Hello! In my old life I was a City lawyer, living the corporate dream in London. Having studied law for five years, and undertaken on-the-job training for another two, a legal career was the obvious career choice (um, I didn’t know what else to do…). And London life was a good life! Culture, bars, clubs… London’s got it all! Alpine Papa and I made the most of what the Big Smog had to offer, before moving out to the suburbs to start a family.
Fast forward a few years and now Alpine Papa and I live with our three kids in the French Alps. I love walking and skiing and cycling. And eating chocolate. (Not necessarily in that order.)
We started to discover that London’s not got it all after all… Mountains, trees, nature and snow are all distinctly lacking. On holiday on the South of France one year, under the influence of never-ending sunshine and lunchtime beers, we made a pact: next time we had a baby we would take a ‘gap year’ in France. I’d take a year off work and we’d get out of London. I’m English but Alpine Papa is French, and was feeling a little bit homesick I think (it’s a scientific fact that there is only so long a Frenchman can live apart from boulangeries, cheap wine and mindlessly pointless and infuriating bureaucracy before fading away to nothing, and Alpine Papa was fast reaching this limit). Moving to France would be a new adventure for me, and a return home for him. The perfect combination.
Nine months later Alpine Girl was born.
Six weeks after that we found ourselves living in a tiny village in the French Alps, in a genuine wooden chalet Heidi would have been proud of. Life couldn’t have been any more different if we’d moved to the moon.
And the gap-year never ended! Three-and-a-half years later we’re still here, having properly given up London life and a career in law to make the most of everything the Alps have to offer (cheese, wine and, um, cheese…). We’re here to stay!
Likes/dislikes about France and the French?
What’s not to like about a country where you are never more then five kilometres away from a cake shop, where entirely quaffable wine costs less than five euros a bottle, and where the work ethic is such that no one bats an eyelid at having up to five public holidays just in May? Cheap car insurance, fantastic family tax-breaks, traffic-free motorways, free school for all from the age of two-and-a-half? That’s the boring stuff ticked off. Ski resorts, never-ending walks, and some of the best cycling in the world right on our doorstep? Yep. Breathtaking views, culinary delicacies to die for, and some of the world’s best cinematographic geniuses? Yes indeed. I could go on. For a long time (I’ve not even mentioned the CHEESE!!). But I won’t.
The bad stuff? I find that the longer I’m here the less I notice. The mindlessly pointless and infuriating bureaucracy I think I’ve mentioned (I usually do within about three seconds of telling people about our new life in France…). Even married to a real-life native I find it almost impossible to deal with sometimes, and threaten to leave ‘this stupid country’ on an almost monthly basis (usually just after receiving yet another letter from the Social Security office requesting yet more documents I have ALREADY SENT, DAMMIT!!! Ahem. Sorry.) Coming from a country where everyone apologises all the time (especially when it’s not their fault), where everyone has been taught from birth how to queue, and where customer service actually exists, I found it hard to integrate myself in a country where none of this comes naturally to any of the locals. (I soon got over that, though, and can now bump into people and push into queues like a true pro).
I will never get used to dog poo everywhere, though. Ever.
Has your life style changed since you moved to France? If yes, how?
Totally. In pretty much every way.
Outdoor life for us in London meant a glass of wine in the back garden, or an hour-long trip in the car to find some vaguely green and pleasant land. Now we are walking in the mountains most weekends in the summer, and skiing them all winter. I’ve taken up cycling, and have entered the 2016 Etape du Tour (where ‘normal’ people ride a mountain stage of the Tour de France two weeks before the pros do it) – if I pull it off it will be a downright amazing feat for a previously plump Alpine Mummy who cried the first time she cycled up a (very small) Alpine hill…
The kids go to the local village school, where they are one of 15 in their class, not one of 35. They learn about nature and community and can identify seven different types of animal dung, and Alpine Boy says his favourite thing ever is milk straight from a cow.
I’ve given up a promising career for all of this, and now work as an Office Manager for a law firm in Geneva. Sometimes I wonder if we made the right decision (when I’m signing off another order for paper clips instead of preparing an exciting case for court), but a quick look out the window at Mont Blanc usually sorts that. Being able to spend more time with my three screaming snotty children is worth the slight loss of professional pride and development (and hey, paper clips are important, right…?!)
What is the the first thing you do when you go back to your home country?
Go to Boots. And buy Dairy Milk. Before heading to a pub for fish and chips. Bliss.
Does France seem multicultural? please elaborate…
Not in my hidden quarter of Haute Savoie… Everyone is white. Everyone. We take the kids on day trips to Geneva for doses of multiculturalism, in the hope that they don’t grow up as local savages (albeit ones able to identify seven different types of animal dung). Weirdly though there are English-speakers everywhere – we’re not the only ones to have been lured away from the UK by chalets, croissants and cheese, it seems.
Do you feel yourself integrated? What does it mean anyway 😉
I did. I wasn’t working, and so I was there for the school run each day, the heart of village life. I was shy and awkward in French, but was soon accepted (even though no one ever did understand my ‘unique’ sense of English humor…). Then I got a job in Geneva, moved to another village, and am no longer to be found hanging round the school gates with the other mums. Thanks to play dates and birthday parties we are getting there, but it will take a bit of time.
Could you tell me a few words about your blog Alpine Mummy?
is excellent. You should all read it.
It started a lighthearted look at our decision to give up London life and move with our two kids to a chalet in the middle of nowhere. France (and more particularly, mountain life) was new and weird, and I blogged about the lot. As we’ve got used to our new life, and as our family has grown, the blog seems to concentrate on how chaotic life is with three kids, and how living in the mountains by no means makes things easy…
Please remember, it is ALL true…!
Have you ever experienced any cases of discrimination/racism in France?
No, despite my previous comments about living in a white white world. I feel a bit of the odd one out, sometimes, but I think that’s more because my family can’t be traced back three generations in the same village, rather than because I’m English. I’m as foreign as the neighbours, who have come here from Normandie. But I don’t get discriminated against.
Advice to a new expat who is thinking of moving to France? 😉
Do it! The biggest and best decision we ever made. No regrets.