It’s hard to believe that this summer marked our first year of life here in France. So much has happened this year, we have been catapulted into a whole different world. We do our best to keep life in our apartment unique to who we are, but it seems that almost every detail of life outside of our apartment is different. Whether it’s how we communicate, the people we have met and interact with daily, our routines, the amount of time we spend together, the foods we eat, EVERYTHING is so different. For the most part, we have embraced this newness and difference with adventure. It is, after all, temporary and we acknowledge daily how fortunate we are to be here even if it’s not always easy.
I have tried to post about different areas of our life here so that we can look back one day and realize how absolutely fortunate we are to be here for these 3 years.
Charlie has had such a great year. This child has asked us for years and years to take him on a big trip somewhere far away. He LOVES to travel. I know that one day, his wanderlust will likely take him far far away from us, so I am so thankful for all the moments I get to travel with him for now. He is up for anything at anytime.
First train ride this year for everyone, which Charlie loved, but still says planes are his favorite.
Our schedules and school routines make it impossible to accompany him to school, music lessons, etc. and so we quickly realized that this would require him to walk, bus or tram to and from school on his own. Last year, he would walk with some other girls from our building, but it was not feasible to try and sync 3 11/12 year old morning schedules and expect them to all be ready at the same time. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time discussing street safety and crossing city streets. Many people have asked me if it is safe for C to come and go and my answer would be yes. We live in a city full of universities so there are young people everywhere. Because public transport is so accessible and the city itself entirely walkable, children walk unaccompanied pretty much everywhere. There are tons of schools nearby and as a result there are school age kids walking everywhere. Also, while there is a big problem with petty theft and break-ins here in France, there is very little violent crime, so the streets feel safe.
Charlie has loved exploring this city and often knows more about where things are than I do!
He’s always been pretty independent and adaptable, but we have seen a quiet confidence in him this year that has really come out. From day 1, Charlie was unfazed by going into any shop or store. As long as he had memorized how to say “I don’t speak French”, he was good to go. Skateboard shops, tech stores, nothing was intimidating. I would often envy his fearlessness when it came to going into situations with the possiblity of being spoken to. As much as I knew how essential this was to learning our new language, it was a daily challenge for me that I found almost insurmountable at first.
At the end of August, there is a sport fair down in our city square where hundreds of sports organizations from Clermont and the surrounding areas come to showcase their various activities, clubs, etc and provide information about how to sign up. Considering that sports seasons here in France last the entire year, it is really only feasible to pick one athletic activity or club to join. As a result, it’s important to go to this event and get as much information as you can ahead of time (also easier to speak French face to face) so that you can make an better-informed decision. We walked around that morning for an hour or two and came across a cycling school for older kids that meets weekly for rides. Charlie was immediately in.
We had grabbed the last spot and therefore, the last (and oldest) bike. Considering that Charlie’s new bike he had gotten for his birthday last April in the US was stolen only 3 days after it arrived here in France from outside our local grocery store, we were thankful that bikes were provided for the kids.
Every Wednesday, we woud drive him to the drop off point where he met his team and coach and gets into an old van without heat or A/C and drives 20 minutes out to the plains where they will often ride 25 km in an afternoon. At first, it felt insane to drop my 11 year old off in the middle of nowhere without speaking the language with people I don’t know riding an old bike out on roads with who knows how many cars.
He has loved these rides. He has met some nice kids that like to practice their few words of English on Charlie. His coach is a kind man who takes him under his wing and looks out for him, he even gives him teen books about local historical figures so that he can learn more about the city that we live in!
Being part of this team, along with a few classes in French at school have helped Charlie to learn much more French than we imagined he would have been able to during his first year (compared to O and W, given that they go to a French school) at an International School and English is the primary language. He has caught on quick and is confident to speak in new situations. He likes to go to the bakery or grocery store for me to pick up a few things at a time and is always the one that will go into a restaurant to see if they have any tables for 5 🙂
At least 2x a week, he and a few friends will leave school and go out to lunch at one of the many restaurants near school that caters to students with cheap meal deals- kebabs, Subway, Mexican. It’s funny how quickly all 3 boys have learned to order Subway in French!
Speaking of food, he’s gotten more adventurous with trying new foods (mussels! octopus!) but still loves to try different burgers (but doesn’t really like the fries) and has definitely become a huge fan of all Italian food, especially pasta bolognese!
We have even let him try a coffee here and there… (he’s been asking us for years)…
After meeting his end of the deal we made 4 yrs ago to start with piano before moving on to guitar, he finally got to start guitar this year. We were lucky enough to find a great English speaking instructor and a gently used guitar that we bought off some ex-pat friends and he absolutely loves learning to play songs from Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay. It’s been really cool to listen to him sit in his room and practice; I never have to remind him- getting him to practice piano was like pulling teeth!
One thing that has been a little tough living here is that there aren’t many kids his age that speak English, either in the ex-pat group or in the English-speaking side at his school; it’s been hard to make many new friends. He’s been able to meet a few really good kids which he hung with a lot this year but ex-pat life means people coming and going often and for that we will always be thankful that the boys have each other during this time.
Since he was small, he has always had an interest in cars. At first, it was learning about which emblem went with which car, but for the last several years, he has loved sports cars and likes to go to car shows, read magazines, books and watch TV shows about them. Considering most of these cars are born in Europe, we’ve been lucky to be able to take him to see the places where they actually come from; particularly Ferraris and Lambroghinis.
We learned about a racing course in Issoire, 20 minutes from where we live here in Clermont; Club members bring their Lambos, Ferraris, Porsches, MacClarens, Aston Martens, you name it to ride the tracks, etc. On Father’s Day weekend, they opened it to the public and we went to watch people ride the windy course through the hills of Central France. Charlie loved it.
The boys got to ski for the first time in February during winter break, where along with several other families, we travelled to the French Alps for several days. Everyone loved it, but it was Charlie especially who couldn’t get enough. He had actually been on skis one time before when his class took a 3 day trip earlier in the winter to Les Estables for Ski de Fond, which is like a cross between downhill and cross country skiing and got bit with the ski bug.
During our trip, he wanted to ski all day every day and quickly moved up a few levels. This typically cautious kid was fearless when it came to steep slopes and was determined to learn how to ski parallel, which his instructor told us he was doing by the end of the week almost 100% of the time! Not so easy for his parents.
Other things Charlie has enjoyed this year…
We have a huge super nice Ikea here that has been not only useful for us to furnish our apartment with things we needed when we arrived, but it has become a hobby for Charlie. He LOVES Ikea and is up for a trip there anytime.
We have had to go several times for a dresser or bookshelf and Charlie will help measure it out, load it into the car and spend the next day or two building it. He loves it!
He loves all things tech/computer-y, especially Apple and likes to spend time researching the products on the market and dreaming about how to build his own PC. It’s kind of become a thing for us to check out Apple stores in any city we visit.
With a lighter school schedule and lots of downtime during the school week last year, he has read more books than ever before.
Since he was out of school on Fridays at 2:00, he and I would spend every Friday afternoon exploring the downtown area where we live, which was a sweet time for us. Often, we’d go to bookshops, coffee shops, or the mall to go shoe shopping 🙂
A few other funny things about this year:
French haircuts- this is the style that every. single. male. here wears and for kids, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone that will cut it any other way. So, we’ve given up and had fun with it.
Apartment time = lots of Fortnite time… I mean, I can’t even remember what they did with their downtime before this crazy game…
All in all, it’s been a great first year for Charlie. As I’m finishing this, we have started our second year here and many new and exciting changes for Charlie are in store…. can’t wait to see what year 2 is like!