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A French Life: Vive la Difference Anglo French Marriage

After Londoner Marilyn Catchpole-Dossat married she moved to France, her husband’s country, we ask about her Anglo French marriage. The excitement of romance, courtship and marriage (Part I) was over and the reality started to hit…

Once the honeymoon period was over – my self esteem took a nosedive Once we settled down in France, I suddenly felt that I had changed from a totally independent, self-sufficient woman into someone who couldn’t speak up for herself anymore. I couldn’t even answer the telephone without getting in a state; my self esteem took a nosedive and at 51 it took a lot of courage to persevere with my new life. I found it hard socialising and I didn’t want to go out. If I got on a bus someone would speak to me, or if I went for a walk someone would ask me the way. I had to do something about it!

French language course… I enrolled in a three months intensive French language course at the University in Clermont Ferrand. When I found out that I had to take an entrance exam and then have an interview I nearly died – but somehow I got through it. There were about forty of us in the class- most of them younger than me- and at least six different nationalities making it necessary to speak entirely in French. I worked very hard every day from 9am-12pm; then did my homework all afternoon until Yves came home from work.

I got myself a job… Still I must have learnt something because my confidence was beginning to grow. So much so, that I got myself a job.

When my sister-in-law told me the school opposite our flat needing an English teacher, I plucked up the courage and offered my services; to my astonishment the Directeur (primary school headmaster) said ‘Vous pouvez commencer lundi?’(Can you start Monday?).

I had to go to the prefecture for a carte de séjour to allow me to work in France. This was my first experience of feeling like an étrangerI produced all my documents to a not very nice lady who spoke down to me until she realised that my husband was French.

I was now employed by l’Education Nationale and I’d been to see the responsible who gave me a ‘mallette pédagogique’ which was a file containing some rubbishy photocopies of guidelines and nursery rhymes; but I wasn’t worried. After all I was going to be an assistant anglais; so to me that meant a teacher’s assistant. And it was great because I wasn’t allowed to speak any French at all.

It turned out that the title had nothing to do with the job and I was expected to teach English to two classes of thirty children between 9 and 11 years old. I’d never been a teacher before so I did a lot of research and went into another school to see how it was done. I wanted happy children who were pleased to see me and enjoy speaking English.

I was nervous on my first day at the little village school but they were lovely children and did everything I asked them. I didn’t want to be a crabby old teacher – I let them call me Marilyn and sit next to their friend. Within a few weeks they could sing a rainbow, say the days of the week and count up to ten. By the end of the year their progress was remarkable – they were like little sponges just soaking up everything I taught them. Every year you had to be recommended by the headmaster if he wanted you back and you never knew until you got your letter from the Academy where you would be teaching the following year.

Now I needed my own car… When my letter came I was given three écoles primaire and the local college. Until then I hadn’t done any driving in France but now I needed my own car. We chose a reliable little Twingo because I didn’t want to be breaking down on deserted country lanes, I was nervous enough. I remember the first day I took the car out on my own. Yves had gone to work and I decided that I was going to take myself on a test drive. I figured that if I filled up the tank I didn’t have to worry about getting lost; so off I went and of course I did get lost. I followed the signs which I thought I recognised and ended up miles away from where we lived. eventually ended up at the foot of the Puy de Dôme (a beautiful, dormant volcanic mountain) and rang Yves at work to proudly inform him where I was. Of course, I let him think I’d planned to go there…

A stressful time… Meanwhile I had sold my riverside property in London and we decided to use the money to build a new house. At first it was really exiting; finding the right plot and then planning the interior, bathrooms, kitchen, colours etc. But it was all going too slowly and after nearly two years of stressful waiting we were told that the builders had gone into liquidation. We were left with a half finished house and waited to find out if our insurance would pay out. That’s when Yves had his heart attack and was rushed into hospital. Six months later he was advised by the surgeon to have a triple bypass operation. I couldn’t understand how someone so fit and sporty could have a heart problem?

Eventually things got better; our insurance paid out and the house was finished. We moved in and spent a happy three years there until the call of grandchildren finally got to me and we decided to move ‘up north’ nearer the tunnel. It was hard for the Frellies, especially for Yves’ mother and father, but one has to make compromises in a marriage; and I was desperately missing the babies. By that time Yves had taken early retirement and I gave up my schools after six happy years of teaching.

We found a house in the Pas de Calais which we liked and thought we could do a lot to. That plan didn’t work out because about two weeks before we settled we were told that as we’d only lived in our new house for three years and not the obligatory five (apparently the two years waiting for it to be built doesn’t count) and that we would have to pay TVA. It was too late to change our minds so the move went ahead and the tax man took all our profit which came to thousands of Euros. It was a terrible blow, but we’ve drawn a line under that now and after nearly seven years living here we still feel that we made the right decision.

Integrating – We felt a bit lost at first with Yves’ family being in Clermont-Ferrand and mine in England. I did a freelance writing course and got myself a job as the Nord Pas de Calais correspondent for the French News, a national English language newspaper which I had always subscribed to since living in France. It was through this that I met and interviewed a lot of local English people and got to know about all the clubs. Then by chance, Yves got involved in our town’s rugby club for children. It’s what he knows so they asked him to be secretary. It’s all run by volunteers; coaches, trainers, everyone; the kids love it and the number of subscribers is growing every year.

I know it’s hard at first but you have to be ‘in it – to win it’ as they say. So we try to go out to as many of the club nights and social events that we can. It’s the only way to make friends and be a part of the community…

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