together.

Our jobs were merely stepping stones and when an expatriate job came up teaching English and Art in the British School in Warsaw I accepted it straightaway, knowing that Jacques had his eyes set on a job Eastern Europe too and we both loved a new challenge.

I moved to Warsaw in September of 1995 and Jacques found a job as a Consultant in a software company in Budapest in the beginning of 1996. I loved my job, teaching English in the morning to children who needed extra support and Art in the afternoons. The kids were easy, the classes were small and I was part of the British School community which was active and busy. We celebrated all the festivals and enjoyed doing shows and putting on shows and Open Days.

Warsaw was just opening up to the western world and it was an exciting time to be there. Tourists were pouring in to enjoy the cheap food and vodka and to see what Poland was like after so many years of communism. The Jewish ghetto was still there to see along with numerous graveyards and memorials to soldiers and wars. I was deeply touched by Auschwitz and the other camps. I particularly loved Krakow which was like a film set, untouched and wonderfully medieval with its huge open market square and café and shops surrounding it. We felt rich, even as teachers, and could enjoy buffet Sunday breakfasts in the top hotels and tickets to the opera and concerts. We drank Russian Champagne in the interval. This was something I couldn’t do in London and it was fun. The winters were long and proper and snowy. You wore hats, scarves and boots all the time and when you went to the theatre you took your delicate high heels in a shoe-bag and left your boots with your coat at the entrance.

I loved taking the trains to visit Jacques in Budapest in my holidays. Old fashioned clanking noisy trains that seemed like they were from another century, full of travelers crossing Eastern Europe on overnight trips. The Budapest train left at nine at night and arrived at dawn the next day. I usually booked a sleeper carriage and liked chatting with the other people. I only slept a few hours, because customs officials would bang on the door every three hours or so as we crossed the Poland-Czech and Czech-Hungary borders. Uniformed police woke you up banging on the doors and checking for valid passports. I would hang out of the window as we arrived at Keleti station, watching the world go by and we clanked into Budapest, savouring the start of a new day.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Two, three or four kisses? French etiquette....

The long-distance relationship was romantic but I felt like we needed some time together to see if we worked in real-life. So when my contract in Japan finished in November 1994 I headed back to England and Jacques. He had changed dramatically in four years, his long hair in a pony tail was now cut short and neat and he wore suits and ties. He had a degree and was very career minded. Seeing England through his eyes was fun and we had a great time driving around England in his brown Mini car. After the mental challenge of living and working in Japan I needed a simple life and that was what he had. A few months later I got a job in London and moved into his house there. We became a couple.

For our first Christmas together he decided to introduce me to his family in France. I arrived on the 27th, planning to spend two or three days with them before we went to Paris for a New Year’s Eve Party. Jacques met me in Poitiers at the station and we drove back. I was scared and rightly so. Jacques told me all his family was at home plus a few other friends. There would be his parents, Odile and Rene, his three brothers Pierre, Philippe and Jean and sister Lucie who made up his famille nombreus or ‘big family’.

When I arrived the door opened about eighteen people stood up simultaneously to greet me. I had to kiss them one by one two or sometimes three times. This was very daunting for an English girl who only kisses close family, which is more of a hug than the French side to side technique. I was dizzy and dazed by the end of it. Then they all sat around the huge kitchen table while his mother made some tisane or herbal tea. They all stared at me, as if expecting me to say something, which of course I could not! Jacques’ older brother, Pierre, started firing off questions on the lines of How many brothers and sisters do you have? Where does your family live? etc. They were not difficult questions but spoken fast and I was dumb-struck with fear of not understanding the question right or not having the right answer. So I blushed red and tried to drink my tea and eventually they gave up and chatted about me between themselves. It was humiliating.

I soon realized that I could speak French but only with one or maximum two people at a time, say if I was helping his mother to set the table or sat next to a family member at lunch, or saying a hello to a curious neighbour. But I couldn’t do big groups where I just froze linguistically, and I found the whole kissing thing very tricky. I was also expected to kiss the family goodnight and good-morning. But after a few days it seemed almost normal and prepared me for the Paris party where much kissing went on between total strangers and this time four kisses! When I protested at so many they laughed and said ‘In my region we kiss four times’ and kept on going! I had to remember to always take my glasses off on arriving and departing and watch the persons head, as if you both go the same way – disaster! I realised you should not bump noses or go too fast or too slow either. I told Jacques I could have done with some coaching before stepping into this social etiquette, but it was too late, I had met them now.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lost In Translation

Even though I was living with someone else Jacques kept on writing his pages of French to me. He was still studying and traveling a lot as usual. In 1992 I planned a trip to Paris to visit an art exhibition with my sister. I sent a postcard to his home address and two days later his mother rang to inform me that Jacques was in Singapore on a student work placement. She said she was sorry we couldn’t meet and looked forward to meeting me soon. Was there more going on than I thought? What had he told his mother? Why did she make the effort to call me?

