As we find the end of our year in France closely approaching the question has come up–what have you most enjoyed about living in France? The list could be quite long but I’ll limit it just to the top five. Amazingly, when I asked Randy his top five were the same as mine!
1) Living in the Alps. It has been wonderful to live in such a beautiful place. Albertville sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains that change not only with the seasons but each day as the light changes and the atmosphere is different. They cause one to constantly look up, which draws me out of myself to see things around me that are bigger, more beautiful and have weathered the test of endurance. They continuously speak to me of the sovereignty and faithfulness of their Creator and mine. It has really made me thankful each day for being here.
2) The ambiance of living in a small community. We have never lived in such a small community (except for one year in Kenya which was really more of a mission station than a small town) but we found here in France that this community of 20,000 has a very vibrant local life. There have been local concerts (like this one given in an old local church), festivals and traditional events that draw the community together. Maybe that is one reason they hosted the Olympics in 1994 here.
Just last Saturday we went to the official lighting of the town for Noël. There was a very large crowd gathered at the Place d’Europe for the parade of fairies, Père Noël and fireworks before the count down to turn on the lights all over the center of town. Afterward everyone was invited to the adjacent square for hot chocolate, hot wine and candies. It was very well attended by families, quite jolly and festive.
3) Bike rides. Since we had no car this year we bought two bikes, which we have now sold to other students. Although we don’t have all the spandex of the true cyclists or do the 100 km a day routes of some we’ve met (Tour de France wannabes) we have really enjoyed bike riding. Including biking up to the Col de Tamie at 900 meters (one of the Tour de France’s smaller climbs) and a two day overnight trip to Annecy, with a return trip in pouring rain. On these trips and a few other bike outings we’ve been joined by another couple from the school so we’ve had the added joy of mutual camaraderie.
4) Special people we’ve come to know. Many people in the community have been very pleasant, helpful, patient and welcoming even though we all know our time here is limited. Another aspect of small town living is you frequent the same places every few days. So we’ve been greeted and helped by many of the people at the Thursday market, the boulangerie, the church and the library. We’ve also been blessed with a few local friends who have shared their lives and time with us, weathered our poor french and helped us understand their culture. We will miss them!
5) Really good, fresh food. We have always enjoyed french foods but what we have come to especially appreciate living here is the freshness of the food. There is a lack of preservatives used in foods which really can be tasted in how fresh they are and also seen in them going bad more quickly if you don’t use them up. The red peppers are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. The varieties of cheese at the Thursday market and the regular grocery store are overwhelming. And of course, there is the fresh bread at our favorite local bakery. A good meal with friends or family can last three to four hours with lots of good conversation and slow savoring of fresh, delicious food (and still most French people are not overweight).
There are many more things we’ve enjoyed about living here in Albertville, France. It has been an amazing year in so many ways. We are thankful for our school, CEF, that is committed to teaching french to people going to work in francophone countries and especially the teachers who endure our mispronunciations, continually mistakes and never ending questions about why french grammar is the way it is. Learning aside, one thing I won’t miss is being a student and going to class each day in a french education style system. But even on my more frustrating days walking back to our apartment or taking a bike ride to clear my head I would be amazed again at the beauty and wonder around me and rejoice that I’ve had the privilege of living here this year.
Thank you to those of you who have made this possible in so many ways!