Well, it's been so long I'm not sure where to start. First of all, did you know that 52% of French homes do NOT have internet? (Thank you Connexion newspaper.) We've been staying in rural France for a few months now, and it really is like stepping back about 20 years. Remember when you used to look at the posters and cards at the grocery store to be "in the know" about what was happening in the community, or to find a babysitter, or buy a car? Well, it is still like that here. I've searched for things on the internet and now realize that looking when I'm grocery shopping will help me more in some instances.
June was spent in Brittany (Bretagne) and then we worked our way South, passing through Deux-Sèvres, Charente, and stopping at Keith's friend Brad's place for a few weeks in the Ariège. We looked at many houses, especially in the Charente region, because that is where we will get more for our money. Brad's partner, Michèle, helped me to get my titre de séjour so that I can legally live and work in France. Now the next priority is to get Keith and I social security numbers so that we can work and get registered into the health system. That is a whole other blog post!
In July we decided that we would take up Keith's friend Steve's offer to stay in his house in Saint Arnac for as long as we wanted. (For some reason Keith has all these friends who love France!) It is furnished and although some parts of it are not completely finished, it is a very nice rustic home for us for now. We felt it was important to stop moving for awhile so that Patrick could feel settled. If we could enroll him in school, then we would stay for at least a few months, possibly through the winter. The school is in the bigger village of Saint Paul de Fenouillet, about a 10 minute drive from Saint Arnac. Staying here has been such a help for us financially, so that we can really stretch out the money we've saved. I also was able to find Keith and I a French tutor named Claire who lives not too far, an experienced teacher who offers lessons in the quaint village of Cucugnan. www.cours-a-cucugnan.com/
The process to enroll Patrick into école maternelle was not as difficult as I imagined. First I went to the mayor's office (mairie) in Saint Arnac to ask. Monsieur Calvet was very friendly and between my broken French and Google translate we managed to understand each other. He also gave me a justicatif de domicile which is important for doing anything anywhere in France. You must have proof of your address. As we have no lease or bill in our name for the house, I found it amazing that I could get this from the mayor having never met him before! Since the school is not in Saint Arnac, I then had to go to the mairie in Saint Paul de Fenouillet and give them my paperwork. They made copies of Patrick's birth certificate, vaccinations, justicatif de domicile, and our marriage certificate, and that was it, he was enrolled.
I went by the school to see what was on the notice board as it is closed in July and August. Luckily I did, so that I could find out that the head teacher was meeting with all parents before school started! (I received no other communication except a phone call a few days before school to set up the meeting.) The meeting went okay, except there was a whole part of the communication that I did not really understand until Patrick went to school. I had read about the schools here, and assumed that he would have lunch à la cantine, then a nap, and we would pick him up at 4:45pm. I had visions of what Keith and I could do for those whole days…sightseeing, long lunches, you know, what we did in France before we had a child! Well, this school's cantine is at another location, and students must take a bus there. Patrick is too young to take the bus, so we must pick him up for lunch and take him back after his nap. So this does not give us time to do much, especially with legal/bureaucracy issues, as the offices are in Perpignan, a 45 minute drive one way. We tried it one morning--drop him off at 9:00am, go to Perpignan, have an hour trying to speak to someone, then make sure we leave just after 11:00am to get him for lunch. Phew!
The first week of school was hard and frustrating for me. I was annoyed that I didn't understand what the teacher had told me about the lunch/nap schedule. I felt on the verge of tears every time I tried to say something in French, because it's just not good enough yet. Now that school has been in session for 3 weeks, I think we are getting the hang of the schedule a little better. Patrick has been really great, considering that he is at a school all day where he can't really communicate yet. There is one other girl in his class who can speak some English, her father is English and mother is French. Her mother came up to us the first day and made us feel welcome, she has been a help when we've had any questions come up. Our first parent/teacher meeting was this past Monday. His teacher (la maîtresse) and la directrice have been very kind and patient with us as non-French parents, and also understanding with Patrick as well, from what I can tell.
So far we have had a very encouraging experience in France. There are so many horror stories about things going wrong and rudeness, but I have to say that we have not had much of that. Our neighbors here are also very helpful. There have been a few times where we've had to try and call someone, and Eulalie has been our interpreter. She doesn't speak English, but because she slows down her speaking from the person on the phone, we can understand what needs to happen, and she writes things down for us to help as well.
Overall, I am happy with how things are going at the moment. I would not say we are really "settled" but in a limbo state until we find our own place to live.