La vie en France: Seven years today!

Today marks my seventh anniversary of living abroad! On the 8th March 2011 I set out on an intended four month adventure to the French suburbs surrounding the Swiss metropolis of Geneva. Four homes and seven years later (with some border hopping in the middle), here I am still. Having done virtually no research save for previously reading a host of Victorian governess novels I had rashly determined on becoming an au pair. It was not my wisest decision. Neither was an identical decision, made at the end of the four months, to au pair à nouveau when I needed to find immediate employment in order to stay in close proximity to my brand new not-quite-a-boyfriend. I may have misjudged the family, but at least my romantic gamble paid off, as at the end of a week’s holiday driving around Corsica on the back of his motorbike (a last minute interloper on boys’ biker trip), around three weeks after our first ‘pre-date’ and in between swapping the first nightmare family for a second, he made his most romantic gesture to date by asking me to be his girlfriend.

Reminiscing, on such an auspicious occasion as today, on the horrors of au pairing is impossible – my first kir of the season (Spring is nearly here) and I are in far too celebratory a mood to dwell on such depressing subjects, so I will limit my observations on the au pair trade to a few words of caution…

To all aspiring au pairs:

  • Reconsider. Au pair happiness is such a lottery – it can be a fabulous experience; it can be hell. Are you absolutely certain that you want to take that chance?
  • Be wary of simply accepting blindly the first job that is offered to you. Then, be even warier of again accepting the first job that is offered to you if you are courageous and foolhardy enough to au pair for a second time;
  • Insist upon talking to the family’s current au pair. In my first post my predecessor had fled well before I appeared to take her place (as did I eventually). It ought to be easy enough to tell if he or she genuinely likes the family, but do ensure that they are speaking to you in private and remember that they may be in need of assistance themselves. Casually mutter a code phrase worthy of James Bond himself (“In March the snow falls gently on St. Petersburg”, “The hungry dog barks at the weary bin man”, “The wise owl hoots at the nocturnal carp”…) and if they reply: “Verily, in the place where foxes say goodnight” (or words to that effect) then assume that the poor soul is in dire straits (and possibly Czech*) and call for a taxi at once;
  • Remember that if the situation becomes intolerable you are at perfect liberty to leave. You cannot be kept there against your will – indeed most of the au pairs in my acquaintance (as well as myself) were never even declared officially as residing in France or signed a contract. There is therefore no obligation to stay.

My favourite memories from my first four months of au pairing were the day trips that I would take by myself each weekend. I was neither wanted nor welcome at home. I spent virtually all of my salary on petrol (for both solo adventuring and for carting human spawn around the countryside for wholesome extracurriculars, including dance, horse-riding, cricket and rugby – I was never reimbursed) and set off in the car, with directions scrawled on the back of an envelope, to exotic locations in France and Switzerland. As well as allowing me to be as gloriously selfish in my excursions as I could ever dare to dream, pleasing no one but myself, going exactly where I wanted and staying for as long as I chose, these trips also led to an accidental discovery and love of a genre of art previously unknown to me: 1920s and 30s travel advertisements (particularly the PLM range). Originally produced as posters these glorious works of art can generally be found as cartes postales in the major towns and cities, if enough time is devoted to hunting for them. Although I have now amassed a sizeable collection, I have developed an addiction that, unhappily, I have yet to satisfy.

By the end of my residency I had (through overuse) broken the milometer of an already ancient car, and worn out the brakes so much that they were no longer willing or able to do much braking. Clearly this is indisputable proof of a well-travelled and happy car and (during weekends only) au pair.


*”In the place where foxes say goodnight” is an English translation of the Czech equivalent for describing someone or something as being “in the middle of nowhere”. I think that it is wonderful.

Mots du jour:

La vie en France – life in France à nouveau – again PLM – Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway cartes postales – postcards

27 thoughts on “La vie en France: Seven years today!

  1. I am clearly a very bad, inattentive mother, to have missed your anniversary. Congratulations, though it has been at my and your father’s expense, as you are so far away from home. Now I take note of the date, I remember it well. You have excelled yourself; I have chuckled throughout your post, even though I am familiar with everything in it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been married for twenty-five and I’m okay with no fancy romance, so long as he does other things and treats me right. If you really like romance though, you might have to coach him, ask him for a night out, dinner, dancing or movie, taking a walk. He might do it, if he knows you really want it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t mind a the lack of romance. If I really need some I can just read (or watch a film version of) a good old classic novel where chivalry is still alive and my heart melts every time the male lead goes all slushy when looking at the heroine. I knew that my husband wasn’t one for outwardly romantic displays of affection when I married him…he is very self-conscious. Plus we have a toddler, so no time forcany romance even if we were so inclined 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. very funny, esp the James Bond stuff! Did you at least learn to speak French or if you already spoke it, improve your French? The only young girl I know who attempted to be an au pair returned home shortly sadly disillusioned, but I believe the country was Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I did French to A-Level (final high school exams). There had been a five year gap between leaving school and speaking French again so I had a fair bit of remembering to do. I didn’t improve much on my A-Level by au pairing (my first family was British and part of my role in the second family was to improve my charge’s English) but living in France has drastically improved my French (thankfully!). My husband moved to the area when he was ten, so all of his friends are French, and he speaks to our son in French, so that there will be no language problems when he starts school.


  3. Never wanted to be an Au Pair – too much like hard work (says she who was a primary school teacher for 18 years!) – and I was a scaredy-cat too!
    I like the phrase ”In the place where foxes say goodnight”, which is mucfh nicer than the local phrase to describe where we live: au cul de loup – roughly translated as “up the wolf’s arsehole” ie difficult to find!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was exhausting (and I have been a nursery school teacher). Ha ha I shall remember au cul de loup. I hadn’t come across that expression before. I’m sure my husband knows it though, he also likes the term cul de sac in the UK, for similar reasons!


  4. Great post and I am in love with your secret code phrases. ”In the place where foxes say goodnight” should be the name of a children’s story.
    When I was young I lived in the mountains in Colorado and loved to just take day trips and drive. There was so much adventure w/o any gps, and I think I liked the risk that I’d end up on a road to nowhere and make all kinds of new to me discoveries!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The title of this post is the first of your French phrases that I’ve understood without your translation 😉

    Happy belated 7 year anniversary of life abroad! You’ve had an interesting life. Your proposal may not have been romantic, but at least you got one. My other half “hasn’t ruled out the idea of getting married someday”. There’s romance for you!

    In the place where foxes say goodnight is so poetic. The German for a place that’s out in the sticks is “Am Arsch der Welt” (on the a**e of the world). The phrase “Wo sich Fuchs und Nachtigall gute Nacht sagen” (where fox and nightingale say goodnight) for “the middle of nowhere” also exists, but honestly people only ever use the rude one 😉


  6. Wonderful story!! I’m so jealous of you living there full time! I have to go back and forth for work. I could never manage as an au pair, even for a day, so kudos to you for that!!! I guess I’m lucky in the romance department after reading all the comments!! I can’t wait to read more of your stories!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful post! Funnily enough I was an au pair (for the grand total of four days) many, many moons ago somewhere in the deepest depths of France. I loathed it, and promptly left!
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts …. Katie

    Liked by 1 person

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s