Culture Shock part deux

We’ve been living in France now for 18 months and there are some things that we just love and others not so much and just cannot imagine ever getting used to.  I thought I’d make a note of some of these cultural bits & bobs before I get too Frenchy-fide and start to think they are normal.

Things I love about French life:

  1. Sundays – these are family days in France, pretty much nothing is open other than some cafés, restos and museums.  I love this!  Even our local hypermarket is closed most Sundays, so no family outing to Carrefour (shame – not!).  Sundays are a day to see friends and family, or to curl up on the sofa and watch the 6 Nations or a Fred & Ginger DVD.  Yes! love love loveleek
  2. The food – fruit and veg in France taste like they are meant to.  Cucumbers have a flavour – yeah crazy huh? Tomatoes are red and juicy.  I am guessing that travelling that little bit further to the UK can often be to the detriment of flavour, but I’m no expert
  3. aperoApero – what a great concept!  A great way to meet neighbours and spend time with friends having a little tipple and a nibble of something
  4. Bonjour – whenever you go anywhere, and sometimes just walking down the street, people say ‘Bonjour’.  You walk into the boulangerie not only do the people working there say bonjour but so do all the customers waiting, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the school gate (however, just to add, lovely as this is, getting past a mere ‘bonjour’ is not an easy nut to crack)

Things I find I can cope with:

  1. Bises – After 18 months I think I am finally getting used to when and how to give the french ‘bises’ bises(welcome cheek kisses).  It’s not simple people!  For example, on a Thursday and Friday I drop Victor off at our childminder at 9h – Bises – we chat and I leave – no bises – I then go and pick him up at 17h – no bises – and then I leave with Victor in tow – Bises.  As long as we never move region we’re ok for now but I still have an issue when meeting non-frenchies living here, are they or are they not ‘bises’ people??!
  2. Vous/voyez vs Tu/Toi – basically, if you meet someone new you always ‘vous’ them unless they are a child.  Wait for them to initiate the ‘toi-ing’.  Unless it’s someone in a professional position, such as a doctor/teacher and then always ‘vous’.  Oh and you always always ‘vous’ the older generation, even your own grandparents.  Simple right?
  3. The French medical system – I have to say this took a while to get used to.  The UK has it so easy with the NHS, it being free and all.  However, although yes I still don’t have my carte vitale (my card making me eligible for health care) I can still receive the care I need it just makes the admin side of things a bit slower (never good!).  Our experiences so far have been very good.  For example: Rog recently saw the doctor about an issue he has with his knee, appointment the next day, “yes, you have a problem; here have 10 sessions with a physio and an X-ray of your knee.”  He was offered an X-ray the next day and then started with the physio 4 days later.  No waiting, no letters saying your next appointment is in 4 weeks.  Bish bash bosh here you go.  I still can’t understand why the French take soooo many extra vitamins and can be hypochondriacs about some things, but I have started to now be much better at giving Victor his VitD (which the doc always asks me if I am doing), so perhaps I am turning a little French after all!

Things I just don’t think I’ll ever get used to/still don’t understand:

  1. The French way of driving – Oh My Days!  I’ve heard Italians are bad but seriously people, to quote the great Take That, “‘av a little patience!”  French drivers are very quick to use their horn but not so much their indicators, to overtake even if they are then about to turn off the road and need to then pull in-front and across of you, to not stop at pedestrian crossings and to drive up on the curb, over a footpath and on to a side road if they are stuck in a queue (yes I saw this happen – twice!).  Let’s not even mention the fact that they just cannot do roundabouts properly, I mean seriously, you are not meant to drive all the way around a roundabout on the outside!  Argh! Oh and traffic lights appear to be merely a suggestion rather than an obligation, at least to the average Renault driver
  2. Nights out – I haven’t been on loads of these but I’m still confused as to what the culture is.  I think the meal is the most important thing, therefore when us Brits are usually in the pub by 22h, French people are still eating and being merry in a resto and may not venture out until well after 23h.  Then I believe they would usually head home and continue festivities there, but that doesn’t account for how many bars there are…are these just for students?  I don’t get it.  Perhaps more research is required…
  3. Cooking – it seems to me that the french, despite their reputation, don’t actually cook much.  gouterFor a start, finding a rental property with an oven, or even a space for one, is not an easy task.  As the majority of people work full-time, earn Tickets Restos (lunch vouchers) and have a 2hr lunch break, so they can afford the time to eat out most days at a local Brasserie or such like. Kids then get a ‘gouter’ (snack) at about 17h to get them through to a lighter meal of say pasta or a salad and baguette at about 20h.  I have cooked and prepared a number of things for french people and they are always amazed that I have prepared something from scratch.  I’m not convinced the french are so good at cooking as they are eating (out)
  4. Drink driving/using your phone while driving – although both illegal a lot of people are happy to do this.  The phonenumber of people I see on their phones while they are driving is shocking.  The French government have just brought in a law making even hands-free sets illegal, I’m not sure this will change much. And families going over to friends’ houses with their kids, all staying up to the wee hours of the morning and having had their fill of booze, getting back into their car to drive home…WITH THEIR KIDS IN THE BACK!!
  5. Begging on the street – as I’ve mentioned in another blog this is one thing that shocks me still (thankfully – I hope it always does).  Even yesterday I was taking some money out at the cash machine and a little Romany girl came and walked with me for a while asking for money.  We chatted a bit but she didn’t speak much French or English; it’s so hard to communicate when what they want is a few euros put in their battered paper cup

Well there’s my list for now.  There are many more things great, bizarre and silly that I could waffle on about (French admin, school holidays, opening hours, Sunday quiet time, war sirens) but perhaps another day.

Moving culture always takes some kind of adjustment. I guess we all spend our lives adjusting to what the culture around us is doing and saying even if we have never moved.  I am conscious that it can be so easy to look at all these differences with a proud ‘we do it best’ attitude, but who does that help?  I could certainly write a very similar post about British culture.  French culture is different, it just is.  Who am I to say we do it better?

