Life in France


lafauche-at-sunsetI can’t believe we woke up in a chateau in France. I can’t believe we own a chateau in France! How is this my life?!

The first thing I must tell you is that it is cold. To be honest, we weren’t really prepared for how cold it is. We had done our research and somehow didn’t quite understand how cold it was really going to be. It’s not that it’s unbearable, just under freezing in the mornings…it’s just that we aren’t ready. You see, we’re moving from a part of the U.S. that isn’t really all that cold until January and even then, you can get by with the bare minimum of winter clothing for most of the winter. This morning, I woke up with memories of our first mornings in Maine when we lived there long ago. We weren’t prepared then, either. But the difference is, I know that now. So, when my feet hit the cold wood floor and I look out over the glittering frost covered hills that shimmer outside my window, I know what I must do.

I don’t own the right winter gear for this climate, so as I layer on my clothes, pulling on extra warm socks and three layers of shirts, I make a mental list of what I’ll need to buy in the next week for each of us. A warm hat for Graham and I, a pair of gloves for him that I’ll probably have to order because his hands are much bigger than the average Frenchman’s, another pair of jeans (or two!) to wear instead of my thin cotton skirts I usually work in, a few more sweaters for the kids and maybe another pair of pants, too. Thank goodness I insisted we all bring winter boots and heavy coats!

Today we had to get some official things taken care of and our friend Michael in Gondrecourt Le Chateau has offered to help. So, we left the kids with my family and headed his way. It’s about thirty minutes away, but a beautiful drive through the country and a handful of tiny farming villages. We see foxes along the way and big white cows, their breath steaming into the morning air above the fields.

The first order of business is to get a bank account set up, if possible. We’ve spent months debated which bank to go with, hours of research and pointless phone calls that lead nowhere have really left us defeated. But Mike suggested that we bank with the French postal service because they are well connected and available everywhere. Most Americans will be as shocked as we were to hear that the post office is also a bank, but it has a lot of advantages for us, especially since we live in such a small village in the middle of the countryside. Banking at the post office means we’ll have access to a bank within walking distance if necessary.

Well, the bank/post office experience turns out much like we’d been warned all bureaucratic items would. We arrive and Mike introduces us, explaining in French what we would like to request. But of course, they can’t see us right now. They ask us to make an appointment for next week. That’s immediately disappointing because we’d hoped to have an account so that we could set up our phone and internet by the weekend. Oh well. The account manager comes out and asks a lot questions. I’m so grateful for Mike because he helps us not only answer her, but pushes her to find solutions when she brings up reasons we can’t have an account. For example, we don’t yet have a residency visa, something I was afraid would be a major roadblock. He convinces her to accept another document instead. We don’t have a bill from our electric company to show them. He says he’ll call and get a letter from the company stating we are clients and she agrees that will suffice. She asks for our “family book” and he helps her understand we have no such thing in America, offering her our family birth certificates instead which she accepts. So, in the end, we have an appointment for an account and a solid list of items she’ll accept to open our account. Then, he goes so far as to call our electric company and settle the matter of the letter immediately. Within minutes it is in his email and printing for us. What a blessing it is to have good friends like Mike!

Then, he took us to city hall to request official notarized copies of our passports so that we don’t have to carry the real thing everywhere. He also explained that we should meet with the local police and introduce ourselves so that they’ll be aware there are new foreigners living in the area who may not fully understand all the laws and requirements. That is a little intimidating, but might come in handy if I break a minor traffic law and get pulled over. Hopefully they’ll be as kind as everyone else has been.

Before we left, we stopped by Mike’s computer shop to admire the incredible work they’ve done in setting it up. His partner, Rob, built the front of the shop himself and it looks amazing. Graham noticed the new radiator they had sitting in the old fireplace and asked where they got it. Before long, we were being led into the main house where Mike’s dad was introduced as a retired builder. He has connections all over the region and many years of experience building and remodeling, so Mike helped us to ask him a few questions about the best way to heat our new home with its drafty rooms and three separate heating systems. In the end, he offered to come see the house so that he could give us a better answer. We were thrilled and invited them to join us for dinner on Tuesday evening. So, in the end, we’ve already booked our first dinner guests.

Back at the chateau, we had a quick lunch and then the girls all piled into the car to do a little shopping in the city of Chaumont. It’s big enough to have some larger department stores, but we headed up to the top of the city in the old part of town in the hopes of finding a café. We squealed as we wound through narrow streets in the gathering darkness. As I reached the top of the hill, I found a series of empty parking spaces that seemed manageable and pulled in. We were in a section of the city I’d never seen, where the buildings were much older and the streets wound between them little wider than an alleyway. Little shops lined the sidewalks and we set out in search of our café. We never found it. BUT we did find a lot of ways to spend money! I bought a cute handmade wool hat from an adorable little shop that sold hats, scarves, hosiery, and other warm things for women. Honestly, I would have taken half the store with a smile, but thankfully the machine wouldn’t accept my credit card so I was limited to the hat which I could afford if I paid every single euro I had and borrowed ten more from my mother. She happily obliged. My sister found a pair of soft gloves, too, so the little shopkeeper seemed very happy to have been invaded by the Americans. Next door was a guitar shop that my oldest drooled over, but it was closed, so we made a promise to come back. At the corner sat a very large Chinese restaurant, sealing the fate of this particular town to become our family’s new favorite. As we turned the corner, we stepped out into a square where men were setting up stands like little tents. A Christmas market! It will be fun to come back in another week and see all the vendors with their Christmas wares for sale.

We shopped for nearly two hours in the cold and then realized it was time to get back for dinner. So, we wound our way back through the dark streets in time to heat up a big pot of Italian soup. (The soup that must not be named;) I fell into bed exhausted, but so grateful for another day of successes. We may not have a bank account yet, but I think just maybe we’re going to survive this beautiful crazy #chateaulife.

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