Expat in France

5 Years an Expat in France

5 Years an Expat in France…

Would you believe? It’s been five years since I started my expat adventure in France. After all this time, I’m as as excited as ever about being here. And not a bit trepidatious at what lies ahead.

Highlights: 5 Years an Expat in France

Feeling at home

My little apartment that’s up 55 steps in a tower across from the Duché in Uzes is just as charming as it was on first sight. I still love it. The fact that it is in the middle of all the activity in Uzés is still a plus.

Expat in France

I love leaning out my window when I hear horses’ hooves clomping around the Place de Duché. Sometimes it’s a horse-drawn cart and driver who take care of the potted flowers in the square. Sometimes it’s a coach filled with tourists visiting the town.

Expat in France

I will say, however, there’s a change in the works. Not a move from Uzés, but a bit of repositioning. A chance to get to know the town from a new perspective. Stay tuned…

Making friends

Living in France is a constant whirl of activities with lots of friends. Some friends are French; others are expats; and some are “regulars” or part time expats who return year after year.

Expat in France

Initially, it wasn’t easy to make friends. Especially since I didn’t speak a word of French. Now that I’ve been here for a while, I’m recognized by locals, in the kindest way, as the “American who still doesn’t speak French.”

Travel, travel and more travel

Living in the south of France has to be the best place ever to see the world. That’s probably not the truth, but it seems so. Coming from the US, where it can take 7 hours to travel from Beaufort, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia, it’s amazing how you can get from one country to another in so little time. Easy access to travel by train simplifies things, too.

Beginning the “Memories Tour”

A new adventure started in 2018 — the first of the “South of France Memories You Promised Yourself” tour with my great friend and best-selling author, Patricia Sands. We started a tradition of yearly women’s tours, organized by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, my partner in crime and tour planner extraordinaire from Sete. My first ever time tour leading may not have ended up as planned, but along the way I met sixteen new friends I will hold close and in my heart forever. Tour plans for 2019 are ready for you to join. Stay tuned …

Facing my fears

What could be more frightening than having a serious accident while in a “foreign country?” Happily I’m now acquainted with the French healthcare system. There could be no finer anywhere in the world.

Blogging

expat in FranceWhile I’m aghast how 5 years have flown by, I’m equally amazed I’m still writing and loving the Barefoot Blogger.

To tell you the truth, the “Barefoot Blogger” has taken on a life of her own. The person I write about now is an out-of-body extension of myself. As she fumbles her way through life and travels in and about France, it’s amazing she’s survived without more mishaps.

The best part about blogging is connecting with readers. Some visit Uzès and contact me to meet up. We’re like instant friends.

Loving France

Where can I possibly begin to express how much I’ve grown to love France. From early on I confessed I never imagined spending a lot of time in France, much less living here.

Life in Uzés over the past five years has been like living a dream. The longer I stay the more I’m attached to the rhythm of the town and its people. Coexisting with centuries-old architecture and ancient history has changed me.

Expat in France

Learning French

Surely you are weary hearing how I’ve struggled to learn French. Please don’t count how many times I’ve said: “I’m turning a new leaf. I’m taking French lessons.”

Not to disappoint, I have a new plan for in place for Expat Year #6. Stay tuned…

expat in France

Moving to France Healthcare

Moving to France: Healthcare

One of the most asked questions for this American expat in France is about healthcare. “What do you do about healthcare when moving to France?”

The simple reply is “travelers insurance.” The answer you really want to know is “don’t worry about it.”

I couldn’t be more serious. If you’re going to be insured or sick, you couldn’t find a better place to do it than France. Yes, you can take it from one who knows. I’ve just completed a 10-week stint going through an emergency operation, hospitalization and rehab hospitalization in the South of France.

The post below was written when I was literally flat on my back in the hospital. Since then I’ve returned to my apartment in Uzés, back up the 55 steps, and I’m going to physical therapy 5 days a week. I’m walking there and back. It’s been a really long road; albeit, an amazing experience. It’s given me great respect for the French, their hospitals and the staffs. And I’ve learned a bit of French — out of sheer necessity. Very few people I encountered along the way spoke English.

I’ll be honest, the travelers insurance company hasn’t kicked in to repay me, but so far, the bills are minimal. My surgeon and the hospital continue to say there’s no charge for the emergency surgery or 10-day hospital stay afterwards. The rehab hospitals have yet to totally bill me, but I understand it’s like 220 euros a day for room, board and 2 hours of physical therapy a day. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the story …

The Barefoot Blogger is going to step out of her carefree expat role to talk about something that is critically important to me at this moment: Healthcare.

As I type with one finger of my left hand, I am lying in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.

I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system now since September 18, the date I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.

A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.

I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.

Telling the story now, prior to the upcoming election in the US, seems the perfect time.

French Healthcare: Hospital Admission

My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in the south of France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.

After my fall I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent  reputations.

The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, for any type of formal identification, or for proof of medical insurance.

The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.

A longtime friend who was on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.

French Healthcare: Surgery

The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.

Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient who was awaiting her second knee operation. Not because of my room nor roommate, but I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy pain killers were given to me prior to surgery. I was told morphine was not allowed because of its adverse affects on anesthetics administered during surgery.

I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew when I woke up I would be in la la land.

French Healthcare: Post Surgery

I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from on level of surgery aftercare to another.

Fortunately I was cognizant that I was in France, that I was alive, and that I wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I was agreeing to.

For ten days I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:

Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.

Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “ I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”

The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”

Moving to France Healthcare

My hospital room with Chantal

My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the bad food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “ colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended 24/7.

Moving to France Healthcare

A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital

French Healthcare: Rehab

Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boo-hooed.

The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. There I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.

Moving to France Healthcare

(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion

French Healthcare: Cost

It’s day 40 since I have been hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes, and a bill for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay for anything.

The costs for the items above were 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98) respectively. I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.

For time spent in the rehab hospital, I will receive a bill when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it will cost 197 euros per day ($224). Included in the cost is physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours each day, Monday through Friday.

News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.

There is no charge for emergency services in France.

Let that sink in.

Tomorrow I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and to my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”

The plan is for me to stay in Uzès until November 6 when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.

When the doctor releases me, I’ll be able to return to independent living and out-patient rehab.

Next: US Healthcare “A comparison”

Stay tuned for Part 2 …..

For More on French Healthcare for Expats Contact Renestance

Moving to France: The Visa

Looks like lots of folks are thinking about moving to France. First, the visa. This post was #1 among blog followers in 2018. Bonne chance!

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to renew the French Expat Visa. It’s a gift from France that keeps on giving.

Wish I could say that everything about living in France is wonderful. But when it comes to dealing with French bureaucracy, frankly, it can be a nightmare.

As an American expat, I’m required to renew my long-stay visa yearly.  It allows me to stay in France 12 months. When renewing a visa you have to make an appointment at the local Prefector. You have to make the appointment online no earlier than two months before your visa expires. You can’t submit documents online. Most aggravating, the information you have to provide is the same your gave them the year before. You can’t just update it. You have to start all over again.

Here’s the list of items I have to produce this year. Mind you, not all regions of France have the same requirements. Wherever you are, however, materials except for your passport must be translated to French — including bank statements and proof of revenue.

  • Current carte de séjour
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate and translation
  • Proof of address (less than 3 months old)
  • 3 ID photos
  • Proof of revenue (proof that you have at least 1149 EUR per month)
  • Written statement (in French) that you will not work in France

Once your card is ready to pick up, you pay €269 in fiscal stamps. 

Renewing a French Expat Visa

Renewing my visa last year was a real pain. It was to expire in August. So I went to the website of the Prefecture in Nimes in June, two months in advance, as instructed, to set up an appointment.

“No appointments available. Try again,” it said in French, of course.

Moving to France Visa

I tried the website again the next day. Same response. And the next day. And the day after that. The same screen appeared each time. “No appointment available. Try again.”

By the end of July, with no appointment, I was beginning to worry. I was told by others they were having the same problem.

“No need going to Nimes in person to ask for an appointment,” they said. Online only.

French expat visaOh, what to do? Visions of gendarmes at my door were running through my head. Worse yet, what if I finally got an appointment, and it was in September?!  I had plans to be in the Dordogne! How could I be in two places at one time? All those non-refundable reservations! Panic!

I started asking around for help. That’s when I heard about a company that helps expats cut through French red tape. Renestance. They literally came to my rescue.

The Renestance office is in Montpelier.  They can help expats wherever they live in France. Jennifer, whom I got to know quite well, lives in Nimes. We met more than once. She could easily go with me to the Prefecture in Nimes. Whenever we could get an appointment.

Renestance was having the same problem with the Nimes website with all their clients. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Renewing a French Expat Visa…finally

Finally, after sending a registered letter to the Prefecture explaining my carte de séjour had expired, I had an appointment. November 29th at noon. By that time I’d spent a vacation in the Dordogne agonizing that I might miss an appointment date. And I’d cancelled my plans to spend the holidays with my family in the States. Oh, the frustration!

During all the waiting, Renestance was busy working on my case. They were online multiple times each day and night checking to see if the website was accepting appointments. They were managing the translation of my documents. Most of all, they were dealing with me!

For example, the “original copy” of the birth certificate that I ordered from the courthouse in North Carolina, where I was born, the one my son hand carried to France when he visited, was lost. Bless his heart, my dear son went to the county courthouse, in person, picked up another “original” birth certificate for me, and sent it by FedEx to France.

By the time November 29th rolled around, everything was ready for the appointment in Nimes. Jennifer met me at the train station, guided me to the Prefector’s office, which had moved sometime over the past year, and she walked me through the whole process. Which, by the way, would have been impossible for me without speaking the language. Yes, American Jennifer speaks perfect French. It was another three months before I actually had a new carte de séjour in hand, but I had a signed government document that served the purpose.

So now, when anyone asks me if there’s anyone in France who can help Americans or other English-speaking expats through the French bureaucracy, the answer is “Yes!” Renestance. They help with visas, drivers’ licences, relocation issues and more. Jennifer is helping me again this year. She’s already made an appointment at the Prefector on March 5th. It’s all under control.

Thank you Renestance!

 

Read about the first experience with a French Visa

 

Moving to France drama

Moving to France: The Drama

Five years ago the Barefoot Blogger started her extraordinary journey to live in France. Remembering some of my early days moving to France, the drama and friends is so much fun. This is one of my favorite blogs 2013 … enjoy!

If “Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!

To tell the truth, before then, I was close to a meltdown. My lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s o way to get through an automated phone answering system if you can’t speak French!

The drama

Move to France dramaEveryday I was showing up at my friend Geoffrey’s house with a “Deborah-do” list. He’s the only bi-lingual person I know that I’ve felt comfortable asking ffavors. However, depending on him to deal with my never-ending household issues was getting to be a bit much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”

So last Thursday morning I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomers group I heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turn I came to the athletic field mentioned in the directions.  A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter; except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.

