I often feel like I'm guilty of being a stereotypical expat. I bulk buy baked beans in the UK and drive them over. I have a ginormous satellite dish lurking in my garden to pick up UK TV. We socialise mainly with other English expats and I still have worse French than the average French GCSE student. But as there's much dialogue in the UK at the moment about migration and integration, it's made me question how integrated I am.
I've blogged before here about my difficulty with the language. It is so hard to learn it, and I do overly rely on socialising with other Brits as it is easier. But I am trying. I don't go to places seeking out an english speaker. Instead I warn the person I'm speaking to that my French is bad, and I take my time and keep calm and usually I have enough language to get through. I answered a phone call recently, identified he was a delivery driver and managed to direct him through the village to our house. Something back in the UK I would have done easily, but here it becomes a huge accomplishment. In short I'm no longer scared to go to places or speak to people. It might not always be easy, but I can get by without dragging a fluent French speaker with me.
Whilst I do love a chat with my fellow expats, I do have French friends. My best one, the one I see every week does admittedly speak English, but usually we work it that she speaks French and I try to back, breaking into English when I can't find the vocabulary to express myself. I walk the dog with my kids in the village daily and I think I know all the permanent residents and most of those with holiday homes. I always speak to everyone, and I might not always know 100% what they're saying, but I think everyone appreciates my efforts. Everyone waves at us, and my son gets kisses and pats on the head on regularly.
My kids are probably the best example of our integration. My two year old goes to the local creche three times a week. We go to a French playgroup every other week, which is great for me meeting over mums and practising the lingo. We also belong to a toy library and play centre where we go and meet other kids and mums once a week too.
Then there's our shopping habits. Aside from our annual drive to the UK to pack the roof box with baked beans, cider and Marmite, we do shop locally. Local green grocers, supermarkets, markets and boulangeries. Not that we go out much with a toddler and baby in tow, but we do also support the local restaurants and cafés whenever we can.
So the question is, am I segregated and the answer is no. Yes, I may look like a stereotypical expat, but I'm aware I live in France. I use the local facilities, try and embrace the culture and lifestyle (croissants and red wine, oh the hardship) and I try to mingle with francophones as much as I can. Of course I could do better, and hopefully as my French improves so will my integration. But it seems I'm on the right track and I've surprised myself to realise it.
My French Life
In 2013, my husband and I bought a house in a tiny village in the Pyrenees. Since then, we've gutted and renovated it, had a baby, I've had three books published and we've moved to France full-time. This is my blog about our French adventure!