On y va!! Cape Town!!

After two years we are on our way to see family and friends in Cape Town! We will be there DV tomorrow! The kids have lists of things to eat, things to buy, and places to go. Linkway, Cross Trainers, Revolve, ACS-gymnastics, E-sports-tumbling, tennis, milkshakes, Steers Burgers, Wimpy coffee, family braais… We will see how we fit it all in. : )

For the next three weeks we will trade la Tour Eiffel for Table Mountain!




We have been in Beynes for a year and in France for two years. Actually two months more, to be precise, but I just haven’t got to writing this post. You get busier, which means that live is turning back to normal.

School closed in June for the nice, two and a half month, summer holiday. Two years ago the children arrived with a french vocabulary of ‘Bonjour, comment ça va?’ They had to go straight into french public schools and now they can proudly add french as their third language.

The beginning of this year was a bit difficult again as they were now part of the normal classes. No more help from a special french teacher. At the end of the first term the boys were still a bit under class average and some teachers thought that maybe we should look for an English school.
We thought: ‘You don’t work this hard and get this far, and then give up.’ As always the boys just carried on, didn’t get discouraged, made friends, had fun, worked hard and finished the year well above class average. We are really, really proud.
They will be in Terminal when school starts in September. The final school year. In the next months the decisions for university will be made. What and where, we will see.

The girls did so well, that I can’t really say much about them. They are now just two ‘french’ girls in a french school, who get very good marks. : ) For Mandi its off to Lycée for grade 10 and she will be in the same school as the boys.

Everyone is still very much involved in sport. Franci doing gymnastics. Jaco with tennis and karate. Pieter and Mandi at tumbling. In September we will see what the next year brings.

The rest of us still do the same thing. Danie works at work and then works at home : ) I see that everyone eats and have clean clothes and…  walk around in Paris. : ) The two of us can’t really add french as our third language yet. I do get along and can organize what needs to be done. Mistakes do happen sometimes though…

For the first teacher’s meeting this year, we received letters which I had to return with a choice between: J’assiste and J’assiste pas. So, of course I said that I can’t assist, not with my bad french. At the meeting Franci’s teacher skipped her name every time she had to hand out something, so after a while I told her that we are actually there, and I couldn’t understand why she looked so puzzled. Ok, now I also know that assiste actually means attend. : ) So we learn.

Jaco and Pieter are busy with driving lessons. In french and on the wrong side of the road of course. : ) I can already see how I am going to send them around soon. : )

For now we will leave la Tour Eiffel with her friends…

eiffel41 eiffel51

…to enjoy family and friends and September we will be ready to start the third school year in France.

à bientot Paris, and…

à demain for everyone in Cape Town!


This year and next year.

It’s still the confusing thing of ending a year (school) in the middle of the year. We almost can’t believe it, but we are really at the end of our first year in France and the end of the first schoolyear. The boys are on holiday already. A 12 week holiday till they start the next year in September. (Not to forget that there are also 8 more weeks of holiday during the year.)  They did spoil my previous post I must say…  I had all these nice words about them repeating this year, but it is actually good and then they came home with reports saying that they’ve passed! I had to change the post and now it does not read so nice anymore. But, it’s ok   : )

Let me explain a bit about French schools. They don’t write exams. Kids are evaluated through the year with tests; announced and unannounced, and also receive marks for participation in class. The next interesting thing is that parents have a say in whether a child should pass or not. At the end of each term; before you receive the report, you can ask for pass or repeat. The school will respond with what they think and you can accept that or not. At the end of the year if you and the school still don’t agree, you can appeal. What I appreciate about schools here is that they look at the whole picture. The boys chose to do Premier S next year. That will be the direction with maths, science and computers. Because they showed that they are good in maths and science, they were passed to Premier. They had a good mark for their FLS french (Special class for not french speaking children), but no mark for the normal french class. Because they are going in the science direction and will do much less french and history next year, and no biology, they could pass. It makes a lot of sense. They will have to still work hard, but at least with ‘nicer’ subjects. And they could finish school in two years time.

We get the keys to our (very old) new house in three weeks, which is just to say that we are moving. That meant changing schools. (Which everyone was happy to do.) As we are moving to a new department, we got the news that we have to work through the Inspection Academique again. That’s the schools department. The first time we waited six weeks for them, and we had the help of the relocation company, so we were not really excited to hear this.

