Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where I’m talking to author Tottie Limejuice about what France means to her.
Tottie Limejuice (a fantastic pen-name) wrote her first book Sell the Pig last year, a moving account of how her family made the decision to move to the Auvergne region of France. This was no ordinary family as Tottie’s elderly mother suffered from dementia and her brother is a manic-depressive alcoholic. You can read my review here.
First question, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Tottie: Don't forget that, according to the Auvergnats, this isn't France, it's the Auvergne, and there's a famous sign announcing that fact! So I can only speak for this region. But I love how polite people are here. It sounds trite but I find it charming to be called “madame” by people much older than I, although I would probably find the same condescending in England – it's a lifestyle thing.
2) Having lived in France and spoken French for many years do you have any top tips for my readers on how to learn French?
Tottie: Never be afraid to try. Many French people you meet will speak considerably less English than you do French and will be very pleased that you make the effort. Try to read in French. Join your local library and start with easy books that you already know in French. Read all the junk mail, too, it's a great way to pick up new vocabulary. And watch French TV – it's not half as bad as some Brits would have you believe. I'm hooked on Un Diner presque Parfait, Come Dine with Me. It's a great way to pick up on regional accents and customs, too. And listen to your local radio station. Mine is France Bleu Pays d'Auvergne and I really like it. When one of my cats went missing I wanted to put an advert on and found myself doing it live on air. I think my cat heard it as she came back two hours later.
3) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?
Tottie: Far too many! Mixing up the French for lips and for hares caused consternation, as did proudly telling the lady in the pharmacie that my fleas had arthritis, when I meant I had arthritis in my thumbs. Or perhaps telling someone my cat had just killed a mule when I meant a field mouse.
4) What was the changing moment for you when you felt accepted into your new French community?
Tottie: Not sure it's 100% happened yet, it takes many years to be fully accepted here in the Livradois Forez. But the biggest compliment from thrifty Auvergnats who are famously tight fisted, when discovering all my money saving devices like solar camping panels to reduce my EDF bills, is to tell me I'm turning into an Auvergnate.
5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Tottie: Ah, tricky one. Up to a year ago it would have definitely been a hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat. Sadly, though thankfully in a way, due to excellent French health care, I have now been diagnosed with Coeliac disease so have to be careful to the point of paranoia not to eat anything containing gluten, nor anything that has been in contact with any. So it would probably have to be a fruit juice or perhaps a cappuccino without the chocolate powder on top and nothing to eat.
6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Tottie: I'm told my humour has a bit of bite, so probably a nice mature Cantal Vieux that's sharper than it looks!
7) How would you explain that very unique French concept of ‘terroir’?
Tottie: I love the whole concept of the importance of links to the soil, the sense of place, the sense of belonging. There's a similar concept in Wales, where I used to live, called “hiraeth”, to do with attachment to ones roots, ones home-ground.
8) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?
Tottie: Am lucky enough to be able to say with complete honesty that I am perfectly happy with my little home in the Auvergne and have no hankering to go elsewhere. If money were really no object, I would like to do up my barn and perhaps acquire some more land round and about but this is where I see myself ending my days. I have even planted a silver birch and left instructions that my ashes should be scattered around it, with a stunning view of the Chaine des Puys to the west.
9) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?
Tottie: I am not at all a city person. Happiest in the countryside. Being fiercely loyal to the Auvergne, if pressed, I would pick Clermont-Ferrand, although I seldom go there. I much prefer small, quirky towns. Thiers is quite nice, although I always happily get lost there ever time I visit.
10) Quick poll - beaches or mountains?
Tottie: Mountains, every time.
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Tottie: Talking of terroir, the man who used to own this property clearly had his own ideas about the connection between the land and the wine. He had a drink problem so sold the soil from the old orchard cum potager to buy wine. I'm currently trying to restore it to productivity and have just planted some fruit trees and some native species. I'm also working on a sequel to my book and Sell the Pig has just been released in paperback format.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
Tottie: Thank you for asking me and giving me the opportunity.