Greetings from Albertville!
We have been busy studying and taking midterms here in France.
Christopher’s class recently went through a chapter where they learned all the vocabulary related to food, restaurants, menus etc – and solidified all that vocab in their minds with a class carry-in breakfast (which all the other classes heard was delicious : )
Amanda’s class has been assigned to rotate through each student giving a morning devotion to the entire school in French for the month of November -Amanda gave her devotion in front of the school last week.
Last month the school took a field trip to visit a nearby fort in the mountains and the Opinel Knife Museum. It was good to get off campus and use our French in a different context.
Christopher is about half way through his soccer season!
One of his games a few weeks ago got moved last minute to the stadium here in Albertville – so Amanda and Matthias were able to bike in the dark to go to the game to cheer on Les Tamalous!
They played a good game against a young, athletic team. Matthias loved watching his Daddy play – but couldn’t quite understand why he couldn’t run out on the field to greet Christopher during the match : )
The post-game meals continue to be a great connection point for Christopher with the other players and a great place to practice speaking French.
Matthias continues to love spending time with the other kids here.
One of his favorite activities is to cook or bake, whether that be actually helping at home with meal prep/baking, or playing in his toy kitchen- he thinks it’s great.
Recently in nursery the little ones all baked a cake together, the staff said Matthias was genuinely really helpful and did a great job baking.
We would appreciate your prayers for Matthias as he continues to adjust to life here.
We had a midterm break recently, which meant last week we returned to the regular class schedule. The little ones in the nursery seemed to have a rough time going back. It was a tearful week for our little guy, the little ones also tend to sleep a lot when they go back to nursery since they are so tired from the change – Matthias was only awake for 5 1/2 hours on Saturday- if that gives any indication to how tired he was from readjusting to nursery all week.
He has been pretty clingy and is pretty concerned if either of us has to leave.
We discovered he is still pretty sensitive about transition.
This past weekend we were airing out his crib and pulled the crib away from the wall so we could hang some photos and cards on his wall. Matthias immediately started crying and became distraught. After a few minutes comforting him and talking with him, we finally realized it was because his crib and little room were in disarray – to him it looked like we were moving again. We assured him we weren’t moving, quickly finished what we were doing, remade his bed, put his crib back against the wall and put his toys back in his bed. He immediately was calm and happy and wanted to play together.
Matthias’ level of food intake also seems to fluctuate with the things mentioned above. His eating took a nosedive when he returned to nursery this past week – but by the end of the week, the nursery staff sent us a photo of him devouring a plate of spaghetti and zucchini with a text that said “Praise the Lord!” in English.
We have worked over the past few months to establish some stable routines together as a family for playtime, devotional time and family time each day- we’ve noticed that these routines are especially essential during a week like last week, and we see that they make a difference for Matthias.
We would appreciate your prayers that we would have wisdom beyond our 21 months of parenting experience to help him walk through these hard things.
It is sobering to see just how impacted a one year old can be by frequent change and transition – and reinforces the fact that the three of us could not be here without you praying alongside us.
We love seeing the Lord’s timing – a huge thank you to Matthias’ adopted church – First Alliance Church in Columbus, Ohio- who sent Matthias a care package this week! Matthias was so delighted to receive so many fun gifts, especially one of his favorite things- a truck! and the timing was so perfect for him.
And yet another testimony to God’s timing; a huge thank you to the kids from our home sending church – Hillside Chapel in Dayton, Ohio – who showered Matthias with the sweetest encouragement notes – and again the timing was so impactful. Matthias literally squealed in delight at every drawing, sticker and picture of a bird : )
We have now been living in France for six months – enough time for the reality of living in a foreign culture to make itself conspicuous.
Some of the cultural differences, while frustrating or annoying at first, have since become rather humorous, or in some cases even become a difference that we are embracing and enjoying integrating into our lives – like the slower pace of life and the limited business hours that are typical here in France. While we were fully expecting to have to adjust to these things once we got to Gabon, we hadn’t really expected them to be that much different moving to a Western European country. But they are. And we could all probably benefit from taking a page out of their book when it comes to this.
It’s almost as if the French live life to the beat of a live cafe musician – chill, folksy and unhurried.
The value is placed on relationships and taking your time over good food. If you run into someone you know at the market or downtown – you stop what you’re doing and stand in the middle of the [entire] sidewalk (or the road!) and talk for a good 10 minutes. Other pedestrians or road traffic seem to get the importance of this – and the relationship that is being fostered in the middle of the road seems to take precedence over the schedule of the driver/pedestrian waiting for them [to get out of the way!]
We’ve begun to learn the importance of understanding store hours.
Posted online hours function more like guidelines rather than actual hours of opening.
It is usually much more effective to take a photo of the hours on the front of the building – and even then – just know that they may not be what is actually practiced.
