Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Le Bordeaux c'est bon mais le Champagne c'est meilleur*

I waved Frog off this evening after a hearty dinner of merguez and mash. He was wrapped up warmly with his Allez Reims scarf and Fier d’être Rémois emblazoned across his woollen hat.

Tonight was a big night. Stade de Reims had beaten Monaco and Rennes to reach the semi-finals of the Coupe de la ligue. Bear in mind that the Stade is half way down the 2nd Division and has beaten Premier Division teams to reach this far. This semi-final match was to be played in the half-built new stadium Delaune, fifteen minutes walk from here.

I had planned on having the match on in the background whilst packing and possibly having a relaxing bath in a peaceful flat. In the end I spent 90 minutes sat on the floor in front of the telly. It was an excellent game and even though the final score showed 2-1 to Bordeaux, Reims really did do themselves proud. Frog has come home in a state of excited disappointment, clutching his commemeration scarf. It was a wonderful dream that Stade de Reims would go through to the final at the Stade de France. However, for the Reims team to be talked about at a national level again is quite an achievement for the long patient supporters.

I'm off on an early train to London tomorrow for a five day trip, so posting might be a little quiet. I expect a mix of drinking, working, friends and very sore feet after three days at the Vive La France event.
*Seen on a large homemade banner at the match

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Here versus There

This time two years ago, I was still living in Paris. I spent two years in the city of lights before we moved and we're about 21 months into this Rémois adventure.

A subject of conversation that crops up fairly regularly in this household is living here versus there. Aside from the expected, that we have a better quality of life in a smaller city next to the countryside, Frog frequently claims that part of this is also due to the fact that there are simply no Parisians in our daily lives.

I was reminded of this subject recently by several things. Firstly, by her post the other day, in which she touches on this topic. I have to say everything noted about what the people in the provinces think about the Parisians rang very, very true in this household.

There are several expatriate bloggers that I follow, some are in Paris and I enjoy their observations on life in the city. However, there is nothing more irritating to me when an observation is made about 'the French' or 'France' and I think : NO! You're talking about Paris and its inhabitants. There is often a gulf between their habits and behaviours and those of the provinces.

Finally, I was embarassed to find an email in my inbox from the end of last November that I haven't replied to yet. The email came from a woman who had found my site whilst googling "living in Reims". Since she was considering a move to Reims to research and write about the champagne industry, she wanted to know my thoughts. In true laziness, I have waited nearly two months to reply and have now copied and pasted her questions below, along with my thoughts.

Your story interests me, as you're an English-speaking woman who has chosen to live in France & especially in Reims.
Hmmm... choice. Well, I was offered a job in Paris that was too good to refuse. I was young-ish, free, single and was offered a senior position on a European team, living in Paris, with expatriate benefits for a couple of years. "Well, okay then, why not..." pretty much sums up my the result of my period of consideration.

I wouldn't say I especially chose to live in Reims. North-eastern France is not the most attractive area, although €5 a coupe of champagne doesn't hurt. There are far warmer climes and Mediterannean lifestyles to be had in this country. However, the man I met in Paris had a very good reason to move here to start working with the family business. This decision was certainly more considered than, "Well, okay then, why not..." but the move to Reims, specifically, was more about his opportunity than mine. But yes, I'm very happy that I signed up for this new adventure.

What are your thoughts on the welcome the people in Reims give you as apposed to Parisians?
This is actually a less obvious question than you might think. Sure, the stereotypical Parisians are pain in the arse people. The 'true' Parisians move in tight social packs and don't easily let anyone in. They are not like Londoners vs English, Parisians are more of a 'type' than anything I found in London. However, Paris is an international city and many 'Parisians' are not really Parisian. I was lucky to work in a young international company and most of my team weren't 'Parisian' and even lived outside the French norms. By that I mean they socialised outside of work and I made several enduring friendships from the office.

By contrast, if Reims was like many other provincial cities, you would consider the people to be welcoming and friendly. However, this is Reims. The Rémois are renowned for being bourgeoisie (despite the fact that the city has the highest amount of social housing per capita in the country) and are pretty cold. I was warned of this fact by my (Parisian) boss before I moved here, she had studied at the (highly rated) Business School and was shocked by the people's attitudes here. The friendly folks from the region next to us, Les Ardennes, constantly remark on how difficult they find the Rémois. We have been lucky in that we have 'instant entry' into local life through the in-laws. However, despite the fact that Frog grew up here, we have a very low key social life, and those friends we have are originally from other regions.

Is the cost of living reasonable given it's not as big as Paris?
I think the overall cost of living is lower here. However, you have more choice in Paris - meaning a larger selection for life at the more budget end and more free galleries, events, selection of restaurants, shops etc. But housing is certainly a lot cheaper in Reims.

Any advice to someone thinking of embarking on a life (even a temporary one) in Reims?
Reims is only 1 hours and 40 minutes from Paris. And from June we'll have the new TGV Est which will make Gare de l'Est just 45 mins from the door. So, you could look at it either way. You can easily escape to Paris, or base yourself in Paris and easily visit Reims. However, for all my complaining, I do like it here. The centre is small and charming, you might not immediately be made to feel like a local by others but it's very easy to find your way around quickly. Don't expect a rich cultural or diverse lifestyle, although if you dig just a little there are some interesting things going on.

