As you know our children play a huge role in our lives and are actually quite integral to this blog. So when Millie asked the other day if she could write a guest post about her life in France, it took me just a nanosecond to say “Yes.” Millie is 16; she has an immense passion for life, she’s very sporty, she’s quite tiny and she’s also terribly sweet most of the time! I gave her no guidelines as to what she should write and have not edited her offering at all; in fact the only thing I said was to “try and keep it to around 1500 words.” Apart from my snapshots of Millie herself, the rest of the photos are her own. So, this is Millie’s life in France; it’s a glimpse into the life of a teenager in a foreign land and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I read it.
Hello, my name is Millie. That might be the most cliché opening line of all time, but I’m really not sure how to introduce myself to thousands of readers across the world. I think, to date, my biggest audience would be the few hundred students in my old middle school who used to read my articles for the student newspaper. Although, judging by the number that ended up on the floor, I doubt very few people actually read them.
I’m not new to writing itself—I’ve been filling notebooks and annoying my friends since I learnt my ABCs. The new part is writing about this particular topic. Maybe I should start from the beginning.
As a family, we’ve always travelled. It’s something I’ve grown up with and never questioned. To everyone else, the way our family moved to foreign countries was confusing. How could we leave our friends, our culture, everything we knew, behind? As a little kid, it wasn’t difficult to fit in across the world. Everywhere we went was a new place to explore, perhaps a new language to learn, and another country to tick off the list. It’s great fun telling people the places I’ve been.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons my mom (or mum? I’m never certain which one to use) started this blog. When we first decided to move back to France, I was really excited. After four years in the States (5th through 8th grade, for me), I thought it would be amazing. Not because it was France, (I’d already lived there) just because it would be a new adventure. From the endless cardboard boxes, to finding the house, to finding a school, I wanted to be a part of it, right down to the blog and how it would function. Despite some preposterous claims from male members of the family, the name ‘Our French Oasis’ was invented by me!
At first, the blog was a strange new venture, and us kids wanted to be involved in every feature of it—the little ones especially would beg to have their photo in it or be talked about! For a few months, the posts didn’t follow a specific timetable and were very much oriented towards our friends back in the USA, and letting them know about life in general and how we were getting on. Then, a larger number of strangers from the Internet started commenting and becoming a new, unbelievable community. The blog as it is today was born, all started by my own mother, whom I didn’t know could even write! Thanks to all of you who have followed, commented and chatted. You have no idea how happy you have made her. I like to call you OFOans, but it hasn’t caught on yet! Now it’s become a bit of a running joke every time mama picks up a camera— “drop what you’re doing and come pose guys, we need more photos for the blog!” At least, with all of the outtakes and hundreds of snaps from daily life, we’ll be able to look back in twenty years and have a detailed memory of life now; and we’ve all started going round taking photos.
I have just realized, however, that I’ve spent five paragraphs talking about everything except my chosen topic to write about—that is, my life in France and my view of it. My apologies. I’m certain my language arts teacher would be ashamed of me.
Many people believe that France is old fashioned, rural, and filled with elderly men on bicycles with their berets sitting on their heads and baguettes tucked neatly under one arm. In fact, I’ve still never seen anyone wearing a beret!
Where we live, not fifteen minutes from the seaside and within easy reach of amenities and large towns, life really is quite idyllic. It’s a charming mix of ancient and contemporary architecture, history, culture, and people (although I don’t think there are any people who could be classified as ancient walking around). From the neat, vibrant little city of Rochefort, with its colourful shop fronts and beautiful square, to the ice-cream-filled, tourist and sunshine-oriented town of Royan, there truly is something for everyone.
Our home is a wonderful juxtaposition of all these themes. At first, with its many, many coats of paint and different renovations, I was uncertain about how it would turn out. Compared to our modern house in Florida, it had a kitchen straight from the groovy 60s and bedrooms with leaking windows. I was less than convinced.
By the time a few months had passed, though, something magical had happened. The place had slowly been transformed from a dusty, antiquated house into a beautiful, bright home. The gardens were a big selling point, too. When we first arrived, they had become an impressive forest through years of lack of proper care, and over the past year and a half, with lots of time put in and trips to Gamm Vert (the local farm and garden centre), they have become a thing of beauty. Everyone has seen the pictures. There is an undeniable tranquillity about them that simply wasn’t present in our backyard in Florida. I’ve also learnt that no matter how many times mama insists we’re only getting a few small plants, it’s always best just to get the giant flatbed instead of a regular sized trolley!
It helps that everyone is incredibly friendly. Some people seem to think that the French get impatient with people who can’t speak the language, but apart from the rare exception, everyone just smiled at our efforts and did their best to communicate when we first came here. My French has come quite a long way, too. From barely being able to say more than a sentence when we first arrived, I’d now pronounce myself ‘fluent in conversation’. Of course, when it comes to reading long texts or talking about something with some obscure vocabulary, I’m less than proficient. Everyone seems to be genuinely glad to have us here. I hear that all of the little girls go up and give kisses or bisous to mama when they see her at the school gates! (And don’t get me started on the popularity of our dogs…)
There is simply a way of life here that is undefinably fantastic. I never know how to compare the places I’ve lived in when I’m asked to pick which is my favourite, but France certainly possesses an unnameable quality that the others do not. From the way the sky is a bright, clear blue; or how long grass grows beside the road; or how buildings that were here long before us still stand. There are empty, wild beaches stretching for miles, just waiting for an adventurer courageous enough to take them on; and a different island to visit for every day of the week. I truly believe that someone could come and visit for a month without going near a city or town—the countryside itself is so calming and timeless that it would be quite possible to spend all day pottering down little lanes or rambling through shaded forests.
Maybe this is all very strange to be hearing from a teenager, but the feeling encompasses everyone who comes. Of course, I will always miss my friends in America, but several have come to visit, and my best friend is coming this summer… I’m counting down the days so I can show her everything! In France itself, my biggest complaint would be the school system. Having spent four years at school in the States, where a lot of the learning is done through expressing oneself and creative activities, adjusting to the strict French system (copy the lessons, learn the lessons, be tested on the lessons) was tricky. Personally, I find it to be quite boring, and being a naughty student, spend most of the time drawing all over my notebooks (which is frowned upon by teachers… oops).
In the end, though, how many kids can say that they live in a foreign country with such an incredible history and culture? Everyday there’s something new to learn or see. One thing that has caught my attention in the past few weeks has been the change in clothing. It seems like everyone clung to their winter coats until a few days ago, and now, walking in Rochefort the other day, they’ve suddenly all exchanged their coats for shorts and t-shirts! Maybe spring is just a myth in France and we bypass it altogether and go straight into summer?
Well, it seems that I only have a few words left until I reach my word count, and I’m sure you’re all wondering where Susan has got to! In the meantime, thank you for reading my nonsense, and perhaps next year I’ll post an updated version… a lot can change in a year, after all. Ciao, everybody.
P.S. Maybe I should take over the blog. No? Okay. I agree. xx