Here in our little village the sun is out, the blossom is on the trees and it appears as if people are coming out from their hibernation. At our regular market here on a Tuesday people linger longer to chat, or sit outside the two little bars to share a drink, walks to school are enjoyed in the sunshine. Heaven.
Our youngest daughter is finally speaking consistently. She’s faced an uphill battle that I’ve spoken of before; a life endangering struggle when she was born meant she was fed intravenously, leaving her mouth muscles severely weakened. Added to that our move to France and moves within as well as other changes have also impacted upon her. Her use of English has developed significantly, which is a relief. She speaks a few french words, but understands everything.
I write all this just to let anyone who’s thinking of moving to France, or who’s already moved with young children and is experiencing this, to anticipate that there may be difficulties with very young children and language; but that things do work themselves out.
My own use of French is finally getting better. Twice recently people have commented how much my language has improved. I find myself expressing even my thoughts in English now with the french equivilant. Instead of saying ‘I’m happy about that’ I’ll say ‘I’m content with that’. I’ll automatically say ‘voila’ instead of there you go. The lines between the two worlds are a little more blurry.
Having said that it’s still as if we live in a glass box; you are there but the language and culture barrier limits your capacity to fully engage with what’s going on around you.
Yet I am deepening relationships, meeting people for coffee and having some English people over for dinner. Gradually I’m using ‘tu’ and not ‘vous’ – which is surprisingly hard. We don’t learn french from our parents of course, so swapping to the informal means becoming used to the different tense usage. Sometimes I swap between the two with people and when I realise worry that they’ll think I’m suddenly expressing annoyance. After all it was Josephine’s change to vous that enraged Bonaparte!
It was a battle to join the health system due to difficulties we’ve experienced caused by our accountant. However, when I expressed this to the directrice at the girls school she put me in contact with the mother of some of the pupils who worked in that department. Something which had taken me months of worry and heartache was suddenly resolved. I can not express to you have grateful I am for that.
There have been times, as I’ve spoken of, that this glass box has left me feeling a little isolated and lonely. When you’re an immigrant to a country where you must speak another language it’s hard. Not only have you got to think of how you express something, you have the difficulty of not being certain that the way you are saying it is the correct way in terms of social norms. We’re not aware just how much cultural and social knowledge we accumulate until we step outside.
This Spring showed me just how much has changed. Each year our little village has a vide grenier, a sort of car boot sale. Last year it was on Easter Sunday but, this year’s moon cycle being different, the same early April date didn’t clash with the feast.
A year ago the weather was grey at that time and we knew, well, no one really. The girls had only just started to their school as it was shortly after we’d moved here. The main street had lots of places to buy cooked food and eat outside. As I was alone with the girls I bought us lunch and we had it inside. I expected an early end to the fair, but my eldest kept coming into our bedroom at 9 and 10 o’clock as there was an open air bar and people were enjoying themselves. She found it exhilarating!
This year we were more prepared and, even though my husband was away again, my parents came over the night before to take part. The sun was shining, the village was full of stalls and activities (we only saw a fraction of what was on offer) and there was a party atmosphere throughout.
What really struck me though was how many people we now knew. Every few feet we would stop to greet and exchange kisses with someone, happily chat and move on until another friendly face meant we stopped again.
Our school runs are the same; stop, kiss, chat, stop, kiss, chat….