Plans and ponderings on life in the Côte d’Azur

The Gulf of Saint Tropez. A typical view during my commute to and from work, what’s not to love?
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I’ve been living in the South of France for five weeks now and earlier today I received a message from a good friend asking if I was enjoying the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur. Of course I am enjoying it, even driving to and from work is a pleasure here. The views are spectacular. The Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix are both taking place as I write this and I drive along the coast road of the Gulf of Saint Tropez on my way home from work most days. Whilst there is certainly a lot of glitz and glamour here, we have been pretty busy with work and haven’t been able to explore any where near as much as we would like.

Luckily for me, my job involves a lot of driving so even though I have been busy at work I have also managed to see a lot of places, even if only briefly as I pass through. I’ve driven through the Luberon, Baie des Anges, the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and along the coast road of the Gulf of Saint Tropez almost daily.
However, as beautiful as this place is, I haven’t fully settled in to our new home. I really enjoy the freedom that our lifestyle and jobs affords us, but despite this, I find myself craving security and stability. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about homesickness and although I’m not feeling this at the minute, I think it’s important to focus on settling down, creating a routine and generally doing what I can to make the Côte d’Azur feel like home.

To create the feeling of stability and security, I need to create a routine for myself. Chris and I have fantastic friends and family in the UK and different parts of France, but we don’t have many friends at all in the Côte d’Azur, so it’s also important that we try to build a community here. The actions I need to take to help make myself feel settled are things that are going to take me out of my comfort zone and into situations that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Well, I love a challenge and I know from experience that stepping out of your comfort zone is not only challenging, but a fantastic way to learn.

When I first decided to start working in France, I was stepping way out of my comfort zone. I spent so much time planning, preparing and researching everything I could about life in France, the company I would be working for and the area I would be living in. Now, in my fifth season working in France, many of the things that were once challenging are now completely familiar and this year I barely prepared at all for my move, beyond researching the area that I would be living in. People often ask me if I find it difficult driving on the right hand side in France, but I’ve actually spent more time driving in France in the last few years than I have in England, so it’s almost second nature to me now. However, before I started working in France, I was terrified of driving on the “other” side of the road and was convinced I was going to drive the wrong way around a roundabout! Something that once felt challenging and even a little bit scary, is now routine and doesn’t phase me at all. In order to settle more quickly here I am planning to do three things. All of them will mean I have to step out of my comfort zone again, but I know they will eventually become part of my normal routine and that’s when I will finally start to feel settled.

Make new friends!
Back home, I love nothing more than chatting with good friends for hours over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and it’s one of the things I miss most when I’m in France. During the season, my husband and I usually live in the same place as other staff from our company, but for the first time we are living completely separately to the other staff in the area. This means there is no ready made social life and that we will have to make a real effort to make friends here. It’s especially important for my husband and I as we work very closely together (he is my manager!) and in the long term, it will be far healthier for us to have other people to socialise with than just each other, much as I love spending time with him. Integrating in to the local community is really important to me and whilst I know many people feel that you should avoid spending time in ex pat communities if you want to fully integrate to French life, my priority is to meet other people, regardless of where they are from. Having said that, I would love to be integrated in to a French community, but I know that may take a little bit longer.

Improve my French
If you know me well, you will know that the fact I am not fluent at speaking French after working in France for so long really bothers me. I am writing a blog post at the minute about why this is difficult in general and also why it has been difficult for me, so much more on this later. I have tried almost every app and website out there. My vocabulary, grammar, verbal comprehension and reading ability are actually pretty good, but I still can’t SPEAK French anywhere near as well as I want to. I have studied French in fits and starts and I think it’s this inconsistency that has been my biggest problem. However, I start my Lingoda Language Marathon in just a few days, on 27th May. This is a three month challenge with the added incentive of a refund if I complete the course! I know that this summer, consistency with learning French is not going to be an issue at all. I am both excited and nervous about this, but know that nothing worth doing is ever easy. Finally being able to converse confidently with local French people is another key step towards helping me feel settled. Little things like having conversations with staff in bars, supermarkets and at the post office, beyond just asking for what you need, all help to feel integrated in the community and actually enjoy your day to day life more. I will keep a diary of my Language Marathon experience and will share that with you soon.

Get in to a routine
This is so important to me. When I don’t have a routine of some kind, I actually find that I stop doing the things that I love and the things that make me feel healthy. I have been doing yoga for years and doing it daily since completing a 40 day yoga challenge last year. I’ve managed to stick to this on a daily basis even during my move back to France. However, because I haven’t got a set routine, I usually practice alone using my online subscriptions at whatever time of the day I have some time to spare. The online classes are fantastic, but they don’t help me to meet people with similar interests or to establish a routine. My plan is to start attending a local yoga class at a set time on a regular basis. I have only been to two yoga classes in France and they were fantastic. In the first one, I was actually made me feel like a minor celebrity! To explain, in small, rural villages, locals are often intrigued and interested by people they haven’t met before. Everyone was enquiring about where I was from, where I worked and the teacher let me off paying, asking only that I went back again and told people on the campsite about the class. It was also a fantastic way to learn a little bit of French, as yoga instructors usually give visual demonstrations of what they are instructing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to finding a class here, and all the benefits that will bring.

The added bonus of all of this is that we will be able spend more time enjoying this beautiful part of France and create a better work life balance for ourselves.
I’ll keep you updated as to my progress over summer!

Thanks for reading.
A bientôt,
Catherine xx

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