Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sweet Dreams...

Mattress shopping supposedly the comfiest shopping around...or maybe not. A journey from hell would be closer the mark and one preferably not to be repeated for some time. Last week we thought we had it made, we found a bed for 60€ a true bargain, or so we thought. Obviously we had to add a mattress, or un matelas, and their cheapest was 230€ so that's 290€. Then le sommier (slats) have to be taken into account or your mattress will fall right through, so that's another 65€. All together a nice total of 355€. Still, it was cheaper than the rest we saw so we bought it, along with a washing machine, un lave-linge, and fridge freezer, un refrigerateur avec un congélateur, all to be collected next week. Since this painfully expensive shopping day however, we have been looking for another mattress as the one they had to offer would not be in stock until 20 Juin and wasn't the comfiest shall we say. So IKEA came to the rescue at only 25€ more, we found a mattress to offer the sweetest of dreams and in stock. Hurrah!

Then it happened. Whilst shopping this weekend for a dinning table and chairs we found a mattress complete with slats and frame for a tasty 266€ (le matelas était à 265 et tout le reste pour 1€ de plus) obviously such a good deal comes with a catch: you have to buy the bed feet for an extra 33€. This mattress was equal to the IKEA one in comfort so what to do? Refunds don't work quite the same in France as they do in Britain. In general money back isn't given but rather store credit instead. Shop number one sounded quite fair however, offering monetary refunds within the first 7 days. What luck! What chance! We were on day 7! Alas no, there is always a catch. “Technically you paid at noon on Saturday last week and it's now 2pm.” How could we have been so naive?

So the challenge began, to weigh up all the options. Option one: shop number one for the bed, IKEA for the mattress and a dining table and 4 chairs (for only 100€ but neither of us really liked) or option number two: shop number two for the bed and mattress and then our 125€ store credit at shop number one for a nicer, round, extendible table and 4 discounted chairs (an extra 125€) or perhaps option number three: a different combination with other shops entirely.

We adjourned to the house with a drive through Quick meal to fuel our decision. Option one came to a total of 480€ with a small table and chairs that were neither pretty nor comfy. Option number two totalled at 549€ but with a more practical and visually pleasing table and chairs that could be sat on for a whole evening of entertaining. Cheapest versus a little extra, but greater satisfaction. Satisfaction always wins out.

This is just the beginning of becoming a 'big person' I guess. Entering the world of work and marriage is not only about the responsibilities of paying rent and making sure you eat three square meals a day. It's also about making new and potentially difficult decisions, learning to think about things from different perspectives including practicality, affordability and durability. I had originally thought that shopping for a fridge-freezer and washing machine was hard, but that just boils down to facts and statistics; which is bigger, which is more efficient, and which is cheaper. Furniture shopping however, is much more stressful. You can never be sure you have got the best deal but you can at least make sure you're not being ripped off. All in all, mattress shopping was much harder than I ever dreamed.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Rat Race

So what kind of work can someone like me expect to find in France? I speak very slow (poorly conjugated) French and understand little more (only when people speak at l'escargot pace!) It's going to take me time to gain the language skills I need to be able to compete with the native population for jobs no matter how intensively I try to learn. After all, there is only so much one can take in at any one time and as the saying goes, 'practice makes parfait'. There are some lines of work though, that are open to someone with limited native language skills. For instance babysitting, teaching English as a foreign language – either as a class or as a conversational sound board, being an English tour guide and also writing online in your native language.

There are many places you can advertise, if you have French friends through word of mouth would be a good way to advertise your babysitting and language services, otherwise in the local newspaper is handy. In supermarkets and local shops some still have those small card advertisement walls. Not only could you put one up but also check to see if anyone is looking for someone like you. I have been offered some babysitting work as well as to help improve the mother's English skills. These jobs came about through word of mouth as she is a work colleague of my fiancé. So make sure you are mentioning your available services and want for work regularly as you never know who may be interested.

A difficult question is how much to charge. Some people maybe looking for a live in au pair rather than just a once a week babysitter so food and board would need to be taken into consideration. The minimum wage in France is currently 9,00 €, so you shouldn't be offering to work for less that this and customers should not be offering to pay you less. If there are multiple children or it is over an extended period of time you may want to negotiate higher than your normal rate. Considering in Britain the minimum wage is £5.93 for over 21s (6,79 €) and £4.92 (5,63 €) for 18-20 years old, the French minimum wage is not so minimum after all.