The fence gate was open and just inside the gate a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door.  Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour”, I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors.

Moving to France dramaWalking towards the voices I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, my eyes met the glares from at least a dozen men and women, all sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a very important meeting of some kind, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.

I needed someone, anyone, to come to my rescue… to speak English.

Before I was totally into the room, a kind young woman stood up from behind the table to greet me at the door . But by then, I had blurted out “does anyone speak English?”

No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.

Silence.

“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome”  group is this?!”

Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”

Meanwhile, the nice lady who was standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she managed to communicate that I should come back the next week for French lessons.

In total despair, I walked home. Right past Geoffrey’s house.

As fate would have it

Friday morning I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France and I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me out for a few hours — for a small fee.

Eureka! Within a couple of hours of showing up at my apartment, Andy worked miracles. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to find out why I had no hot water, and to turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.

While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.

A van! A strong, young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now my ten boxes that were stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued !The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I was having a spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)

Quick trip to Marseilles

This tale is best told by pictures.

Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t take into consideration there is massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.

Moving to France drama

 

At the warehouse everything looked orderly and well-managed. Then my boxes were trucked on a forklift to the door.

Please no! These can’t be mine!

Notice there are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!

Moving to France drama

Home at last!

Moving to France Drama: Stress, yes. But fun along the way

When I look back on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad”.

Hanging out with Geoffrey almost every day has been an adventure in itself –with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters”. These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics. Here are just a few …

Rugby Reggie

Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque” he proudly proclaims in his raspy, deep voice to anyone within listening distance. He lives on the same street as Geoffrey and spends a lot of time on his doorstep. When he’s not teaching the young boys in town how to play rugby. Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew gave me permission to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.

The day this picture was taken Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set  I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment. Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes, with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment.

The part that no one knew was that the mural was too big to come up the winding tower steps.Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not! With a stroke of shear genius, Reggie figured out how to hoist the mural up the side of the tower wall and maneuver it sideways into the upper window of the apartment. Voila!

Michel and Nicholas come for dinner

Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met in Uzès are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with me and Geoffrey’s girlfriend Nandine, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.

Geoffrey prepared a special French meal for us with the Mont d’ Or cheese I bought at the Saturday market.  “Mont d’ Or” means “mountain of gold” in English. It tastes like honey from heaven.  The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’ Or you remove the box lid and stuff two or three cloves of garlic deep down into the middle of the cheese. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is nicely melted.

Geoffrey served the Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinagrette dressing and fresh baguettes. For dessert we had formage blanc with rum raisin sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds.

It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I know and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.

Who wouldn’t have fun with guys like these?

(RIP Nicolas – 2018 – We miss you)

Stay tuned. More friends to meet. 

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Wish for France

Visit France? Make a Wish

The holidays are the perfect time to make a wish. 

Wish for France

If you could visit anywhere in France, where would it be?

 

Wish for France

Let’s have some fun and see where Barefoot Blogger friends wish they could go in France. Send a photo of any place in France you dream of seeing. Who knows? By showing off your French dream destination to others, your wish might come true!

Send photos by January 5, 2019 to be published on the “Wish for France” blog post. Photos will be published with your name unless you say “no name.”

If you’re on Facebook, post your photo here on Barefoot Blogger

On Twitter, post you photo here on Deborah@bfblogger

On Instagram, post your photo on BarefootBlogger_france

Or email your photo to deborah@bfblogger.com

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL!!

 

 

very best christmas markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

This time last year I was enjoying all that Alsace has to offer for the holiday. Over the next few weeks the Barefoot Blogger will be publishing glimpses of Strasbourg, Colmar, Equisheim, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Ribeauville on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram. Please stop by for your holiday cheer!

You may only have one time in your life to experience the “best” Christmas markets in France. Join me as I revisit Alsace…

Continue reading “The Very Best Christmas Markets in France”

Memories Tour Day 12: A Wine Harvest Finale

How do you cap off an unforgettable twelve day tour of the South of France? By taking part in a wine harvest done the old fashion way, of course.

To make the day extra special, Nick Martin of A Wine Affair arranged for the “sensational sixteen” to visit a fifteenth century Mas and vineyard to experience grape picking and stomping.

Patricia Sands, author and tour leader, tells about the final day which ends with a spectacular dinner party in Arles.

And what a day this was! Have you dreamed of a mas in the south of France like this? Everyone in our merry band of travellers agreed they had.  This was a dream come true (Click here to read more)

Memories Tour Finale

Memories Tour Day 11, Part 2

After a busy morning at Pont du Gard and the quaint pottery town of San Quentin de Poterie, the gals on the South of France Memories You Promised Yourself tour excitedly landed in Uzés.

As you can imagine, I talked about Uzés constantly before I unexpectedly ended my time on the tour. So everyone was geared up to see just what made the place so special. Apparently, they weren’t disappointed.

Let’s read on with Patricia Sands, author and tour leader extraodinaire, and learn about the places the “sensational sixteen” enjoyed in my new hometown, Uzés.

After our visit to breathtaking Pont du Gard and charming Saint-Quentin-la-Potèrie, our intrepid travellers continued a short distance down the road to the town of Uzès….” (Click here to continue.)

Memories Tour Uzés

Memories Tour Day 11, Part 1: French Pottery and Pont du Gard

The ancient Roman aqueduct Pont Du Gard and San Quentin la Poterie were just two stops on Day 11 of the “South of France Memories You Promised Yourself” tour.

