I woke up today and realised I’ve been living in France for two years. A lot has happened in that time: I’ve taught English to young and old (well… 6 years up to about 40), translated the French Highway code into English, attended an interview at Le Cordon Bleu, worked as a report writer for a market research company, become an ‘orthophoniste’ and practised here for 10 months…. and got engaged!

A Le Christine dessert

I won’t pretend it has all been rosy. I’ve battled (and am still) battling with French bureaucracy, spent hours trying to work out how to file my tax returns, chased a hospital accountant for 6 months in order to get paid for work done in November. Until last week, I had a constant backlog of reports to write because producing ‘speech therapy-speak’ in French takes so much longer and never sounds as good as I’d like it to. I’ve forced myself to answer the group practice phone and spend ages telling distressed parents on the waiting list that their child is still going to have wait for many more months. And I’ve left countless really, really rubbish messages on answer phones and then spent longer re-recording my messages over and over again.

Still, it feels as though dim light is visible at the end of that tunnel. Last Tuesday I managed to bash through about five reports in a day and get the backlog down to one report. In doing so, I realised that I had come a long way since the early days, when it used to take hours to string a few sentences together. When I leave phone messages now, they are generally fairly coherent (I think) and I tend to re-record them only once on average (as opposed to five times)!!

Lunch at a patient’s… with wine

The best bits of course (work-wise) have been the patients. It’s often the stroke patients who are the most impressive – the man in his 60s with a right-sided paresis and significant speech difficulties who greets me with a wide grin and a solicitous ‘ça va?’ without fail, every week… the man in his 70s hooked up to an oxygen machine 24/7, mostly confined to an 8th floor flat, with no expressive language other than ‘non’ and random speech sounds. He chuckles every time I walk in the door, insists I have a drink from the bottle of chilled water put out for me by his wife, and makes me borrow his umbrella if it looks like rain. There’s also the cancer patient who comes for voice therapy and likes to offload about French politics or rave about the latest jazz concert he’s been to. Then, today, came the little 7 year old girl who’s behind on her reading, and got sent to me as her parents speak English. It’s my first real foray into the world of paediatric speech therapy here and my first ever into dyslexia, which UK speech therapists don’t treat. Her fresh excitement and eagerness to carry out every task I gave her made me think it might be worth the effort of branching out into another new field.

But forget work, what about the rest?

Well, here’s the best bits about living in Paris:

  1. Not a croquise… but a tradition

    Buying a croquise at our local boulangerie (this is their name for just one of about 10 different kinds of baguette, crusty, airy bread heaven).  Actually, I could add an entire parenthesis on baked goods to include pain au chocolat, éclair au chocolat, tartelette aux framboises, mini bébé moelleux… but I’ll leave it at that for now

  2. Neighbours saying ‘bonjour Madame’ to you. This is one real difference from England: if you come across someone in your building or in the street just outside, a smile to say hi won’t do, you have to say ‘bonjour‘, although you’d better also remember if you’ve said bonjour already that day, in which case it’s ‘re-bonjour’! And if you want to be respectful, best to add Madame or Monsieur as well.
  3. More sunshine hours. I never really thought there was much difference between London and Paris weather-wise, but this year I’m sure that even if the yearly rainfall is similar (or so I insist to D), it certainly does feel as though you can rely on having a decent amount of sun over the summer here (although the stats seem conflicting depending on source, the difference may be as much as 20%).
  4. Eiffel Tower at night

    Seeing the Eiffel Tower pop out from behind a building or a cloud every so often. The area I cover for work is spread out across as steep hill overlooking Paris, so sudden startling views of the city are fairly frequent, when turning a corner, or going down the steps from the station. Actually, the best bit is driving back at night and happening to go past when the tower is ‘sparkling’, which it does for five minutes on the hour after dark.

  5. The kitchen table

    Buying ‘real’ fruit in the market in the summer. Yes, the fruit really is different from what you can get in Sainsbury’s or even Waitrose. Brought up from the South in crates, the grapes come in many shades and sizes, translucent yellowy beads or huge dusty purple baubles. There’s many kinds of peaches, apricots and melon, really ripe (‘they’ve actually seen the sun’, D says).

  6. Eating out in Le Christine or one of our other favourites. I love the way they serve you an amuse-bouche of something unexpected without asking – e.g. chilled courgette velouté with a tiny mouthful of savoury olive cake. Mmm…
  7. And of course I couldn’t end without saying sharing breakfast and dinner with D nearly every day and not having to wait 2 weeks to see him at St Pancras 🙂

That’s quite a lot of good things! Well I was going to add a list of my top bugbears, but I’ll save that for another time…