Today is the anniversary of our first Covid19 lockdown in France. We arrived home from our holiday in Crete at 2 pm, just two hours after the closure of all non-essential venues, with outings restricted to one hour a day for exercise and essential shopping. At the present, in Blois, mask-wearing is compulsory in built-up areas, while restaurants, cafés, bars, hypermarkets, museums and all cultural venues are closed and there is a curfew between 6 pm and 6 am. Vaccination has begun but we are too young and too healthy to qualify.
This morning, I am off to the Town Hall to interpret for a wedding, limited to 30 people, with everyone wearing masks. There are about 15 people present altogether in the big empty “wedding” room with its stunning view of the Loire. In France, marriages must take place at the Town Hall first, even if there is to be a religious ceremony. If either of the spouses does not speak French, an sworn interpreter must be present. The bridegroom today is a professional basketballer from the US and the bride is from Belgium.
I arrive early and park next to the Bishop’s Gardens (the Town Hall used to be the bishop’s palace) and wander through my favourite mauve and white garden, which is beginning to show signs of life with the coming of spring.
I notice a flourishing plant that seems to be sprouting up everywhere and take a photo. I’m always looking for new plants for the garden at home and our holiday rental garden.
A little further along, I see a municipal gardener walking towards his truck. I ask him if he can identify a plant for me on my phone. He immediately says, “That’s stachys lanata – rabbit’s ears (oreille de lapin). It has a white flower and grows about 30 to 50 cm high, but it’s mainly used for its decorative leaves. It doesn’t need much watering.” I thank him and repeat the name of rabbit’s ears. He adds that it is also called bear’s ears (oreille d’ours).
I ask if it works well in clay soil. He assures me it does. He then proposes to give me some but can’t find his shovel and looks around for a substitute. I explain that I have to go and interpret for a wedding so will hide the plant somewhere so I can get it on the way back. He points to some compost bins at the other end of the garden near where my car is parked and says he’ll put some in a bag for me and leave it behind the bins.
After the wedding, which is a very joyful affair despite the Covid restrictions, I see the gardener again and he tells me the bag is waiting for me.
When I open it, I discover that I have enough plants to cover quite a large stretch of border in my garden! In English, oreille de lapin is known as lamb’s-ear or woolly hedgenettle.
In 2014, I wrote a post about the difference between se rappeler and se souvenir which has remained very popular with readers. However, I have had to update the framework of my blog since then (WordPress) and the answers and comments have disappeared.
I try to remenber not to use “de” with se rappeler = J’essaie de me rappeler qu’il ne faut pas utiliser la préposition “de” avec se rappeler OR J’essaie de penser à ne pas utiliser “de” avec se rappeler.
Which reminds me that rappeler has another meaning = ce qui me fait penser que rappeler a un autre sens OR ce qui me rappelle que rappeler a un autre sens [but the French don’t like repeating the same word in a sentence!]
You probably don’t need to remember that = vous n’aurez sans doute pas à retenirce sens-là OR vous n’aurez sans doute pas à vous rappeler ce sens-là but retenir is more appropriate.
I could never remember whether the word memoire was masculin or feminine = je ne me rappelais jamais si le mot mémoire était masculin ou féminin
A little word about retenir which I forgot to mention the first time. The idea here is to keep something in mind or learn from experience.
Je n’ai pas retenu son nom = I can’t remember his name.
Je retiens de cette aventure qu’il faut toujours avoir un vêtement de pluie lorsqu’on fait du vélo = I’ve learnt from this experience that you should always take rainwear with you when you go cycling.
Retiens bien ce que je t’ai dit = Don’t forget what I told you. Make sure you remember what you were told.
Shared by readers in their comments:
aide-mémoire = memorandum
Q. What about (se) remémorer. When would one use these vs (se) rappeler. * remémorer⇒ vtr (rappeler) remember, recall, look back on La cérémonie avait pour but de remémorer les douleurs du passé. * se remémorer⇒ v pron (se rappeler) look back on, recollect, recall, remember Les anciens amis se remémorent les bons souvenirs.
A. In the first example, I think we’d be more likely to use commemorate, otherwise remember. “The aim of the ceremony was to commemorate the painful events of the past”. For the second example, I think I’d also use remember. We could say recollect or recall, but it’s on a higher register. “Old friends remember the good times together.”
Q. And the difference between remémorer qch and commémorer qch?
A. Well, commémorer is the idea of remembering something with a ceremony (commémorer l’armistice de 1918), as in our English commemorate whereas remémorer is only recall (ce village lui remémorait sa jeunesse). However, in all the years I have lived here (over 40) I have never heard anyone use the word remémorer.
“The best laid plans of mice and men …” John Burns never said a truer word!
We started the year with lots of travel plans and the first was a trip to Crete in March to break the winter blues. Covid 19 at that time was still a minor issue, although we did wear masks in the airport. After three most enjoyable days at a home exchange in Chania, we moved to Agios Nikolaos, by which time bars, restaurants and cultural venues had closed. Even though we were in an apartment, it wasn’t much fun. After visiting a 3500-year-old olive tree, there wasn’t much left to do and lockdown was about to start in France.
