Tag Archives: French

Journey to a New Life – Part Five (Remembrance Day)

We have never been ones to make our way to Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday in order to watch the ceremony at the Cenotaph.? We would buy our poppies and remember in our own way.? When we moved to France, and having already visited the Wellington Tunnels in Arras, we are more aware of the price that France paid over the course of two world conflicts

Today we took our place by the side of many of the French – and some English – inhabitants of our village, in order to pay tribute to the French fallen of World War I.? A programme was provided which explained where and when each part of the morning’s proceeding would take place.? At 10.30 am, there was a short service in the church.? We are not religious and have never been Catholic, so we asked the maire (mayor) if we could just sit at the back, as we wouldn’t be taking part.; we were there as a sign of respect.? He seemed genuinely taken aback and showed us to a pew at the rear of the congregation.? He even offered to drive us to the cemetery afterwards for the next part of the ceremony.? There were only a handful of people there and he explained, with a rye grin, that it wouldn’t be ‘crowded’.? As it happened, a number of people arrived as the service continued and there was a respectable congregation by the end.? One of our near neighbours – a delightful eighty-six-year-young lady with a naughty twinkle in her eye – arrived not long after we did and, after greeting us, said? ‘you’ll come and sit with me?’ in a way that suggested that was exactly what we would be doing.? So much for sitting at the back; we ended up half way down the church on the left!

Inside the village church

The church service was not conducted by a priest, as there isn’t one permanently attached to this village and it must be assumed that every village around was having the same ceremony.? It was taken by a man and an elderly woman (no idea who they were!) both of whom, luckily, had beautifully clear voices.

From here, we drove with the maire to the cemetery, about a kilometre from the centre of the village.? Many people had already made their way there and had not attended the church service, most notably those who were quite advanced in years and needed to be driven from their homes.? The ceremony itself was very moving.? The maire asked a member of the village (presumably a dignitary – we don’t know him yet) to read a potted history of the four main battles of the Great War that were fought in the area.? It was interesting that, when numbers of troops killed or injured were mentioned, the German soldiers were included.? Some of the village children then laid cornflowers (the French equivalent of the British poppy) on each grave – there must have been about three dozen – and, as they finished the flowers they were carrying, said, ‘Mort pour la France.’ (Died for France).? This was followed by a beautiful flower arrangement being placed at the foot of the flagpole, where the French flag was flying.? We then had a minute’s silence.

At the cemetery. Credit: Dave Harris

The next part of the morning was a ceremony at the war memorial in the village square.? We walked back down from the cemetery and, when we arrived, the maire read a message from the French Secretary of State.? Children read the names of the dead from 1914-18 and pigeons were released.? Another flower arrangement from the French was placed on the flowerbed surrounding the memorial by one of the oldest inhabitants and a young girl, as well as a poppy wreath on behalf of the British.? We listened to the French equivalent of the Last Post and retired to the meeting room at the mairie for aperitifs and nibbles.? We met a number of other English residents and rubbed shoulders with a few more of our French neighbours; we are at the point where the people we now know are beginning to introduce us to others.

Laying flowers at the memorial. Credit: Dave Harris

It was one of those occasions when we felt very much at one with the French.? We know that England – and, particularly, many of the big, important cities – was bombed horrifically during WWII, but these people had the battle raging all about them on the ground.? The live on the edge of the Somme.? They had a vibrant partisan presence during the second world conflict, of which they are very proud.? They will never forget the debt they owe the the Commonwealth – mention was made of the British, the Canadian, the Australian and the New Zealand forces that fought on their behalf.? We are very glad that we attended and will probably do so every year.

Journey to a New Life – Part Three (Bureaucracy)

Whatever the life you lead, you will – at some time – come face to face with bureaucracy.? Unless. of course, you decide to live off the grid.? Which we haven’t.? There is no getting round it; for most of us, and in France (as in Italy, many years ago) it probably costs you and is definitely not as easy as it appear to be at first.


Our first taste of this wondrous level of government was to convert our NHS health cover to EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) for UK nationals resident elsewhere in Europe.? For this we needed an S1 form from the International Pension Centre (IPC).? It had to be this department, as we are both receiving benefits in the form of the state pension.? We phoned the relevant office and had to speak to someone individually.? It wasn’t enough to give our names and National Insurance (Social Security in the US) numbers.? We each went through answering the questions asked by the lovely man at the other end, who was possessed of a relatively understandable Geordie accent.? Yes – the office is in Newcastle -upon-Tyne.

