How the association recruitment fair can change your life
The first village “matinée des associations” (club membership fair) we attended in 2013 was a significant step forward in our new life in France. A year later we went back to take the next step.
In 2013, when we moved, we’d owned the house for nine years but hardly knew anyone besides the builder, electrician and plumber who’d helped make it liveable.
We moved in July and spent that whole first summer struggling to fit an extra 18 tonnes of worldly goods into a house that was already furnished, and turn what used to be a holiday home into our new permanent living space.
After two months in unexpected isolation we were determined to make a change. For a permanent move to work, we had to get out and meet people.
We emerged blinking into the light of early September to attend our first association recruitment fair.
The power of participation
We’ve always been more organisers than joiners, but we very deliberately chose to look for a local activity or club we could join to meet people.
The village square was ringed by tables with club members promoting their activities. We saw a small sign inviting people to talk about English lessons and thought, if nothing else, maybe could offer some free teaching support. The would-be teacher wasn’t around but we found ourselves talking to members of the village spring carnival committee.
Signing on as carnival volunteers, and being taken under their endlessly generous wings, made a huge positive difference to our lives here.
What else do we have to offer?
Twelve months later, it was our turn to sit behind a table and hope people would take an interest.
Our quality of life improved so much by giving up free time to support the carnaval committee, we started to think about what else we might be able to do in the village.
We offered after school English classes to the local primary school.
Back in England we’d run a French-speaking conversation group, to help people practice their French. We had the idea of setting up something similar here, where we could help people practice their English. It wasn’t a huge leap to think about teaching English too.
After the compliments about her baking, Jacqueline was keen to offer some cookery classes.
We were great with the ideas stage, less impressive with the planning.
We took on the salon de thé without a thought for how much time and hard work it needed. It became such an effective way to embed us in the community, that it became an end in itself. We were blind to how fast time was running out to do the real hard work of setting up the club.
It was a sleepless scramble to get the posters and materials ready. With the benefit of hindsight we know we failed dismally to have anything remotely like a coherent programme of activities.
Ironically, the main reason for our lack of preparation turned out to be our salvation.
A lot of people had expressed interest in English classes over their coffee and cakes at the salon de thé, and from the moment people started to circulate on the Promenade we had a continuous buzz around our stand.
The reasons people wanted to learn English were interesting and unexpected. It was a surprise that nobody seemed interested in the immediate needs of the local tourist industry. Some people want to learn more because they have family in or they hope to travel to England or Ireland or America. The most unexpected and interesting reason was from people who simply wanted to travel. In Portugal, for example, currently a very hip and popular holiday destination for the French, it’s easier to be understood if you speak English. The same thing applies to people who want to travel for business.
Around the interest in the classes people also took time to thank us for the animation the Salon de Thé has brought back to the centre of the village.
The real benchmark for how busy we were was when the rest of the village stopped to enjoy the Mairie’s (town hall’s) free table of pizza, crisps and wine. We had to have ours take-away, so we could carry on talking.
By the end of the day we had a handful of people registered for the conversation class, and the same for Jacqueline’s cookery classes.
Everyone has been astounded that nearly 20 people signed up for the beginners’ French class. We handed out flyers with our contact details throughout the morning, and calls have trickled in ever since.
It looks like we’re going to need a bigger classroom!