We took the next flight out of Heraklion, getting up at 4 am to do so! We wore masks for the whole trip and arrived back in Blois just two hours after lockdown, did some food shopping and holed up for the next 55 days! Lockdown eased on 11th May and we were no longer restricted to essential shopping and physical activity for one hour within a 1 km radius of our home. We also no longer needed to fill out a form when we did go out. After two weeks, on the 15th June, all restrictions were lifted and we started making holiday plans!
In the meantime, my daughter and her Dutch fiancé, who live in New York, had had to cancel their wedding plans in northern Italy in May while my son and his American girlfriend decided to get married on a ski slope in Vermont in the presence of only two other people! We watched the wedding on Skype but unfortunately there was no sound. We then had a virtual aperitif drinking the same champagne that my son bought on his last trip to France in November when we met his fiancé. We are delighted to welcome her into the family. Since then, the newlyweds have bought a house in Boston while my daughter and her fiancé have tentatively set September 2021 as a wedding date.
Holiday-wise, Germany seemed the safest as their Covid figures were very low (compared with France, Italy and Spain!) and we knew that we could count on outdoor eating venues and strict observance of hygiene protocols. We chose to avoid hotels and B&Bs and only stay in holiday flats with balconies or gardens, having breakfast and dinner at home. Our top priority was cycling and enjoying Germany’s many beautiful towns and villages. On June 26th, we started our 3-week journey in the Jura mountains in the east of France, discovering an area we didn’t know and which has an impressive number of bike paths.
Next stop was Austria, from which we were able to visit Gallen with its famous baroque library over the border in Switzerland and cycle along Lake Constance. We followed the good weather as we always do and went back to the beautiful Bavarian mediaeval town of Bamberg, then Nuremberg, before spending four absolutely perfect days on the Forggensee. We had been there before, in our pre-e-bike days. This time we were able to appreciate the absolutely stunning scenery without straining our knees.
We started heading back to France via the Neckar with some wonderful rides along the Kocher-Jagst Radweg near Heilbronn. Our last stop was the Black Forest. The scenery is beautiful and we had a breath-taking view from our balcony, but the cycling is a disaster! We arrived home on 17th July after driving 3380 K and cycling 773 K!
After we got back, we had a visit from my son who needed a new working US visa for his new job. The story is a bit complicated, but the upshot was that he left Boston wearing a mask (after getting a negative Covid test) and did not take it off until he got in his hire car at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He then came straight to Blois, only doing a same-day return trip to Paris to go to his Embassy appointment. He needed another test in Blois before returning to Boston. It was lovely to see him for a few days.
Otherwise, we have kept ourselves occupied and feel grateful every day for having a large house and garden that we love. While we could, we cycled as much as possible exploring many new areas and making the most of our annual pass to Château de Chaumont.
I have continued to work part-time, mainly as a sworn translator (I only just broke even on my holiday rental studio in Blois, which was supposed to supplement my terrible retirement pension), and my husband Jean Michel has completed various projects including two cold frames, two raised vegetable beds and two staircases for the garage and wood shed. There is still another one to go in the barn. We gardened extensively during the warmer months, growing a lot of plants from seed and increasing our collection of drought-resistant perennials. It made up for being so restricted in our movements. I also blogged every day on www.loiredailyphoto.com, especially during the different lockdown periods. It has helped me to stay connected with the outside world.
We did manage another 5-day cycling holiday in September in the Nièvre, based in La Charité-sur-Loire (near Sancerre). The Covid figures were low at the time and we could still count on outdoor eating at lunchtime. It was a welcome break. When we got home, we bought a garden heater so we could continue to enjoy eating outside throughout October. We went back into lockdown on 30th October for a month, followed by a 2-week easing period when non-essential shops opened again under extreme pressure from the public in the warm-up to Christmas.
What I have missed and continue to miss most are my children and friends. I haven’t seen my daughter since November 2019 when we shopped for her wedding dress. I occasionally go walking with a friend and we briefly met up with other friends in December in a park. During Christmas and New Year, which we naturally spent alone, eating home-made foie gras and drinking vouvray wine, we spent a lot of time reading our travel diaries aloud and looking at the corresponding digital photos. We FaceTimed with all the children and their partners on Christmas Day, which cheered us up no end. They are all doing well despite Covid.
If you’ve been tracking the Covid situation in France, you will know that we are not out of the woods. We have a large and somewhat reticent population to vaccinate and we are not in the immediate target group. We have another two months of cold, stay-at-home weather in front of us, then we’ll be able to go back to our outdoor occupations. By then we might be eligible for vaccination. In the meantime, we are exercising maximum precaution, only going to shop once a week at the local market and supermarket and, occasionally, the plant nursery. We buy everything else over the Internet. I continue to make our bread and yoghurts.
Our hopes for 2021 are to see our children again, including Jean Michel’s two sons who live in France, celebrate my daughter’s wedding wherever it may be, visit my son and daughter and partners in Boston and New York and find a safe venue for our annual cycling holiday.
