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Columnists > Stephanie Dagg

Stephanie Dagg
I’m Stephanie Dagg, author, editor, fishery owner, alpaca and llama farmer - oh yes, and mum and wife too. We live in the rural heart of France in Creuse, an area famous for its hazlenut cake and extremely elderly population. We’re truly Europeans having lived in England and Ireland before coming here. I blog about our daily life as expats with all its pleasures and perplexities, fun and frustrations at You’ll also find my many and mostly free ebooks on my Smashwords page.

Stephanie Dagg

L’heure D’hiver - Winter Time Hours In France

Posted by: Carole on Wednesday November 07, 2012 (19:36:58)   (2377 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
Winter got here before official winter time this year. L’heure d’hiver (winter time/hours) began on the last Sunday of October (when the clocks go back an hour) but the cold weather got here the day before. The clock-changing charade is a complete pain. It began in France in 1975 as a fuel saving measure during the oil crisis, but for whatever reason, they forgot to stop doing it. So the last few days of October are always depressing since suddenly you wake up far too early in the morning, want your meals at all the wrong times and are plunged into darkness by six o’clock. The resulting breakfast time daylight will only last another month at most so it hardly seems worth all the disruption.

The animals, of course, don’t appreciate l’heure d’hiver either. They’ve got used to their mealtimes over the last six months and don’t like those being changed.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Autumn in Creuse

Posted by: Carole on Sunday October 07, 2012 (00:16:19)   (2574 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
October is autumn in Creuse, our part of central France. September is still summer, and November is when winter starts, generally very enthusiastically on the first day, so that give us just the thirty-one days of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

The fruitfulness is a little less fruitful than in the last couple of years. There are many barren apple, pear and walnut trees. Last year saw bumper crops from them all, but whether because of the weather or some sort of production cycle the trees quietly operate, pickings are very lean. However, the occasional tree is groaning with fruit and we’ve gleaned plenty of apples, peaches and damsons to keep us going for a good while. The vegetables haven’t done too well either. A very dry and incredibly hot summer (temperatures here went into the 40s a few times) has put paid to all the squash. Even watering them using bath water during the drought hasn’t done them any good. In previous years we’ve been up to our necks in pumpkins.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Enter The Rentrée - The Return To School In France

Posted by: Carole on Tuesday August 07, 2012 (17:09:43)   (1877 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
The strictly legislated summer sales finished a few days ago so all the grandes surfaces (large supermarkets) are now fully geared up for the rentreé - the return to school. Mind you, it’s still called la rentrée even if it’s your first time there.

It is big, big business. From maternelle upwards, parents are issued with a liste de fournitures for each of their children laying out all the bits and pieces they’re going to need for school. For lycée (secondary school) pupils, this includes the textbooks too. Even with secondhand books around and the possibility to hire books through a parents’ association, this is still a very pricy time, particularly as the syllabus seems to change every few years and you can’t always sell the old books on.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Exams In France

Posted by: Carole on Saturday June 09, 2012 (00:28:29)   (1827 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
It’s the exam season. All three of my children have either had or are having tests, orals or exams of various sorts at school.

First up, ten-year-old Ruadhrí. He’s in CM2, the final year of primary school, and he has recently sat his évaluations nationales (national evaluations). The tests were taken between the 21st and 25th of May across France. The teachers then have until 12th June to mark the papers, submit the results and then tell the parents. On 15th June the results will be published online. I’m meeting Rors’ teacher on the 7th June to find out how he got on. He was tested in French (60 items) and maths (40 items). Each answer will be given one out of five possible assessments:    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Swallows In France

Posted by: Carole on Tuesday May 08, 2012 (00:34:25)   (6401 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
Our swallows are finally here. They kept us waiting until the 1st of May this year, much later than normal. We were beginning to wonder if they were going to turn up at all. Swallows have been known to arrive in Limousin as early as the 21st of January (in 1991 and 2002), but usually it’s around the 20th of March that they begin to appear. They really do announce the arrival of Spring.

Our swallows are hirondelles rustiques - country swallows. As well as these, there are three other types to be found in our region of France, Limousin. They are hirondelles de rochers (rock or cliff swallows), hirondelles de rivage (bank swallows) and hirondelles de fenêtre (window swallows). All four types are protected under the nature protection act of 1976. It’s forbidden to destroy either them or their nests. You face a fine of up to €9,000 or imprisonment if you do.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

April, A Time Of Traditions

Posted by: Carole on Saturday April 07, 2012 (01:27:24)   (2980 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
Every country has its strange traditions, and France is no exception. April kicks off with the best of the lot. The first of day of the month is the day of poissons d’avril (April fish). The idea is to sneakily stick fish on people’s backs without them noticing. Not real fish, of course, but paper or fabric ones. But what on earth for? Where did this tradition, the French equivalent of the British April Fool’s Day, come from? There are several versions.

