Two surprising things in a french day

happy children in skiing outfit in snowy mountains   School holidays are the same throughout France in the summer and autumn, but in February and at Easter they are staggered. This year it is the turn of our zone to be first, hence we start our holidays today, 9th February. Other zones will start on 16th or 23rd.This can make the terms very unequal in length.

We wondered why the holidays are so early and it was explained to us that it is the result of pressure from the ski resorts who want to extend the skiing period for as long as possible to maximise their income. They are obviously a very influential group.

The second surprising thing happened while I was watching the lunchtime news. On the major TV1 channel there are news programmes at 1pm and 8pm. Very often the first news item will be about how people are coping with the weather, or something to do with the everyday lives of the french. The 1pm news is followed by documentaries about different regions in France, which are very helpful for us foreigners.

Despite this fairly informal approach, I was still surprised at the end of the programme to hear the announcer add a personal comment. He wanted to wish his mother a very happy birthday! Admittedly, it may have been a significant birthday but I cannot imagine the same thing happening in Britain. We found it quite touching.


I cant really have a blog about life in France without making at least a short comment about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish delicatessen. The events have shaken the French to the core and given them a new sense of vulnerability. The French uphold three fundamental rights: liberty, fraternity and egality. They feel that the first has been violated.

For me personally, the events have cast a cloud over my English lessons. Some students wanted to express their outrage and some their disappointment at the racism that has arisen. Some have joined the five million new subscribers to the magazine.

It is interesting to see the contrasting attitude in Britain where the government are currently debating laws which will curb freedom of speech when it leads to racial hatred.

How about a winter break ………….. in Preston!

Friargate, leading to Harris Museum, Preston

Friargate, leading to Harris Museum, Preston

Two of my students are going to spend the month of February in Preston. It will be part of their training to be able to work in the tourist industry. They will live with an English family and work in a charity shop, museum, tourist office ……..     Seventeen french students will be going together, flying from Nantes to Manchester.

So, in preparation, we spent the lesson yesterday looking at maps of where Preston is in the country, seeing photos of some of the sites and learning to give directions from a street plan of Preston. After learning the phrases ‘Turn right, 2nd exit on the roundabout, one way … etc’, I asked them to direct me from the University to the Library. Not easy, especially since you can only cross the Ringway at certain points.

Before Christmas I introduced them to British money – not easy for people who normally travel within Europe and  rely on the euro. By the end of the lesson I think they had decided to pay for everything by credit card.

Despite everything, they are looking forward to the trip. For me, I look forward to receiving them back in March with good Lancashire accents!

The Bayeux Tapestry

Before travelling to England at Christmas, we had the good fortune to be able to call in at Bayeux to see the tapestry.  It is housed in a U-shaped glass display cabinet and extends for 64 metres even without the sections presumed to be missing. It is in fact an embroidery, not a tapestry and it has survived amazingly for nearly a thousand years. According to the tapestry, the dying king Edward sent Harold to William, Duke of Poitiers, to proclaim him rightful successor to the English throne. Harold swore allegiance to William, but when he returned to England and King Edward died, he had himself proclaimed King. Hence 1066 and all that. The gallery was almost empty when we arrived and we were able to take our time studying it, with the help of a commentary.

We then had a walk around the town and decided that it merited a much longer visit at some point in the future.

Harold swearing allegiance to William on holy relics.

Harold swearing allegiance to William on holy relics.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (but not in France)

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Some of the things we have discovered about this time of year in France:

Most firms only have one day off for Christmas. And if Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, tough, you don’t get any time off.

On 6th December Santa Claus calls by with biscuits and chocolates for children who have been good – and an evil character with a whip accompanies him, in case anyone has been naughty!

The French don’t send many cards, particularly before Christmas. Some are sent throughout January to send good wishes for the New Year. Don’t make the same mistake as me and wish Happy New Year in December. It is considered to bring bad luck.

Christmas is about eating. There is a big meal around midnight on 24th called the Réveillon, then everyone starts on another big meal on Christmas Day. These have been known to last for three or four hours so it’s a test of stamina.

There are no crackers, no Carol Services, no mince pies or Christmas cake and a Yule Log replaces Christmas pudding for dessert.

Its also the start of the skiing seasons. Several of my students will be disappearing to go skiing around Christmas.

Oranges and lemons

y3msc_orangeslemons At one of the advanced English classes I handed out the words for Oranges and Lemons and explained the children’s game and the origin of the words – debtors at the Tower of London, church bells that can be heard from there, guard with candle telling prisoners that their turn for the chop would be tomorrow.  Understandably, the students found this rather gruesome as a children’s game.