La Rentrée – Starting School for Parents

For any parent the first day of school for your precious little one is daunting.  Will they cry when we arrive and when I then leave?  Will she make friends? Will the teacher be nice and not like scary ancient Miss Robbinson, my teacher when I was 5?  Will she be obedient and not throw those awful strops she throws at home? Will she eat the canteen food?  Will she join in?

Mim at School

Mim at School

Our little Mim started French Maternelle earlier this month.  We’d been chatting about it at home for months before and she was excited and ready for a new challenge.  The first day arrived and off we all trundled, actually we piled into the car cos we were running late.  She didn’t cry but wandered straight into the classroom, found the toy kitchen and started yabbering away on the yellow plastic phone that was attached to it.  Phew!

Three weeks in and we are all knackered!  Mim doesn’t love school but she doesn’t hate it either.

Starting school is tough but in another country and another language I’d say there’s most definitely challenges you may not face in your homeland.

Here are some of my initial thoughts and experiences:

  1. Kids in France start school as young as 2 1/2, some of them full time straight away!!  It is viewed as free childcare by many parents and Roger has had more than one conversation with colleagues who have questioned why we wouldn’t want Mim to go full-time.  Mim’s teacher is also pretty adamant that her age group should be going all day otherwise they will fall a year behind (?!), we have compromised and sent Mim all day on a Monday but the rest just mornings with Tuesday and Wednesday only being mornings for all the kids anyway.  Having 2 different cultural views isn’t easy, perhaps neither are perfect but we are learning to do what is best for our little one and not what is necessarily expected of us because it’s what everyone else does
  2. Making friends at the school gate isn’t as easy as people say it is. For one thing, I’m scared!  My French isn’t great and so that makes it harder to just go up to some of the other parents and join in their conversations. It’s early days and I’m not the only one standing there on my own every day so I have hopes that things will change as Mim makes friends and as I become a regular feature waiting at the gate
  3. Communicating with the teachers is also tough going and understandably they can’t give an account to each parent about what the kids have done that morning but I would like a little more than “she was fine”.  On more than one occasion Mim has said something and when I’ve asked the teacher is wasn’t  actually like Mim said at all
  4. The school run is exhausting! Early starts, 20 min walk there (buggy & buggy board); 20 min walk back; pray Victor sleeps for at least another hour (rarely does); feed Victor; 20 min walk back to school; 20 min walk home; Lunch; pray the kids nap at the same time; collapse.  On the plus side I’m gradually getting back into all my pre maternity clothes!
  5. Coping with a very tired and grumpy 3 year old and a  less grumpy but quite demanding 2 month old isn’t easy.  Some afternoons we chill out and others I have tried to do a bit of English reading with Mim when possible.  Mondays after school Mim goes to her swimming lessons and Wednesday afternoons we pop along to the British Library in Lille with a friend for story time.  Both of which Mim enjoys which is some light relief for me

My journey in the French schooling system is only just beginning so I thought it would be interesting to get some thoughts from a good friend of mine who has been living in France for a bit longer.  Here is her story followed by some questions I asked.  Her testimony is so encouraging and inspiring, so even if you aren’t a mum, are still living in your homeland, keep reading cos you might get inspired to do something completely new in your community!  If you are a parent and your child is starting school soon you may also get inspired to get involved in your kid’s school and make a difference.

Rachel & John

Rachel & John

My name is Rachel Mumford, and I am married to John. We have three children, Louis, Mia and Sophie, aged 7, 5 and 2 ½ . We came to live in Lyon, France 4 years ago in 2010, so we have just done our 4th ‘rentrée’.  For John, having grown up in France, moving back was going home. For me, although I had lived in France for a few months after my A levels, I had to relive culture shock through the lens of family life.

Before moving to France, I saw the English mums and how they often made friends with the parents of their children’s friends, either at school or a toddler groups, and I couldn’t wait for Louis, our eldest, to get stuck in after the move so that we would launch our French social life, and build lasting friendships that God could use and that we would enjoy. Such high, and unmet expectations!!!

Initially we lived 18 months in one village, before buying a house elsewhere. These were possibly the loneliest, most frustrating months I have ever known. Louis started school in the beginners class, called ‘Petite Section’, for children aged 3. He went to school in the mornings only, so one of us would drop him off at 8h20, and I would pick him up at 11h20, trudge home and make lunch. Louis spoke no French on arrival, and was in a large class. It took him a long time to start speaking any French at all. His teacher was nice enough, and sympathetic to the English mum with good French but little confidence, however with such a large class Louis got a bit lost, and it wasn’t until he was in ‘Moyenne Section’, the next year, that his French really took off.

It took me a few weeks after our move to realise something: I was different, not only because I was foreign, but because I was nearly the only stay at home mother there. Most of the women picking children up at lunch were either child-minders or grandparents, and the majority of children stayed at school for lunch. Where was the crowd of mums to chat to and get to know? In the mornings dropping Louis off I saw plenty of parents rushing in to drop off their kids and rush back out to get to work, but no one with time to spare. There were a few tired mums on maternity leave. Those who I did eventually meet would often be evasive when invited round for a coffee, and of the few that did come around, only one lady invited me back to hers in return a few weeks later. There were no Mums and Toddlers groups either. Life totally revolved around the school routine, but the children seemed to get along fine.

Louis, Sophie & Mia

Louis, Sophie & Mia

When we bought our first house in a village 5 minutes down the road I wanted this new start to be different from our first experience of French family life, and I had a plan! I made the decision to throw myself in and sign up to as many things as possible. We needed friends and were very blessed to move to a street with two other young families on it.  I also began going to the park next to the school with the kids after school, and got to know as many parents as possible, over time. Many play dates later, the kids have found friends and we have grown friendships with many parents.