Frog and I love to visit Paris. It constantly amazes me how I manage to forget what a wonderful place it is. Yet, I always travel back feeling the same way: I'm so pleased I came, but glad to be going back home to Reims.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy 2nd Blogday

It's my second blogday. I wouldn't have noticed but someone trying to get me involved in some corporate blogging project (yes, I mean you Toshiba*) obviously had an eagle-eyed intern (who I hope has read this example of how not to behave with corporate blogs).

So, two years on, I'm still in France and that life in Paris, on January 2005, seems a long, long time ago. One move across the country, a wedding and oooh far too many lovely moments with my Frog to mention, I'm still here in my squalid little blogspot. It is far too neglected, I have composed a hundred posts in my head (usually at night when I'm trying to get to sleep) that never make it to the screen. But thank you for visiting and dipping in and out of this adventure with me and my idiosyncratic grammar. An added bonus is that my mum, my original reader and intended audience, is also still reading, even if she sometime gets a little neglected too by association.

I'll leave you tonight with this tale from Frog last night. It has nothing to do with my blog, or me but seems to nicely sum up the facet that living in a small provincial city brings with it - local bourgeoisie eccentrics who have lived in Reims all their lives.

Frog had bumped into the rather strange assistant to our solicitor, X. X and his wife were part of our wedding preparation group sessions with the priest last year and we have giggled at his rather odd behaviour before. Frog said that X told him he was rushing to catch Galeries Lafayette before it closed. He needed to buy some new underwear and they, apparently, have a wonderful selection. (Trust me, we have the lowest stocked Galeries Lafayette in the country). X wanted to catch the Russian saleswoman, who is excellent at helping with the selection of said underpants. This probably sounds a little sleazy. If you'd met X, it's not. He's just rather desparate to wear the right labels and do the best thing - and in Reims, I now know that means running to catch the Russian underwear saleswoman in Galeries Lafayette.

I do not tell this tale to be snobby. I tell it because it made me laugh.

* I am watching with interest simply to put you into a case study for one of my clients, I can just imagine the agency brainstorm this project came out of and the brand positioning they are trying to create. However, it's nice that someone wrote a personalised introduction to an email that she obviously had to send out to hundreds of researched blogs. I hope she made her target. Sadly, I do not think that I'm an opinion leader. That's in the second part of my mission to take over the world...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Late Starter

Yes, I know 2007 started a good ten days ago but I'm having a bit of a delayed reaction. I admit to slumping a little in the overall mood stakes and have found it hard to find the energy to wish peace and goodwill to all, when struggling to find a reason to get out of bed.

But hey nonny nonny, onwards and upwards. I've spent the last couple of days trying to focus on getting ready for this year. A shorter new haircut, a facial (thanks Frog for the pampering spa vouchers) meant that even a doomed sales shopping trip today, when the changing room fluorescent lighting and small French sizes seemed to be conspiring against me, will not knock me back into the panic attack terrain that I slipped into last week.

So, pausing briefly to summarise 2006 with the comment written in one kind friend's Christmas Card, "I guess you'll have mixed feelings about the last year but at least the wedding was excellent!", let's move on swiftly to see what we have to look forward to in the first two months of 2007:

  • A freelance project lined up to start tomorrow (may they all follow quickly afterwards).

  • A trip to London to visit old colleagues (hire me for your short term needs now!); drink with old friends (yes, I'm still on the booze); visit best mate with her New Year baby (I will not cry) and plying the bubbly at Vive La France (try saying that without sounding cynical).

  • Another year, another Saint Vincent. This year the village celebrations are hosted by Frog Family. Let's see if the family members can all put on a smiling front and not kill each other in front of the hundreds of guests. There are, however, reasons to celebrate. The assemblage of a vintage 2006 has just been created, which apparently (I haven't been privy to the tastings) is of great quality.

  • Host another best mate jetting in from Brazil for a few days R&R, on her way to meetings in Europe. (She is the one who had a secret a couple of months back. Again, I repeat, I will not cry).

  • Trying not to inflict major bodily harm on Frog when he forgets to engage brain before mouth. His finest example yet came after seeing An Inconvenient Truth on New Year's Day, "Well, if you think about it, all of the earth's problems are fundamentally due to an explosion in the population and you're actually helping the environment". Yes, the resulting evening lurched between states of silence and screaming hysteria. Gah, men.

  • Travelling for more wine fairs in Amsterdam & Brussels. These are for professionals, which are always easier than consumer fairs. (I'm looking forward to seeing my friend Aaron's newly purchased flat in Amsterdam).

  • Ski-ing. Yes, a holiday. After "working 'is 'ands to the bone" through the crazy Christmas period, Frog is taking a holiday. Harvest to New Year is the busiest time in the industry and, being a small family business, that has translated into no time off for Frog since August (the French 35 hour week has no relation to life in a small family business). However, the good news is that they sold a record amount of bottles over the Christmas period and with February being the quietest month of the year, that's the month that we get to go away. We'll be off to Les Arcs to break a leg, or something, the first week of Feb followed by a trip home to Dorset.

I know it sounds as if we're really busy at the moment and I'm pleased that the next couple of months are packed but I really feel like I'm treading water at the moment. May 2007 unfold without any nasty surprises, that's all I can say.