We don’t give up, so we grabbed all our french and went to see them. Unbelievably with the first visit the lady made an appointment for us at the girls’ new school and we were there last week to register them. All sorted. Then a next visit for the boys and tomorrow we will go to register them at their school. I must say we understand most of what they say now and with a whole lot of grammar mistakes and wrong words, they actually understand us, so we get to organize it all. And people are mostly very appreciative and friendly about our efforts. : )

The girls did really well this year. The negative side of the FLS class is that they are not really taken seriously. They attend some of the normal grade classes, but are told to sit at the back and do their FLS work. They also didn’t get handbooks. But these two girls changed this a bit. : ) Mandi was working hard at home, trying to understand. Doing maths with just the bits she could write down in class, so at the end of the first term I asked the teacher to give her books and let her at least try. The same for Franci. And they surprised the teachers. There were still subjects like history and biology that they did not do it all. They also missed many classes being in the FLS class. But by the third term they were both doing the best in their normal french maths class. Franci enjoyed it so much when monsieur Hanin, the maths teacher told the class (with a smile) that everyone that has less marks than Franci, has detention after school. And there it was the whole class. : ) And he asked Mandi’s class if they are not ashamed that a FLS child is doing better than them. : ) The new school was impressed with their reports and the teachers remarks, and they were also quite excited to have ‘foreign’ children in their school who can speak english. This school does not offer FLS and have only local french children and no immigrants like the previous school. The school here in Cergy consisted mainly of immigrants. Most of the kids speak Arabic at home. Many kids from Turkey and Africa as well.

When they were tested last year, the academique actually moved the girls up one year, compared to where they were in South Africa. I think if we really asked for it, the girls could pass to the next grade, but they both chose to repeat this year. Franci need to improve in reading and writing french. The speaking is going well. Mandi would have gone to highschool which adds some other difficulties, so we were all happy for them to repeat.

Apart from schools we do have summer now. Its just that it happens only every fifth day, or maybe seventh… : ) Ok, we have summer days every now and again.

We could have a nice picnic at the water park here in Cergy…

and the poppies are really pretty now…


A year in Enghien-les-Bains

It is hard to imagine, but the boys have finished their first year of school in France. A year in lycée Gustav Monod.
A nice experience, which was not always easy, but still a lot of fun…
When we arrived last year June, they spoke afrikaans and english and a few words of french, well, maybe only enough french words to greet someone. Now, one year later, they are not yet fluent in french, but can have a good conversation with friends and cope well with school.

Before we came to france, my biggest concern was where the boys would go to school and only because they were 16 already. The international schools around Paris has fees that you could actually buy a house with. : ) € 27 500 per year (per child) and just a ‘small’ initial payment of € 10 000 to register. As we are not expats and the work does not pay for schooling, that is a ‘little’ over our budget. The other problem with children in the international schools are that they never really learn to speak french, which is again a problem if you want to go to university here.

So, they had to go to normal french public school. The french schools actually do cater for immigrants like us. They have a program for non french speaking children called the FLS classes. The one problem was that there is only one high school in our department that offers this program and that was why the boys had to travel an hour every day to school by bus and by train. They were in the special class as well as attending some of the normal classes in the beginning.  As the year continued they attended more of the normal classes. They received their reports and passed this year and will be in premier (grade 11) next year. We are moving closer to Danie’s work in July, so the next year they will be in another school in Villiers Saint Fréderic.

I believe that what they experienced this year just added a very special extra year in their school life. They were a group of kids from all over the world who had one thing in common: we can’t speak french, but now have to live in a country where people only speak  french.

We are really proud of how they handled this year. Always positive, getting up at six some mornings, working out train times, working hard and making friends. For them it was nothing big, you just carry on and do it… and still have fun.

On Tuesday their FLS class had their farewell party and as I looked at their photo’s I realized what an adventure this year was for them.

some of the boys: from left, Javuz from Turkey; Pieter; Micheal & Miquel from Portugal; Pathu &Vasikanth from Sri-Lanka; Zi from China and Jaco

the class with madame Herrerra (in the flowery dress)

and again with mademoiselle Alves (with the orange top)

They made a book that will be kept in the library of the school. Each one had to do a page about his country. The list of countries from where they all come from reads like this…

Livre d’or  (visitor’s book )

Pieter’s page… (click to read)

Jaco’s page… (click to read)

The eats represented the international class…

They were all asked to show their talents at the party. Some sing, some do magic tricks… Pieter made an animation and Jaco of course recorded some drums. (Our recording and editing still need some upgrading: ) ) You can see them here on Youtube.  : )

Jaco playing Born for this…

Pieter’s animation…

Tuesday their school closes for the year and they will greet their friends and the two teachers, Madame Herrerra and mademoiselle Alves, who organize the FLS class. On Wednesday they are going on a fun outing to Paris with Madame Herrera and that will finish off this experience. A year in Enghien les Bains, in the Northern suburbs of Paris…

Let’s tackle 2012.