Although it was very scary, as I doubted my own capacity and felt embarrassed by my imperfect French, at the beginning of the school term I went along to the meeting for the ‘Parents d’élèves’ (Parent Teachers Association), and became a parent representative. It has been really interesting going to the meetings, helping parents whose children are having troubles, and contributing ideas to how the school is run. Last year I started up an English conversation class one evening a week which gathered a good few parents and neighbours. We have tried to be a family that make things happen, inviting people to events in our home, such as open house parties and guys’ nights. It has been a great way to gather and deepen friendships. We are thoroughly enjoying life in our village.

This year I was approached by the Mayor and asked if I would join the village council as one of his team of 19 and run in the election. We were voted in in March, and since then I have had the privilege and responsibility of representing the rest of the village on key matters at our local council meetings. I am in the commission for Youth and School affairs, and the commission for Culture and Associations. I felt these two groups gave me the best opportunity to shape life in our village, and it has been exciting to see some of my ideas put into action. I want to bring people together so that they feel part of our community too. There have been many changes brought in to the French school system this year after a reform was imposed. Each commune had to work out how they applied the reform, and I was so grateful to have a say. I felt like I could really represent the interests of the children, and fought hard for families on certain points that I felt were important.

Over the last couple of years I have gone into my kids’ classes and given one off English lessons, sharing about English culture and traditions, food and language. I have really enjoyed it. I am now employed to teach English in the Maternelle every Monday for this school year.

It takes a lot longer in France to make friends than it does in England. French friendships require gentle slow nurturing, whereas in England people tend to decide pretty quickly to form friendships, and are willing in invest time a lot sooner. This has been a big learning curve.  The French way requires a lot more patience! We are two years into our life here in Sourcieux les Mines, and we are at a stage now where we have more intimate friendships, not just acquaintances.

So I guess in summary, I feel that God has encouraged us through our own needs for connections with others to remember the lonely and isolated, and how awful that feels. This has made us a couple who desire to gather people together, to be inclusive, and to try to make all feel welcome. I am excited by the many opportunities that arise. This adventure that God is leading us on is a daily challenge and a joy. The village school has been such a relational hub for me, and for that I am so grateful. I want to give and give to this school as part of my mission field, to see our village transformed by God’s love in action.

Questions:

1. What have been the best things about schooling your kids in France?

I love the systematic way that the French system prepares children in the Maternelle to all be ready to learn to read and write once they turn 6 and start at primary school. In maternelle the focus isn’t on shoving a pen or pencil in their hands and getting them to hold it correctly and write. There is no rush. First, school provides activities that develop their fine motor skills, such as handling small beads. They later start writing block capital letters, and then straight into beautiful cursive handwriting.  My kids go to a small village school, and it’s been great to get to know all the teachers, and be on first name terms with many of them. I am in the school so frequently, and with the English lessons that I have given, I know most of the children by name, and enjoy being greeted enthusiastically by many each day. They are so sweet!

2. What have been some of the challenges?

I think for my older two children particularly, the challenge of learning a language whilst attending school was huge. It meant that they were on the back-foot in terms of getting to know others and playing games.  They muddled through at the beginning. The staff were very patient, and little by little they have gotten there. One big challenge has been teaching the children to also read in English, without any support, and trying not to conflict with them learning to read in French. Knowing that children learn to read when they go into the ‘CP’ class (aged 6, first year of French primary school), I wanted to make sure that my son was rooted in one language first before starting to learn to read in the other.

A huge difference between English and French schools is that French schools are ‘laïque’, or secular. You cannot talk about God or religion whilst at school. At Christmas there is no Nativity for the children to perform, but absolute focus on ‘Père Noël’ as the reason for the season… At Easter, don’t dare mention the resurrection! Only chocolate and bunnies, eggs and bells… However, Haloween seems to be allowed. I am still pondering ways around laïcité.

3. What are some of the biggest differences from schools in France to those in the UK?

The biggest visual difference is that children don’t have a school uniform in state run schools. The next is that the state school system is free to children aged 3 onwards, effectively free nursery school as part of the national education structure. Children at Maternelle are actively encouraged to bring in a special cuddly toy, or ‘doudou’ as a comforter for when their parents are not around. It is more common to see children sucking on dummies in France at an older age (but not beyond Maternelle), and these are permitted for drop off time and ‘sieste’ time. After lunch, children in ‘petite section’ and tired children in ‘moyenne section’ are put down for a sleep for a couple of hours, for a ‘sieste’. The schools are often equipped with dormitories, and the children sleep in low beds in rows. In France, because families tend to eat later together (around 7pm), children go to bed later (8pm or later…), and therefore small children are often tired at midday and ready for a nap after lunch. Speaking of lunchtimes, the children have a lunch break of two hours (ours is between 11.30am and 1.30pm) in which children have the option of eating the food at the canteen or going home to eat. There is no packed lunch option! My kids come home virtually every lunchtime, and it is a nice time together to regroup, speak some English again, and go back refreshed for the afternoon. Something I have found challenging about the structure of the school day is the lack of any considerable block of time to get anything done. I get two blocks of just under three hours, and it goes so quickly! There are days where I wouldn’t mind the 6 hours straight of the English school day! Many of the differences are so small, but of course something more noticeable is the way that friends greet each other. The French ‘bises’ greeting of kissing each other on the cheek can take a while once you get to know lots of parents!

 

WOW! Awesome testimony of perseverance and throwing yourself in to a community.  I’m not sure I’ll be running in the Mouvaux elections anytime soon but what a great testament to Rachel’s determination to get involved in her local community.

Being a parent in a foreign country is tough, perhaps at times tougher than being an innocent little one who actually doesn’t know any different.  We are so proud of Miriam.  In the last 18 months she has moved countries, changed child minders, learnt another language and become bilingual, had a new baby brother enter her life and start Maternelle.  There’s not many 3 year olds that could handle all that and still be so brave, fun and feisty.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

 

An honest account of the baby blues

182Just over 3 years ago our daughter Miriam Elizabeth was born into our family.  We’d spent 9 months looking forward to the arrival of this little one and yet in a matter of hours she turned my life upside down, and down, and down.

