Three weeks ago today I arrived in France to begin a five-week placement as an au-pair with a French family. Strictly the family aren’t entirely French as the father is English, and dinner time tends to be a free-for-all language-wise with both French and English being shouted over each other depending on whose mouth the speech leaves and whose ears it falls upon.
I have to be honest and say that initially, when I arrived, I hated the situation. I was living in the home of complete strangers in the middle of nowhere; I missed my friends and my family, and I’d just said goodbye to my boyfriend who I wasn’t to see for about 6 months. I’d also realised – a little too late – that I didn’t want to be an au-pair after all. It was the first day of my year abroad and I should’ve been excited, yet I cried the entire way to the airport and even in the airport terminal. At one point on the flight I was crying into my porridge; the French girl next to me must’ve thought I was nuts! I’m not a crier, I’m usually thick-skinned, but for some reason I saw that day as an end instead of a beginning.
The first week was tough. I was homesick, bored and uncomfortable living in someone else’s home. The family live in a little village called Bissy-sur-Fley in the French region of Bourgogne (‘Burgundy’ in English). The region is known for its rolling hills, quaint farm houses and its vineyards which produce such wines as the Montagny Chardonnay (from Montagny-lès-Buxy). I’ll try to paint a picture of just how rural this place is. The nearest train station is approximately 20km away (excuse the metric system, but I’m terrible at maths and can’t be bothered to convert all the Frenchness), and to catch a bus I have to get a lift to a village 8km away! Once you’re on the bus it takes at least 40 minutes to get to any given small town so that you can go shopping, go to the cinema or take a train somewhere. The village in which I’m staying really has nothing except for a few cows and stunning hilltop views. There are no shops or attractions (except for a tiny castle which Lincoln’s puts to shame), so you have no choice but travel incessantly. It would be nigh impossible to live around here and to get by without a car.
The family is lovely and consists of four children and their parents (French mother and English father). The father works for wine company and gets to travel around a lot, and the mother works from home as a freelance translator. The children are aged 11, 9, 6 and 4 and are almost completely bilingual. The two eldest children are completely bilingual and only occasionally trip over their words; the two younger children need a little help with their English grammar and occasionally vocab, however they fully understand when other people speak English to them. I have noticed a lot of improvement in their speech, especially the four year old who, when she doesn’t know an English word, says it in French with an English accent- “Heather! I can’t reach my joooop*!” “Can you sorteeee my vello*?” – Too cute!
*(‘Jupe’ = skirt)
(’Vélo’ = bicycle / ‘Sortir’ = to go out or take out)