This was “my day.” My chance on the tour to show off the part of France I call “home.” But no, instead, I was busy mending my broken bones while my new best friends were having all the fun!

Patricia Sands, my friend and co-leader, chronicled it all on her blog so let’s join the ladies of the tour for Day 11 Part 1…

Today was supposed to be a special day for my BFF and co-leader (aka Barefoot Blogger),  Deborah Bine, sharing her stomping grounds with us. Instead she was recuperating in the hospital and in our thoughts constantly!… “ Click here for more.

French Pottery and Pont du Gard

Memories Tour Day 10: Saint Rémy and Le Baux de Provence

Patricia Sands and the “sensational sixteen” ladies on our Memories Tour 2018 descended on St. Rémy and Les Baux de Provence on Day 10. Hold on for some amazing photos as the fun continues.

Click here

Memories Tour Le Baux

Memories Tour 2018: Camargue and Aigues-Mortes

Just because I didn’t make it to the last part of the Memories Tour 2018, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun and adventures. Join my co-tour leader and buddy, Patrica Sands, as she and the “sensational sixteen” ladies continue the tour and the story.

As you recall, I was on the Memories Tour in the South of France when I fell and broke my hip and shoulder. Every tour leaders’ worse nightmare. Click here for Part One

Patricia’s blog picks up where we left off. Click here.

Memories Tour

Our day in the Camargue got off to an exciting start. We were ready to explore the world of the fictional Jacques de Villeneuve, from Drawing Lessons, and eager to see the legendary horses, bulls, and flamingos of this unique region…

memories-tour-2018-camargue-and-aigues-mortes

Provencal lifestyle

Big Life Changes Ahead? Consider A Provençal Lifestyle

What does the Barefoot Blogger think about the Provençal lifestyle after moving to the south of France?

Perfectly Provence‘s Carolyne Kause-Abbott asked questions you’ll want answered if you’re considering a big change in your life after retirement. 

Choosing the Provencal Lifestyle to Embark on a Retirement Adventure

Deborah Bine spent her childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina dreaming of “faraway places” (her words). Her early travels included visiting her Aunt Rose in exhilarating Manhattan. “Aunt Rose owned New York — or so this sixteen-year-old ingénue from the Carolinas assumed.” On this voyage, Deborah learned some travel lessons that she continues to follow today:

#1 Take a guided tour of the new place you’re visiting (ideally the first day).
#2 Wear comfortable shoes
#3 Life is an adventure

Since those early days in New York City, Deborah’s thirst for travel has taken her to Asia, West Africa, Central America and well beyond. Newly retired from her corporate marketing job and recently divorced, Deborah followed a dream and moved from South Carolina to Uzès in France.

Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure

The Barefoot Blogger is Deborah’s blog, which she launched as the reservoir for her travel stories. The blog posts are records of her approach to life and adventure as a solo, female traveller – a dose of humour, a quest for discovery and mostly lots of fun.

We asked The Barefoot Blogger to answer some questions related to the lifestyle in Provence and her experiences as an expat living in the South of France.


What is Provençal Lifestyle?

How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?

To me the lifestyle in Provence is like life was in the 1940’s and 50’s, or as it was portrayed in movies and images. In the small towns and villages of Provence, shopkeepers know you by name. You can walk to most of the places you want to go. People are generally friendly and smiling. No one seems to be in a particular hurry, unless you’re driving on the roads. That’s an entirely different experience anywhere in France!

When you think of Provence what are the words that pop into your head?

History, flowers, wine, olives, and blue skies.

To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your Provence?

Yes, the clichés work for me, but, of course, Provence is so much more than cliché. Most important is the fact that Provence changes with the weather. Summers in Provence are busy, bustling with tourists and holiday vacationers who fill the cafes and markets. There’s a constant buzz of noise and activities.

During Autumn and Spring, the rhythm of life in Provence is calmer, cooler and less frantic. Everyone and everything slows down to a pleasant pace so you can enjoy the beauty of the villages and the countryside.

Provence Autumn Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

In Winter Provence is asleep. It’s a peaceful time of year that’s perfect for cocooning, for taking stock of your life and for planning your year ahead. Only a few of the cafes and shops are open during winter, and that’s OK. The atmosphere is warm there and oh, so French. It’s like a scene from an old French movie.

What does Mediterranean climate mean to you?

Mediterranean climate means “warm” to me. I’m from the southern part of the United States, so the weather in Provence is much like it is back in the Carolinas. It’s hot in the Summer and not too cold in the Winter. It rarely, if ever, snows. The most significant difference in the weather to me is the wind. Le Mistral is ferocious and seems to last for days if not for months.

What is your favourite season in Provence?

My favourite season in Provence is Autumn. There’s something unique about the colours of Autumn here. Perhaps it’s the way the shades of brown, beige and yellow meld into the stonework of the houses and buildings. When the leaves of grape vines are turning red and gold, it’s magical to drive through the countryside where vineyards stretch out as far as you can see along the roadway.

What is your favourite activity in Provence?

I love to go to Sète in the Summer, to eat all the seafood I can possibly hold, and sit under an umbrella at the beach — attended to by handsome and lovely young bar staffers who are serving icy, tall drinks, of course!

Sète Seashore Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

When you first return to Provence what aroma “says” I have arrived?

I know when I’m back in Provence when I smell the fresh, clean air. There’s no pollution where I live in France because there are no large industries, only a candy factory – Haribo. Highways are far away, and streets are mostly one-way with speed limits of 30 kph. So, no smelly gas fumes. Vineyards and olive groves surround the old town of Uzès.

