From Wollongong to France
13th September 2017
Scrolling through an expat-advice thread one afternoon, in preparation for our move to France, I read (with mounting horror) how nicely put-together Gallic children are - their shoes are shined, their clothes are ironed, and generally, they are turned out with care and precision. I look at my three kids, who are playing Farting Rainbows with their stuffed animals ‘The Friendys’. This is a game in which the Friendys compete for the crown of Queen of Farts, and the rules are too disgusting to outline in mixed company. One child is wearing two odd shoes, another is wearing nothing but a single sock and the smallest one looks as though she has survived some kind of freak op-shop explosion.
I am nervous. We are moving to a little village in the South of France for a year, and we are not only from Australia: we are from Wollongong. I love Wollongong: there is a thriving art and music scene here, the food is amazing and our beaches are spectacular, but it must, however, be noted that a man was recently arrested outside local pub Dicey Riley’s for performing the ‘helicopter’ with his penis. I relay this crime with a certain amount of home-town pride, but while I’m sure that the medieval town of Sommiéres will have its own cultural idiosyncrasies, I’m fairly confident that the public dick-swinging is not one of them. I know how to handle an unexpected helicopter (‘Call that a penis’ ‘Does your mother know that’s out?’ etc) but whatever the French version is, I will be at a loss.
I practice the phrase ‘Sorry! We are Australian!’ (I’ve been told that we want to make sure that locals know immediately that we are not British). Je suis désolé! Nous sommes Australiens!
I’m really nervous about the throwing the kids in to sink or swim at French school where they will be in full ‘immersion’ mode, but I will be out of my cultural depth too. I am going to have to raise my standards. French women are famous for their sartorial flair, while at the school drop off I usually look as though I have been shagged through a hedge backwards. Modern grooming feels beyond my skillset. It’s like painting the Harbour Bridge; once you get through the waxing, plucking, colouring and moisturising involved, not to mention the light trimming of one’s perimenopausal beard, it’s time to start all over again. My concession to fashion these days is putting on a bra for the run to BiLo (which I pretty much usually do. I am not an animal!) I do wonder, though, how my style – I like to think of it as ‘derelicte’ – will fly in the South of France? And how much do I care? Je suis désolé! Nous sommes Australiens!
I was not always this way. Ten years of being a stay-at-home mum who writes a bit have turned me into a sort of relaxulated mole creature; all about the elasticated waist and the ‘good’ trackie pants for special occasions. But in a galaxy far, far away (my past before children) I was a city gal, a night owl, a butterfly in search of a party. Somehow, this year ahead feels a little like a step into another incarnation – the intense work of shepherding little ones through early childhood is waning, and I can, perhaps, strike out on my own a little again. Who will the new me be? And what will she wear?
It feels so sudden, but all the intense preparatory work is over and we have set off; into this possibly miserable, hopefully excellent, definitely memorable family adventure. It’s hard to know exactly how this year will unfold. But I shall do my best to spruce us all up a little. ‘Be kind, smile and avoid doing the helicopter,’ I shall tell the children. ‘Don’t teach your new friends Farting Rainbows on the very first day.’ Apart from that; stand tall and proud. You are from Wollongong – Wollongong the Brave – and you’ll be right. Nous sommes Australiens!