I know what you’re thinking, really?  That little tiny baby, but babies are cute and cuddly and oh so squidgy.  Well yes, and no.  As a wise friend said to me recently, one of the hardest things about having a baby is that everyone expects you to be over the moon, deliriously happy with your new arrival when in reality where you want to be is far far away, over the moon, deliriously in denial that your life has changed forever.

First let me say that I am no expert on depression, I have no direct experience other than one close family member suffering with it for many years.  This is just an honest account about the baby blues and my experience of going through it after 2 babies.

It is crazy that you spend months wishing, longing, deliriously excited for the arrival of a baby and then when they finally arrive you have no idea what to do.  Many mothers enjoy the newborn stage, loving the middle of the night feeds, feeling very relaxed about sleeping and eating whenever they and baby want…..I however am not one of these women…boy do I wish I was.

078My first pregnancy was great, I loved every moment.  I was huge, but I exercised lots, worked up to the final few weeks and generally felt fab at watching and feeling my baby grow.  At 40 weeks however  I developed a cyst which meant a trip to A&E and an emergency operation.  Just a few days later Miriam began to arrive, I say began because she took a good 36 hours to finally make it into the world.  When the midwife put this fragile, perfect 7.3lb, naked little baby on my chest it was both humbling and truly amazing.  She was lovely.  I was exhausted but she was gorgeous.

As is the case in the UK, I was sent home after about 30 hours in hospital.  Miriam hadn’t really latched on properly and my milk had not yet come through.  I was exhausted and she was hungry.

My sister in law had described labour to me as akin to being in a car crash.  At the time I laughed it off thinking that won’t be my experience, but she was right.  It was a shock to my physical being, my emotions and a real challenge to my spiritual life.

I can’t say when but gradually it dawned on me that this little limpet was demanding everything of me.  I began mourning, 189mourning for the life I had once had.  Freedom to go out whenever I wanted to, slow weekend mornings pottering around the house with Roger, evenings out, regular adult conversation about non-baby issues, freedom!  Everything I once knew had changed.  I didn’t want this new life, I wanted my old life back. I resented this little gift I’d been given.  She didn’t feel like a gift she felt like a huge, tiring, demanding burden that I just could not carry.  Our wonderful church brought us meals and came to meet our little bundle of joy but joy was the last thing I felt.  I wanted to run and hide from everyone and everything.  Every day I battled with guilt, pain (physically after the birth and with breast feeding and emotionally), exhaustion and sadness.  I literally felt like I was in a pit, stuck with no way out.  I cried every day for weeks.  I felt trapped.  Miriam challenged every inch of my selfishness.  It was a real shock to feel so blue, so utterly helpless and fragile.  I have always considered myself to be a reasonably strong woman, how could this tiny little thing shake me and my comfortable little world so much?!

With the birth of our son almost 6 weeks ago I thought things would be different.  I knew the signs and I was not going to go there again.

Victor’s birth was a thousand times easier than Miriam’s, 30 hours shorter for a start.  In France women stay in hospital for up to 5 days after the birth which may seem a lot to most British mums who are ousted after 24hrs but I can honestly say it’s much better this way.  The care we both received was fantastic particularly during that dreaded second night when baby is very hungry and you are very empty because your milk hasn’t yet come in.

After 4 nights I asked to leave as I was sick of looking at the same four walls.  By this point my milk was coming in and I was rather emotional.  However, Victor was feeding and sleeping really well and I was confident we would get through and life would start being a bit more normal.  Wrong!  In just a week or so I was feeling the same horrendous sinking feeling deep in the pit of my being.  Who was this kid?  How could I have allowed him to enter my family and ruin it, ruin our normality?  Why was he not sleeping when I wanted him to sleep?  Hadn’t he read the same book as me?  I don’t want him, he’s ruining my life!  I cried every day, sometimes twice, sometimes more, often weeping, pleading for help, desperate to love this little blob but feeling so far from loving him which only produced even more guilt and helplessness.

A couple of weeks ago we managed to get to church.  As soon as we entered the room I felt so vulnerable and weak the tears fell.  There was a new couple there that week from South America who had their two very disabled children with them. During the meeting the pastor called everyone forward to stand and pray together, these two parents rushed forward for prayer for their precious ones.  I had just finished feeding Victor and Roger was out with Miriam so I went forward alone.  As I approached, the pastor’s wife spotted my tear stained face and came up to me, “tu as les bébé blues?” I nodded.  I was then ruined, this amazing faith-filled lady had just that week been diagnosed with breast cancer yet here she was standing with me, hugging me, loving me and praying with and for me.  What a humbling morning, I’ll never forget it.  I didn’t come away suddenly feeling brighter and like I could take on the world, the tears still flowed for a good few weeks yet I did come away feeling so blessed for me and my baby’s health and that no problem is too big or too small for our gracious God.

It is often hard to pray and have faith and hope when you are feeling low and desperate.  However, in this recent season I have found myself desperately praying throughout the day, opening up my Bible in search of hope, crying out to God to pull me through and help me be me again.  He has been faithful, it’s been tough, but He’s been good, so very very good.

We decided to get away as a family a week ago, fresh air, fresh perspective, time away from the humdrum normality of life. The first few days were tough, more tears from me.  I was sick of it.  Tired of Miriam seeing me cry and tired of feeling tired and teary, tired of having no appetite and tired of fighting to love Victor.  After one particularly bad night we went to the local pharmacy and asked for something that would help give me at least some energy to get through the days.  As well as the vitamin supplements I am now taking and, I truly believe, God pulling me through and answering my prayers, I am now feeling MUCH better.  I haven’t cried for almost a week (hoorah!) and I almost feel like myself again.