When you leave Provence what is the thing you miss the most and wish you could take with you?

When I’ve gone back to the States to visit family in the past, I’ve tried to take some of my favourite foods from France with me – tapenades, truffle oil, sea salts and the like. For some reason, the things I love in France don’t transfer to my life outside France.

When you hear or see the term “Provence-style” what is your first thought?

The term “Provence-style” stirs thoughts of brightly colored things in my mind – bright yellows and reds, blue shutters on stone houses and rows of stately white and green plane trees.

Provence and the Cote d’Azur appear to evoke a decorative (home decor, restaurants, hotels) style – how might you describe this trend?

To me, Provence decorative style is ageless. The decorations and colour scheme of a simple farmhouse can easily adapt to the living spaces of a country estate or the veranda of a seaside resort.

Antibes Doors Windows

What about fashion style in Provence?

I never realised how much my fashion style has changed since moving to France until I posted photos of myself and friends say I look “so French.” To me, my style here is simply practical and suits the climate and my activities. Yes, I do wear lots of skirts and slippers instead of jeans and sneakers, but that may have more to do with my age than a fashion statement. Hats are a “must” nearly year-round. Read French Fashion: Bobo Style.

BFBlogger Bobo Fashion

The Provence that many imagine today is relatively “new” thanks to the likes of Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?

If I could label anything or anyplace in Provence as “authentic,” it would be Arles. The tiny town with its Roman arena and amphitheatre, the shops with brightly decorated linens and gift items, the outdoor cafes, the festivals, the food – it’s all so Provençal. To me, Arles seems the way it has always been and how Provence is meant to be.

Arles Roman Arena Explore Provence @PerfProvence

Food in Provence

Life in Provence seems to revolve to a degree around food. How would you describe the food in the region to someone who has not visited?

The foods of Provence are influenced by geography and by the cultures of its bordering countries. From one end of Provence to the other you see, experience and taste foods that originated in Spain or Italy. The diet is influenced by the Mediterranean, featuring fish, poultry, fresh fruits, vegetables, goat and sheep cheeses and lots of olives and olive oil.

Sète Seafood Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

What are your favourite things to eat in Provence?

I could eat fish every day. The easy access to fresh fish, along with local, seasonal produce, makes me love to dine and cook in Provence.

Sète Seafood Provencal Lifestyle Retirement Adventure Deborah Bine Barefoot Blogger

Is there a food or ingredient that you wish you could find outside of Provence?

I crave anchovy tapenade! There’s nothing like a dollop of “tapenade d’anchois” on a thin cracker and a “verre de vin rosé.”

Expat Living in Provence

How important do you feel it is to have a decent level of French comprehension and speaking skills in Provence?

Those who follow the Barefoot Blogger know that I have a love/hate relationship with learning the French language. I know how important it is to be able to communicate in the language of the place I live. However, I continuously resist the discipline that comes with learning the language. Fortunately, I’ve been here long enough now that a bit of the language is rubbing off on me. I can hold my own ordering food in a restaurant and, with the help of sign language, I can pretty much make myself understood when I need to.

What resources might you recommend to others to improve their language skills?

I discovered the audio tapes of Michel Thomas this year through a friend. Thomas’s approach to teaching and learning French is unique. It speaks to me. Now I’m hoping to get the nerve to enrol in a French immersion class.

What resources might you recommend to expats and those considering a move to Provence?

There are lots of blogs written by expats like myself who have gone through the experience of moving to France. Check them out. Don’t hesitate to write the author for suggestions and information. When you relocate to France (or anywhere), be open to your new home and environment. Don’t try to make it like the place you left. Embrace the new, enjoy the differences and get out and travel as much and as often as you can.

Behind French Garden Walls: A Bit of Silk Mill History

When driving down the backroads of France near Uzés, it’s a common sight to ride alongside tall stone walls. You know these beautifully laid stones must conceal something amazing. Perhaps behind French garden walls there’s a story to be told.

Behind French Garden Walls

Not too long ago I was privileged to be invited to visit inside the stone walls of a property I’d passed by often. I was given a tour through the magnificent seventeenth century home and the gardens, as well.

It was everything I’d imagined. And more.

Behind French garden walls

The home is owned by a charming Belgian woman whom I’ve been privileged to know over the last two years. She bought the property in 1992.

Behind French garden walls

Built in 1684, the house was part of a farm that later was devoted to the production of silk worms. A “Magnanerie” to the French.

Behind French Garden Walls

My friend was unsure of the dates the property was used for silk worm farming, but during a period of time after the house was built, the silk industry in France was heavily supported by the government. “There were 2000 mulberry trees planted on the property at one time,” she said.

Behind French Garden Walls

History shows that under Louis IV, grants, free water usage, interest-free mortgages and more were offered to encourage silk production.

Behind French garden walls

By 1815 the French were dominant suppliers of silk traded around the world. There were over 2300 communes in France that cultivated mulberry trees and milled silk, employing up to 350,000 people. More than half of them were in and around the Cevennes.

In 1809, the Prefect of the Gard counted 1,140,680 mulberry trees and 4,713,000 in 1831.

Silks from France experienced a blow in the mid-nineteenth century when an epidemic fatal to silkworms hit the region. Never fully recovered from the setback, the Franco-Prussian War, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the introduction of nylon, were the final death knell to the silk industry France had known.

Behind French garden walls

Behind French Garden Walls

A vineyard of 1200 apple trees replaced the chestnut trees behind the garden wall sometime during the twentieth century, my friend said. She removed most of them to install an array of gardens, filled largely with roses.

