Next up on the Blogging Around the World bandwagon is a delightful chit chat with Joanna from Multifarious Meanderings who enlightens us about family, humor, life and misadventures in the Hérault region of France.
Joanna says on her about page that: Multifarious Meanderings is simply an opportunity for her to write up and share a few moments in life, the odds and sods, the bits and bobs, without any ambition other than to enjoy writing and interact with other bloggers who share the blogging bug.
I think she’s being too modest! M.M is witty, sharp, hilarious, observant, truthful and filled with joie de vivre all at the same time. I was happy to have some of these qualities visit my blog even if only for a brief interview. So let me introduce you to this great ‘bloggess.’
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in France? Where exactly are you living?
Yes and no. I consider myself a true expat in so far that I still obsessively squirrel away any British produce that crosses my path – imagine Gollum with a tin of baked beans. On the other hand, I feel very much at home here, having spent most of my adult life in France. When I go home to Britain I scare people off because I get too close, talk too loud and keep prodding them and squeezing them like fruit at the village market. I live in a small village in the Hérault valley in the South of France.
How would you describe France to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Coo, this one is hard. It’d take me an entire blog post to cover. (MM scratches head and reaches for bottle of rosé). Hmm. Adjectives. France is feisty. Sunny. Snowy. Spacious. Multicultural. Delicious. Passionate. Sometimes opinionated. Sensitive. Complicated. Proud. Historic. Beautiful. A tad precious at times, but endearingly so.
I haven’t had any bad experiences here – as a general rule of thumb, if you do your best to learn the language and adapt to French living, the French will reward your efforts. As in any country, you have a number of people who hate difference – but don’t let that put you off. If you want to read more of my ramblings about living with the French, I wrote three articles on Expats Blog that describe working and living in France.
Name five things I should see and do in France?
1)Visit the Alsace region, in the East of France, and discover fabulous scenery, scrummy food, and people with a big heart and real pride for their roots.
2) Fill in a French income tax form. If you come through the experience without crying, pulling your hair out by the roots or going mad, you are fit for life in France.
3) Check out the huge parties the French have for the 14th of July.
4) Christmas food – the closest you’ll ever get to a five-star restaurant meal without even leaving the house.
5) Treat yourself to a huge motorway traffic jam in the middle of summer, caused by demonstrating lorry drivers, and surprise yourself with the impressive stock of 100% French rude gestures and bad language you have learned since you arrived with your good behaviour so many years ago.
What should I defiantly taste/eat in France?
Defiantly? Nothing, unless you fancy being booted out of the restaurant by an angry cuistot. But you should definitely taste EVERYTHING. Starting with Munster cheese, the Rottweiler of the cheese plate (don’t let the smell put you off; its bark is worse than its bite). The galette des rois is a must – a sweet pie served for epiphany, made of flaky pastry filled with an almond – butter cream. Gratin dauphinois – the most moreish potato bake ever (and yes, I know that ‘most moreish’ isn’t English. It’s MM –ish). Saucisson, jambon cru and crunchy baguette pulled out of a picnic bag on the top of a hillside, shared in good company and washed down with some Châteauneuf du Pape red wine. Hungry yet?
Tell us about your perfect/average day in your part of the world?
Pain au chocolat and coffee at the bottom of the garden in my PJ’s on a Sunday morning, after a balmy night listening to the nurse toads and owls partying outside. Then a walk with Smelly Dog and Candide the Canon in the vineyards, lunch in the garden with PF and the tadpoles, a siesta, baking a cake with Little My, then reading a book in the bath, bread and cheese in front of a Pixar cartoon, then blogging, reading or writing in bed. Parfait.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
At the bottom of my garden, with a chilled bottle of rosé and a truckload of peanuts (I’m a peanut addict. There, I said it.)
You are a foreigner now living full-time in France, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your expat culture has something in common with your new adopted home?
