Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

Category — School

Christmas Lunch at School

I love, love, love, LOVE the cantine – the school cafeteria in France.

One of the things I was most excited about when we decided to come back was the break from making school lunches. For just a few euros a day, French children can eat sit down meals with 3 or 4 courses. Talking about the school lunch is a regular topic at dinner, and I’m jealous when I hear about the cordon bleu, interesting salads, and local cheeses. I am terribly proud whenever my daughters tell me about how much they love the spinach dish – even though I had nothing to do with making it.

Today the girls came home with news of the repas de Noel. A special Christmas meal was served at the cantine that included duck gizzard salad, grilled potatoes with Parisian mushrooms, roast turkey, and a special Christmas cake. The presentation of the food is an important part of the eating experience, and each child was greeted with a personal menu to introduce the meal:

Christmas Menu

Christmas Menu at the Cantine

The girls explained that the menus were hand made by “the strict cantine lady” who had also spent hours folding green napkins into a Christmas tree for each child.



December 20, 2013   1 Comment

Culture Shock: Swimming Pool

Requests for parent volunteers are not common in French schools. We are enjoying the break from school commitments, but it does mean we don’t know much about what is going on at school. So when Z came home with a note asking for parents to chaperone her weekly swim class, JM signed up.

It turned out to be a pretty big commitment. First was a required class where the parents were taught how to be good teaching assistants in the pool, then to the swimming pool for the  practical skills test.

After some difficulty finding the pool, JM changed into his bathing suit and headed out to take his test. There was no “please shower before entering the pool” sign, since everyone is automatically doused when they walked through the door from the change room to the pool. As JM was recovering from his surprise shower, the lifeguard hurried up to him in a state of clear agitation. For this one time only they would overlook it, but JM was not allowed to wear THAT in the pool.

“THAT” was a typical pair of navy swim trunks – typical in North America that is. This big suit was simply not allowed in the pool in France. Men here are required to wear speedo-style swim wear.

JM modeling the “banned” swimsuit

Off to buy some more “appropriate” swimwear so JM can chaperone the young children’s swim class.

September 29, 2013   Comments Off on Culture Shock: Swimming Pool

The French Grèves (Strikes) and Our Trip

This may be a very short post, but I’ve had a lot of questions about the impact of the protests in France on our trip. Short answer – NONE (almost).

We haven’t seen any violence, run out of gas, or gotten stuck in traffic because of a protest. None of the businesses we frequent have closed and we don’t use public transportation on a daily basis so don’t notice when the trains stop. We don’t have a TV or a radio or get the paper except occasionally, so we don’t hear that much about what is going on unless we go looking for it.

We have talked to a few people here about what they think of the strikes, and that’s been really interesting. One of the goals of this trip is to be exposed to a completely different point of view, and certainly the protests have facilitated those conversations. It has inspired JM and I to think more about our own views and the balance between wanting a social safety net (we’re Canadians, we like that!) and not really believing that government is a solution (we live in Calfornia, enough said).

The “almost” part is because of two things:

  1. We’ve canceled our trip to Paris: We had planned to take the TGV (high-speed french train) to Paris for the fall break, because Z is very disappointed that she hasn’t seen the Eiffel Tower yet viagra a bas prix. But we aren’t excited about getting stuck at a train station, so have decided to delay that trip until later in the year.  Instead we’ll head south and explore Provence with the kids.  We’ve been flipping through the Routard Provence looking for all the “family-friendly” icons and I’m even more excited than if we’d gone to Paris.
  2. The teachers strike: So far L’s teacher has taken two strike days and Z’s teacher has taken four days. (One thing we learned is that you don’t get paid when you go on strike in France, so it is sometimes an individual choice to strike or not.)  But the teachers are very considerate about how they strike.  You get several days notice, and there is always an option to put your kid in an alternate program for the day. One day Z was put in L’s class, which was a huge treat for her.

As you can tell, neither of these things are real hardships, and it gives us something to talk about.

October 24, 2010   1 Comment

Lunch: Part of the School Curriculum?