Behind French garden walls

Today the garden and house are open only to invited friends and visitors. I visited in the Fall then asked for photos taking of the gardens during the summer. So you can see how the seasons change so beautifully around the Magnanerie.

Behind French garden walls

The interior of the home is arranged and decorated just as artistically as the massive property.

Behind French garden walls

I hope you have enjoyed this visit behind one of the garden walls of France. For any who might be more than intrigued, the home and property are for sale.

Behind French garden walls

Perhaps it’s your turn to live the “dream.”

Behind French garden walls

tour south france

Tour South France for White Horses on the Beach

When I heard there were going to be white horses racing on the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, I couldn’t wait to get there. I sent a note to my photographer friend, Alan McBride, and suggested he join me with his fancy cameras. It was an event neither of us should miss!

tour south france

Abrivado Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer

 

Not knowing what we were getting into, Alan and I determined a meeting place near the seaside town so we could drive together for photos and a story. All we knew from the online promotion was that there was an Abrivado taking place somewhere near Saintes-Maries-De-la-Mer. Since it’s a small town we felt confident that we couldn’t miss hundreds of horses and riders.

Wrong. The town looked deserted.

“Let’s head out the beach road,” Alan suggested, hoping we hadn’t missed it all. (I might add here that neither Alan nor I speak or read French. It’s very possible we’d misunderstood the promo.)

There on the road to the beach we began to see a few people on horseback and others walking.  A few cars were parked towards the far end of the beach road. Apparently we were headed the right way. We followed the traffic of people, horses and vehicles which was increasing as we walked along. Boldly I stopped several “pilgrims” to ask: “Do you speak English?”  Then to query “Where does the event start?” The only answer I got in return was a hand signal “straight ahead.”  So there we went – straight ahead down the road that paralleled the beach.

About this time I was getting concerned about taking photos to show off the event. “If the horses and riders come from in front of us, and the sun is shining on the water like it is now, how can you take pictures straight into the sun?”  Alan seemed nonplussed. “OK,” I said to myself. “He’s the pro. He must have a plan.” We kept walking along with the others.

By the time we were a good mile or so down the road, the numbers of observers increased significantly. Apparently they had gotten the information to approach the event from another vantage point. Never mind. We were on the way … hopefully not too late. Along with the others, we crossed a gully of water and climbed a slight sand bar to get closer to the sea. Once on the beach we saw there were gatherings of kindred folk who had set up viewing spots. As much as I would have liked to join them for a tumbler of wine, we kept walking. Our intent was to get to a point where Alan could take the best shots.

“Are we there yet?” I asked, repeatedly. We kept walking.

Then … straight ahead … we saw and heard a “crack” of light and fire… and hundreds of horses, riders and people were lined up.  They headed our way!

To my surprise there were bulls in between the horses and riders. What was I thinking? An “abrivado” Of course there were bulls! 

As the through of horses, bulls and humans passed, it was exhilarating. “When do they run through water?” I shouted to Alan.

That’s when he made his move.  He’d observed there was another group of horses and riders and bulls at the “starting line.”  Another running of the bulls was ready to take off. In an instant, Alan disappeared. I looked back and watched him head for the beach road.  Up and over the sand bar. Through the water, then to the side of the road.  I ran to join him just before … behind me …the sight I was waiting for… horses in the water! The riders on horses were rushing the bulls through the gully. Splash! The herd followed en masse. They headed for a pool of water at the end of the road.

Oh that I had only known the rules of the game … the course of the Abrivados But … who cares!?? Could there be anything better than this?

I’m not certain how many “runs” were made that morning along the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Almost as quickly as it started, it was over. The movement of people, beasts and vehicles headed back the way we started — towards town.  Soon we were in a “traffic jam.” Rather than fight the crowd, we did what any story-teller and photographer would do. We watched and took advantage of the photo opportunity.

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Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this tour South France and the telling of the Abrivados at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Thanks so very much to Alan McBride for making our day so memorable with his amazing vision and his artful photography.

For more about the white horses and the Camargues:

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

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Autumn Week South of France

An Autumn Week South of France

How do you spend an autumn week in the south of France? Visiting beaux villages; going to brocante stores and outdoor markets; dining with friends and eating great food. That’s how!

Have I told you lately how much I love France? After spending a few stressful months in the States, I was really looking forward to returning to France. Most of all, I was yearning to be here because autumn is my favorite season of the year. There’s something about autumn that makes France look more beautiful to me. I’m sure it’s the colors. The browns and beige, golds and burnt orange. They trim every tree and grapevine. They blend with aged stones on buildings and ancient streets.  Crystal blue skies highlight the outlines of steeples and towers. It’s truly a glorious time.

Favorite things on an autumn week south of France

“Brocanting”

This past week I did some of my favorite things, including browsing through brocante stores and markets. A great find at an out-of-the-way store in Uzes was discovering a panetiere — a decorative “breadbox” introduced in the 18th century in the south of France to keep bread safe from children and pets. I sadly admit, I left it behind. Remember, I’m done with collecting “stuff”!

Just as interesting but less compelling were the old wheelchairs. Apparently they were not freewheeling. It took two people to operate one of these ancient chairs.  One pushed from behind while the person in the chair steered.

Wining and dining with friends while eating some of the best ever foods.

Exploring towns and villages

I’ve promised myself that I will try to visit as many of the designated Beaux Villages de France. There are hundreds of them, but if I start now ….