I would like to wish everyone a happier 2021, full of hope, inner strength and new horizons! Thank you for reading my very sporadic blog!
Why can’t I get a proper cup of coffee in France? This is a question I am often asked by disappointed Australians and Americans who are used to a very wide variety of coffee beverages and are surprised to see that France, with its café culture, does not seem to have the coffee they are looking for.
Well, the reason is that it’s a café culture, but not a coffee culture. The French don’t walk down the street sipping from a cup. They either drink their coffee standing at the bar or sit down at a table.
Perhaps a little history of Australian coffee might help. To quote Aussie expat Luke Barclay, from Café de la Baie near the Mont Saint Michel : “France doesn’t have a highly developed coffee culture like Australia does. Historically coffee is relatively recent in Australia – we are essentially English in culture up until a point and thus tea was the thing. But with post war immigration came coffee styles from around the world and these blends led to the highly specific style that is found in Australia and New Zealand – quite different to that found in North America and yet composed of pieces from European (and Eurasian) coffee. That said there is a complacency with many businesses and their coffee. I know from my Café de la Baie that the majority of French ask simply for a “café” as if there is only one style available and this is despite café au lait existing here as much as espresso. Thus few varieties are proposed by cafés. Further, the advent of automatic machines in France has reduced the quality. Those that make coffee know less and less about the techniques, quality is lost, machines aren’t cared for (or kept clean!). Temperatures, timing, ratio, grind qualities: all sorts of variables and most cafés just push a button and assume its a good brew.”
In France, in a normal café, you can have expresse (or expresso – note the “x”), café long, café au lait, café crème, café noisette and cappuccino (but not always – I remember a café in a small town in Brittany where we stayed several days where only one person could make it and she wasn’t always there). In more sophisticated cafés, especially in Paris, you might be able to get other types, but they are usually brasseries or cafés catering to tourists.
Baristas, as such, do not exist in France, as they are not considered necessary.
In Paris, a typical expresse is very “serré” which means that it has been tamped to death and is usually very bitter. Outside Paris, it is usually not as strong and therefore not as bitter. It is generally served in a small cup or tasse but not a ½ tasse as it is in Italy. It is considered a must after a meal but is also popular at other times during the day as a pick-me-up.
When I first came to France in 1975, all homes had a drip coffee machine and a coffee grinder but nowadays most people have an espresso machine of some sort and buy pods.
A café long is sometimes called an américain or Americano and served in a bigger cup. It is a weaker version of the expresse and made with a double dose of water.
A café noisette is an expresse to which a teaspoon of foamed milk is added. However, in some bars, they just add a drop of cold milk.
A café crème is an Americano to which a spoon of whipped cream has been added. It is often referred to as a grand crème.
We all know what a cappuccino is – until we get to France! Here it is considered to be an expresso topped with milk froth and sprinkled with cocoa. Now that automatic espresso machines are widespread, that version has definitely become the norm. If you want a creamy foamed milk cappuccino à l’italienne, you first have to check they have a machine with a wand and even then, as you can see in the photo below, there can be surprises. I rarely order cappuccino because I am invariably disappointed, except for a café in the city of Tours called “Kat’s Coffee” which has the real thing. I haven’t found a real cappuccino in Blois yet. If you don’t want it automatically sprinkled with cocoa you have to say so.
In Normandy in particular where they put cream in everything they can, a cappuccino is made with whipped cream and not foamed milk.
A café au lait is coffee to which warm milk has been added. It is the traditional French breakfast drink. After childhood, French people rarely drink milk without something in it, such as chocolate or coffee. A café au lait is also a way of introducing children to black coffee. As time goes on, you add less milk.
You can usually have most of these in a decaffeinated version, called déca. If you just ask for a déca it will be the expresse version. Otherwise ask for café au lait déca, grand crème déca, etc.
The word “café” by itself in French always means black coffee. You have to qualify it if you want something else. You always add your own sugar which is often in lump form (even in people’s homes) or in a sachet. You rarely see coffee crystals but you sometimes find brown sugar. Sugar substitutes are becoming more readily available.
All these drinks can be ordered simply by saying their names and adding “s’il vous plait” e.g. un expresso s’il vous plait”, “un grand crème s’il vous plait”, etc. If you want to check you are getting (almost) real cappuccino, you can ask “est-ce que vous faites vous-même la mousse de lait?” And if you don’t want cocoa on top “je ne veux pas de cacao dessus ».
The French do, however, appreciate different types of coffee beans, and specialists such as Verlet near the Palais Royal, serve a huge variety of beans. The owners travel the world to select suppliers and roast their own coffee. Closer to home, Jean-François, on Blois market, has a large selection of home-roasted coffee beans where we always buy our coffee. Each week, he has a blend-of-the-day to try on the spot. There is often a coffee menu in gastronomical restaurants. These select coffees are usually served black with no sugar so you get the real taste.
Another notable difference between French and Australian coffee is that robusta coffee (produced for the former French colonies) is mainly used in France rather than the less bitter, more flavoursome arabica variety.