Victor 3When you’re in the midst of a tough time the better times seem so far away.  If you’re like me, you worry yourself sick that things will never change, you’ll never be able to leave the house without a child in tow ever again, they’ll always scream through the night etc.  However, as any mum will tell you, things do get better.  You and baby both find a rhythm and then they start smiling and the limpet finally seems to give a little something back.  Before you know it they are heading off to school and you’re wondering what to do with your days.  However, be real.  I am so thankful for some precious friends who have been so supportive over the last few tough weeks.  Friends that have let me cry, loved and cared for me, emailed, text and called, given advice and just said ‘you’re doing great’, and most importantly just allowed me to be me and to be real and honest.  These dear friends, my wonderful ever giving husband and my faith in a good and present God has all been part of the healing process.  So buh bye blues, I can see brighter days ahead.

 

 

A year across the pond

On 24 June we celebrated exactly one year of living in our little terrace here in Mouvaux, France.

I can’t quite believe it has been a whole 12 months since we left Canterbury.  A lot has happened and then again we’ve had quite a chilled out year.  Here are some of the highlights from the last 12 months:

  1. June 2013 – we moved into 45 Rue Bir Hakeim, Mouvaux with the help of some wonderful friends.  We’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbours with one side being particularly kind to Miriam and we recently had a lovely evening aperitif with some others on the road.  Looking forward to continuing and increasing these relationships.
  2. July 2013 – spent some precious time back in the UK with family who had come over from their home in Japan.  A rare moment when all three families on the Eaton-sibbling-side were together.
  3. August 2013- Roger, and when possible myself & Mim , helped out in a week of free BBQs put on by a churches together movement in the centre of Lille.  We made some great contacts that week including our dear friends Paul & Sandie who have been such fun and a great support to us this year.
  4. September 2013 – I started teaching English at the Catholic University in Lille and Loquendi, the same enterprise as Roger.  Miriam started going to her child-minder, Nani’s (Stéphanie), 3 and a half days a week joining another little boy called Noa who was born on exactly the same day.  This was pretty nerve wracking for us all but Mim has thoroughly loved each day at Nani’s and we as parents have felt incredibly blessed and supported by Stéphanie.  Also did a rather crazy journey up to the north of England for my brother’s wedding.
  5. October 2013 – Discovered we were expecting child number 2 who would arrive in the summer of 2014.  We spent some precious days in Rotterdam on a Relational Mission Church Planting conference.  It was wonderful to receive wisdom from this conference as well as spend time with some great friends.
  6. November 2013 – Life wasn’t too easy in the run up to Christmas but we were blessed with lots of visitors, letters and little parcels through the post which kept our spirits up.
  7. December 2013 – We enjoyed receiving quite a few visitors around the Christmas period, taking in the markets and the general atmosphere of Noël in northern France.
  8. January 2014 – I started making cupcakes for a local Salon du Thé as well as doing some private orders for friends and colleagues.  This has been really fun and I hope to develop this further towards the end of 2014
  9. February 2014 – I started French lessons which have just been invaluable and fun too.  Sara, my tutor, is really really lovely and makes the lessons both fun and useful.
  10. March 2014 – We found out we were having a little boy baby!
  11. April 2014 – Debbie Challen moved to Lille from Southampton to join us.  We’ve really enjoyed meeting as a small group each Thursday evening as well as spend time eating, dreaming and living life together in and around Lille.  Spent an utterly fab Easter weekend in Holland with dear friends at a Center Parcs equivalent.  Lots of swimming, chats, good food and exploring.
  12. May 2014 – Miriam turned 3 and we celebrated by going to Nausicaa, a sealife centre in Bologne-sur-mer.  We also spent a week back in the UK at the Relational Mission Leadership conference in Norwich which was fantastic in and of itself but it was also wonderful to see lots of friends and family

Which brings us to June 2014.  The weather has been lovely, I’ve gained a lovely pregnancy tan (I thank ya).  Our garden has been such a blessing to be out in and we spent a gorgeous day discovering the Belgian city of Ghent last Saturday.  Some wonderful friends from Canterbury utterly surprised me by showing up on our door step last Sunday for a lovely baby shower.  And now we are waiting for little boy Eaton to arrive, although it’s looking most likely to be July….watch this space.

 

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Culture Shock #1

In June 2013 my family and I moved just 200km (124 miles) from the beautiful city of Canterbury in the UK, to Lille, France.  When you really think about it, it’s not that far.  It’s further to Paris if you wanna talk kilometre-age.  This week Roger had his France-iversary and in a couple of months we will all have been living in France for a year.  Doesn’t time fly?!

As culture shocks go I think we’ve had it pretty easy.  We’ve had a lot of lovely visitors bringing us yummy food packages from home, a mild winter, made a few friends and enjoyed being together as a family having come from very busy lives when a spare evening came once a fortnight (if we were lucky).

In February I was driving to a friend’s house in Hellemmes, a rather unglamourous area of Lille, for our weekly French conversation over a Tisane (herbal tea – I’ve learned to like these in order to be accepted here).

It was a cold and wet day and I was thinking how thankful I was for our cosy, warm Renault Scenic.  As I was driving, thinking and taking in the surroundings I passed a very small, what can only be described as, ramshackled camp surrounded by muddy puddles and beaten up cars.  I’ve driven past these ‘homes’ a number of times but on this particular Friday, as the rain was sheeting down and I saw a few adults and kids milling about in the mud and rain, a few rather obvious thoughts struck me.

  • These people are families, they have children just like me
  • This is where they all live, in these one room shacks made of corrugated iron and bits of wood.
  • Where do they wash?
  • Where’s their toilet?
  • On days like today, do they have sewage floating around their house, cos I sure can’t see that they are attached to the sewage systems?
  • Are the kids getting any kind of education so they can get themselves out of this way of life?

