As we approach the end of our second month in France the theme for this update has to be “settling in.” Our shipments from the US have arrived, boxes have been unpacked, the kids are enjoying their autumn school break, and we have gotten our first French speeding ticket.
Having our things from the US has certainly helped to give us the feeling that we are “at home” and less like we are camping out in a furnished vacation rental. The arrival of our 20-foot container from the US was reportedly quite the event in town. The big yellow container rumbled through the center of the village and certainly didn’t go un-noticed. Several people commented to us that they saw it come through town, and I’m told a few even took photos.
Getting the monstrous truck up our narrow little road was truly a feat of master roadsmanship (yes, I made that word up). Unfortunately, the container and piano movers arrived before the rest of the furniture movers, and the driver had no idea how to open the sealed door. Luckily he had tools on hand: a big metal bar, a hammer and an old screwdriver, and proceeded to beat the hell out of the lock. After being hit in the face a few times with flying lock debris, it occurred to me that this was most likely not the way the lock designers intended it to be opened, and we must be missing some crucial piece of equipment, like a key or a bolt cutter. I asked the driver to pause the battering, and took a closer look. There was a small wire retaining-clip, that when removed with some pliers allowed what was left of the bent up locking pin to be pulled out by hand. Several "ahhhhs" later and the doors were open.
At last the frenetic weeks of arrival are behind us and it is beginning to feel less like being on vacation and more like being at home. There are small signs that we may one day be a part of this community: the lady at la boulangerie knows what bread we buy each day without us asking. It’s nice to walk in and be greeted with “Bonjour Monsieur Wallace, un rustique?” Le Rustique being the rustic loaf of bread we prefer for lunch sandwiches.
Another sign that we are not in vacation mode has been slowing down on the consumption of croissants. For the first couple of weeks breakfast each morning was accompanied by un croissant, un pain chocolat, un pain aux amandes, et un pain aux raisins, which in English translates to about a stick of butter.
Now our pastry consumption is limited to a once-a-week indulgence on Saturday or Sunday morning, or on market day which is Monday, or when passing through the village with some extra time to kill.
But definitely no more than 4 days per week maximum.
We reuse plastic containers over and over. The paella-maker is pleasantly surprised when we return each week with the same plastic container for him to refill, though he has yet to discount the price of our paella to account for the savings. The fancy glass yogurt jars make excellent juice glasses, and plastic shopping bags make good dog poo sacks (judging by the amount of dog poo on the sidewalk I think we are the only people in town familiar with the "poo sack" concept). Even honey containers can be recycled, though after a questionable batch of salad dressing had to be tossed out we no longer put extra hair shampoo in the empty honey squeeze bottle.
I think one of the greatest pleasures is being able to buy food at the local market. Finding an interesting recipe in a French cookbook, then buying the ingredients from a local farmer, makes cooking and eating feel like something that is connected to the community around us. The food choices here can be a bit overwhelming at times. Forget having only to choose between whipping and heavy cream--here there are about a dozen different levels of cream, each with a very specific use. France has over 400 kinds of cheese, and there are two full aisles in the supermarket devoted to yogurt. When we asked a french friend about the choices of cream she just shrugged and informed us that most of the people she knows make their own.
The performers were announced, and for the next sixty minutes we were treated to a classical concert that rivaled anything we have ever seen. The female musicians (a pianist originally from Japan and a violinist from Texas) were highly talented professionals (both performed in Paris for noted orchestras) and seeing them perform in such an intimate venue was truly a special experience. The audience gathered for un apéritif avec les artistes in the garden afterward where we met the home owner and many of her friends, one of which it turns out lives just up the road from us. One of the ladies gushed on and on en française to Felicia about what an enchanting evening it had been and thanked her so much for being there. It was only after a couple of minutes of blank stares that we realized she had mistaken Felicia for the Japanese pianist.
Speaking of la langue française, our lack of French language skills is certainly the single biggest obstacle we have to overcome. Felicia and I started French lessons from a local teacher, and of course the kids have eight hours a day of French in school. We get by day-to-day with a few words here and there, some memorized phrases, and lots of hand gestures, grunts, and wild gesticulation, and somehow we make ourselves understood. It helps that most people here speak better English than they let on, even if, as one self-depreciating seller of delicious pesto claimed, “I speak English like a Spanish cow.” Considering that his english was about 100 times better than my french, I must speak French like an Italian pig.
So as we settle in to our expat lives we raise a glass of wine (being careful to look you in the eyes and not cross glasses!) and toast "à votre santé."
Bonne journée et merci for following our French adventure.
Ken, Felicia, Paige and Ryan Wallace
très désolé = very sorry
la boulangerie = the bakery
un croissant, un pain chocolat, un pain aux amandes, et un pain aux raisins = various pastries
rue principale = main street
mas = farmhouse
un apéritif avec les artistes = a drink with the artists
en française = in french
la langue française = the french language
à votre santé = to your health
bonne journée = have a good day