Milk can also make a difference. In France, milk is usually long-life (UHT) and I’ve never seen any other kind in a French café. I don’t know whether this is the case in Italy, home of the cappuccino, but I suspect it is.
A word of advice about iced coffee. This is not something that people drink in France.
And I can’t end this post without mentioning the wonderful Café (or Thé) Gourmand available in most French brasseries and restaurants. This is a coffee served at the end of a meal with a variety of four or five mini-desserts that change according to the ingredients the chef has at hand. They are a wonderful end to a meal if you can’t decide which dessert to choose! I have written a separate post about them here.
If you have found any good coffee shops or cafés in France that you’d like to recommend, please tell me and I’ll add them to my list. Many of those mentioned do their own roasting and sell beans.
Amboise: Eight O’Clock, 38 Place Michel Debré
Arles: Café Bazar, 8 place Antonelle
Sip Coffee (Aussie-type), 69 bis rue des Trois-Conils
Before I answer the question, a little terminology. Although many people say “sworn translation” and “traduction assementée”, the correct terms are “certified translation” and “traduction certifiée”. It’s the translator who is sworn or assermenté by the court, not the translation.
Standing in front of the Appeal Court of Orléans before being sworn in
First, what exactly is a sworn translator (traducteur assermenté)?
In France, a sworn translator or “traducteur assermenté” is also an “expert judiciaire” and attached to either a Court of Appeal (Cour d’appel) or the Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation or Final Court of Appeal). There is a second list of translators, known as the “liste du procureur ou TGI” but they are not “experts judiciaires” and mainly used for court work in rare languages.
How do you become a sworn translator?
To become a sworn translator, you must have French nationality and be able to prove that you are capable of translating any documents that may be required by the court, police authorities, etc. You do not have to be a professional translator but knowledge of the legal system in France and the countries in which your foreign language is spoken, is essential. The application process takes a year and candidates are approved by a council of sworn translators at the Appeal Court where the application is made.
There are two separate categories: translation (written) and interpretation (spoken). You can apply for one or the other or both and for just one language or several. Applications are submitted in January and the translators / interpreters are sworn in during December. The initial accreditation is for 3 years, followed by 5-year renewal periods, provided the translator/interpreter has fulfilled their obligations.
Rates for court translations and interpretations are strictly controlled (and not very well-paid).
There are no official rate recommendations concerning certified translations for private individuals. Rates are left entirely up to the translator.
Why do sworn translations always seem so expensive?
A sworn translator is like any other self-employed person in France. They have to pay social contributions in addition to overheads (computer, official stamp, colour printer, paper, envelopes, stamps, wifi connexion, office space, heating, etc.). Some translators have to charge value-added tax of 20%.
The Court also requires that sworn translators attend at least one training session a year.
The documents translated for private individuals vary enormously which makes it impossible to propose a “set rate” for most documents.
The most time-consuming part of many certified translations is the layout as the translation has to resemble the original insofar as possible. Once you have the templates in your computer, the translation itself may not take very long, but you need to accumulate a lot of templates. For example, there are at least 10 different UK birth certificates and the same number of French driver licences. There is a different birth certificate for each state of the United States, not to mention marriage certificates which often have a licence attached. Each state of Australia also has different documents. Driving licences and driving records vary considerably from one country to another and from one state to another.
Scanning documents to make pdfs can take time as well. First, you have to print the original and translation, then stamp all the pages, add a register number and sign them. You then have to scan them one at a time and create the corresponding pdf files.
So, what about actual prices?
The price of a fairly standard birth or marriage certificate can vary, according to the translator and the origin of the document, from 25 to 65 euros or more. The best solution is to find a translator who is specialised in your country’s documents e.g. UK, Australian, US, etc. as they will be able to offer better rates because they already have a lot of the templates. Some translators offer a discount for a large number of documents (naturalisation application, for example).
For one-off non-standard documents, the translator usually charges per word. It seems that the price ranges from about 18 centimes a word to 25 centimes. For longer, more complex documents, it is best to use a translator whose mother tongue corresponds to the target language.
As a sworn translator, I have come to specialise in UK and Australian civil registration documents (birth, marriage, divorce, adoption certificates), Australian and US driver licences and records, French civil registration documents, French driver licences, French diplomas and transcripts (diplômes and relevés de notes), French real estate documents including promesse/compromis de vente, acte de vente and procurations (power of attorney).
What will you need to give the translator?
In the past, before the existence and widespread use of email and scans, translators asked to see the original documents.
Today, many translators work via email particularly with the increase in on-line applications for applying for titres de séjour and exchanging driver licences, for example. At some stage, the applicant will be required to submit the original documents so the authorities will be able to compare them. A copy of the original always accompanies the translation. It is unusual these days to stamp originals.
If working by email, you will need to send the translator a proper scan of the document, not just a photo with your phone. UK documents, in particular, are often outsize and you may need to go to a printer or photocopy shop and have them scan the document and send you the file.
The translator will then give you a quotation and turnaround time and ask to be paid in advance by bank transfer, PayPal, Revolut, etc.
