Well, as so often happens in life, the resolutions to do things like write an end-of-year post and tell you what I’ve learned after a year of living at Les Terraces fell by the wayside, displaced by other, more important things such as meeting friends in the pub, or walking the dog, or preparing meals for the mass invasion that was Christmas and New Year. Actually, it is simpler than that. The honest truth is that I have discovered that the less one has to do, the more time it takes to do it (distractions such as the above notwithstanding).
When we started on the adventure of Les Terraces and life in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande we really didn’t know what we were getting into. Not because we hadn’t done our research (we had), but simply because it doesn’t matter how much research one does, you can’t know what life somewhere will offer until you start living there.
So, here goes: Yes, French bureaucracy is every bit as labyrinthine as the rest of the world would have you believe. And the sneaky buggers keep changing the rules every year or so, just to keep you on your toes. However, the good news is that I have not yet met an uncivil, or unhelpful, civil servant here. And that rocks. Trust me!
Yes, the French health system is awesome. No wonder the social charges are as high as they are! I am still learning my way around how to use it, and what the real costs are, as one must have “mutuelle” (top-up) insurance to cover the bits that the staggeringly high deductions don’t cover. And however proud the French may be of their cuisine, the institutional food is atrocious. I can only imagine that it is as bad as it is to encourage people to get well quickly and leave (how’s this for a thrilling and appetising meal?)
The kindness of strangers should never be underestimated. We have both been grateful on many an occasion for a kind word, or action from someone we didn’t (or don’t) know.
Language barriers can be friends as well as foes. And I’m glad to have learned that it is not only the English who talk more loudly when they are speaking to people who don’t speak the same language!
A smile, and a please / thank you can carry the day. If you only learn 2 words of another language, let them be “please” and “thank you.” Use them often.
Turning up at a vigil to express solidarity with the community (think Charlie Hebdo and the other events in Paris last year) makes a difference. People notice. I was surprised to be greeted with a bise by one of the ladies who works in a boulangerie we frequent at the last one. I didn’t know her name then. I do now.
There’s much more to learn. I look forward to more lessons in the year ahead. Perhaps you’ll be here next year to see what more we’ve learned.
Best wishes for the year ahead.
Alex, Graham & Brin.