I’m embarrassed to say that this was perhaps the first time I’d thought of these things, of these people, and how middle class can I be?!  Here I am moaning about the fact that we no longer have a bath, that I have to go all the way down a flight of stairs to use the very cold toilet in the middle of the night, that our kitchen is so small!  Wow, how your heart can harden in less than a year!

When we first moved to Lille I was shocked at the number and size of some of the, mostly Romani, camps around Lille.  I was saddened every time I drove up to some traffic lights and a young child, a middle-aged or an older lady or gent came to my window to ask for a small amount of money.  My heart would sink when walking around the city centre and I’d see a young family or a lady with a small baby sitting on the floor with a beaten up paper cup in her hand and a few copper coins in it.  My heart still does sink, but more out of guilt and wanting to avoid them than out of compassion.  I’ve since learnt that over a quarter of France’s Roma population live in and around Lille.  Just last week one evening our doorbell rang and there on the door step was a young woman with 2 children asking for money.  She was either very gutsy or very desperate!

Here I am, just 200km away from the gorgeous, and pretty middle-class city of Canterbury, and yet I’m faced with more poverty than I’ve ever come into contact with.  I just cannot imagine what it is like for those who feel called to go to the Favela’s of Rio de Janeiro, the slums in Calcutta or the open sewage areas of Jakarta.  Don’t get me wrong, the UK has its social problems.  There are homeless and poor people in Canterbury and I’m sure there are areas of London I would be shocked about.  What I’m saying is that I’ve lived a very naive and privileged life and yet I’m shocked at my now almost lack of shock!

I don’t know what the answer is.  I don’t yet know of any local charities or organisations that are working with the homeless in Lille, but I’m sure there are some.  Do you give money, or don’t you?  Do you give food, or don’t you?  I’ve heard it said “Oh they are all being controlled by people who drop them off in the morning and pick them up at night”…..  errrr, isn’t that worse?  They are effectively slaves, it’s 2014 people and this is Lille, western civilisation, and yet we are passing people literally in slavery every day!

There’s so much more to this sad subject than I have time to write about today, like how for many in this situation, it’s their choice to live a life with no fixed address and connection to a given state. I don’t have any quick-fix solutions to all the poverty that goes on every minute of every day in the world.  But for now, in regards to the people in my city, my community they can have my 1 or 2 Euro piece (if I’ve actually got change in my purse, darn the credit card culture we live in!), and if they give it to their ‘pimp’ then at least it may stop them getting a beating that day.  As I hand over my change I’ll look them in the eye and remember their face as I pray that God impacts and changes their life as only He can do.  Finally, they can also have a smile, and as neither of us speak very good French that’ll have to do. For now.

A couple of interesting articles for those interested:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/france-record-number-forced-evictions-2013-09-25

http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/10/30/332048/french-police-attack-roma-camp/

And life goes on

Is it me or was January particularly long this year? It started off ok, a new year, a new start, then draaaaaged on and for us here, ended with one final gasp for air before February began.

We are pretty happy with life in France.  Yes, we face daily battles, who doesn’t? But in general life is good.  However, the end of January did seem especially tough for a few reasons: ongoing potty issues with Mim, financial worries, a new business opportunity happening very quickly, tempers rising because of the latter etc etc.  It got to the point where Roger couldn’t even breath in the same room as me and I wouldn’t find him annoying.  Looking back I recall this stage in my pregnancy with Miriam, I blame the hormones, but poor Rog.  Bizarrely when we spoke to a few other couples/families they were feeling the same way.  Stupid, naffo January.  What is it about the end of that month.  Needless to say, with some very honest talking, with each other and some good friends, we are through the woods, stumble trip stumble trip, and into the swishy swashy grass (spot the quote).

I’m so thankful for Roger who leads our family so well.  Not only does his job provide for us, but he is doing the majority (if not all) of the much needed administrative work including liaising with the necessary people in the various acronymed ‘bureaus’. As well as all this he is a loving and caring husband and daddy, always up for a snuggle and story-time, and whatever Mim wants too!  What a guy!

Amazingly, looking back at my last blog, quite a number of my hopes and dreams have already started bearing fruit:

  • Something creative on my days off: I am now making cupcakes for a local Salon de Thé as well as cupcakes 2teaching cupcakescupcake decorating classes.  I’ve had a few private orders for birthdays etc and we are now looking into making this more official which may mean me taking a Patisserie qualification from home, but I’m up for it and it’s a step towards our coffee shop dream.
  • Improve my French: I began French classes a couple of weeks ago with a lovely lady called Sara who is incredibly nice and very patient and this along with the decorating classes is really increasing my confidence (in French!!).  I feel really motivated and am thrilled that these have now started. Fluency here I come!
  • Spend more time reading: friends in Canterbury invited us to join them read through the Bible in a year with an app by Holy Trinity Brompton, this has been a great challenge as well as very edifying. I also have a few novels to read through starting with Dicken’s Little Dorrit.  So far so good
  • Welcome friends and family to Lille to visit and live here too:  we’ve been so blessed by people visiting us and have had to cap visits to one a month as we were finding we just weren’t able to live life here with all the visitors.  We’ve also had some great skype chats with people who are considering/hoping to move to Lille soon to join us church plant, wahoo!  At the mo these are confidential as they are working things out with families, jobs and life bits, but yay, exciting!

A quick update on a few other life things:

  • We are still waiting on my Carte Vitale (the card that gives me almost free health care).  As far as we know the office in charge now has everything they need so the documents just need to find the hands of the right person and Bob’s your uncle…my Carte Vitale
  • Roger’s job is still going well and he has also been approached by a charity called Computers for Africa who are looking to start a French-side of things, providing computers for French speaking Africa.  He and a guy called Jim from C4A have already made some really good contacts here in Lille which is really exciting and exactly what Rog wants to get involved in, project managing and social action. Watch this space.
  • We visited a public (non private) local school for Mim which she will start in Sept.  In general we were happy although it was a shame that the teachers all seemed pretty miserable.  However, we have since been reassured about the school and, although we may visit the local private school (nowhere near as expensive as UK private schools for those of you gasping right now), we think Ecole Victor Hugo will be the one we’ll go with

Well, that’s about it for this blog.  Nothing deep or profound, just life as we know it.  Have a great February.