I usually send a pdf of the translation to the customer to check name spelling and numbers in order to avoid errors.
The translation is then printed out, stamped and signed and assigned a number from a register kept by the translator. The translation and original are then stapled together unless a pdf is required.
If a hard copy is needed, I prefer to send it by “lettre suivie”, which is a tracked letter that arrives in the customer’s letterbox.
The French authorities always require the original translation and not a photocopy unless it’s an on-line application, so you may need to order more than one copy. There will be an extra cost.
Even when you speak the language and have lived your whole life in a country, buying a property can be stressful and challenging. Doing so in a foreign country makes it a little more complicated.
I have lived in France for over 40 years and have been directly or indirectly involved in the sale or purchase of a large number of properties. Real estate rules have evolved over the years and regulations are much stricter than before.
There are basically two ways of buying property in France: you can deal directly with the owner or go through a real estate agent or website. In both cases, the final sale will be handled by the notaire. “A Notaire is a legal specialist with a public authority mission who draws up authenticated contracts on behalf of his clients. He is self-employed”. The notaire himself also sells properties on commission.
1/ Buying through a real estate agent or website:
Real estate agents have to have a licence and a diploma, which requires a minimum of 2 years’ training after the end of high school. Those with higher diplomas (bachelor’s or master’s degrees) are entitled to draw up a promise to sell and manage apartment buildings.
In France, the real estate agent’s fees (usually 5 to 7% of the sales price) are nearly always paid by the buyer. The promise to sell agreement is included in the fee but the buyer and seller can choose to go through a notaire. Agent’s fees are different from notaire’s fees and taxes.
The buyer can deal directly with the owner and can even sign a promise to sell with going through a notaire if they wish.
3/ Buying through a notaire:
The notaire is often approached by local people when buying or selling as they feel they have a better legal guarantee.
4/ Real estate agents vs private sales
Which should you choose? A real estate agency or a private sale?
If you don’t speak French or have little legal knowledge, a private sale will be more complicated unless you are really sure of the person you are buying from. Despite the fact that there is no commission, it might be more difficult to bring down the price with a private owner who often overvalues their property for sentimental reasons.
For the buyer, it is important not to let the personality of the owner cloud their judgement, even if they speak English.
In the more popular areas of France, real estate agents often speak English themselves which can make life much easier for buyers. They will often take you to view several properties just to get a good understanding of what you are looking for. It is easier for a buyer to say “no” to a real estate agent than to a private owner. Also, it is the agent who negotiates the price, not the buyer. However, some agents are very persuasive. You should make sure you feel comfortable with the person showing you around and don’t feel bullied into buying something you don’t want!
Real estate agencies can be nationwide such as La Foret, Square Habitat, Century 21 orOrpi, which will give you access to all their properties in France, or independant, in which case they may be a member of the real estate agency federation, FNAIM, which will provide you with a better guarantee than a small agency working on its own.
The agency will usually ask you to sign an agreement under which you cannot deal directly with the owner of a property you have viewed.
5/ The next thing is to draw up your criteria, the things that you absolutely must respect such as price, amount of work to be done, location in an urban or rural area, size, aspect, type of flooring, type of heating, etc. Having to replace the roof or put in a new heating system can be very expensive.
Other factors to look out for are the land tax (taxe foncière) which can be quite expensive in some areas, rates (taxe d’habitation, which are being phased out but still applicable for people in higher income brackets), cost of heating (you’ll need to see the actual bills), shared expenses and the financial health of the joint owners if it’s an apartment building (if there is a swimming pool, lift, caretaker, extensive grounds, it will cost more to run).
6/ It can also be helpful to use the services of a person who speaks your language and knows the area, especially if you live far away or are dealing with private owners. This is a service I am happy to offer.
Next step – viewing and signing the promise to sell.
Rosemary Kneipp, sworn translator with the Orléans Court of Appeal. www.kneipp-traduction.com firstname.lastname@example.org or 06 76 41 99 43
Having worked as a translator full-time at home since 1979, even during my children’s very long French school holidays, I am probably not suffering from the constraints of lockdown as much as other people.
These are my basic rules:
1/Get dressed immediately when you get up (this became a rule right at the beginning when I had a client turn up unexpectedly at my doorstep and I was still in my nightgear).
2/ Set up a dedicated work space, even if you do not have a lot of room. Avoid working in the bedroom if you possibly can (you’ll sleep better at night!).
3/ Make yourself work for an hour at a time WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTION and then allow 10 to 15 minutes break (I have software called WorkPace that locks my keyboard every hour and gives me exercises to do but you can override it if necessary).
4/ If you’re having trouble getting started, begin with the easiest task. Break tasks into doable segments if necessary.
5/ Take a morning tea/coffee break, a proper lunchbreak and an afternoon tea break and NEVER EVER eat at the computer. If you want a snack, run up and down the steps, skip rope or clean the bath first. You probably won’t feel like it any more. The idea is to dissociate eating from working.
