Unfrenchness in the Tarn

Just as I happily discovered The Very Unfrench Wives on Facebook, I also made another new friend through a different women’s group on this behemoth of a social media site. And as luck would have it, she lives in Albi, the department ‘capital’ of the Tarn near where I live.

We met for an unplanned coffee one morning and in the hour together we rattled off our life stories at machine-gun speed. Somewhere in the midst of our checkered conversation, she explained how her level of spoken French had been a slight impediment to meeting people here and that she had barely come across English-speaking folk in the few years she had lived in Albi.

This was of great surprise to me as where I live (half an hour from Albi), the Brit-brigade is thriving. Admittedly, not as strongly as a decade ago when the global financial crisis lowered the value of the pound and lowered the confidence of the Brits living here as well as those thinking of living here. Suddenly the local school in Castelnau-de-Montmiral went from a one-in-five ratio of English to French kids to a mere handful today.

But us anglophones are still in high numbers in this part of the world. The Irish population is on the up, partly as a result of Paddy’s Passport converts (like me) who managed to rummage through our genetic history to find an Irish relative allowing us to remain European after Brexit. I can count six neighbours within a kilometre of my house with Anglo/Irish heritage.

I’ve never liked the French/English divide which sometimes happens at social occasions – as though the English Channel has made an invisible appearance. But I can understand that those less confident in speaking either language might find it more relaxing to flock together. I have made it a cardinal rule to always invite a mixture of both to dinner/lunch etc. and crack on in various shades of Franglais, but on this occasion, in order to try and facilitate my new friend making new friends, I broke this rule and invited English speakers only.

What emerged after that evening of Englishness was a hugely interesting, even enlightening observation. There we were, thirteen female immigrants from all walks of life, brought together through a personal decision to live in SW France. The most fascinating part of this was the collective skill sitting around my kitchen table.

All us women had had former lives (often pre-children) in jobs as varied as a lawyer, a headhunter, an editor, a chef and an architect. But jobs which were left behind when we came to France. Not to let female ingenuity be beaten, we had morphed into teachers, campsite, café or gite owners, writers, translators and a life coach. What resourcefulness, what initiative and what courage. Most also multi-juggling lives as mothers, that most important of jobs without financial reward or recognition.

Women who removed themselves from their comfort zones, battled through French bureaucracy and irregular French verb forms to transform their lives into a new version of themselves. To live the French lifestyle we dreamt of before finally putting down new roots here. Maybe less glamorous but more fulfilling, challenging but in a different way. Less gloss, more real.

Some of our combined skills crossed-over, some were mutually beneficial but somehow it felt that our total was greater than the sum of our parts. That pulling together, sharing experience, contacts and skills, would mean we would all blossom in our individual work lives far more working together than taking a less collaborative approach.

I spoke to one friend the following day about creating a group (à la TVUW) for us Tarn lasses but we agreed it was one additional thing to have to manage and as we were all pals anyway, we could just pick up the phone. But it did make me appreciate our ‘Female Tribe’, in whatever form it takes, all the more. And how we should all help each other out whenever we can.

FOOTNOTE: this new friend came up with a lexical conundrum which has had me ruminating ever since. Maybe you could come up with an answer to What is a word for self-love that is not negative? The thesaurus says vain, egotist, narcissist…..There has to be something positive, no? Or is there really a word missing from the English language?

Sarah Heath - Hexagon Space

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