No problems at all, bar seeing the French dunk their baguette and jam in their bowl of coffee and watching the butter melt all over the surface like an oil slick. Yuck. I’ll never get used to it.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
Yes, sometimes. I get over it by Skyping my family whilst downing a G&T or three. Generally it happens at ‘key’ family moments, like Christmas and birthdays, or when my LLS (Littlest Little Sister) posts on Facebook that she’s having a bacon butty then going to the pub for a pint, a game of pool and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. The worst time was when my grandmother died, and I wasn’t at home to cuddle my Dad – I got myself a plane ticket home, and got in hot water because I turned up at the airport with my son’s toy pistol in my handbag.
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in France?
Most rewarding high point? Ho de hum. Everything is good about my life here. I’d say that the most fabulous feeling was to be accepted and welcomed, particularly by PF’s Grandmother, who at first would have preferred to gouge her own eyes out with a blunt spatula than see the family DNA diluted with foreign stock. Being elected as the first non-French town councillor in our previous home town was a magic experience, too. Low? When a little old lady at the bus stop elbowed me in my very pregnant belly in her hurry to shove past me and get the last remaining seat on the bus. But that could have happened anywhere… and given the speed at which she ran, at least it proved that the French health system works well.
Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place?
Only if you let it.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
I chose to live in France because I was intrigued by it as a teenager, then fell for the place hook, line and sinker. I don’t think expats have the same reasons for living away from home – some do it for professional reasons and live the experience very much as expatriates, some start off like that and fall in love with the country they went to, some go to the ends of the earth because they have fallen in love, others need to get away from their routine and try something new. What’s important is to be happy.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
Not really, because I was only interested in French at school, so I put all my energy into learning to speak French rather than mastering less important, boring things like maths, geography and science. I regularly make mistakes when I have drunk too much rosé, but the tadpoles (my “Frenglish” offspring) correct me immediately. I also confused my apples and potatoes once, hence describing the most unusual toffee apple ever to a wide-eyed French audience.
Advice? Forget the evening courses, DIY French CD’s and text books, and get stuck in. Get out and about with your workmates, invite your neighbour around for a coffee, and stick at it. The French will reward your bravery with encouragement and will correct your French to help you along.
The French are infamous for defending their language, perhaps you can tell us about how you cope with this linguistic French snobbery?
I think that it’s more a question of pride than snobbery – the French have a beautiful language and as a grammar fiend in my own language, I wholeheartedly approve of their belief that it should be treated with respect. I have a nasty habit of taking pictures of the spelling mistakes I come across, proving that many French people mistreat their language. My kids quake in their boots every time I find one in case I tell someone off. The most recent example was today – a solicitor who mistyped the verb ‘determine’ in her email, and informed me that she was going to ‘terminate’ my husband instead.
You also blog in French, do you get many French readers, how challenging is this for you?
The French blog is still a baby – it’s doddling along. I don’t get the feeling that blogging is as popular in France – it seems to be a more personal project for many in comparison with the busy blogging community I have seen on the English-speaking platform. I mainly have French readers, many of whom are expats themselves. I enjoy reading their blogs too, and love seeing how those who live in Britain experience expat life in my own country.
What led you to the world of blogging?
My lovely big sister. I love writing, and I was frustrated to leave it on my hard disk. Big Sis told me about WordPress, and I will never forget how I had my heart in my mouth when I pressed that ‘publish’ button for the first time just over two years ago.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
A big sweetie jar full of all sorts of fun jumble from MM’s life – if you’re looking for grown-up, serious stuff, you’re in the wrong place. Multifarious Meanderings is a humorous hotchpotch of parental palavers, run-ins with the evil Queen CERFA (aka the French administration), eternal mysteries of life such as the LSD (lost sock dimension), my hate – hate relationship with the sadistically smug Wondeure Woomane, my inability to become a Febreze Fairy, and the trials and tribulations of being a peanut addict. Learn how to embrace your inner bitch, deal with recalcitrant bathroom plumbing and get teenagers to adopt a Nike approach with the housework (i.e. ‘just do it’). There is also some serious stuff about Herr Hormone and his Henchmen, hunting down snakes in your home, the migration of the lesser spotted boob, and how to deal with cougars chatting up your husband at the bus stop.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
Not really. Opinions have differed at times, but the people who comment are generally all intelligent grown-ups who know how to behave. Those who don’t are what I call bad fairies, and they generally manage to shoot themselves in the foot and nose-drive into blogger’s purgatory without any help from anyone else. I moderate all the comments on my blog to avoid any nasty surprises, because a blog should be a pleasant place to hang out, not a boxing ring.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
I rarely visit my stats page (although I do admit I’m a sucker for reading the spam). I blog because I love writing, I love reading, and I never tire of the magic equation by which blogging + nice humans = friendship. That’s all. Now, about my book… just kidding. For now.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I don’t think I’m really in a position to hand out advice, but for what it’s worth:
‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.’ (Oscar Wilde). Your posts are unique –believe in yourself. Aim for quality, not quantity. When people comment, answer, and welcome first-timers who knock on your virtual door – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve gatecrashed a private party. Never judge the success of your blog in terms of whether you’ve been Freshly Pressed, or the number of likes or followers you have – a blog may have thousands of followers, but the proof of the pudding comes from the followers who actually comment on a regular basis. If someone, somewhere is happy to see your post pop up in their reader as they eat their breakfast, then you have succeeded.