6/ Do at least ½ hour of exercise inside or outside each day. During our miserable winter, I do the “Happy Walk”.
7/ If you are used to a lot of light as I am (I lived in tropical North Queensland for 22 years), use a daylight lamp for 4 hours a day. You would be surprised how effective it is.
8/ Make sure you talk to someone at least once a day if you are living alone. If you are used to having a lot of people around you at work, you should talk to at least three people a day! Texting is not a substitute. Maybe you can call someone during your lunch break. That’s what my daughter does because she hates eating by herself. Use headphones to make it easier. There are lots of home tasks you can do while talking on the phone such as cooking, hanging out the washing, ironing and gardening.
9/ Take the evening off if you can but sometimes it may be better to take time off during the day and work after dinner instead. However, you will need to leave at least an hour between working and sleeping if you want a restful night.
10/ Take off at least one full day a week – it doesn’t have to be Sunday!
Lockdown won’t last forever and we need to preserve our resources to deal with the aftermath!
Do you have any suggestions about working at home?
This post was written early January but somehow didn’t get published! It started by saying that I was earlier this year than I was last year in wishing you all the best for the coming but I was sad to say that my ideas of writing more blog posts have not come to fruition! I do have more spare time than before but it is mostly spent on welcoming family and home exchange friends, gardening, going on holidays, cycling and making the most of our yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau!
Our first trip of the year, in late March, was to Sicily which had been on my list for a long time. We rented a car and drove around the island, but I have to admit we were disappointed. On the whole we found the country very dirty and dilapidated and not particularly welcoming. We did have one wonderful evening though watching the sun set over the salt marshes near Marsala with good friends from my Fontenay days who just happened to be there at the same time.
We then stayed at home in Blois until the end of June, getting in as much cycling as we could in preparation of our summer holiday. Jean Michel built a beautiful stone retaining wall in the back garden where we dine al fresco as often as we can during the fine weather to make up for all those indoor winter months. Gardening has become one of my great pleasures but we have clay soil and a large slope at the back to give us that extra challenge. I retired on 30th June from my main translation work but am still doing 10 to 12 hours a week of certified translations.
We began home-exchanging again this year after a break of two or three years. I was able to arrange a one-week exchange in the outskirts of Copenhagen through www.homeexchange.com quite easily. In mid-July we left for Denmark by car with our e-bikes behind us via Belgium with a first stop at Namur along the Meuse. It was the first time we’d cycled in Belgium. Our spirits were a little dampened by the awful weather but we managed to cycle every day and one of the highlights was Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Saxe with all its saxophones from different countries. The cycling paths in Belgium are of uneven quality and are often conspicuously absent.
We then headed for Germany, visiting Aix-la-Chapelle, Münster and Lübeck. Even the north of Germany, with its industrial reputation, has lots of pretty villages and towns and the entire country is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Wismar, for example, is a world heritage site on the Baltic Coast from which we cycled to the neighbouring island of Poel joined to the mainland by a levee where I had the best meal since we left France in a little restaurant next to a marina – a seafood platter with scallops, calamari rings and shrimp, all very fresh. We went to the tip of the island where people were swimming in the Baltic but we didn’t join them even though the outside temperature was a good 22 degrees
After a final stop in the north of Germany, during which we visited Lübeck and Schwerin Castle, inspired by our own château de Chambord but built much later, between 1847 and 1857 by Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, we headed for Copenhagen. Because we had not thought to book ahead, we were not able to take the ferry so went the long way adding an extra 200 km to our journey, 500 km in all, via the 18 k_long Storebaelt bridge with its 33 euro toll.
We were very happy with our home exchange despite the small bedrooms, but the living area downstairs was very spacious and we had a large garden and an enclosed winter garden. Our first day in Copenhagen was somewhat marred by the overcast sky and three short downpours but it was easy to cycle the 13 km from Bagsværd to the centre of the city as the bike paths are excellent, although a little busy and frightening at times. I counted 35 bikes waiting for a green light. We managed to photograph the Little Mermaid without too many tourists.
All in all, I have to say that Copenhagen and Denmark were disappointing. We did not find the architecture very attractive and the countryside, with a few notable exceptions, was flat and uninteresting. It was also generally unsuitable for cycling apart from Copenhagen itself. We did enjoy our ride up the coast to Helsingor, site of the Elsinor Castle of Hamlet fame, and Frederisksborg Castle was quite stunning.
On the way, we went through a couple of little villages with quaint thatched cottages.
One of the policies in Denmark is to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones rather than retore them. The town of Aarhus in Jutland houses an open-air museum called Den Gamle By (the old town) started by a teacher and translator, Peter Holm, in 1914, to save the mayor’s 16th century house (second photo) from demolition. Today there are 75 buildings from 20 towns, many furnished and often illustrating traditional services and trades. Not far away, in central Jutland, is my favourite modern building in Denmark – the Wave.
We decided to spend the next ten days in Germany, which is one of our favourite countries for cycling, visiting the Lake District, the spa town of Bad Bevensen where we treated ourselves to whirlpools every day, the Harz district with its stunning wooden churches, Marburg and Lahntal before returning to Blois via Sedan and Charleville Mézières where we cycled for an hour and a half in pouring rain!