It feels strange to start a new year, but all activities are actually halfway already. Obviously, because the school year in France starts in September and finish end of June. The schools reopened again yesterday after a two week break over Christmas. The school calender in France has three terms, with a two week break in the middle of the first two terms. That means 4 two week holidays and two months in July and August. Not too bad.

We are still waiting for the snow. It would be unfair to let us be so cold and you don’t even see snow! : ) It is the coldest month now, I’ve heard, and can feel! Mostly about 5 or 6 degrees in the day, but we do get a lot of sunshine. At least then it does not ‘feel’ so cold, as when it is a grey day. But we know that spring is coming next! I have daffodils flowering in my garden already!

The first gymnastic competition for the girls is end of January and another one beginning of February. And the competitions carry on till June when it is the France finals, but that’s for later. The girls had to learn a whole lot of new elements in their routines. Mandi said that she’s probably one level up and Franci almost two, so we will see how it goes. It will still be exciting to see how things work here.

We also want to move closer to Danie’s work end of June. Where, we still don’t know, but we’ve started to look around over week-ends. The girls would love to stay at their gym, the boys want to stay at their school, and Danie has to stay at his work : ) The only problem is that those three things are in three different directions. I think in the end we will just consider the travel to work and start in new schools and a new gym. But, that also, we will see what happens.

And, I am trying to be really organised in the house. : ) There will always be bread (baguettes) in the morning to pack for the boys and Danie, never run out of milk, and I won’t have to go to Carrefour every day for whatever is needed… ok… So, I did my first ‘drive’ shopping at LeClerc. Buy on the internet and say what time you want to pick it up, then you just park at a ‘scanner box’, scan your bar code and in a minute or two someone comes and load your shopping in the car. Nice. That’s for all the boring things you have to buy every month, toilet paper, washing powder, and so on. Now, my weekly list is much shorter. First week went well, so let’s see!

…and just some interesting things…

parking in Paris…

you mess, you clean up…

‘traffic’ signs in the river for the boats…

pictures made from post-it cards in office blocks…

graffiti is everywhere in Paris…

and for those of you that watch 7de laan, a bookshop with this name…

A new routine

It feels like the last few weeks were really busy, or maybe we just have to get used to the new routine… or maybe… because there is no routine.
We have to get used to getting up at six some days, or rather to remember which days to get up when!
No morning is the same. It depends on their classes when everyone has to be at school. Some days each one starts at a different time and have lunch at different times and of course finish at different times! Here if you don’t have a class you don’t have to be at school. Then it happens almost every day that one of them phones me to say that a teacher isn’t there (or have a headache…) and they can come home.

Also in the last month: I broke a tooth, Danie broke a tooth, Mandi fell on her hand and was swollen and blue for a week, but luckily didn’t break anything and then to top it all, Jaco broke his foot.
All of this would have been nothing if we were still in SA, but add french and doctors with different ways of doing things to that, and its a whole new story.
The strangest part with doctors here is probably the absence of receptionists! Danie made my appointment with the dentist, (he had to go first). So, you enter their building and there is nothing and nobody. Now you wonder what next?! Do you walk down the passage and knock on the closed doors? There was an empty waiting room. Then I saw a sign that says, ring the bell and wait: Rang the bell, sat down, and now wonder if they heard the bell. Waited a minute or two, rang the bell again and waited again. But, not strange to them, the assistant came to fetch me and at least, the ‘dentist work’ was the same. : ) Afterwards you pay at the doctor. Everything happens in his consulting room. Just him and his assistant and they do everything.

Mandi of course had to go to the doctor and go for x-rays, but we survived that.
Jaco broke his foot at 10pm, with the next day being a public holiday… now we also know where the emergency clinic is, but that was not the end for him. He needs to get an injection every day to keep the blood thin. Now we know that you can get visiting nurses at home or could see them at the medical center at certain times. In the meantime the nurse showed Jaco how to do it and he just injects himself! Still not the end of this story: there are also blood tests once a week at the laboratory. Each time I test how long I can last before I have to say: “Je parle un peu français”, when I don’t understand what’s going on anymore. My most used phrase to tell them I only speak a bit of french. I feel really good when I leave and realize I understood everything and they understood me, and I haven’t used my phrase! : )

…and crutches in french? ‘Cannes anglaises‘… English walking sticks. : )

In the meantime winter is coming closer. Day temperatures are now between 5 and 11 degrees. The sun only rise after 8am and most mornings we have thick fog.