Diane mentioned in a previous post that our kids can’t take lunch to school. However, lunch is provided if you pay for it.  Here is last week’s menu at the cantine (pronounced like canteen):

Tuesday: Lentil salad with shallots, veal “‘paupiette”, rice, cheese, seasonal fruits

A few observations:

  1. Every meal is at least a four course meal
  2. There is emphasis on marrying a variety of tastes, and an obvious effort is put into making the meals wholesome, well-balanced and nutritious
  3. The kids love it even though it’s NOT hot dogs or mac and cheese
  4. This costs only 2.20 Euros per meal (about $3)
  5. The school lunch break is  1 ½  hours long

L was telling me about her lunch on Monday, with a huge smile on her face while rubbing her belly:  “C’était vraiment bon et j’en ai demandé trois fois!” (It was really good and so I asked for three servings!).  Need I say more?

I was listening to a radio interview with a dietitian the other day.  The topic was school canteens, and the quality of the food being served there.

The dietitian on the radio had quite a different perspective than I have.  To start, he was concerned that meal quality was going downhill at an alarming rate, and wanted to petition the local government to tighten the quality standards.  But then, he said something that summarizes it all. “Nutritious food choices and good taste are learned at a young age.  It is therefore important for schools to properly develop children’s taste buds by serving consistently high quality and nutritious meals at the canteen.”

Everyone knows that food is a serious matter in France.  We didn’t realize it would be part of the school curriculum though.

Personally, I wish I could eat at the school canteen myself!

October 4, 2010   8 Comments

School Starts

The first day of school is so important here that it has its own word – la rentrée.

For us, it was a pretty normal first day of school.  A few tears that went away as soon as mom and dad were around the corner, new friends to play with, new teachers to meet, and new pickup and drop-off routines. The principle of the school speaks English, although neither of the girls’ teachers do.

We met the “other” California family, who have a daughter in Z’s class. The visitor information in the village had told us about them and they got it all right – names, where they were from, ages of kids, etc. They invited us to their apartment for lunch and we were all automatically friends – the joy of all being “odd” in the same way.

When we got home  we checked the backpacks as usual. I had read about the “Cahier de liaison“, the book that is used to communicate what is going on at the school and there it was. I could see something pasted in the book, so I was ready to see my child’s first French school project.  Here is what was in the book:

"Tuesday, September 7th there will be a strike..."

My child’s first school project, which she cut out and glued into the book herself, is a note saying that there will be a strike!!!

We had of course heard all about the famous French strikes. In fact, I have been in Paris four times in my life and four times I have not been able to visit the Louvre because the staff was on “grève” – so it’s one of the French words I know very well. We were very pleased to find out we would have lots of notice, and were also pleased that there was an option to send our kids to a special free daycare provided by the town. What a friendly and unimposing strike!

A few things did surprise me about school:

  • There is no school on WednesdayIt’s a 4-day school week with a break in the middle.
  • You cannot send lunch to school – You have the option to either pick up your kid for the 1 1/2 hour lunch break, or buy a lunch which is organized by the mairie (the town hall). The lunch is very nice – just 2 euros and has a couple of courses. But if you want to make a sandwich it’s not an option because the school closes over lunch.
  • It is “highly recommended” that you buy insurance – Our kids are now insured, I believe in case they burn something down, I’m not exactly sure. But it’s not expensive – less than 10 euros each for the year.
  • There is a bus – We haven’t taken it yet, but all the info is on the web site and I’m looking forward to a nice 5 minute walk to school to drop the kids off and then have a coffee at the cafe in the village before coming home.

September 2, 2010   8 Comments

Can it be this easy?

Having a signed house rental contract now moves everything forward.  With an address we can apply for our visa, register for school, and tell our parents where they can come and visit us.

Registering for school is done through the town hall of the village. They have a very nice web site with the email of the town hall, so JM sent an inquiry.  We immediately got a response with an apology that our village doesn’t have a school, but they would go to school in the next village and gave us the phone number of that school.  JM called the school and the lady who picked up the phone was incredibly helpful, took the kids names and info and told us we had our place reserved.  We need to show up a few days before with immunization forms.  Very simple! (Knock wood. Or is it rap wood?)

That felt good.  Then 10 minutes later the town hall emailed us back to introduce us to the mayor of the village and give us his cell phone number – in case we had any questions.

I feel welcome already.

June 22, 2010   2 Comments