We came back to the hottest summer on record although we had escaped the worst of it. Our poor Danish home exchangers were not as lucky! We weren’t even allowed to use our well water so our lovely green grass slowly turned a sad brown. Since then, I have studied up on all the flowering shrubs that don’t need much water and am planting lots of them in the spring so that, if we have another hot summer, we will still have flowers. We had a bumper tomato crop though!
And after the sun came the rain. After a few days cycling in Brittany late September we weren’t able to cycle very much. But the grass turned green again ….
The new rental studio apartment in the historical quarter of Blois, Châtel Rose, got off to a good start and was occupied for several months by an Australian retiree who wanted to live the French life and improve her language skills. I think she had found more friends than I have in five years by the end of her stay!!! Our aim is to give holiday makers a near-perfect experience, offering top-level services and an in-depth French experience.
This coming year we are buying a yearly pass to Château de Chaumont ncluding its wonderful garden festival. The permanent garden is already a great inspiration to me and the interior of the castle is richly furnished.
Our next travel project is Crete in March where we will be using our home exchange “guest points” to stay in Chania and Agios Nicolaos.
Thank you for remaining faithful despite my infrequent posting. I would like to wish you all a very happy new year – health, happiness and optimism!
Not everyone can choose to come to France during the warmer months. Australians in particular often come at Christmas time during their summer holidays, willing to trade over-30-degree temperatures for under ten degrees. Many hope to find snow.
Snow falls in the Loire Valley are highly variable. They rarely arrive for Christmas but there are exceptions such as in 2015. The most likely month for snow is February.
While spring, summer and autumn may be more pleasant seasons to travel in, they do have the major drawback of being full of tourists and accommodation is usually more expensive and harder to come by.
The main Loire Valley Châteaux are all open in the winter, but with shorter opening hours (usually 10 am to about 5 pm rather than 9 am to 6 pm). The wonderful thing is that you can visit without the crowds! The “four C’s” – Chenonceau, Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny – as well as the royal castles of Blois and Amboise usually have Christmas decorations which adds to their magic. All are open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day with the notable exception of Chambord and Chaumont.
Although you’ll need to dress warmly, you can still walk around the gardens which are designed to be attractive all year round. Villandry is closed from mid-November to mid-February with the exception of the two-week period surrounding Christmas and New Year which corresponds to the school holidays in France.
They may not have the proportions of the markets in Alsace, but the Christmas markets throughout December in Blois and Orléans (which includes a carrousel, big wheel and skating rink), those on weekdays in Tours in December and in Amboise on the 3 days leading up to Christmas are full of hand-made objects and seasonal food and drink.
Other traditional visits in the area include its many vineyards, a chocolate factory in Bracieux which also has workshops and troglodyte mushroom caves in Bourré.
Although temperatures can go below zero, especially at night, they are typically between 4 or 5 and 9 or 10° C during the day. December and January are the darkest months, which means the sun rises between 8.30 and 9 and sets between 4.30 and 5 pm. Shops and restaurants are always heated and some of the châteaux have wood fires. All are sufficiently heated for comfortable visiting.
My advice is to find warm cosy accommodation that is close to shops and restaurants and plan a visit in the morning, followed by lunch indoors next to a fire if possible, then a second visit in the afternoon. You can then warm up and relax before venturing out again for dinner.
The Loire is an easy 2 or 3-day visit from Paris. It is simplest by car (about 2 ½ hours) with convenient parking at all the main venues. However, Blois, Amboise, Tours and Orleans can be accessed by direct train and there are either trains or buses to Chambord, Chenonceau and Chaumont although the service is more restricted in winter.
All property transactions in France take place in two steps: first, after the seller has agreed to the price offer, the seller and buyer sign a promise to sell in the form of either a promesse de vente (unilateral promise to sell) or a compromis de vente (bilateral promise to sell). This can take place privately, in a real estate agency or in a notaire’s office. Then, usually about 3 months later, when all the conveyancing has been done, both parties sign the acte de vente to close the sale.
The first time I purchased a property in France, in the early 1980s, I was told that it was better to sign a compromis de vente rather than a promesse de vente so I was surprised to learn recently, when asked to interpret during the signing of a promise to sell in a notaire’s office that it was a promesse de vente and not a compromis.
Despite my research I was not able to really determine the difference between the two so I asked the notaire, who told me that he only used the promesse de vente agreement. His explanation did not fully satisfy me, apart from the fact that the promesse de vente would appear to be in the purchaser’s favour and the compromis in the seller’s favour. Also, a real estate agent can only use a compromis de vente agreement which probably explains why I was told it was preferable. Real estate agents who have obtained the corresponding certification can prepare the compromis without going through a notaire and the price of the agreement is included in their commission. The promesse de vente is an acte authentique which means that it is always signed in front of a notaire.