Lycée in Enghien-les-Bains

After two weeks of school, we have two weeks of holiday! All because we’ve waited so long for the académique française to tell us in which schools they should go. It was two busy weeks with first driving a lot and then sorting out trains and tickets, but we had some fun.

I’m maybe writing this for myself, but I thought that some things happened that we must remember and laugh about in a year’s time. So, here is Jaco end Pieter’s ‘report’ of their first two weeks in high school in Enghien-les-Bains, Paris.

Enghien-les-Bains is a suburb in Northern Paris, 14 km from Paris center, and by car it takes me 25 mins. to the school, but that is when there is no traffic. In early morning traffic, which lasts up to 10am it will take you an hour. This suburb is known for a lake, a spa (naturel hot water spring) and a casino. The school is also on the lake and beautiful big houses around the school, for which I am sure you will need more than a million or two to buy.


The one unfortunate thing is that the station close to us is on the RER A train line and their school is on another train line, so I have to take them to Pontoise station, about 15 minutes away.

The first Monday I took them to school, 12h30, drove back and as I stop at home Pieter phoned to say that the french teacher never arrived and they can go home! Yes, just turned around and drove back. They said it was their meet and greet of the students day.
Tuesday, they started at 10am and after french and maths I fetched them at 17h30. By now they have met a lot of friends and were really enjoying school.
Wednesday morning we left at 6h50 to be at the station at 7h12 for the train. Danie went with them and they first bought the wrong tickets, then had to ask and eventually missed the train, so I had to take them to school, traffic and all. Wednesdays all schools close at 12h30 and for now they don’t have any classes on Thursdays.
Friday morning we were ready and on time for the train at 7h12. When they came at school there were nobody in their maths class, after asking at the office they realized that they have alternating week schedules and this was the week they actually don’t have maths and could have gone to school at 10am!

The second week started with Monday from 9am to 16h30. All went well and they went by train. Monday evening they came home complaining that they had so much french homework and work they haven’t even done in class! They started immediately, did not go to gymnastics and gave up after ten to go to bed. Well, Tuesday morning the teacher started explaining the work that they have now done! Then they realized nobody else did the ‘homework’ and that it was actually not homework, she just said that that was what they will do at the next classes! The teacher only speak french… they must have misunderstood her.
After this late night and ‘unnecessary’ hard work, Tuesday started. Their longest day from 8am to 17h30. And again they arrived at school for the first sports period and found nobody there, only to hear that they were supposed to go to a different venue for sport… and waited at school for two hours for the next period.
Wednesday was short again and Thursday off. Friday had maths and history and then the holiday started.

In the meantime winter arrived here by us. When I dropped them off at 7am Friday morning the temperature was 0,5 degrees. Luckily the trains and buses are nice and warm.

I am sure we will be more organised and ready for the next term, which is also only six weeks till the two weeks holiday over Christmas.

I have to say that apart from getting up at six some days, they are really enjoying school. They are part of the ‘french-learning’ group and like their new friends from any country you can think of and with names that they have never heard of. : )

lycee Gustave Monod…
The two houses is where the offices are and the classrooms are in three long blocks, one is the grey roof on the right. 

The casino on the right and the school is on the opposite side.

Eurodisney done, now ready for school

Last Friday two things happened. We had lovely summer weather and thought that we should go to Eurodisney before the kids start with school. It’s not holiday season now and if you can go in the week, it is not so busy. I found tickets through FNAC for 27 euro, and not the full price of 60 euro! So, bought the tickets for Monday. An hour later the mail came and there were Jaco and Pieter’s letters to tell us which school they must attend. They could not start on Monday, we had tickets!
But, actually, it was no problem. We phoned the school and they said that someone will phone us on Wednesday. No hurry for them.