Language barriers can cause a lot of problems in the world of work and make you feel limited and ultimately a bit useless at times. Therefore focusing on improving your language skills needs to be your number one priority. If possible only get a part time job, leaving you free to pursue other language methods but also the job itself will help increase your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation. Don't be deterred if this sort of work is not particularly up your street, with time comes experience and with experience comes options, we all have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

One ring to rule them all, but many rules to find them

Marriage law and custom changes from country to country, the requirements are not even the same between England/Wales and Scotland. So how do things compare between the UK and France? First of all ONLY civil marriages are legal in France and if the couple want a religious ceremony as well it has to take place after the civil service. Whilst a registrar can conduct marriages in the UK, in France it is the Maire (Mayor) who is authorised or his (or her) appointed officials such as the Vice Mayor. In France one of the two people marrying at least must have resided for 40 days in the area where the marriage is to take place. This is the rule publicised on the internet however, my fiancé has since told me that this rule can be waived if you ask the permission of the Maire who's district you do live in. For example we intend to ask the permission of the Maire of Obernai to get married in the district of Souffelweyersheim. In England and Wales the residency rules are different in that you both must have resided for at least 7 days in England and Wales before giving notice to your local registrar of your forth coming marriage. You both have to go in person and if you are planning to hold your marriage in a different district you need to contact the respective registrar before hand as well. Notice may be given up to one year before but no later than 15 days before the wedding. If you choose a religious wedding (Church of England or Wales) then notice is not normally required. In France the equivalent of giving notice is the publication of Banns which is required 10 days before the wedding.

Scotland allows more freedom in the where and when of your marriage. If you wanted to get married in a castle, on a beach or by a park bench then you can. So long as there is a legal officiant and two witnesses the marriage is legal. You can also get married at any time of day in Scotland, whereas in England and Wales it must be between the hours of 8am and 6pm. Whilst in England and Wales a couple can get married at other locations than a church or registry office there are limits. The hotel, restaurant or stately home must have a licence for civil ceremonies in the specific room you wish to marry. If you wish to marry outdoors it has to be under a licensed fixed structure such as a gazebo. If you have a special place in mind such as your back garden then you can apply for and pay for (through the nose I might add) a one day licence for a specific venue, but this is subject to approval.

In France a couple can hold a ceremony outdoors, in a hotel or anywhere they like either before or after the civil ceremony at the town hall (Mairie). This extra ceremony will have sentimental significance only however, as in France only the Maire can marry you in the eyes of the law.

At some point (I'm not sure exactly when – more information will follow) you must provide certain pieces of paperwork to the Maire. Some will only ask for some of the following, so make sure you contact the Maire well in advance to give yourself time to prepare all the relevant information.

  1. A Full birth certificate (each).
  2. A certificate for publication to show no opposition to the marriage (together).
  3. A certificate of 'celibacy' to prove you are legally free to marry (each).
  4. Support of your residency in France (each).
  5. A certificate of notice of the marriage (together).
  6. A declaration of getting married abroad (together – this is if you're French going to another country).
  7. List of four witnesses (2 each) and a full birth certificate for each.
  8. Identification – passport, national identity card (each).
  9. A dispensation certificate from the Attorney of the Republic (each this is for minors marrying).
  10. A full birth certificate for each child either partner already has.
  11. Death certificate if previous spouse has died (as necessary).
  12. Divorce certificate if divorced from previous spouse (as necessary).
  13. For people of non-French nationality the following maybe required:
    a. Full birth certificate with full translation.
    b. Certificate of no impediment from the consulate or embassy.
    c. Custom certificate from the consulate or embassy.

My fiancé and I for example have been asked to provide No. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 13b, neither of us having been married before or have any children, the matter is somewhat simplified. The process of getting married in any country has become a laborious one with many rings to jump through. So long as you get the rings you want on your fingers however, I'm sure the effort will be worth it. If anyone would like details of the paperwork titles in French please don't hesitate to comment.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Supermarket Sweep

When shopping in a foreign country there's more than just the exchange rate to take into account. In your native country you know just from the name of a supermarket what sort of price range it fits into as well as how expansive their product ranges are. When going abroad however, this all changes. I have only seen one Tesco in my time in France and that was in Calais to make the Brits feel at home when they realise they've forgotten their beach towels! In France the main supermarches are Carrefour, Monoprix and Super U although there are many others including smaller regional brands. I have created the following table to give you a rough guide to how French supermarches and British supermarkets compare in price ranges:

Cora (or Match are the smaller branches) regional to the East of France / Carrefour
Super U (other names including the trademark 'U' for smaller and bigger branches)
Intermarché (has bought out the 3 Musquateers which are now dwindling)
Auchan (smaller branches known as Atac)
Lidl and Aldi
Lidl (Aldi has not spread to France but is found in Germany)

When going to do your shopping or faire du cours you may also see signs for a hypermarche. This is merely a large supermarche. In my experience so far however, hypermarches are more akin to the supermarket sizes we are used to in Britain. This is mainly due to the fact that the supermarket way of shopping is still in the relatively early stages in France. Going to the boulangerie in the morning for bread and to the market for vegetables and meat is still prominent in French culture.