As fate had it I ended up in Asia too. After graduating from Nottingham I worked for a few years in the Hayward Art Gallery in London and did a couple of seasons as a Chalet Girl cooking in France and Austria in ski resorts over the winter. A friend of mine was applying for a TEFL course and said that teaching English was fun and let you travel the world while working. This sounded ideal for me, who liked talking to people from other countries and learning a new skill.

I trained as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in 1993. The first job I applied for, and got at the first interview, was for NOVA, a huge English Teaching company in Japan. I secretly hoped Jacques was still in Singapore, thinking maybe we could meet in the middle, in say Hong Kong? But no, he was back in France and looking for a way to avoid doing his obligatory one year of French National Service in the army. He found out that with his studies he could offer to work for a year in a Developing Country, helping with financial administration in a French company. After applying for exciting posts in Saudi Arabia and Africa to his dismay he ended up being sent to England. Meanwhile I flew out to Osaka, to start my new life in the city of Wakayama.

Jacques worked for a French pharmaceutical company, and was based in Gerrards Cross in the western suburbs of London. He had an easy life and was enjoying the cultural mix of London with time and money to spare and wrote glowing reports of England to me. However I still really couldn’t translate his letters. I would sit in the staffroom between classes in the language school ‘reading’ them. One day my American colleague and friend, Ella, asked who it was from. ‘A French ex.’ I said ‘I met him when I was a student, and I can’t seem to stop him writing to me, even though we split up.’
‘Wow' Ella said 'what does he say then?'
‘Actually I can hardly understand his letters.’ I admitted for the first time 'But to be honest I really look forward to getting his letters…'
'Ah!' Ella said 'let me have a look, I studied French at University!'

Curiosity got the better of me and I let her read them through. 'Hey!' she said when she had finished, ‘He sure likes you a lot!’
‘No, but it’s all over!’ I replied, suddenly wondering if he had ever understand that it was over, and maybe I didn't make it very clear...
‘Not what he says here…’ and she translated a very moving part about him buying a house and thinking of me….us….together one day…

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'll be wearing a yellow t-shirt on Platform One….

My trip around Eastern Europe was full of highs and lows. The first overnight ferry ride to Holland was bleak and I felt lonely. A boyfriend would have been nice. The daily booking of sleeper trains and leaving my rucksack at the station exhausted me. I was surrounded by jolly happy groups of English and American backpacking friends having fun while I pined for Jacques. However on the sleeper train to East Berlin I met a young German student from Berlin called Viktor who invited me to meet his theatre designer sister, Nina. I ended up staying with their friend, David, and meeting all their family and friends. I experienced the city through their eyes when it had just opened up to Western influences and really felt lucky to have met such kind people.

After Berlin I went to Prague, which seemed very quiet without my Berlin friends to show me around. So after doing the tourist sights and visiting a few museums I left early for Budapest and booked in at a student hostel. Jacques was due to arrive the next day and I tried to find where he could staying but with no luck. The travel agency seemed to have no idea if the train was on its way or if it had ever left Beijing.

Before we left we had made an arrangement to meet. Like a romantic film we had agreed to meet at the main station in Budapest at Platform One at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I said that I would wear a yellow t-shirt. At midday I went to the busy central Keleti station where I had arrived, and I waited and waited by the platform. By one-thirty I was really bored and wondered if he had stood me up or was still stuck on the train? Jacques however had gone to the station where his train arrived - Nyugati, on the other side of Budapest. We were doomed. Luckily he had the sense to check out stations both while I stayed put in the station café feeling sorry for myself and drinking coffee. He eventually arrived, also dressed in a yellow t-shirt and chinos and looking like a mad explorer, after his week on the train.

We had some great times together in Budapest, feeling rich and eating out in restaurants. We loved Cold Cherry Soup and Goulash and eating cakes at the cafes by the Danube. We walked, talked and visited art galleries and parks. At the end we went to see a concert together. It was Brahms and it made us both feel sleepy. We were sitting behind a beautiful couple, who looked like they had a great life together. I was sure they had a stunning apartment in Budapest overlooking the Danube….I was jealous and wished for some stability and reality in our fairy-tale romance.