How important are weekly writing challenges and collaborations for you and your blog?
If I see a challenge that strikes my fancy, I’ll go for it, but I’m a gob on a stick, so I rarely need prompting to talk. I do enjoy interacting with other bloggers who set up cool projects like this one, too.
Do you think ‘virtual friendship’ really exists? You mentioned in a recent post, that the blogging community is a helpful presence for you, it’s certainly a new phenomenon, how suspicious or open should a new blogger be?
It most definitely does. I feel like I’m rolling into the local pub for an evening out with the regulars when I blog, and that’s what it’s all about. When my Father-in-Law died recently, I put a note on the blog to inform everyone that I’d be offline for a while. The ensuing support and concern, both on the blog and even by email, was not only touching, but humbling.
I am careful not to put too much ‘sensitive’ information on line. I use pseudonyms for my family, and I don’t put photos of my family on the blog – you never know who could download that photo of your five-year-old in the tub, or how they could use it, whether or not you have copyrighted it. I follow my gut feelings for contact with people – just like in real life, you should never take sweeties from strangers.
You liberally use Playmobile toys to illustrate your posts, what’s the inspiration behind this idea?
I’m just a big kid (MM grins and runs off to find her toy chest). I love playing with Playmobils, and I think that a Playmo photo illustrates a post well, particularly if it’s original and contradicts the social ideals that are depicted on the boxes. Like Prince Charming hoovering the floor and looking after the kids whilst his erstwhile Princess, now an Evil Queen in a fleece and tracksuit bottoms, drinks tea with her friend on the couch. This actually winds children up – I was told off by a friend’s three-year-old son when I sent the Princesses mum up the ladder in a pair of dungarees and Birkenstock sandals to save her daughter from a life of drudgery with Prince Charming. As far as I know, the poor lass is still there.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
Definitely. Peter Pan – a great guide to a place I’d love to visit, Never Never Land.
So what’s coming up on Multifarious Meanderings that we can look forward to …
‘If I told you that, I would have to kill you’, as some super spy said in some film or other. No, seriously: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t plan anything; I couldn’t organise a shopoholics meeting at Harvey Nick’s Christmas sale. Generally, a random idea floats to the surface when I’m doing something, and I immediately start scribbling it down, then wake up what feels like five minutes later in a huge pile of washing, with an indignant husband glaring at me and the tadpoles baying for food.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
Apart from yours? Lots. I regularly read great blogs written by blogging pals in the Middle East, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, the U.K.,Costa Rica, Germany, France, the U.S., Canada… and many other places. Check out my blogroll!
Thanks ever so much to Joanne for running amuck on my blog, which may never be the same, but in a good way. I think we all need little more Playmobil in our lives to bring out the inner child which has been repressed for too long.
For future reference I will try to avoid using phrases like joie de vivre and stop trying to invent new words to express talented female bloggers (blogess doesn’t really exist) in a vain attempt to impress my guests.
I unashamedly invite everyone to visit the world of Multifarious Meanderings and relish it!