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Then there are the unrenowned villages next door that are just as charming …

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Favorite things to do on an autumn week south of France 

Discovering hidden Roman ruins

Just outside Uzes the remains of a Roman bridge still stands. The two thousand-year old structure spans the creek bed between two large fields. Wear from wagon wheels dragging heavy loads across the bridge are a reminder of early civilizations that lived and toiled on this very spot.

 

Checking out seasonal foods and merchandise at the Uzes Saturday Market — yes, that’s a must!

But the very best thing about autumn in France is being in my little tower apartment. Just me, the white pottery cat and a mouse.

 

More on autumn in the south of France:

The Cevennes: Saint Jean du Gard

7 Great Ideas for An Awesome Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

Halloween Train to the Cevennes

 

Why You Should Care About Healthcare This Election: Part 2

I fell while crossing the street in Aigues-Mortes, France on September 18. I broke my hip and shoulder on the right side. Since then, I’ve sampled how healthcare is delivered, French-style. (Why You Should Care About Healthcare This Election: Part 1)

As crazy as it might seem, several years ago in the US I experienced an almost identical injury to the one in France. Except it was on my left side. This post is about my US healthcare experience.

The accident eight years ago happened in my home in South Carolina. I had just separated from my husband of 40 years, so I was alone. As I had been warned not to do many times during my marriage, I was standing on top of the kitchen counter. I fell off.

“Why was I standing on the kitchen counter? ” you ask. My most popular answer is “pole dancing.” Believe as you will.

When I fell from the countertop onto the tile floor in the kitchen, I landed on my left side. Immediately I knew I was in trouble. My left leg was crooked at a 45 degree angle. My left arm was killing me. I was nauseous.

There was no one around except my labradoodle, Bentley, so I had to find my cellphone to call for help.

But where was the phone?

In my foggy state, I remembered I had last used the cellphone in the living room. I dragged myself on the floor to find it. Fortunately it was where I thought I’d left it. I called my sister-in-law who was in the same town.

The next thing I remember, a strange man was kneeling over me calling my name. I had passed out. The man was an EMT. With the aide of another EMT, he lifted me onto what felt like a board. My leg was still bent. I was in excruciating pain.

When we arrived at the hospital emergency room, my brother, sister-in-law and my ex-husband were there. They took care of the details of admitting me to the emergency room while I was wheeled into a “holding area.”

As I remember, it was close to 9pm when I entered the emergency room of the hospital. After X-rays and the sad discovery that I had broken both my hip and my arm, I was put into my private room.. It was after 4am. Apparently the hospital had a problem locating the doctor. Without his approval, they could not admit me.

Fortunately, I was loaded with meds, so I was in and out of consciousness. I remember vividly, however, when they put me in the hospital bed and forced my leg down straight with a pulley and weights. That hurt big time.

US Healthcare: Surgery and Post Op

My hip was operated on the second day I was in the hospital. Three pins were inserted through a very small incision to hold the break in the hip. No surgery was needed for the broken bone in my arm. Just a bandage.

Five days after I was admitted, I was discharged from the hospital.

US Healthcare: Rehab

Anytime I’ve been hospitalized for surgery in the US, I’ve been asked “is there anyone at home who can take care of you?” Don’t ask me why no one mentions a stop at a rehabilitation hospital.

In fact, I know of only one person who has gone from a hospital to an inpatient rehab facility. It was my daughter-in-law after spinal surgery. It’s been my experience that you find somebody to take care of you after you leave the hospital.

Miss Rosie’s Rehab

That “somebody” for me was Rosemary. We’re like sisters. We were in journalism school together at UNC-Chapel Hill; we were in each others’ wedding; and we lived together in Greenville, SC for our first jobs out of university. At the time of my accident Rosemary was single. She lived on a farm with horses, donkeys, 3 dogs and 20+ cats.

My us healthcare

Four-legged friends at Miss Rosey’s: Ester and her son, Firecracker

After my discharge from the hospital, no one talked about hiring an ambulance to take me home. Rosemary hauled me there in the backseat of her car. I’m not sure how we managed to fit my 5’9″ broken body in the car, but we did it. Family members met us at my condo and put me into my bed. I could bear no weight on my left leg nor use my arm. I was fragile and I was in a great deal of pain. Mind you, I had broken the femoral arm of my hip into two pieces only five days earlier.

Patient Care

Rosemary was with me through one of the most horrifically painful times in my life. We stayed most of the time at her farm in North Carolina. Neither of us knew anything about tending a patient after surgery.

My US Healthcare

View at Miss Rosey’s Rehab

Through trial and error we discovered “tricks” to help us deal with the adversities of my lame condition and pain. For example, “how to move a lame patient in the bed.”

I’d experienced being pulled on a sheet from the stretcher to the x-Ray table at the hospital. At the time I remember asking the two female X-ray technicians, “how do you two manage to move a large man?

The same way,” they said.

So Rosemary kept a doubled sheet under me at all times on the bed. When I needed to get out of bed, she’d pull the two corners of the doubled sheet towards the side of the bed. Laying flat, my body would slide with the movement of the sheet to the edge of the mattress. Then, ever so slowly and gently, I’d sit up.

We used this routine day and night. Especially when I needed the toilet. It never dawned on us to use a bedpan.

For over six weeks I moved from place to place at Miss Rosie’s with a walker. On one foot, with a broken arm. I was pretty much a prisoner in her guest room and kitchen. The floor plan of the house was multi-level.