In the interval we went out for some fresh air, and with my thoughts on couples I decided to ask him what would happen next and how serious he was. I outlined all the possible options, me live in France, him live in England, we both go somewhere else etc. But my timing was bad, he was very tired (his train-journey was catching up with him) and not really listening, although he looked like he was.

Therefore when I asked him outright ‘So do you love me?’ He replied in English ‘Yes! I like you!’ In retrospect this was a stupid question, as he had spent the whole year declaring his love to me via his letters and gifts. However, Like and Love are not the same verb in English, although if I had cast my mind back fours years I should have remembered that from French at school. How many times did I conjugate the verb aimer? But I took it as a verbal slap in the face and decided it was over. He mumbled something about having to get back for his studies. I found out later that he did actually have an important exam to pass to get on the Masters course so he simply had to get back to Paris, but of course I had no idea at the time. All the train traveling for days on end had made him rather incoherent too.

He accompanied me charmingly to the train station for my last stopover in Vienna and at the last minute hopped on with a bunch of dried flowers. Why dried flowers? Was there a meaning there? Were we dead too? I had no chance to ask as the train began to move…So, due to terrible miscommunication I took off back to London and met someone else.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rendezvous in Paris...

We both went back to our respective universities in September and continued sending each other letters, tapes and little mementos to each other. His letters were usually five pages long and in French. French was a language that I knew mainly from my truly pathetic attempts to study it at school, with a series of terrible bored teachers handing out lists of vocabulary and conjugasions. As a family we had visited France several times and I was always the one sent to buy a baguette or the entrance ticket but my French was basic and, like most English people, I couldn't pronounce the rolling 'r' and vowels very well. The usual response to my verbal French was ashrug of the shoulders and a 'je ne comprends pas...'

I did manage to scrape an 'O' level in French in 1986 but only with extra home tuition. My writing was childish to say the least and at the best boring, on the lines of 'Il fait beau aujourd'hui.'(it's sunny today). So when my French love-letters arrived in the post I had no idea what he was talking about half the time. I certainly had never been given that kind of spelling to learn. So I wrote back to Jacques in English, the same chatty five pages describing my life, my work and my thoughts. I did listen to the tapes though, which to me when I translated them as best I could, were suicidal. A chap called Jacques Brel singing about a lost postman or a dead son? It was awful and I began to wonder if I was missing the plot? Why would anyone send such sad songs?

We had a brief rendezvous in the autumn of 1989, when I was in Paris researching Raoul Dufy, the French painter for my art history dissertation. Jacques was passing through Paris too that weekend. We met for dinner near the Gare du Nord. It was a set-menu and we hardly ate anything except the dessert, mousse au chocolate, which came in a huge bowl with two spoons to share. Our language was limited but we communicated with gestures and smiles. Shortly after the meal he announced he had to go for a haircut. I wondered if I was understanding him properly. A haircut? Instead of a night with me? I found after several years later that he was going to stay with a family friend who was a hairdresser and he could not avoid it. My hopes of a romantic liaison in Paris were dashed as he courteously deposited me at the hotel nearby and practically ran away for his train!

Still the romance continued on paper and with the odd phone call. In the spring of 1990 I was writing my dissertation on the French painter and artist Raoul Dufy. A new book was published in France, which catalogued all his work and was essential to my work. My university librarian said there was no hope of it ever coming to their shelves since it was in French and expensive. Then the glossy newly printed book arrived in the post - a present from Jacques! That was the best thing he could have done and surpassed a million red roses and boxes of chocolates! I dedicated my dissertation to him.

For the long summer holiday in 1990 he invited me to accompany him on the Trans-Siberian Express from Budapest in Hungary to Beijing in China. It was only 60$ return trip. But the thought of being stuck on a train for a week was off-putting (where did you wash and what about toilets?) and I wasn't that bothered about seeing China then. I was more interested in Eastern Europe. So I declined and he went ahead anyway. But since I didn't have a job lined up I decided to have one last interesting summer holiday before my student card ran out. I booked a month long student Euro rail pass to cross Eastern Europe. Inter-railing for a month round Europe by train in the summer was so popular it could almost have been included in the university curriculum, but East Berlin, Prague and Budapest? These countries had just broken their Communist ties and were opening up to freedom. That was exciting! So I planned to meet Jacques on his return in Budapest. He would recount his tales of Russia and China and I would have some adventures in Eastern Europe on the way...

