Once we are no longer accountable uniquely to ourselves, living as expats forces us to examine our choice not only to live abroad, but also raise a family outside our culture of origin. Even long after a host country becomes "home", you routinely debate seemingly small things (especially if you share different cultural foundations with your partner), like the necessity for Marmite, the relevance of punctuality, or which day marks the beginning of the week.
This summer I’ll have been in France for exactly 10 years, working in luxury real estate. However I’ve always loved classic VW combi vans, and dreamt of having one since I was a teenager.
Finally summer is here and the smell of the grillade wafting through our little village over the weekend has triggered an annual event that I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing — the moment our taste buds cry out for chilled crisp whites and a plethora of pinks. The big ballsy reds that we so readily quaff at any other time of the year now make as much sense as hot soup in the Seychelles!
In the midst of the Goudargues countryside, on the winding road to Verfeuil, aspiring horse riders can stumble into a scene right out of a Western at Vano Stables, owned by a friendly Belgian couple, Christine and Philippe Van Hauw (pronounced "Vano"). While Christine and her granddaughter Adélie are competition-level reining riders and compete all over Europe with their finely bred horses, at home the stables and modern equestrian centre play host to the Gard’s very own El Charro, or traditional Mexican cowboy or horseman, Carlos Barrera.
As I enter the boulangerie of Jean-François Gimenes, he is in the process of rolling out a pâte feuilletée, a puff pastry, folding it seven times. The next day he will cut it into long loaves, and put it into his wood-fired oven on a long paddle to bake.
You may not be too familiar with Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, but this small town — 20 km from Nîmes and with a population of 13,500 — is celebrating this summer, with activities including the 20th anniversary of the inclusion of its Abbatiale, or abbey church, as part of the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James), the completion of the Abbatiale’s renovation, new tourism initiatives and a series of festivals and concerts.
Thanks to the recent opening in early June of the long-awaited Musée de la Romanité (Museum of Roman Civilisation), Nîmes now has a worthy museum that can tell this story in full.
While history has not retained many names of the hundreds of Protestant women persecuted in France after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Marie Durand is one exception. She was born on 15 July, 1711 in the little town of Le Bouschet-de-Pranles in the Ardèche region, near Viviers. Her family were Protestants, but they had been forced to convert to Catholicism, but after the death of Louis XIV, young Protestants, including Marie and her brother Pierre (1700-1732), refused to accept forced conversions.
We never intended to live for good in France. I had received a small advance for my first novel and had taken a year’s unpaid leave from my teaching post in London. Twenty-seven years later, we still sometimes feel taken by surprise at our long-ago decision. We were young and a little reckless.
Robin Hicks, who lived near Pézenas for 12 years, looks back on his time in France and explains how he felt as he slowly settled into the country, although he confesses a little more time on verbs and tenses would have made it easier.
For all that, he did manage to create the Cassan Cracker Fair, edit a local monthly paper named Blablablah and report for a number of papers, plus working with Béziers airport to promote the area to the British press. He returned to the UK in 2002 after 12 years in France, and here he gives us his thoughts on belonging, his struggles with the French language, secrets of the "international press" and the mysteries of wine tasting sessions.
I was born in Paris, grew up in Toulouse, spent months in America, went to college in Normandy, gave birth to my son in the Corsican mountains and have been living in Nîmes for 10 years now. I’ve moved 12 times since the age of 18, and quickly felt at home in every single place I’ve lived in, but for many years have wondered “Do I belong here?”