Then it was our daughter’s turn.? Because she no longer has paid work and no other income, she had to be ‘piggy-backed’ onto one of our applications.? As it was I who was having the conversation when this problem arose, she was added to my form.? So far, so good.? Next, we waited for the forms to arrive – around three weeks – and we dutifully took them to the ‘Assurance Maladie’, the comparable department in France.? After a short wait in an incredibly boring waiting room, the very accommodatiing man behind the desk gave us each a French form to complete and even highlighted the places where we either needed to fill in information or which told us which documents we needed.? Up to this point, we couldn’t believe our luck and took all the forms home to fill them in …? only to discover that, on the S1 forms, the name of our village was misspelled – differently on each of the forms – and that two important details on my daughter’s S1 were wrong – the spelling of her first name and her date of birth.? We could almost understand the misspelling of a French place name when dictated over the phone – almost, mind – but the other two details were straight from the records that they hold in England!? Another phone call later and the form containing the correct information was (hopefully) on its way.

As our two applications were more or less correct (apparently that little spelling mistake wouldn’t matter – we shall see) we took them back to the office, with the French ones, and placed them in the handily provided post box on the waiting room table.? And … breathe.

It might be worth pausing here to mention that people had told us a) it was a complicated process and they will always ask you for more paperwork than you have given them, b) it could take months, and c) don’t go to the office at St Pol. ? At this point in the process, it didn’t feel like any of that.

Back to the real world.

Some two or three weeks after delivering the forms to the French health office, we received them back, along with a very polite accompanying letter informing us that we needed to provide other documents. See a) & c) above.? Luckily, we have digital versions of all the documents required, so we printed them out.

We have since received our daughter’s new form – correct this time – and can carry on.? We will not be taking the forms back to St Pol (See c) again) but to Arras, which is a much bigger office and, apparently, has English speaking staff, which should make the whole ‘What do you mean, we now need those documents?’ a much easier conversation to have.

No word yet on b), but we’re hoping not to make it a set.

Journey to a New Life – Part Two (Local Life)

One piece of advice that we were given, by a number of French and English people, was to integrate.? Don’t shut yourselves away behind your doors and only emerge to go shopping or back to England to visit.? This was never going to be an issue, as we’re not like that.? We revel in becoming part of local life.? We get to know the village inhabitants and try to be as visible as possible, without being over the top and a potential nuisance.? The most common question at the moment is ‘Vous ?tes a Boubers maintenant?’ (You are at Boubers now?)? meaning, ‘Are you here to stay?’? They are surprised, and relieved, to find we are resident.? Out of a population of around six hundred and twenty, about twenty homes are holiday buys.? There are also a number of other English residents and we are gradually meeting them.? It’s not uncommon for someone to knock on the door, greet you with ‘Hello!” and introduce themselves.? One couple even told us they knew how much we had paid for the property!? I have to admit to finding that a little disturbing.

So we followed the advice. As well as having some of our neighbours help with moving into our new home, in the first couple of days we popped down to the bar for a coffee and to show our faces. We discovered, at this point, that the only coffee served was caf? (espresso) and I was lucky to get a decaff! The people who run the caf? are (otherwise) very accommodating and patient. In fact, all the villagers are patient, which was most obvious when we first arrived and our French was about as accurate as a Flintlock. They just waited until something understandable came out or we looked pathetic and asked for help.

Meal for Seniors.

Last week came the epitome of our acceptance. The mayor ? another very pleasant man ? had informed us of the special lunch that was taking place on Sunday 23rd. It was for the Over 65s in the village! There are, apparently, a number of such events for the ‘venerables’ throughout the year. As we had registered at the Mairie with our dates of birth, he knew Dave qualified and, as his wife, so did I. He made sure, on three separate occasions when we met in the street, that we wouldn’t forget. When we met him at the venue on the day, he was pleased to see us and said he would have come to get us if we hadn’t turned up. After all, he knows where we live.

In the event, it was a very pleasurable afternoon. I say afternoon; we started eating at about one o’clock and finally left at six! The owner of the bar/restaurant had provided the seven course (???) meal and his wife and daughter, along with another couple of women, served it. All the food was outrageously good and there were, thankfully, long gaps between courses. The whole thing was paid for by the ‘commune’.

The next village event is the Remembrance Day in the square on November 11th. France has a great respect and love for those who gave their lives for them and we intend to be there.

Village war memorial. Credit to Adele James for the photo.