So how do these shops differ inside apart from different brands and everything being in French?! Well as you would expect greater prominence is given to foods the French consume more of than we do, for instance cream, pastries, UHT milk and cheese. Fresh milk consists of a very small proportion of the dairy section ,not being the popular choice. Packaged sliced bread (like Hovis or Warburtons) also feature on the bottom shelf with only one or two choices. Freshly baked bread of a greater variety fills the bakery section alongside packaged cheap snacks such as pain au chocolats or brioche buns. There are also quality made (more expensive but definitely worth it) pastry and bread snacks too.

Cultural differences go further than the products though, but also to the way in which people shop. In many shops you are expected to weigh your fruit and veg at the designated stations and print scan tickets to go through the till. Also it is rare to find a supermarche which will provide you with disposable bags, so if you don't bring your own you either have to buy a bag for life or have difficulty carrying your shopping home!

So from language differences to currency exchange rates, UHT milk to cheap wine and cheese, there is a lot to take in when shopping abroad. The differences are not so difficult if you're only popping in for some sun-cream and a bottle of water. When moving abroad however and you have to navigate all these differences, suddenly buying your bathroom cleaner becomes a lot harder than expected. Some brands remain the same or at least their emblem does (Walkers crisps = Lays) which does help to guide you through this mine field, but be prepared for your normal shop to take you a great deal longer.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

La Ville de Obernai

On Thursday I decided to spend the day in la petite ville Obernai which is south-west of Strasbourg and where my fiancé works. It is a very pretty town and the market was there all morning which gave me a little extra to look at. Just spending a day in this town I began to see how different it is to a British town, if I had a dog I would have said 'we're not in Kansas any more Toto'. For starters: food and drink. Whilst there are a plethora of restaurants, cafés and brasseries in Obernai I can't always be a 'lady what lunches'. So, whilst I started off in a little café for breakfast, I had to set out in search of a means of an inexpensive lunch. France it seems will never be the home of the bottled drink and packaged sandwich. It took me until nearly 4pm to find somewhere to buy a bottle of water (in a boulangerie – bakery) where I also bought a baguette and a couple of pastries, not exactly the healthy balanced lunch I was hoping for, but it served the purpose.

The morning market did provide a variety of food; fruit and veg, cheese and enormous cuts of raw meat, but no real meals one can eat 'on the hoof'. I could have bought a whole saucisson, but at a foot long and 4 inches wide it would have looked a bit strange trying to eat it without slicing it first. Mental note for the future, really pack the kitchen sink! All in all what I needed was a supermarket, but even those are nowhere to be found near the town centre. There are no Tesco Expresses or Spars on the street corners not even small newsagents with over priced sandwiches. Les tabacs sell exactly that; tobacco products, some magazines and newspapers, bakeries sell bread and sometimes pastries and les pâtisseries sell pastries although mainly the sweet variety (no British sausage rolls or meat and potato pies). I feel an opening for an all-in-one corner shop...

Whilst I ate my rather carbo-licious lunch I went in search of an ideal picnic area. Obernai does have many benches and a few grassy areas, but it seemed to me that the two didn't intertwine. Perhaps I need to venture further still into the depths of this French town but so far picnic areas seems to be a bit short in France. The small grassy area I finally found next to a path did have a lovely bubbling brook running low behind the green trees and bushes and the size and colour of the butterflies and dragon/damsel flies were magnifique in comparison to those found in Britain.

Obernai has many selling points, for instance the houses of mixed French and Germanic architecture, so prominent in the Alsacien landscape, are unique and well worth the time to inspect and take in the intricate details. The main church is nestled in the centre of the old town and is home to one of the most elaborate sculpture scenes I have ever seen. Situated on the side of a small building within the church grounds a large alcove, provides an open view of a painted sculpture scene of Jesus praying amongst other prominent Bible figures. This history of this fantastic model dates back to the early sixteenth century and is visible from many of the roads climbing the hills around. The church's graveyard itself is pretty incredible too with the level of maintenance from the respective families and the elaborate and expensive headstones. Not only were there many strange names for me to marvel at but also some rather inquisitive lizards. One could easily spend hours contemplating and admiring these tokens of commemoration.

One day is obviously not enough to truly explore this small town, and I'm sure I will not only discover more differences between my British upbringing and French future but also some surprising similarities.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

To rent and what to rent that is the question.

