Four months after moving to the Lot-et-Garonne in South West France we finally felt able to have a house-warming party (*la crémaillère). Why did it take us so long? Well, we needed to make some friends first so that we had someone to invite.
It was a huge success with friends coming and going from midday throughout the afternoon and evening with the last ones leaving at 3am!
Colin set up a photo studio in the living room and over the course of the day convinced just about everyone that a portrait would be a good idea. He counted 34 people ranging in age from 5 to 85.
Many of these people were French and, of course, there were a fair few Brits, but there were also people from the USA, Ireland, Germany and Australia. All of these people form our local community and all of these people have been extremely welcoming and have helped us to settle into our new life.
*la crémaillère is the name for the iron structure, which hangs in the centre of the fireplace with notches in it for suspending your cooking pot at different heights.
How did we meet all of these lovely people?
Firstly, we got lucky on day one, as one of our neighbours, Olivier (photo by Colin Usher), actually came and rang the doorbell to say that he spoke English and was happy to help us with anything that might require language support. He has now become a close friend who we see weekly.
We were also lucky enough to meet our next-door neighbours at the Fête de la Fraises in our village. It wasn’t the most exciting event we have been to and the weather was a bit dreich that day, but well worth dragging our heels up the road for as this meeting turned out to be a significant ingredient in the success of our integration.
Thankfully, Colin is much more outgoing and brave than me and seized the opportunity to invite them round for an apéro.
The joy of the apéro
An apéro is simply an invitation for a drink and a few nibbles before dinner. The joy of it is there is little work involved (no meal to cook and clean up after) and it only lasts for an hour or two, so is worth a risk with people you don’t know or don’t speak the same language as!
In this instance, it was well worth the risk as we got on like a house on fire and have had regular dinners with them since at the marchés nocturnes (the weekly evening markets that run throughout July and August).
Through them, we have met other locals and, through them, we have also been informed about other events taking place in the region, including a brilliant repas we went to with 300 locals, four courses, fireworks, dancing and much laughter (pictured top).
We would never have known about this without an invitation from our neighbours.
Unlike back in Scotland, it’s not really possible to just ‘Google it’ to find out what’s going on in the neighbourhood. The website albret-tourisme.com has loads of information on it, but predominantly events are advertised by word of mouth. You do occasionally see handwritten banners tied up at the side of the road, but often AFTER the event or with information on it that you can’t read as you wiz by and there is nowhere appropriate to stop the car to write down the phone number so you can reserve a seat at the table (This is the usual process. Not an easy one for those lacking in French language skills!).
When we finally succeed in getting Studio Faire up and running, one of our aims will be to help you with integration and interaction. Over time, we will gather information about annual festivals, talk to our contacts about special events you can go to (as well as organising our own and inviting them to come to you) and pass all of this knowledge on to you.
Bring and share
It’s very common here to have a ‘bring and share’ meal. We really love this idea of a large pool of individuals collectively contributing a plate of food or a bottle of wine to the party so that this can become something much bigger and better quality than the hosts could offer alone.
This is the thinking behind our current crowdfunding campaign for Studio Faire. We can’t manage to make enough money for the deposit for a suitable property on our own, so we are asking for your help.
If you would have been happy to bring a bottle of wine to our crémaillère, please pop what you would have spent on it into our campaign instead and we’ll keep you posted on progress. Then, once we have the premises we will be able to welcome you and share our local knowledge.
Please add a bit to our pot so we can get a suitable premises for Studio Faire and offer an inspirational place which makes it easy for you to integrate and celebrate with the local community.