One is that it all began with a silly fish trick. Someone would be sent to the market as a joke to buy an out-of-season fish, which made them look really foolish. Even small children in food-focussed France know what food is in season when! Another idea is that the poisson element is a corruption of passion which is associated with Easter. But the most persuasive explanation goes back to the 16th century. The New Year used to begin at Easter, often around the beginning of April. However, in 1564 King Charles IX changed it to 1st January. However, in some areas the tradition of giving New Year’s presents around 1st April lingered, and because it was only the ‘false’ New Year, they gave ‘false’ presents i.e. they played tricks instead.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

France Springs Into Life

Posted by: Carole on Wednesday March 07, 2012 (14:18:35)   (2912 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
I love March. Rural France suddenly springs into life again as the temperatures rise. Here in Creuse we normally have long winters that last from early November until well into March. However, this year we swapped long for intense. The four weeks of le grand froid, the big freeze, were painful with temperatures down to minus 19 degrees C, and three weeks without them going anywhere near zero. January and February are usually quiet enough in the countryside, but everyone practically disappeared this year. Caiti and I visited Paris during the cold snap and life seemed to be hectic and carrying on as usual up there, despite the chilliness. That’s certainly not the case in the paysage. It’s a time of hunkering down and keeping the farm and the fire ticking over.

But that’s finished now. Tractors are rumbling round the fields again, the cows are back in the pasture, lambs are gambolling after their mothers - although not here yet.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Education in France

Posted by: Carole on Tuesday February 07, 2012 (02:08:37)   (2395 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
I’m about to start on a tour of several of France’s universities with my daughter Caitlín. She’s in her last year of lycée and will be taking her baccalaureat in the summer and moving on to third level education. But what and where. She has eventually plumped for informatique (computer science) as the subject so that just leaves the where.

It’s the season of Journée Portes Ouvertes - open days at these establishments. It’s unfortunately also winter, which makes the trips dodgy at best and impossible at worst. We are meant to be going to Grenoble this weekend, but we have thick snow here and temperatures in the region of minus 16 are forecast for there. So it may not happen.
meteorologically challenged time of year, the JPOs of necessity clash with each other. Each Saturday between mid January and mid March sees half a dozen or so of them taking place.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

France Powers into 2012

Posted by: Carole on Thursday January 05, 2012 (00:03:25)   (3554 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
As well as being eternally associated with croissants, wine, frogs’ legs and berets, say “France” and a lot of people immediately think “nuclear energy”. And rightly so. France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity, to the tune of 3 billion euros worth each year, as well as providing 75% of its own power from that source. Apparently, because of the nuclear element, France has Europe’s lowest cost electricity, but it doesn’t always seem like that from our end! Power prices seem to rise wincingly fast these days. Sensibly France hasn’t suffered from the anti-nuclear knee-jerk reactions of other European countries in the wake of the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and is firmly sticking with its nuclear programme.

So where does the other quarter of France’s electricity come from? Until 2005, it came pretty much equally from hydroelectricity and thermique à flamme i.e. oil, coal or gas-fired power stations, but now the latter is falling back and a significant contribution is coming from éoliennes - wind turbines. And that’s set to rise.    more ...

Stephanie Dagg

Christmas Multi-Cultural Confusion

Posted by: Jamie on Wednesday January 04, 2012 (20:21:22)   (2158 Reads)
Stephanie Dagg
Expat Christmases are always culturally confused. This year will be our sixth Noël in France, and, as usual, for us it will be a mish-mash of English, Irish and French traditions. The English element comes from myself and husband Chris, who lived in various parts of the UK until 1992. The Irish ingredients stem from the children’s childhoods, which were spent in Ireland until Benjamin was 14, Caitlin 11 and Ruadhri 4. Then we came over to France in 2006 and have all soaked up the Christmassy customs here.

Are there really that many differences between the way Christmas is celebrated in three countries that are separated by only small stretches of water? Actually, yes!

First up, there’s the religious element. In Ireland it’s at the heart of celebrations in schools. Carols and nativity plays abound. But in France it’s taboo. Our local Expat-French integration asso made the mistake of inviting a school from the town to sing at our yearly carol service held in the church. The request was met with the terse reply that this wasn’t allowed. Christmas concerts at schools are studiously secular with non-festive plays and songs the order of the day. And in abundance - one of Ruadhri’s spectacles went on for 4 hours. In France the general rule is the longer something goes on for, then the better it is!    more ...

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