La Vie est Belle: Our Life in France Part 1

We’re starting to settle into our new life in France after a few sleepless nights and some bank account drama... moving countries definitely takes it out of you. 

Today is the first day things have felt quite settled. We’re used to spending the summer holidays all together; we’ve both been secondary teachers since we met and so the six-week holiday is usually a time for us to catch up, enjoy each others’ company and then eventually piss each other off. So, our first week in Bordeaux has seemed a lot like a holiday - I even caught myself asking ‘but how would we get that back home...?’ when discussing buying something big. It took my brain a few seconds to catch up: oh, yes, of course, we are home.

Here’s a round-up of the things we’ve been up to on our non-holiday this week...

Taking it easy on ourselves...

We had to recover from a Really Big Fail - we all got eaten by mosquitoes on Day 2. First came the “but the mosquito’s family will be sad it won’t be going home now” sleepless night of disturbed 3-year-old witnessing insect murder by both her vegan/vegetarian parents. Then came the nights of itchy bites, attempting to convince a stubborn toddler (tautology?) that After several nights of being awake from 11-4am it felt like heaven to get 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Long may it continue. Because, as we know, ‘Mummy gets upset when it’s night time and we’re awake and we haven’t had a nap but we’re still awake even if it’s dark outside and not morning time yet.’ (Toddler’s summation of the situation.)

Getting to know the locals... 

Yesterday, I walked to the boulangerie with a ‘jolie princess’ and stopped off to get some fruit from the market. One of the main reasons we rented our flat was this market. Weekly, the huge square at the end of our road fills up from the early hours with stalls selling anything from sparkly pink headscarves (“Can I have one of those for my birthday peeeease?”) to a rainbow of fresh produce. 

Everyone wanted to chat to me about ‘La Reine des Neiges’ - I managed to get the 3 year old out so early and quickly by immediately agreeing to the Elsa costume. I felt confident speaking with them all and ended up speaking to ‘Elsa’ in French without her telling me to stop it. There are at least 10 different stalls selling fruit and veg so last week we picked sort of at random, checking who had a big-ish queue and assuming it was for their quality wares, not slow service. This week, the stall owner recognised me and so this time didn’t assume we’re on holiday. On our first meeting I politely informed him of my entire family history as a way of proving I was a real French person deserving of his best fruit, not some tourist! 

... and their strange penchant for paper forms and folders

I love a bit of admin - I’m the one who organises all the bills in our house and I usually take solace in this type of work. But when you’re doing admin in France it’s a whole other level of crazy. Especially when sleep deprived. By chance we ran into one of only two people we know in Bordeaux while she was on her lunch break. I told her all about our bank account woes and she did a perfect impression of the woman at the bank asking for a ‘dossier’ (folder containing all your info, including photocopies of everything because apparently that and fax machines are still a thing here) and claiming it will be ‘vraiment compliqué’. Everything requires a form, then another form handed in in person to a different place. It’s beyond my level of comprehension but it’s definitely teaching me something about patience... 

Remembering how to speak French 

As my family is out of town (like most of France, taking August off) the only French I’ve been speaking is in shops or to the numerous people we’ve been contacting about second hand bikes or furniture. It’s taken me a while to warm up but I think the French side of my brain (I know that’s not really how it works...) is starting to be a bit more switched on. I can confidently express myself and I’ve been reading a magazine I bought without having to look up too many words. I forgive myself, having not lived in France for two decades, for not knowing the words for fertiliser and some really specific sort of saving account.

... and moaning ‘il fait trop chaud!’

Basically everyone we’ve spoken to has assured us that we’ve come at the right time because it’s not so hot anymore. We were actually in Bordeaux at the back end of the too-close-to-50C weather... but it’s still ‘top chaud’ for me now. The weather, especially when you’re planning on moving, is pretty much unbearable. 

So far Bordeaux has been face-damp-at-all-times-I-just-want-to-be-in-water-24/7 style hot. We don’t have air conditioning (expensive, not-eco...) and so I have learned from those hot days in London and found swimming lakes to bathe in and the biggest, coolest supermarket to spend most of the rest of my time in. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to hang out in a French supermarket? Even as a vegan I’ve found so many things I want to eat I swear we’ve spent more on food this week than we usually did in a month in London.