“Are you Jewish then?” - how we met

So a French-English couple! Where did you meet? People often ask us with the hope of an interesting story to entertain the dinner table or fill in time while waiting for a train or a plane. “Well, we actually met in Israel in 1989. We were both spending our summer holidays working on a Kibbutz” Then they ask about our religion, sometimes assuming we are Jewish or have Jewish roots. No neither of us is Jewish, although we both loved Jewish people, music and the kibbutz life. It was simply fate that we ended up meeting there.

Jacques was a mere teenager of nineteen when we met and I was two years older. It was my last student holiday before graduating in my Art and Design course at Nottingham University in England. Spending a summer on a kibbutz was a popular option in my faculty and a student agency organized trips, with five weeks working and two weeks holiday at the end. Israel sounded like an adventure and was an easy way to travel around, meet people and work while not spending much money. Jacques was doing a degree in Economics at Poitiers University, France and part of his course required a paper on communal living. We worked in teams from 6am to lunch on the fields out in the Negav Desert. He drove the tractor, while I planted and watered melon seeds in the dry desert soil of Eilat. We spent the afternoons by the pool or sleeping and at six pm we all ate together in the communal dining room and in the evening watched a film, had a disco or kibbutz-organised entertainment such as traditional dances or barbecues on the beach. It was a simple life and a great mix of young backpackers from all around the world. We were a mixed group of Irish, Brazilian, Australian, South African, English and French. The communal language was English but Jacques didn’t speak much; he just smiled and liked to clown around a lot. I wanted to talk to him but my French was so awful I just gazed at him from a distance.

On August 12th it was Jacques’ birthday and we had a party for him. Some of the young kibbutz staff had made him a cake and we danced the night away. Jacques had already been there for a few weeks and he was very popular. After the disco we all watched the August shooting stars, which I had never seen before and was stunned by the display of lights literally raining down on us in the dusty garden of Kibbutz Eilat. Someone said ‘make a wish’ and I wished impulsively that I could see Jacques again!

Afterwards in high spirits we decided to go ‘skinny dipping’ in the Kibbutz pool. I was rather reluctant, I hate water and in the dark it really scares me, but I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. Skinny dipping was forbidden in the kibbutz but it was easy to climb over the fence and have a quick splash before the guards came. We all ran to the pool, jumped in, some naked, some still dressed. Soon the security guards heard the noise and everyone ran for it.

I ran by instinct to the female changing rooms, and a few minutues later Jacques peeped round the door looking for a place to hide. So with some embarrassment we sat silently in the changing room and waited for the guards to go away. We dare not go out for fear of being caught. To pass the time we whispered stories about our families, our hopes, dreams and plans for the rest of the holiday. Eventually we crept out and sneaked into the kibbutz canteen and made hot coffee and raided the fridge. The romance bloomed and we spent the next few days together, usually under the cover of darkness as we didn’t want everyone to know.

But as fate had it he had to leave for a trip to Egypt after just a few days and I was stuck on the kibbutz for another month. But this split was wonderful as he began to write long flowery love letters in French to me on the kibbutz telling of his undying love and sadness that I wasn’t with him. I made him Friendship bracelets from cotton thread and sent him photos.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Notes from the OPOL family - what is it all about?

This blog was set up by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert, teacher of English as a second language and author of Language Strategies for Bilingual Families - The one-parent-one language approach.

I have been researching bilingualism and multilingualism for nearly ten years, and it is closely linked with my personal family life as a bilingual family. I am English, married to a Frenchman, Jacques and we have lived as expats in Budapest, Cairo, Zurich and Kuala Lumpur. We also spent time in England and France. We have three children, who are more-or-less bilingual, Marc (9), Nina (7) and Gabriel (3).

I wrote a dissertation on Trilingual Families in 1999 as part of my Masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. This led to a post on the Editorial board of the quarterly Bilingual Family Newsletter as writer and advisor for families. In 2001 I proposed to write an academic book on the pro's and con's of the well-known one-parent-one-language approach or OPOL. This book was published in 2004 and since then I have been doing talks and seminars on bilingualism and also writing an informal diary on our OPOL family in the Bilingual Family Newsletter.

This blog is a way to tell people about the reality of being an OPOL-family, the funny side, the frustrations, the language miscommunications and the decisions on schooling and langauge use that we have to make on a regular basis. It compliments the BFN column and gives readers some idea of how the family language use evolves over time and with more children!

I hope it helps any families in a similar situations - couples with two or even three languages, those living in a country with a different language or those parents wanting their child to speak another language.

Please contact me with your comments, and if you want a more academic summary of my book please go to http// The book can be ordered through my publisher, Multilingual Matters in the UK. Their website is: http//