Catherine here. My husband and I moved to the French Alps (Annecy) from Australia in 2009 with our then 6, 9 and 12-year-old children.It was certainly not a spur of the moment move – that doesn’t happen when you are 15000 km distant – and it was probably a somewhat tentacular original discussion which led to such an undertaking, although strangely for a decision so portentous, so momentous, I don’t remember it at all. Quite possibly, side-tracking to talking about my husband and me upending our peaceful suburban lives and heading to France came from a beautifully weird social experiment that I had begun several years before with my son. More on that, later.
Were there challenges during the move?
But of course.
Physical (packing up a whole house and carting it piece by piece to a storage facility), emotional (“This is just silly. Look at my book length to-do list,” I might have been heard to cry, along with a few petulant grimaces and foot stamps on an increasingly exponential frequency as our D-date approached), emotional (keeping the lives of the children ‘normal’ in amongst the madness of four ‘are we really going’ years of ‘getting ready’), strategic (do we spend money on a truck to help us move or keep that for food and accommodation in France?), mental (cancelling utilities, notifying work, insurance companies, banks, schools, sporting clubs… of our departure), unnerving (enrolling the children in a French school, finding accommodation, fine-tuning our packing lists, spending so much on one-way plane tickets, being the only French speaker in the family excepting my youngest child with whom I was speaking French exclusively (yes, as a non-native speaker, I did dare, and yes, this goes a long way to answering the ‘why did we go?’ question).
How did we find somewhere to live?
I didn’t, my twelve-year-old daughter managed that. I had come up with only dead ends, but her determination led us to a long, short-term rental via one of the big holiday rental providers.
Are there other expats in our area?
Not when we first arrived, but more and more each year.
What is our relationship like with the locals?
Special, essential and meaningful despite only 1 ½ of us speaking French on arrival. The older two children caught up en deux temps trois mouvements, or faster than you could say Jack Robinson.
What do we like about life in the French Alps?
Mmm. I want to give a serious, heart-felt answer but doesn’t ‘life in the French Alps’ speak volumes on its own?
Dislikes of expat life?
The discomfort that comes from being an adult and not knowing the things that you are expected to know. I’ll throw in French paperwork, too (which is exactly what I felt like doing every time I tried to get it done).
Biggest cultural difference?
The tendency to negativity. The French language itself gives an indication of this e.g. Q: Am I pretty? A: You are not ugly.
Food and drink?
How positive this was. Learning to eat for pleasure, adjusting our day to eat within an embracing schedule where times were flexibly rigid and discovering taste, colour, combinations and variety.
Do it. Just go. Yes, write up your to-do lists but slowly and methodically tick them off and then buy that ticket and open your heart and mind to the experiences that are about to come your way.
Once there, try not to judge but if you do find yourself comparing and struggling, bring the word ‘different’ to mind instead of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Our one year away turned into several and the purchasing of a house in France. For a whole raft of reasons, we cannot be there physically full-time now, but our hearts are there in permanence, as is our home which is available for holiday rental when we are not there (details below).
You can keep up to date with Catherine's adventures on her blog, But You Are In France Madame, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. You can also rent out her French house here, and buy her book about life in France on Amazon.
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