A slow journey to France

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February 2019

Our journey

You are brave…

As our leaving date hurtled towards us we both tried to see friends and family before we left. Inevitably the conversation involved some discussion of what we were doing. The usual comment was ‘oh, you are brave…’.
I have been thinking about this, I don’t think of myself as a brave person, I haven’t been in a situation where I have had to be brave in the sense of risking myself for others. I don’t know how I would react in that situation other than if my children were involved.

I know that there are millions of people who are leaving their homes, families and communities to escape violence, persecution or poverty. Are they brave? I think that they are braver than me. I have, with my husband made a choice to move to another country, to live another life. We have that luxury.

I can only think that we are all travelling with hope; our hope is that the new life we are dreaming about will enable us to spend more time with our children, building a life and a business which reflects at least some of our beliefs. For many, many others the hope is simply to live safely. That is not a luxury.

We are the outsiders who have moved to another country, are joining another community. We know that we must work hard to integrate, learn the language and join in where we can; contributing by establishing a business which can support us and contribute to the local economy in a sustainable way, contributing not consuming.

Real bravery is being afraid but carrying on despite that fear. So no, I don’t think I’m brave. We have done a lot of research, planned our move over the last couple of years, tried to get to the best position that we could before we moved. I was not afraid of making the move, foolhardy perhaps, almost certainly naïve, unrealistically optimistic, definitely anxious but not afraid.

However, since we have been here I think I have seen real bravery; in our daughter. She has had to leave a life that she loved, with family and lots of friends at school and in our wider community. It has been a very difficult move for her and like all of us she has found ways of expressing her anger and sadness, most of which have been quite challenging for us. Yes, she was afraid on her first day but she walked into her classroom. With help and encouragement from us and her new teacher she survived the first day and even smiled when we picked her up at lunchtime (it helped that Granny and Grandpa had come over for her first week and had promised to take her out for lunch). Her teachers at her new school have reassured us that she is progressing well and has even started to ‘help’ in their English lessons. She has overcome her fears, learning to live a life in a different language and make friends. Yes, like us she misses the people we have left behind but technology allows us to keep in touch. She continues to blame us for making her leave her family and friends but lives in hope of the dog that we promised her we would find once we had a permanent home here. This is one hope that we will do everything we can to fulfil although I am not sure about her plans for the dog to have a litter of puppies that she can keep as well …

Our journey

A slow French Christmas

Christmas in France

We are now in the depths of January, and yes it does get really cold here in Toulouse. It is a time to reflect on our first Christmas in France, not a French Christmas but our Christmas in France. We hope we had the best of both… and have begun to create some new family traditions.
Guess what? The reindeer still know where we live, they still like carrots and they still left their trail of magic sparkles. It was decided that Papa Noel did not need any whisky, not sure I agree with that!

Like the rest of our life in France, there was a lot of ‘the same but different’. The build up was more low key, even at school. There was not quite the same continual ramping up of excitement to a fever pitch although the children were all tired at the end of term.

Our perception of low key, may be due to not getting out and about as much as we might have done because of the Gilet Jaune protests. These provided a strange counterpoint to the Christmas build up. Our conversations with the locals demonstrated a growing frustration at the violence and disruption despite some sympathy for some of the stated aims of the protestors. There was a strong feeling that those most affected were not those at whom the protests were aimed. Many small business and artisans were losing money through lost custom. For those at the main Marche de Noel, Christmas sales could be a significant part of their income. It is always the little people that get hit the hardest, even when people are trying to defend the little people!

It did feel like a lot of the anger was similar to the frustration that was behind the reasons that many people voted to leave in the Brexit referendum. We will see where it goes….

The decorations in shops and the quartiers across the city were also more understated than many in the UK but with added French style. Even the TV adverts did not seem quite as relentless, maybe that impression is due to my French still being very much a work in progress!

In France, as in other parts of Europe, the celebrations are on Christmas Eve, with a big family gathering to eat and exchange of presents. The focus seems to be on families enjoying time and food together, which really fits with us and our SLOW principles and ambitions for our business and our lives.

There is lots of seafood and particularly huitres (oysters). These, like many foods in France are taken very seriously with different ratings and prices. They are displayed live, not to all people’s tastes but with a drop of champagne can be amazing!

We became aware that presents really are exchanged on Christmas Eve when we heard the sound ‘weeeeeee!’ in the park opposite our apartment as someone tried out their new bike at about 11.00 pm !!!

Christmas eve seafood fest

Christmas Day felt very much like the day after the night before… It was very quiet

We had a busy morning, checking that ‘he had been’ and a range of skateboards, roller blades and some very nice crémant from Samaur with bacon sandwich’s. Yes, we have found a butcher who makes good bacon, a little different but definitely good.

After this we all needed some fresh air and an opportunity to try out all the new ways to break something. We were practically the only ones in the park, and certainly the only ones with reindeer antlers and other Christmas head gear! Les Anglais!… more crémant needed, the rosé from Bordeaux was particularly festive!

Slow sustainable symmetrical

More people had emerged by the time we had lunch, a lovely goose with all the trimmings, followed by a very significant cheese board with desserts. Yes, we did them together, please don’t tell anyone! No Christmas pudding this year but it is on our ‘to do’ list to make one for next year and do it properly with everybody stirring and a silver thrupenny bit ( or similar).

The 26th December is a normal working day here which made Christmas a shorter ‘event’. But this fits with our growing understanding of some of the cultural differences. The build up and Christmas itself showed a different approach to life. There is no direct French translation for ‘am excited’. I don’t think that French people don’t get excited but that there is a greater appreciation of living in the moment, not focusing on what is going to happen and building things up, but just savouring the now. It is more ‘etre’ than ‘avoir’!

We still managed to make it last and had a wonderful few days doing not much but savouring the moment, the food, the wine ( and the odd whisky!)

New Year in Toulouse was also different, the market and food shops were more busy than at Christmas. Again it appeared it was all about spending time with friends and family and enjoying food, lots of food. We didn’t see any fireworks and we couldn’t find a French Jules Holland on the TV. That maybe one tradition which doesn’t travel well.

The finale is 6th of January with 12th Night, which is another special night here. And yes, there are more food traditions, the Galette des Roi. This is a
frangepan puff pastry with a crown and a special gift inside , bringing good luck to the person who finds it in their slice ( or nearly a new tooth as I found out!). More traditions around what to drink with it, with cidre and champagne being the done thing. We were invited to a neighbour for a do, the first we had been to a French soirée! Hopefully more to come as it was the night I was flying back to the UK for work…ho hom!

We have also made progress with the property search but more on that to come …