In the end it was arranged that we had to be at the school on Wednesday, 12h30. The school is in Enghien-les-Bains, a northern suburb of Paris. A very nice area. Lycee Gustave Monod, a highschool for the last three years of school. They will be in ‘seconde‘, equivalent to South-African grade 10. The school has a program for kids who can’t speak french. We met the lady in charge of the program. Very friendly. As we walked on the school ground she introduced them to some of their classmates. A real international group! Everyone is from a different country. Brasilia, Sri-Lanka, Argentina, China, Mexico, Russia and so you can go on.
They will have 13 hours of french lesson a week and join the normal classes for sport, maths and english as well. As their french improve, they will join the other classes. For now they only have to be at the school when they have class. They start on Monday from 12h30 to 4h30. I think the four months holiday was long enough and they are quite excited to start tomorrow.

Mandi and Franci’s letters came on Friday. They will be in Collège Moulin a Vent (middle school), just around the corner from us. Franci in ‘Sixième‘ (gr 6) and Mandi in ‘Troisième‘ (gr.9). I will phone the school tomorrow, but they will probably tell me to wait till later in the week.

Luckily, we could still enjoy a wonderful day at Eurodisney on Monday. There weren’t that many people. Still a lot, but no long queues  at the rides. It is so big that you can’t do everything in one day, we will have to save and go again. : )





Walt Disney Studios

The schools, gymnastics and the ‘Axe Majeur’

20 September 2011

There are no ‘new’ news about the schools… The kids did their tests 10 days ago and now we have to wait for the letters to tell us where they must go. The tests went well. An english comprehension test, which was easy and then maths, which was easy as well! So, according to the French school department they are all up to standard. : )
We thought the tests were because they can’t speak french, but when we came there and everyone else spoke french (they were all from french-speaking countries) we realised it is everyone coming from another country that must be tested. The people from the departement only spoke french, but their was a friendly mother from Mauritius who translated for us when we did not understand… I have to say that they actually felt bad that they could not speak english.
We tried to contact the schools directly, but they just said no, we have to work through the
‘Inspection académique’.
What we know is that the girls will be in ‘collège‘ (middle-school, gr.6 and gr.9), just not where, but there is a school in Cergy with a class for non-french speaking kids. (just a block or two away)
The boys will be in ‘lycée‘ (high-school, probably gr. 10), but it seems that the closest class for them will be 30 min away by train. The man that tested them, is a teacher of such a class. He said he had kids from 80 countries through the years in his class, but never from South-Africa and he was keen to take Jaco and Pieter, he was just not sure if he still had place in his class. His school is in Argenteuil… a kind man. They will all four be in classes where they will be taught French.
In the meantime we carry on with our French lessons and wait for the letters… the french like letters, no e-mails, but printed on paper and mailed to you. : ) As I’m saying what they like… they also still use cheques a lot. Danie hasn’t had a cheque-book for years in SA and now he writes cheques all the time. : ) And don’t even ask how much concentration it takes to write all those numbers in french… ‘Trois-cent-quatre-vingt-dix-huit euros et cinquant-sept centimes‘ 398,57 : )

The gymnastics is going very well. Mandi and Franci gym four evenings a week and are in the competition group. The gym and equipment are excellent. And the most important thing is that they love their new coach, Frédéric. They say he is just like Alfie (ACS, Monte Vista), funny and making jokes all the time. : ) Frédéric would not know what a huge compliment that is, because Alfie has a talent for working with kids… and he is an excellent coach!

The boys also joined a class last week. They have a class for high school kids and young adults who just want to stay fit and keep their gymnastic skills. So they go two evenings a week (8h30 to 10pm!) and really enjoy it.

To add some photo’s, I will show you the Axe Majeur Horloge. This is what Cergy is known for. As you approach the town on the highway, you see the signs on how to get there. They call it landscape architecture and was designed by Dani Karavan, a landscape architect… of course. : ) There is a whole lot of symbolism in this structure, but one day when my french is better, I will read the book that explains it all. He used the number 12 as a symbol of noon and midnight, twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve astronomical signs… (!?… weird?)  that’s why there are twelve columns, etc.
It is 3.2km if you walk from the top to the bottom (and a LOT of stairs!)

It starts with this building up on the hill, with the axis (the axe) in the middle.

and as you turn around here, you see the columns. Everything cement and gray…

…and then the surprise when you walk just behind the columns… a lovely view…
the red bridge that crosses the Oise river and then the ‘ile astronomique‘, an island that forms a perfect circle, which I think is man-made. 

The buildings in the background are at La Defense, Paris.

The highest point on the left is the Eiffel Tower and the big block just to the right of the centre, the Grande Arche.

For the locals this is a favourite spot to exercise… running those steps up and down…