After looking at my own records (my husband and I have bought or sold 8 times, 3 times with a real estate agent and 5 times privately), I discovered that there was a compromis de vente each time a real estate agent was involved and a promesse de vente all the other times. However, I have since attended a training course on the subject for court sworn translators and have updated my knowledge on the subject. Here are my conclusions.
Promesse de vente or unilateral promise to sell (the least common)
The seller promises to sell the property to the future buyer at a price agreed upon by the parties thus giving the future buyer exclusivity for a pre-determined period (usually two to three months).
During this time, the seller cannot promise to sell the property to anyone else whereas the future buyer can cancel the sale if they wish to, the only drawback being that they will lose the indemnité d’immobilisation or reservation fee (which roughly corresponds to non-refundable earnest money) if they do not go through with the sale. The reservation fee is usually 10% of the sales price.
If the future buyer does go through with the sale, the 10% is deducted from the price still to be paid.
To be valid, the promise of sale must be registered with the tax department within ten days of signature and if the reservation period is more than 18 months, it must be signed at a notaire’s office. This particular point may be changed in 2020. The registration fee, paid by the future buyer, is 125 euros. The fee charged by the notaire for preparing the agreement is not fixed by law and is usually about 200 euros. You should ask the notaire beforehand.
Compromis de vente or reciprocal promise to sell (the most common)
The seller and the future buyer both undertake to conclude the sale at a price determined jointly. Legally, the compromis is therefore a sale. If one of the parties wants to pull out of the transaction (except if the one of the conditions precedent is not met), the other party can take them to court and force them to do so, in addition to claiming damages. However this can be a very lengthy process.
When the compromis is signed, the purchaser pays earnest money (dépôt de garantie) corresponding to 5% to 10% of the sales price. The earnest money is deducted from the final sales price.
The compromis de vente does not have to be registered with the tax department. However, if there is a dispute about the conditions precedent, the parties will both be bound by the agreement, unless the dispute is settled amicably between the parties or by a court decision. In the case of a promesse de vente, both parties are released from the agreement if the future purchaser decides not to buy. The vendor cannot change their mind and the agreement is immediately enforceable without going to court.
Cooling off period for purchasers – promesse de vente et compromis de vente
Whether you sign a unilateral promise to sell (promesse) or a reciprocal promise to sell (compromis), you have a ten-day cooling-off period (délai de retractation) during which you can decide not to purchase the property. The letter stating your intent must be sent by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt to the seller. If you go through a notaire, this can be done electronically.
Whatever the reason for cancelling the sale, any amount paid by way of reservation fee (indemnité d’immobilisation) or earnest money (dépôt de garantie) during the cooling-off period will be reimbursed. The 10-day cooling-off period starts on the day following the day on which the promise to sell is signed at a notaire’s office or, if a private promise to sell is signed, at the first presentation by the postman of the registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt containing the agreement.
For example, if the letter is sent on 10th of the month and the first presentation is the 12th of the month, the cooling-off period will begin on the 13th and end on 22nd at midnight.
Conditions precedent – promesse de vente and compromis de vente
I mentioned the question of conditions precedent (conditions suspensives) earlier on. These are conditions that must be met for closure of the sale to take place.
Whether the promise to sell is unilateral (promesse) or reciprocal (compromis), the seller and buyer can agree to insert one or more conditions precedent in the agreement. This means that if events defined as conditions precedent do not take place before the final sale, the agreement is null and void.
Examples: the purchaser’s bank loan is refused; the municipality has a pre-emption right; a serious town planning easement is discovered. In these cases, the amounts paid by the purchaser are refunded.
A compromis de vente can also contain a clause called a “clause de dédit” (retraction clause) which enables the seller and/or the purchaser to cancel the sale without giving a reason, in return for leaving the other party an agreed-upon amount. However, this practice is very rare.
The above clause must not be confused with the penalty clause, which exists in most compromis de vente according to which the purchaser must pay the seller a fixed amount in damages if the purchaser refuses to go through with the sale.
To sum up, if you are purchasing a property in France and you want to be able to cancel the sale without giving a reason (and are prepared to lose the 10% reservation fee!) or if you want to guarantee the date of sale, then you will need to sign a promesse de vente at a notaire’s office.
If you are selling a property in France and the purchaser needs to get a mortgage loan, it is also better to sign a promesse de vente because if the loan has not come through on the stipulated date, you can simply walk away from the sale and find another buyer. If you have signed a compromis, you will have to go through the court to have the sale cancelled which can be a lengthy process.
In all other cases, you can choose either a promesse de vente or a compromis de vente, but if you are going through a real estate agent, then it will be necessarily be a compromis de vente unless you specifically ask for a promesse de vente through a notaire.
Whatever you choose, you will have to sign the final deed of sale at the notaire’s office. I strongly advise choosing your own notaire (in which case the fees are split between all the notaires involved), not because of any possible dishonesty on the part of a notaire, but simply because you will always have an unbiased opinion.
My second recommendation is to make sure you understand EVERYTHING in the deed of sale (which you can request beforehand). Some real estate agents are competent to explain all the details. Otherwise you can call on a sworn translator who can also be present during the sale.