Saturday, August 30, 2014

Four weeks in France

These first four weeks have flown by...our "vacation" is winding down and everyone is getting ready for la rentrée (first day of school) next Tuesday.

The French government recently changed the school hours, shortening the school day and eliminating Saturday morning classes. Now school goes from 8:30-11:30 am, then 2 hours off for lunch, then resumes from 1:30-3:45 pm. School is still just a half day on Wednesdays to allow for extramural activities.

We live a 2-minute walk away from the elementary school, so we'll have lunch at home most days. I hope to send the kids to the school cantine once a week, so they have the opportunity to eat a delicious lunch and learn first-hand about French food culture.

We are enrolling Zari and Dio in a soccer club that meets every Wednesday afternoon. I was hesitant because of the cost--not that it's exorbitant, but we are on less than half salary this year and I'm stressed about making ends meet. However it will be a great opportunity for them to improve both their soccer skills and their French. Eric is hoping to be an assistant coach for one of their teams.

Dumpster Diving
I have no shame and will gladly repurpose other people's trash. There's a small garbage & recycling station around the corner, with a corner turned into an informal Freecycle area. You can leave stuff and take anything that's left there. I've already left more than I've taken, but some good finds include: a set of 8 forks and 8 knives (literally the day after I said, "we really need to find some forks!"), shelving that will fit a few of our cupboards, and wooden wine crates.

Eric and the older kids have been fishing regularly and slowly learning how and where to catch saupe and dorade royale and sar and mulet. We ate a small saupe for dinner tonight.  Eric would like to learn how to spearfish, since he sees large fish everywhere when he snorkels in the same area. But is it worth the cost of the equipment and the license?

Luthier in Vieux Nice
I just discovered that we live around the corner (okay, maybe about 3 short corners) from one of the oldest luthier workshops in southern France! I brought my bow in yesterday to Denis Declerck to be rehaired. When I picked it up this morning, a French family was helping their teenage daughter choose a violin. She was testing several different instruments...but she was obviously a beginner and was painfully out of tune.

I offered to play the violins while she listened, so she could more easily determine which one she liked best. We went through 5 or 6, then narrowed it down to the top 2 choices. I played scales, arpeggios, and a few short excerpts from Bach to Barber. I enjoyed helping them out and discussing the merits of the different instruments.

I also asked Mr Declerck if he knew of any orchestras or small ensembles looking for a violinist. I'd love to join something while I'm here this year. He's going to see what he can find and get in touch.

I added up how much we've spent on groceries this past month, and it came to about $1,000 (€760). We haven't eaten out, not even any ice cream cones or other treats. I was hoping to keep our food expenses lower, but maybe this is a reasonable amount for a family of six? (We spent around $600/month back home.) If there are any French blog readers, let me know what you think. I don't want to worry about every centime spent on food, but I also have a finite amount of money to spend this year...

But besides the cost, the food is wonderful. We have salads every day, often for both lunch and dinner. Lunch is often a fresh baguette with meat (saucisson sec or jambon cru or smoked salmon), cheese (over 200 varieties to choose from!), greens, and tomatoes...We often eat milk and cereal for breakfast, but we've also done waffles, hot chocolate + leftover baguettes + butter + jam, and pancakes & scrambled eggs.

Eric made mussels in a white wine / shallot / Roquefort sauce the other day. Yum! One of my recent favorites was zucchini gratin: sautée zucchinis and onions and garlic, pour in eggs beaten with crème fraîche, and top with grated Emmental cheese. Nothing fancy, but very tasty. The key is to extract the maximum flavor by caramelizing the onions and zucchini.

Ivy napping today

Zari absorbed in The Books of Elsewhere Vol I


  1. Sounds like you all are just settling in and getting ready to start a new routine. I love the way the school day is split with a big midday break. How delightful that you will have lunch most days at home with all the children. The fishing sounds fun, perhaps someone will catch one big enough to eat ?~! Caramelization is one of my favorite ways to eat veggies, esp when combining them with eggs as you did.

  2. Hi Rixa,

    I'm glad you're all finding your marks in Nice. My DH was(we moved to London from Paris a month ago...) in charge of grocery shopping, and I sent you his lengthy answer on your email address. I would love to meet you while you are in Europe and exchange about birth, homebirth(I had one in Germany, one in France), birth policies in Europe, and attitudes towards breastfeeding in France/Germany/England.
    I thought about you recently reading « L'arbre et le fruit, la naissance dans l'Occident moderne, XVIe-XIXe siècle», by Jacques Gélis. Published 30 years ago, it is still (imho, and I’ve ready many of them) the best french attempt to understand/explain/summarize how birth and parenting evolved in France, from the end of Middle-Ages to the Industrial Age. The book is huge, well-researched, very well written; it falls short of its original ambition(it is more french-centric than about "l'Occident") but it still is a fascinating, enriching reading full of historical anecdotes, and beautiful pictures. and can't recommend you this book enough(if you don't already know it, of course). I guess you can find it in a bibliothèque municipale in Nice.

    I admire how well you seem adapt to life in France as a family. I know how challenging it can be, though, so if you have any question concerning school, the medical system(carte vitale...), les allocations familiales to which you are entitled, the cheapest SNCF/airplane tickets... just ask.

    Ama(long-time lurker compelled into de-lurking mode!)

  3. Hi Rixa,
    I'm a french person and i live in Toulouse, I know Eric from his mission and he wrote published some pictures of your family on facebook, with your blog address. I was curious to see the way an american family settles in France.
    I would like to give you my point of view about the price of the food, i'm not sure it will help but i least you'll have someone's point of view. I have an american friend who lived in France for two years and said the food was more expensive but it was better from the States. For me we are four in the house (soon to be six) and my two boys are not big hug eaters, nor big vegetables fans but we try not to buy already made meals. I spend around 350 euros per months for the food and i only go food shoping in big supermarket (carrefour, leclerc) or hard discount (lidl, leader price) i avoid the city stores (spar, carrefour market etc...) because it's more expensive and i try to plan my list of menu ahead so i can buy things according to "promotions" etc...
    If i could i would definitly go more often to the market not for the price (because it's way more expensive) but for a better quality of products or to the local stores like butcher, bakery, etc.... It's more expensive but it is soooooooooo much better !! :)
    And from what i know the prices in Nice and on 'la cote d'Azur' are way more expensive from where i live.
    I hope that those few indications from a french person will hep you to have a better idea on what to expect.
    Have fun in France and maybe one day we'll meet !
    Sara Mayer

    1. Sara, Eric says hi! And thanks for your input on the food.


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