French Hospitality

We were invited to join our neighbour’s 70th birthday lunch today. I thought there would be 9 of us - her 4 family members who have come to visit to celebrate, another English couple and my son and I. Plus the lady in question of course.

We arrived and there were more than 20 of us crammed into one room. There were the cousins, in-laws, great aunts, grandmothers and other French neighbours, It was a family do gone mad and yet Twerp and I were on the invite list! To most people this doesn't sound like a big deal but you'd need to understand how being a single mom of a young boy has led to automatic exclusion in the past.

Anyway, we were kissed and hugged and I struggled through with my abysmal French but because I continued to struggle and didn't give up it was appreciated. Organising all the food/drinks must have taken hours but they had given thought and kindness to set a place at the head of the table for my son (who had become very anxious beforehand as he knew he would be the only child there) with a can of coke and a multi-pack of Smarties. The look on his face said it all.

There was olive bread, cold cuts, bacon wrapped prunes, pastries, cheese, fruit salad and big gooey cakes. There was champagne and red wine. Happy Birthday was sung - repeatedly! - in French then English and then I think a Patois version. Two people sang a song written especially for Francine, a very emotional moment. There was accordion playing and singing and two sisters trying to waltz around the already packed room.

We rolled home with our two overstuffed bellies four hours later. One happy lady. One happy child. Thank you lovely French neighbour and equally lovely and welcoming family. x

Aw, thank you, Norah. I love the phrase "French twaddle" because that's exactly what I do. Twerp's French is (to me) excellent now but, typically, when faced with adults he clams up completely - with school friends he babbles away at warp speed. It's a bit pot luck whether the home you've found has nice or not so nice neighbours (of any nationality) so I'm both appreciative and relieved that we've got some real good 'uns in our mix.

I loved this story Valerie and can say we have been fortunate to also experience French hospitality here in the Mayenne. Our neighbours are a delight and put up with our rubbish French twaddle manfully (and womanfully!). However, I am pretty certain that much of your welcome was due to the fact that you are a very nice person (and therefore Twerp must be nice too). I have certainly witnessed your kindness in the past. May you both have many more enjoyable soirees en France.

You have been welcomed into the community with arms and hearts wide open, Heather! And, if I can say, to be trusted as a teacher but more significantly a baby sitter shows how highly you're thought of by those around you. Well done, you.

What a lovely account and good to share the appreciation. We too are blessed with wonderful neighbours but there was a small price to pay when I was asked to carry the cross in front of the coffin of one of our elderly neighbours. Willingly and gratefully paid with great sadness. Still the oldies are replaced with youngsters and I am now sought as firstly a baby sitter then as English teacher.

A little update. My little French neighbour handed me an envelope over the fence today with a big smile. Two photographs, a wonderful one of her looking so happy and one of me and my son having a cuddle. Written on the back (in French of course) "Thank you for a lovely day all together". Happy.

Awww, thank you Dawn. That is such a lovely thing to say. x

Valerie, I've only just caught up with your post and I love how you describe the day you and your Son enjoyed -perfect. As someone who has been on the receiving end of your kindness and selfless actions ( you organised help for me last year when I was about to have my cat PTS) I would say it is good to read of someone doing something nice for you.

Bonne soirée Dawn

Hi Chris, i'm trying to sell my place at the moment and i'm looking to move to the Tarn mainly because of a change of scenery and to be closer to many friends in the area. I am turning my attentions to Lavaur. What do you think about Lavaur or anywhere else in the Tarn ?

Thank you Valerie for a lovely account of a wonderful occasion. Ever since we moved here (southern Tarn) we have been welcomed and invited and made to feel part of the local scene. The hospitality of the French is truly special!

That's why the neighbours like you so much :-) :-) :-)

I am so happy it brought back some fond memories for you. It always does the heart good to remember sometimes. I aim to please ... (grin).

Our acceptance had everything to do with the kids.
Our French neighbours did enjoy the gift of "foreign" food being cooked when invited for supper, and the odd item being delivered when we had gone out of town that could not be found locally :-)

For us I think the key was to immerse ourselves in the language (no matter how bad) and the culture and the whole point was to experience it.

I don't understand the Brits or any other foreigners that move to France and continue to speak English and complain about what the French do or don't. I gave those I met a wide berth!!!

I think you have cracked the nod now :-) Maybe time to send your son over with a small gift to thank them for the lovely afternoon you had? Pretty sure they will think to include you and your son with other friends they have when the occasion arises.

Your post brought back so many good memories and I hope you continue to integrate and "become" French! :-)

Wow, Annette, it sounds as though you had the most perfect relationships with your neighbours. What a lovely lot! And I agree about the twinge of guilt not to contribute / participate / just give more generally. It's their welcome that helped us to settle here. How different things could have been.

ps The French neighbours say what a lovely boy my son is and how superbly his French coming on. On the other side of the euro coin is the English neighbour who complains to anyone who will listen (but not the French) that he doesn't like the noise children make when they play. Hmmm.

Valerie, We have fond memories of our "year in provence" and this is what it was made of. The French seem to embrace children like no other nationality and whilst we as Brits cringed at things our kids did at times they take it in their stride and forgive and forget easily.
Our village was a true community and often we awoke to find a melon or other harvest goods, outside the door (first crop of the season was always shared) or something left for us to "borrow" having metioned it to someone else the day before. When we left the village, our kids outgrown baby clothes were given with love to someone in the village who needed them. Our only issue was constantly feeling guilty that we were not giving or doing enough in exchange for what they gave!
We were totally included in everything that happened from easter egg hunts, saints day parades, street food parties, wine and beach excursions, and our 4 year old would wait to help the neighbour park his tractor each night!
This time was so very special to us as a family and you must cherish the community you live in. It's rare :-)

Oops, I have to say my French neighbours either side are wonderful. Not too many Brits in St Ju tho' the ones i've met are fine.

That is absolutely superb! Those are the times that the best memories are made of.

Any Sunday lunch with local friends lasts at least four hours and there is always a great variety of food and wine. Often singing and sometimes Breton dancing. In fact it was my 70th last year so we had a similar event but about 130 people, sit down lunch in a barn, music, singing dancing. Age group nearly 90 to about 3 months. We had French, Bretons, Brits, Americans, Philippinos but the best bit was all my children singing me Happy Birthday in English and French! We started at 12 and finished about 7pm.

I think that can be true actually, Suzy. When you become so used to having support from "another half" or family, it can be easy to forget that life isn't the same for someone on their own without any support, having to do everything solo. I think people become comfortable and don't always think outside the box as it were.

My neighbours are nice people,will always help me IF I ask. I believe as they are surrounded by family and friends they don't think of a person who is not in the same situation as them.But I find that not only applies to neighbours,the few friends (couples)I have in the area will not come round to my house unless asked.And the only way I see them is by asking them if I can visit them,they're always very welcoming of course.