Interview: Jane Webster – ‘The French Table’ – 2
Episode 2: The French Reality
What advice would you give to people considering moving their families to France?
For us, it happened quite organically; we got out the spreadsheets for the finances, but otherwise we just let it happen.
I once met a woman at a soirée. She introduced herself, and I said, “Haven’t we been talking over email.”
She said, “Yes, we have.” She told me that she had read my book when it first came out and she said to her husband, “I want to do this. I want to take off for a year with the children and travel all around Europe.” He loved the idea, and now they’re back and she wants to write a book about taking the kids out of school, homeschooling them and making 67 moves in 13 months.
It’s so important to have your partner on board.
How wearing is it living between two countries and leaving your children in Australia because of their schooling?
I never thought ‘My French Table’ would take off like it has. I thought maybe I would do a couple of weeks a year, but what has transpired is I have to go to France for three and a half, four months and I’m doing back to back groups, which is proving to be a big juggling act, especially now as we have three children doing Year 12 in the next three years.
It is hard, but I think that at that level of education you’ve brought your kids up so far and there’s not really that much more you can do for them. Plus, I think it’s quite nice for the children to have some independence and responsibilities, it makes for stronger people. Our son wants to get into medicine next, so he’s ‘head down, bottom up’. And I don’t know chemistry, I can’t help him!
In other years, they’ve gone to boarding school while we’ve been away, but this time they’re staying home, with some hired help.
What about the support you found when you moved?
My family was really supportive, but one day I was dropping my son off at school, and one of my so called friends said to me, “I can’t believe you’re pulling your son out of school for two years.”
I said, “Well, it’s not the only school in the world.”
And she said, “But it’s the best.”
And I said, “It’s attitudes like that which make me want to run to the airport even quicker.”
There was a lot of that.
What happened to you son when he got to France?
He started straight in school. And now, he’s doing VCE French. And the teacher said, “Not only does he speak French beautifully, but he also understands the nuances. He can be really witty in French.” He’s got great friends over there.
What do they think looking back on the experience of living in France?
I won’t pretend that the schooling was easy for them, especially for the elder two who jumped straight into collège. The principal was fantastic though. He immediately got a French tutor to spend up to eleven hours a week with each of them, to bring them up to speed. But there were a lot of teachers at the school who were less supportive. We felt that this was because of the French attitude to education is huge (including where your student sits in the class and which school they will get into, like Les Grandes Écoles).
One day I was in the car with my daughter, and I asked how she was finding school, and she said, “It’s fine. It’s hard. But when we get back to Melbourne, nothing is ever going to be hard again.” And that hard experience had showed her she can do whatever she wants. It was incredible for her.
Looking back at it now, what was the most rewarding thing for you, personally?
Our family unit, the time we spent together.
We decided right from the beginning to live like a French family, we already ate together every night, but in France, what I loved was the weekend was sacred for families. That time where all my friends were off at footy, basketball, netball…their families were torn apart, while we were in rural France working out what we would eat for the next meals, going to the market together, playing board games, setting up giant jigsaw puzzles all over tables. At the start of two of the kids’ adolescence, we really got to know each other.
And gaining an insight into the french culture and language.
What is the thing you miss most from Australia when you’re in France?
Homemade pies and Vegemite toast. I take Vegemite over there, but it’s not the same on French bread.
And when you’re in Australia, what do you miss most from France?
The pace of life. It’s slow and purposeful. I love the stopping at noon and not opening until 2pm.
What is something you still don’t understand about France?
When I came to visit you today, I asked if I could use your bathroom. But why could I never do that in France? That still bewilders me…
We thank you Jane for taking time out to speak to My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learn about ‘The French Table‘.