Also we’ve learned not to confuse the posted closing time as the actual time the doors close. Most stores lock their doors 15-20 mins before close, the idea being that the posted closing time is the time at which the workers are getting in their cars, ready to head home.
Pro Tip: a store’s door being open and a worker standing behind the counter should NOT be reason to think that a store is open for business.
We have made this mistake on several occasions – and have been curtly advised that we had entered a closed establishment and ushered right back out that open door.
Initially, aside from frequent frustration surrounding trying to decode this whole cryptic store hour thing, the capitalist American in us was baffled as to how anyone could make a profit or stay in business. Between the National Holidays every couple weeks, being closed on Sundays, Mondays, and sometimes Wednesdays or Thursdays, often being closed for lunch, and just generally not really seeming eager to offer any sort of customer service when they actually are open – how do they stay in business?
As it turns out – making a lot of money – is not really something that is highly valued here. As with any particular aspect of culture, there are exceptions to this – but in general we learned that the accumulation of a lot of wealth is almost seen as vulgar.
So if you add to this a high value on relationships, good food and slower pace of life, the store hours really don’t seem that baffling after all.
And the lack of customer service thing? In the beginning we always got the impression we were interrupting a worker by asking for customer service – almost annoying them- and at times even felt like we had culturally offended them in some way that we were unaware of.
Turns out – all three of these things were true to some degree or another.
Culturally here, to ask for assistance in a store is to interrupt a worker from their assigned work. Unlike what is often typical in the U.S. where you the customer ARE the employee’s assigned work.
Likewise the manner in which you say hello and ask for assistance is pivotal to the type of service (or lack there of) you will receive.
It is crucial that you say “Bonjour” before saying anything else, and then just as crucial that you PAUSE to give them enough time to respond with “Bonjour” before asking your question – otherwise you might as well not have said hello in the first place.
And since you are in fact interrupting the employee’s work to ask for assistance, the more humble your tone, body language and demeanor – the better the service you’ll typically get.
We’ve been reading a book called The Bonjour Effect, a book written by expats who have spent years living in France, and they suggest doing a slight head bow with your bonjour greeting to emphasize your humility in asking for help in a store.
So we started doing that a few months back and were AMAZED at the service we received! Every time! It is now automatic for us whenever we enter a store. It feels like we’re maybe starting to get it.
When it comes to understanding French culture – we are probably about as advanced as a 1st grader.
It remains true that running errands that would normally take 30 minutes in the States, takes all day to get accomplished here in France (if at all!)
[True story- we have had days where we have accomplished exactly 0 out of the 5 errands on our list because of unexpected store hours, closures, holidays or processes here taking inordinately longer than we ever thought humanly possible. And then we’ve had to spend another whole day attempting to run them all again.]
However, we are seeing a shift in our expectations, our approach to life, a shift in what we consider “normal”.
I ran an errand at a store after class today – and as I was walking down the quaint main road with store fronts and cafes on either side of me – I suddenly realized how differently I was approaching running an errand today than I would have upon our arrival here 6 months ago.
I was not hurried, I was taking in all that was around me. I had looked up the store hours online to check if there was a chance they might be open – but deep down knew there was about a 50/50 chance they would be closed (and I was ok with that. The pleasant walk itself seemed worth the errand.) I said “Bonjour” with a slight head bow when I entered the store. I expected to wait a long while in a line at the store – which I did. And as I was walking home, at three different points I happened to cross paths with three different people I know – and I subsequently stopped in the middle of the sidewalk without worrying about being in other people’s way – and chatted freely with each of them for as long as they each felt like chatting.
There is something to be said for this unhurried, French way of life. And while it is true that culturally we’ll always just be an American who threw on a French scarf to blend in while they walked down the road – we hope we can take with us the ability to live life to the beat of a live cafe musician – chill, folksy and unhurried.
Thank you for praying alongside us on this journey as we learn and grow!
Christopher, Amanda & Matthias
P.S. Baby Girl will be here any day! She is due this Sunday! When Matthias and I biked to Christopher’s soccer game a couple weeks ago, the other team were all in their early-mid 20s and seemed pretty surprised to see someone so pregnant at a soccer game. Eventually a couple of their subs started inching their way over to the bench where Matthias and I were cheering their opponent. They stood near us, looking really uncomfortable for a while, then they finally started talking to us and asked, “are you like full term right now?” and I kind of chuckled and said sort of, but I still have three weeks to go. “Oh PHEW!!” They said, and they started fist bumping each other and laughing and said, “We were so worried you were going to have the baby here at the game tonight! Three weeks is a long way away- that’s great news!” They wished me luck, gave me an uncomfortable sidewise glance – almost as though my condition were contagious – and scurried back to their team’s bench laughing in relief. I got a good laugh biking home that night.
Please pray for a safe and smooth delivery, especially with the cultural differences and differences in healthcare. We look forward to sharing about those differences in our next update.