Friday, February 24, 2012

French – is it an easy language to learn ......

I suppose the biggest concern that many people will have about making a move to a foreign country is the ability to communicate.  Whilst it is easy to get away with the bare minimum of spoken word and frantic pointing and gesticulating when on holiday, making a different country your new home and achieving everything you need to start your new life does really require a little more competancy.

The decision to live in a different country should mean that you want to become part of that new community and submerge yourself in everything that is good about the culture and the way of life that you are choosing.  A fairly competant grasp of the language is useful and a desire to improve that initial ‘grasp’ even more desirable.

So how easy is it to learn French ........

Well having a basic schoolboy ability in French to start with and often forgetting much of what was learnt spending short break holidays and long weekends in our appartment, it seemed  that the ability to communicate effectively was light years away and somewhat of an impossibility.  

But no!  We have just got back from opening two new bank accounts with our chosen local bank (one personal and one for Brittany Gems – we have banked with Barclays France for the last four years but they seem to be closing down facilities for foreign account holders??) and during a two hour meeting , held completely in French we only needed to refer to the dictionary twice.

‘C’est magnifique’ – and praise for our French at the conclusion of our meeting suitably satsifying. 

The secret - being here permanently for what is effectively the last 6 months and making a huge effort to become part of the local community, not being afraid of getting things wrong and not taking it the wrong way when corrected (something which the french are very good at doing).  Don’t get me wrong we still sometimes glaze over during a french converstation through complete lack of understanding and we are by no means fluent but we are making excellent progress and enjoying doing it!

But officially it seems that French is a much easier language to learn for the Brits than many other languages, particulalry compared with Spanish.  David I. from Learn French Video writing for French Entree  this week claims .......

‘A large portion of vocabulary is very similar to English. This is because in addition to the French language being derived from Latin, higher-level English words also come from Latin. So, English words in the fields of science and medicine, law, politics and economics are all very similar to French.

What's more, almost all adverbs (English words that end in 'ly') and process words that end in 'tion' and 'sion' are almost all the same in French and English. This makes learning French extremely easy as you can actually guess a lot of the new vocabulary!

A lot of people shy away from French due to the belief that the pronunciation is too difficult and much harder than Spanish. While the French language is less phonetic than Spanish the pronunciation is not impossible to learn and can be mastered by most students in a matter of hours or days. Furthermore, there are lots of set patterns which make learning easier.

When it comes to the verb, "to be", French is much easier than Spanish. This is because in French there is only one word for to be: "être". In Spanish there are two ways of saying to be: ser and estar. These two different ways of saying 'to be' can cause a lot of confusion for beginners and even intermediate and advanced-level students. When studying French you do not have to deal with this issue.’

So there it is ......

Don’t let the prosepct of learning French put you off visiting or making a move to this beautiful country and if you make mistakes – c’est la vie!

We have asked for prostitutes in butchers shops (asking for ‘Poule’ as opposed to ‘Poulet’

asked a very heterosexual estate agent who we have started working with in our business venture Brittany Gems to join us for dinner and bring their boyfriend not girlfriend (by saying ‘copin’ instead of ‘copine’

and heard the great story of a young girl being horrified by an enthusiastic expat admiring her dog so much so that she could just steal it away (‘voler’) when she actually said she wanted to rape it (‘viol’).

Bon courage ..........

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A bowl of simple deliciousness ...........

Now it can never be said that we are major exponents of tinned food, fully understanding that fresh is best - but here in France even convenience food is of a far superior quality to that found in the UK. 

Particulalry sumptuous examples of what we mean are the classics ‘Cassolet’ and ‘Petit  Sale’ both of which are traditional slow cooked dishes which use more economical cuts of meat mixed with either haricot beans or green lentils.  I really don’t mind saying that at all times we have a supply of these tinned meals – to us they are emergency, (‘we’ve stayed in the bar for one too many’) items that mean we can still eat well without the need for lengthy planning or prepration.  It works for us!

But fresh is still best ...........

Now I am a great fan of anything ‘slow cooked’ (the utlimate favourite is 7 hour mutton) and love the textures, flavours and simple deliciousness that are achieved by long slow cooking.  There is also that element of anticipation and eagre expectancy that you get as once you have prepared and combined all of the ingredients you are able to let the oven do the rest for you – its almost sorcery. 

These favourites are also all ‘one pot’ wonders which of course means less washing up for Darren to do!

So yesterday I created my own version of ‘Petit Sale’ – spent a happy hour in the kitchen mid afternoon and after the oven had done its work we sat down to our home made bowl of deliciousness. 

If you want to have a go heres what you need to do.

1lb (500g) Pork shoulder cut into approx 5cm (2”) pieces
8oz (250g) Thick cut slices of smoked streaky bacon cut into similar size pieces
4 good quality meaty sausages – Toulouse works well.
2 medium onions chopped coarsley
3 carrots peeled and chopped into large pieces
2 large cloves of garlic – crushed
12oz (350g) green lentils – Puy are best
2pints (1 ltr) good quality chicken stock
2 bayleaves, Salt & Pepper

1.  Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottommed frying pan and fry 3 or 4 pieces of the pork at a time until all sides are a rich golden brown.  Remove and put into an oven proof casserole dish.

2.  Fry the chopped onion and carrot in the frying pan until just browning and add to the casserole alongwith the crushed garlic. 

3.  Fry the sausages until evenly browned but not cooked through and slice in half, fry the bacon until golden and add both to the casserole dotting them amongst the rest of the ingredients so they are evenly distributed.

4.  Add the green lentils and stir through the rest of the ingredients.

5.  Bring the chicken stock to simmering point and pour over the rest of the ingredients ensuring that the stock is about 2cm over everything.

6.  Add black pepper and bay leaves.

7.  Put in the centre of a preheated oven – gas mark 2 / 130°C for 2 and a half hours (check after 2 hours and add a little more chicken stock if all the liquid has been absorbed by the lentils).

8.   When the pork is soft and tender the ‘petit sale’ is ready.  Season with salt to taste and serve in warm bowls with fresh crusty bread and unsalted butter.

And a large glass of Breton Cider of course ................

PS -  if the Breton cider gets the better of us before we even start we will always open up a tin from our ‘emergency supply’


Monday, February 20, 2012

Cautious optimism .... realists will prosper!

We like to hear optimism regarding the property market in France and there has been more of it over the last few days.

French Property News is saying that if estate agents and sellers are realsitic with valuations and expectations then ‘the market will remain among the healthiest and most attractive in Europe. In troubled economic times investors seek safe havens and they simply don’t come any more secure or enjoyable than France’.

They also say that there is an increased trend from international buyers who are taking advantage of this ‘safe haven’.  Particularly note worthy is the increase in British expats currently living overseas who are prefering to buy in France rather than return to the UK.

In addition, according to many International property agencies Knight Frank and Savills included,  France is topping Spain as the most popular country among prospective buyers of property abroad ....

Vive la france!!!