So let me bring you up to speed on my time in France. Whilst I have visited France a few times in my youth with my family, been on an exchange to the South of France and a week long work experience in Nancy my French is not exactly flowing with vocabulary and prowess. In recent years I have spent short holidays with my family-to-be in the quaint and vibrant city of Strasbourg and now I have finally moved in. Whilst an exciting and slightly intimidating prospect this was for me I could never have anticipated just how complicated and overwhelming it would be. Not only is there a language barrier between myself and my finacé's family but also many cultural and ingrained habitual differences too. Who knew when I should take my morning shower could cause so much disruption?! On the whole however, my first week here have been quite fun. From starting my blog for my 'avid readers' to the adventure of working out how to take a bus and a train on my own.

I am very fond of my mother and father-in-law-to-be and my fiancé's brother, his wife and daughter (and ever the daughter to come – I shall call her The Bump), but as they say 'there ain't enough room in this town for all of us!' Hence my finacé and I are applying full steam ahead in our venture to find a flat of our own. You would think this would be a straight forward process but there are many differences between flat hunting in Britain and flat hunting in France (which are also hindered by our natural bad luck when it comes to getting flats no matter where we are!) So what are these difference I hear you ask! Well, first of all where to look. In Britain there are many good national websites such as alongside regional pages such as In France it has been a little more tricky to find websites which advertised the type of flat we want. For instance in Britain to find a furnished flat is as easy as one which is unfurnished or partial. In France they are much more inconspicuous on websites such as, and You often have to trawl each advert for 'meublé' as there often isn't a furnished option to tick. Not to mention there are variations on the differences between 'meublé' – furnished and 'equipée' – equipped going from including everything you need right down to the cheese grater, to kitchen cupboards with two hob rings built in and that's your lot. Another thing to look out for is flat sizes. They have classifications of F1, F2, F3 and so on but also T1, T2... these classifications aren't always used and seem to be interchangeable but also on their way out (the F? Numbers are supposed to refer to the number of useable rooms i.e. an F3 would include 1 living room and either 1 bedroom and 1 dining room or 2 bedrooms along with the kitchen, bathroom etc on top. The T? Numbers however, your guess is as good as mine!). The idea of classifying a flat by the number of bedrooms it has doesn't seem to have occurred to the French yet, although on some websites you can search for number of bedrooms and number of total rooms (not including bathrooms, kitchens, hallways etc). The French seem to have a preference to bring the metric system they're so proud of into every situation, in this case they class flats by their meter squared value. There is still confusion however, as some will include the entire flat's floor space, others only the main rooms such as the living room and bedrooms.

As if finding the right sized flat with the level of furnishings you desire wasn't tricky enough, the way you pay for accommodation in France is also quite different. Whilst in Britain the standard protocol is to pay your landlord rent for the property and any belongings within and that's it, in France you get a bit more than that. Nearly all rented property will include charges. These charges usually consist off electricity, gas and water (or whichever is applicable to the property) and if they do not they will always state that they are for the individual (tenant) to sort. This has benefits as it means you often have a standard rate every month with only your telephone, internet, tv etc. to add if you wish. You can also use your water and electricity without worrying about the cost going up (this doesn't however encourage the most eco-friendly way of living). It does mean though, that when looking for flats you need to be sure that you are aware of whether the price quoted includes charges or not. For example, if your budget is 800EU a flat at 750EU may appear in your bracket, but if it has 120EU charges on top you're then looking at a 870EU flat instead.

All in all there are lots of things you have to look out for, when looking to rent in France, that you would never expect in Britain. There are much deeper more important differences than the superficial ones I have mentioned today for instance the differences over guarantors, references, financial background checks, not to mention fitting into the correct economic bracket for a particular flat, but we'll save these for next time.

Hope this has been of some use to you and preferably coherent too!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

What else can I say? Bonjour!

My name is Bex (yes that is short for Rebecca) and I have recently moved to Strasbourg in France. I was born and bred however, in Warrington, North West England. The last four long years of my life have been in the wet and grey city of the North, Glasgow. It was a good four years culminating in a degree in history and a French fiancé. I'm now 22 and life is just beginning. With my education under my belt I'm finally free to pursue the enticings fruits of life such as living abroad, getting married and entering the real world that so many 'grown ups' have told me about.

I decided to start this blog in an endeavour to cope with the changes in my life. It also seemed the ideal opportunity to expand my writing skills, a career I would like to pursue further. The focus will be on the three previously mentioned topics expanding on the differences between English and French culture and what other Brits can expect to encounter when moving abroad, the expanse of possibilities in front of me as I finally finish 18 years of education and face what to do next, and finally the run up to getting married. Not only the planning of the day but also the many aspects of life that will change for me and my fiancé in July 2012.

I hope that if you are reading this, you find it of interest or failing that at least of some use. I will aspire for this blog to be both instructive and entertaining. For now though, let me conclude this first post with wherever you are: bonjour, hello, salut and good day!