2014 – Come on, be a goodun’!

The end of 2013 wasn’t super easy for me.  I had started potty training Miriam in October and soon discovered I was expecting baby number 2 (due some time towards the end of June 2014).  Morning sickness and poopy knickers DO NOT mix well.  In November I completely lost my voice for about 2 weeks, finally giving in and going to the doctors it turns out I had some kind of larynx infection (as far as I could work out).  Four different medicines later my voice started to reappear and some energy returned.  A tough 2 weeks for a language teacher and I was forced to take a week off which meant no income that week.  Finally, Miriam got THE sick bug that seems to be going around the world, the week before Christmas.  Thankfully it only lasted about 48 hours and by the end of the week Roger and I thought we had escaped.  WRONG!  The day after we arrived safe and sound at my in-laws for a relaxing family Christmas the bug ‘got me’.  I managed a small plate of Christmas dinner by which time Roger had been ‘got’.  So we are now home in France recovering from Christmas and trying to put on a bit of weight (not many people can say that after Christmas).

As a family unit the last few months of 2013 were tough.  The honeymoon period, the excitement of being somewhere new, the new experiences, had all worn off by October and we were all missing the familiarity of the UK.  We miss our families, we miss our friends, we miss coffee shops, we miss just not feeling like a foreigner all the time.  Finally, and with this I’ll stop the POMing (Poor Old Me-ing) we are facing constant administrative battles with the French authorities which is rather tedious and tiring especially for Roger as he is having to find time between work and home to go and sort it out.  Moving to another country is not easy.

Harumph!  Ok ok enough of the depressing stuff.

Despite the difficulties we are looking forward to 2014.  Here’s some of my goals, hopes and plans for this year:

  • Really improve my French
  • Have a baby
  • Welcome friends and family to Lille to visit and to live here too
  • Start a small group/community group for the church plant
  • Get some French friends and deepen new friendships already started
  • Roger to start a new job (he’s on the look out)
  • To find something creative to do in the couple of days I have free while Mim is at her child-minder
  • Mim to start school in Sept
  • Meet parents at the school gate and through a baby group or 2
  • Spend more time reading
  • Have a holiday
  • Think about re-training in something (no idea what)
  • Worship and pray more as a family

I think that should keep us going for now.

The Holy Bit

I really like having fun, laughing is one of my favourite past times.  Sometimes life can get a bit too serious for me and I really miss fun and laughter, I’ve definitely felt like this recently.  With one of my work contracts ending recently and having some ‘spare time’ I’ve felt a little unsettled.  However, God has reminded me that life often has seasons.  Some seasons are there to make us stop and reflect, some are there to challenge and mould us, some give us a sense of security and stability, some keep us smiling and laughing.  Psalm 42 has often been my help in spiritually dry seasons:

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I shall remember you (v5).

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,

and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life (v8)

Image

What we’re all up to

Hello,

As happens in life when things change for you people keep asking us the same questions, what are you doing? what work are you doing? where are you living? how’s Miriam? etc.  I thought it would be nice for those we haven’t been able to Skype with, talk to or see recently to give a few Eaton highlights of what each of us are up to here in Lille.

Rogerroger

  • Working for a company called Loquendi teaching English to businesses varying from project management to the Paul bakery group.  The majority of his time is spent at Castorama, a large DIY company in the Kingfisher group with B&Q. It’s going really well although considering looking for other work with a better salary (*prayer point*)
  • Occasionally playing football with some guys from Casto on a lunch break
  • Has been asked to preach by a few church leaders here in Lille
  • Having some regular Skype dates with some great friends and support back in Kent, thanks guys, it’s a lifeline!

George

  • Working at the Catholic University 5 hrs a week teaching English.  It’s ok. I’m no teacher and I don’t, if I’m completely honest, really enjoy it but it’s a season.  Have just ended my contract working for Loquendi (see above) also teaching English and now really in need of some more work but not sure where to begin (*prayer point*)
  • Monday’s are spent with Mim going to Carrefour, potty training and having fun around the house at the moment with the weather being so poor
  • Running occasionally but no where near like in Canters but we do have a lovely area and park to run in/around
  • Waiting for my French social security number from the French administration system
  • Each Thursday I do a language exchange with a lady from Loquendi, one week English the other French, and I’m hoping to start with a French tutor soonP1040691

Mim

  • Doing SO well with her new child-minder Stephanie.  She loves going and there’s just one other little boy called Noah who also goes (bizarrely Mim and he are EXACTLY the same age, to the date)
  • Speaking and singing French songs alot, it’s so CUTE!
  • Loves going to the free zoo in Lille and helping mummy with the shopping
  • Potty training is ongoing, not always a huge success but we are now 3 weeks without nappies during the day (not always dry) (*prayer point*)

As a family

  • We have a made a few lovely friends, mostly English speakers so some French friends would be great but we treasure those who are befriending and supporting us now a lot
  • We’ve been attending a great church called La Phare (The Lighthouse) and have been welcomed and supported by this church and its leaders
  • Both our cars (private and Roger’s work car) were broken into a few weeks ago outside our house and our satnav stolen. Bit of a bummer
  • We’ve enjoyed some great visits from family and friends as well as regular txts and skypes.  Thanks guys, these are so great and needed!
  • Finances are tough.  Life in France is definitely more expensive than the UK and we are both earning less so please keep us in your prayers for provision.  Thank you so much to those who have given us some wonderful gifts (*prayer point*)
  • The honeymoon period is over, helped by the very rainy northern France weather, so we have the occaionsal blue moment but Roger and I have a strong marriage and we are a close family so as well as our great God, we are pulling each other through
  • THE FRENCH ADMINISTRATION!! It is taking AGES for us to get our health care (Carte Vitale) cards through and my Social Security number.  Roger is doing so well and being so patient, filling in all the forms, going to the relevant offices, handing in the forms, receiving even more forms, filling those in etc etc…it just seems endless.  We are also applying for childcare and housing benefit which we are certainly entitled to but as yet there doesn’t seem to be any movement.  These would really help us out financially (*MEGA prayer point*)