However the tables were turned when on Saturday I went to a local concert where our french teacher was singing. I didn’t catch all the words but there seemed to be one song about a butcher chopping up some children and between each verse there was a cheerful tra,la,la.  At our next french lesson I asked for an explanation of this cheerful song. She explained that it was the Legend of St Nicholas. Three children were gleaning food in the countryside and it was late so when they came across a butcher they asked if he could put them up for the night. He agreed readily and that night he chopped them all into small pieces and put them in a cauldron of brine, as he would with a pig. seven years later St Nicholas stopped by at the same butcher’s for the night. When he was offered some food he said he would like the salted meat from seven years ago. The butcher trembled when he realised he was found out. St Nicholas said he would be forgiven if he repented. He then brought the three children back to life, tra,la,la.

I suppose the french version does at least have a happier ending.

A very special pub crawl

Last weekend was Open Day for many of the sparkling wine producers in Saumur. We had been invited by one of my students to the ‘caves’ of La Grenelle where she was exhibiting her paintings. (Incidentally, ‘caves’ is french for wine cellars but in the region around Saumur these are often real caves carved out of limestone.) A high class restaurant was also present so we tasted some of their delicaces as well as the sparkling wine.

Dany Rodriguez in front of her paintings. She has displayed her paintings throughout France.

Dany Rodriguez in front of her paintings. She has displayed her paintings throughout France.

From there we drove to La Veuve Amiot where there was a Christmas market. It was great to see people enthusiastic about speciality bread, mushrooms, home-sewn articles, Italian cheese and home-made jams and jellies. We bought some wine jelly and some dandelion petal jelly made with sugar and agar agar – something to investigate next Spring.

Our next stop was Ackerman where we were tempted by ‘chocolat divin’.  It’s certainly true that bubbly and high class chocolates go very well together. Again, the making of the bubbly was explained and then we wandered past many stallholders showing their wonderful chocolate creations.

Fortunately we made it home without coming across any gendarmes!

Happy St Catherine’s Day

November 25th is the feast of St Catherine. One of the students called Catherine received a text in the middle of an English lesson, saying Bonne fete. This led to a question about how you would say it in English, and suddently a huge cultural gap opens up. “Well, you don’t say it, because England isn’t a predominantly Catholic country so the saints’ days aren’t celebrated.”  Silence!  And then someone mentions a rhyme linked to St Catherine’s Day,

à la Sainte Catherine, tout bois prend racine….

Trees planted on 25th November take root. The implication is that trees planted on 24th or 26th November may not. We had come across this idea before but it always comes as a shock. It also explains why a friend who is giving us a walnut tree is desperate for us to have it straight away – we’re already a week late!  “Make sure you have a hole dug ready” he told us. We wondered whether the date still stands when it has been such an exceptionally warm autumn. The answer is most definitely Yes.


One of the benefits of living in the country is that it is much easier to see the stars. Recently there has been a lot of cloud but last night Orion was glowing in all his glory and I decided to get up in the middle of the night to see what else I could see.


Len bought me a telescope two Christmases ago and we have tried a few times to get it aligned to the stars so that it would show me what I was looking at but we have so far failed. However it does     function without being programmed and this week I managed to focus it on some distant trees (not as easy as it sounds because it’s quite powerful). So for two or three hours last night I looked through the telescope, trying to find something to focus on. Wherever I pointed the telescope there were thousands upon thousands of stars. My aim was to find Jupiter, which I finally did, at least I think I did. Just a round shining dot. I couldn’t see any of the features in this photo but it felt like progress. Stargazing is obviously not something that can be picked up in 5 minutes. I’m off to find some tutorials now.

A Scottish evening in the heart of France


Last night we were privileged to be invited to an intimate soiree to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The theme was Scotland, since the couple had enjoyed many happy holidays there. Most people had found a    little bit of tartan to wear and there was Scottish music playing in the background.




The menu was as follows:

Oatmeal biscuits and smoked salmon

Cock-a-leekie soup with spelt bread

Haggis (as near to the original as is possible with french ingredients), tatties and neats ? (carrot and suede)

Raspberries and whipped cream with oatmeal soaked in whisky with shortbread

Dundee cake

Phew! What a meal and all accompanied by very interesting conversation and reminiscences from the guests.

A big Thank you to our hosts.