French Culture

Times Tables, The Fun Way

Photo ©

My eldest boy has started learning times tables in earnest last year. If you’ve been through, or are going through that stage at the moment, you’ll know what I mean: lots of repetition (tantrums), bribery (chocolate, nintendo ds, you name it) and distracted parents passing the buck at revision time. On my last trip to London, I stocked up on various times tables activity books that make practice and revision […]

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Venetian Charm in Annecy

Venetian Carnival in Annecy © Geneva Family Diaries

My little muffins’ favourite activity at the moment is dressing-up, and I can tell you it’s not always easy to cook dinner when you’re being ambushed in every corner by Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear and an unusually short Vader. The good news is that February is Carnival time in Europe and Switzerland, so the little monsters will be able to indulge their newfound passion in the open and scare the pants of people […]

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The Tale of the Fair Isle Jumper


Have you, on your Christmas shopping, found yourself pondering on the purchase of a ‘fair isle sweater’ for your hubby? Well, I did! I looked at it, left the shop. I went back, looked at it again. Somehow, I just don’t know what it is with the fair isle trend this year, there’s something that I find equally appealing AND revolting about it. Or is this what trends are all […]

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Find a Book, Find a Treasure


I can never walk past a bookshop without having a quick look inside and, since becoming a mum, I’ve been able to indulge my love of books and retro designs even more. There’s definitely no bigger fan of “The Tiger Who Came To Tea” in this universe than yours truly. On a recent trip to France, I came across the Caroline books series by French cartoonist Pierre Probst and fell in love with […]

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St Nicolas Nicked My Chocolates

st nic

On the night of the 6th of December, French children leave their shoes by the chimney for St Nicolas. The hero saved three little children from their death, the poor souls having been chopped into pieces by a forest butcher and put to marinate in salt for seven years. Every year St Nicolas comes back for the children, leaving chocolates in their little slippers.   My parents didn’t use to follow this tradition until […]

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No Homework, More Fun ?

© C. & M. A. 2012

New expats moving to France will see educational reforms take place from September 2013. After months spent debating over the current school life, French Education Minister Vincent Peillon announced a complete rework of the French system and new laws will be presented to the Parliament in January. French children are said to be currently put under too much pressure. In primary schools, they spend long hours studying (typically from 8am to […]

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Follow the Yellow Trail

Autumnal walks

One of my favourite pastimes in Autumn is going out for walks with the children. France is great for Autumn walks, because all trails are marked on the trunks of the trees. Just follow the red square to get to a famous rock or a breathtaking cascade. All you need to start is a good map. Following the signs on the trees was one of my favourite things when out hiking. I […]

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My Daughter’s Vintage Birthday Party


When I was small and living in France, all birthday parties took place at home. So when the time came for my daughter’s 7th birthday and considering we were on a budget, living in a flat and unprepared to pay for a hall and entertainers – I searched my memory for clues to a successful home celebration. My daughter was up to it and happy to invite only her three best […]

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Raising a Bilingual Child


I don’t pretend I got it all right and my daughter does make mistakes as she is learning both English and French. But speaking French to her has made a difference to her life. Not only she learnt and assimilated it intuitively, but she enjoys it and – most importantly – for her the process is relatively painless. When she was born I was so happy that there would be someone […]

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Pardon my French !


Is the French language so rude that it should come with an apology ? Should expats expect to hear a lot of swearwords in their everyday life in France ? French language is appreciated by foreigners. Many English people told me how they assimilate the sound of French to poetry, but then why do anglophones say ‘Excuse my French’ when using a curse word ? Looking back I found that in […]

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As Easy as Tu or Vous


The use of ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ adds to the difficulty of the French language. Being a foreigner, you will be forgiven for a ‘faux pas’ and admired for getting it right. In order to use ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ at the right time you have to rely on the social context. ‘Vous’ is always used reciprocally in a professional context: whether you are a customer or a professional person, you’ll both address each other […]

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Come & Play !