So there you have it.  The Eaton highlights.  Thanks to all of you for all your calls, prayers, txts, love, thoughts.  We love and miss you SO much x

To Belong – from Lydia Jones

Our lovely friends the Jones’ (Kevin, Lydia and their kids, Edith, Johan and Barnabus) moved to Helsinki, Finland just a few weeks after we moved to Lille in 2013.  I asked lovely Lydia to share a little of her experiences over the last few months and she has written this beauty of a post below.  Enjoy.

Ahh to belong! To belong is so great, when I was younger I was proud to belong to Invicta Running Club, it was great to be part of a team. I went to Loughborough University, I purchased my Loughborough sweater and tracksuit and suddenly I felt like I belonged.  Often it can be easy to take for granted this sense of belonging. It’s not until we are suddenly in a situation where we don’t belong that we grieve and yearn to belong once more.

Two months ago we moved to Finland. During my last few weeks in Canterbury I was a bit of an emotional wreck. I couldn’t bare the thought of saying goodbye to such precious people, to no longer directly be an everyday part of our church community or belong to them. I wasn’t quite sure how we would cope without being with them.

When you move to a new country it can sometimes feel like all of the signs, letters, labels have deliberately been put into this different language just to constantly remind you that you don’t quite belong here. Helsinki1There have been times that I have tried to learn bits of Finnish to try and fit in a bit more, I look up a phrase in my not-so-faithful phrase book and then nervously try to sound as Finnish as I possibly can, only to find people shaking their heads saying ‘no we don’t say that here – that’s too formal’. Things like the traffic and road system feel different to what we are familiar with, does the zebra crossing mean I stop or keep driving?! One day I went to a supermarket to buy some cream, I hadn’t looked up the word, I thought it would just be obvious, but suddenly there were 20 pots jumping up and down on the shelf in front of me all looking very much like cream, I couldn’t even start to decipher which one was the type of cream I was looking for. I resorted to asking the lady next to me if she speaks English and once again felt reminded I don’t quite belong here in this Finnish supermarket! I moved round the corner to the cheese aisle and there before me was English Seriously Strong mature Cheddar! So I do what all us Brits normally do when we see English mature cheddar – I burst into tears because it reminded me of home. Home where shopping was easy, cream was easily found and I knew whether to stop or not if I saw a zebra crossing!

When I was growing up I was the youngest of four sisters. Gradually each sister moved away to university or got married. Each time I really struggled, it rocked my sense of security, familiarity and identity. Coming to Finland I was so nervous that this was what we were walking in to. I was expecting to feel like a child whose brothers and sisters had been taken from them. I’m thrilled to say it hasn’t worked out like that!

tough road signBeing here, 1356 miles away, and still sensing that we are a part of The City Church Canterbury and its apostolic group, Relational Mission, has been breathtaking. It has been so wonderful to have people’s support, kindness, encouragement and love, through letters, emails, twitterwoos, skype and facetime chats, even people visiting in real life that we could smell and touch! To know that in spite of the distance we are not going on this adventure alone but with God and with our brothers and sisters is amazing. It’s felt great to know that we still belong, and this is talked about in Romans 12:5 where it says:

so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

I’m obviously a bit slow but it has taken me to move to Finland to more truly grasp the treasure that Jesus won for us on the cross, that He saved us to Himself but also that He saved us into His family and we are adopted into that family and to one another.

It is such a privilege to belong to God and His family. When we experience that sense of belonging, we can sense that with God and with His people alongside us through genuine relationship and support, we can go anywhere and do anything He wants us to do. So ‘just do it’, those things that God has laid on your heart but you feel scared of doing because you might be alone, you are not alone, you have God and you have His people, they might even jump aboard and just do it too!

Jones Family

“TWO PORTIONS OF CHIPS”

I’ll never forget being on holiday in France as a kid and overhearing a British man ordering “2 PORTIONS OF CHIPS” in a French restaurant as if he thought the waiter would suddenly understand English if he yelled as loud as possible.  I’m not going to lie, I was so embarrassed to be British at that moment.

I haven’t yet resorted to shouting or just defaulting into English yet but I would say that from one day to the next my experiences of being understood vary from good to wanting to curl up in a ball right there because I just do not know what to say.

Here’s a few examples:

  • In the supermarket I literally acted out having “squeaky cheese” in my mouth when trying to describe to the man at the counter halloumi cheese.  “er non Madame” he said and I moved on, sans halloumi
  • Today even, I told the amazon delivery man that “je suis 45”, meaning that I live at no. 45 if he wanted to leave my neighbour’s parcel with me.  You would say “j’ai 45” if that was my age (which it isn’t!, or “j’habite á numero 45” so “je suis 45” makes absolutely no sense. He smiled and nodded and let me look after the parcel
  • On Saturday a young lad came up to me as I was waiting outside a Boulangerie for Roger and as he began to speak I just said “non merci, non merci” thinking he was trying to sell me something.  The poor boy only wanted directions (which I couldn’t help him with either)

It’s a huge battle. Something you take so much for granted in your own country, understanding people.  You can walk down the street in most places of the UK and overhear and understand conversations, even in deepest darkest Northumberland I discovered recently. When having conversations with people you meet you can talk about more than where you live and what you do for work.  In France I just constantly feel like a foreigner…cos I am.

Oh to be fluent.  Some days I think it ‘aint never gonna happen then other days I know that I am gradually, step by step, improving.