How do French people organise playdates ? Since moving to England, I’ve realised how easy and flexible playdates are in France. And how, in England, organising playdates is a way to help another mum enjoy a bit of break during the weekly school routine. On Wednesdays, when schools are closed in France, mums drop their child to the ‘playdate house’ around 2.30pm, and will pick them up around 5pm. Saturday afternoon is also […]

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Sunday Lunch “en famille”


French families traditionally spend long Sunday lunches together, with lots of verve and scrumptious food. Sundays can get a bit gloomy in France: shops are shut so people tend to head to the movies. For large families, it is the weekly occasion to get together with a guest of two (usually elderly relatives) over a lovely homemade meal to be shared after coming back from church. Here’s an example of what my mum used to serve us straight […]

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Vive la Classe Verte !

camps 4 M

If your children attend a French school, chances are they will be taken on a ‘classe verte’ during the month of June when school teachers take time to soak in the beautiful French countryside with the kids. A classe verte lasts between one or two weeks. The school chooses a “green” location with forests, rivers and – where possible – some historical remains nearby. During the classe verte, children follow a well-scheduled diary. […]

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French Terms of Endearment

cuddly toy

‘Céline, what are the pet names that French mums use for their children?’ asked my friend Michela. Of course! She probably heard them at school, the park or supermarket but wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying, so I thought back to all those French-flavoured sweet names: ‘mon p’tit canard’ (my little duckling), ‘mon p’tit lapin’ (my little bunny), ‘mon trésor’ (my treasure), ‘mon amour’ (my love), ‘ma poulette’ (my hen), ‘mon poussin’ […]

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Langue de Boeuf, Anyone? Or Why French Schools Won’t Allow Packed Lunches


A large white plate with two big floury potatoes, boiled. No butter, just a bit of gravy. The real attraction actually lies across the plate, textured and moist: a long brownish tongue, about 3 times the size of a human one. It’s a classic French delicacy: langue de boeuf (beef tongue). When I was little, dishes like this would feature in our school canteen from time to time. Nowadays, on […]

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How Teachers Can Shape You

Girl's own book

At the beginning there was a teacher in a classroom full of 14 year-old students, who were learning when to use the English auxiliary verb ‘shall’. “Un châle, pour les genoux” (a blanket for your knees = shall for ‘je’ & ‘nous’) she said, and instantly that made perfect sense. Making lessons interesting and engaging for children is no mean feat. How about translating Madonna’s songs? Fancy an overnight trip to London? My English teacher at school […]

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Supermarket Sweep, French-Style

Foie de morue

Here you are, living in a French village just across the border from Geneva, an expat landed in food-lovers’ heaven. Tantalising foodie treats are all around you: the local boulangerie, boucherie and farmer’s market but you’ll be surprised to learn what treasures lie hidden on the shelves of your local French supermarket. Set out with a short grocery list and you might be back with a Michelin map, a raclette grill, a new cookbook. […]

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Mums Rule the Playground

bubbly girl

We all had a favourite playground game when we were little, but can you keep up with your little expats as they attend French-speaking school? Here’s Céline’s own selection from when she was a child, enjoy! L’EPERVIER (THE SPARROWHAWK) A group of pupils choose one person to be the ‘hawk’. Everyone lines up at the end of a playground while the hawk stays in the middle. All at once ask the hawk […]

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Memoirs of a Young Teen Rangée

portrait 4 web (2)

The choice between a private and state school can be a tricky one, it doesn’t all come down to budget. Private schools are known for top quality education with smaller classrooms and controlled attendance, while state schools offer mixed classrooms with pupils from various background learning to live together. Having been educated within the private system, I do value state schools as they prepare the children for the ‘real world’. The […]

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Memories of My French Childhood

School desk

Join Céline on her trip down memory lane. Céline grew up in Lille, northern France, before moving to London in her twenties. Here she recalls her end-of-year kermesse at school, such amazing memories! Do your expatriate children attend a local French school? Will they cherish similar recollections of their time here? ——————————————————- Remember watching Grease, and the last day of school when the pupils storm out throwing their notes and books […]

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