One day we had the bright idea to use a kitchen stool to help me get to her deck outside. I sat on the stool in the kitchen. Then I swiveled my body around to face the kitchen door and the deck that was one step down. Rosemary took my walker onto the deck, and Voila! I stepped off the stool on my one good leg, grabbed the walker and I was outside in the fresh air.

US Healthcare: Physical Therapy

When I felt ok to be on my own, I left “Miss Rosey’s Rehab” and returned to South Carolina. I had to go back to work. Fortunately I telecommuted from home with IBM, so there was no “going to the office.”

I began a twice weekly regimen of physical therapy. My health insurance with IBM allowed for 8 weeks. After 6 weeks I had to stop. The pins in my hip were causing a problem. I waited until they were removed a month later to resume my treatment. Fortunately, IBM insurance paid for another 6 weeks of physical therapy.

The good news is that the physical therapy experience was excellent. I regained mobility and strength nearly one hundred percent.

US Healthcare: Costs

I wish I could recall the hospital and surgery cost but it was eight years ago. I don’t remember how much I was paying for health insurance, either. I do know, however, that I wasn’t on Medicare; I was covered by an employee policy provided by IBM; and I paid monthly for a supplemental insurance policy. Bottom line, I was well-covered.

That means nothing now. With the cost of healthcare in the US today, whatever it cost in 2010 wouldn’t be relevant today.

Which is why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing this post because I think it’s important to let others know about healthcare outside of the US. As difficult as it is to believe, the US no longer has the best healthcare. (See below.)

Think of your own experience in the US with hip surgery, back surgery, or any other condition where you required extended care. Compare it to what you read about my healthcare in France.

FACT

Over 28 Million Americans have no healthcare insurance.

Just the other day, I called a dear friend in the US who had expressed concern that I was staying in France after my accident. The first thing she told me when I called was that her son had been in an automobile accident. He was in the hospital with a crushed ankle, a broken leg and a broken wrist. After telling me about the car crash, we celebrated the fact that he had survived.

Then she revealed a horrible truth. Her son had no medical insurance. His policy had lapsed. A sad mistake too many of us make when have busy lives.

As a result, my friend’s son was leaving the hospital after five days and two surgeries. He was going home to avoid the continuing hospital costs. He was barely conscious because of the massive doses of medication he needed for pain. He had a metal rod visibly running through his foot.

A third surgery is scheduled in two weeks. He’ll go to the hospital, then back home after surgery. There’s not a trained medical person to stay with him during those days he’ll require intensive care and pain management. The entire family will need to chip in with time off work as they can.

US Healthcare: 3 Reasons We Deserve Better

#1 Worst Healthcare in the Developed World

The state of healthcare in the US is alarming. Once a leader, US Healthcare is Ranked the Worst in the Developed World.My us healthcare

#2 Cost is Prohibitive

The cost of healthcare is prohibitive for many, especially those without insurance or with poor coverage,

My us healthcare

#3 Healthcare Costs are Bankrupting America

Healthcare is the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US today.

My us healthcareI read a statement recently that I can’t get out of my head. A young girl who was returning home to France after two years in the US as an au pair was asked:

“Would you like to stay in the US?”

To the surprise of the interviewer, she replied “No,” and continued, “the US doesn’t take care of its people.”

My us health care

Vote!

French Healthcare for Expats?

Renestance, an American-staffed relocation company in Montpelier, has produced an excellent series of ebooks on Healthcare in France. Check out their website for all types of guidance for expats.

Why You Should Care About Healthcare This Election: Part 1

The Barefoot Blogger is going to step out of her carefree expat role to talk about something that is critically important to me at this moment: Healthcare.

As I type with one finger of my left hand, I am lying in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.

I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system now since September 18, the date I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.

A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.

I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.

Telling the story now, prior to the upcoming election in the US, seems the perfect time.

French Healthcare: Hospital Admission

My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in the south of France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.

After my fall I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent  reputations.

The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, for any type of formal identification, or for proof of medical insurance.

The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.

A longtime friend who was on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.

French Healthcare: Surgery

The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.

Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient who was awaiting her second knee operation. Not because of my room nor roommate, but I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy pain killers were given to me prior to surgery. I was told morphine was not allowed because of its adverse affects on anesthetics administered during surgery.

I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew when I woke up I would be in la la land.

French Healthcare: Post Surgery

I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from on level of surgery aftercare to another.

Fortunately I was cognizant that I was in France, that I was alive, and that I wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I was agreeing to.

For ten days I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:

Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.

Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “ I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”

The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”

My French healthcare

My hospital room with Chantal

My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the bad food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “ colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended 24/7.

My French healthcare

A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital

French Healthcare: Rehab

Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boo-hooed.

The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. There I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.

My French healthcare

(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion

French Healthcare: Cost

It’s day 40 since I have been hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes, and a bill for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay for anything.

The costs for the items above were 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98) respectively. I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.

For time spent in the rehab hospital, I will receive a bill when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it will cost 197 euros per day ($224). Included in the cost is physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours each day, Monday through Friday.

News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.

There is no charge for emergency services in France.

Let that sink in.

Tomorrow I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and to my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”

The plan is for me to stay in Uzès until November 6 when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.

When the doctor releases me, I’ll be able to return to independent living and out-patient rehab.

Next: US Healthcare “A comparison”

Stay tuned for Part 2 …..

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French Healthcare for Expats?

Renestance

A Day at a French Health Spa

Of all the places the Barefoot Blogger has wandered, a trip to a French health spa for a cure has to be the most relaxing… and French! I’m pretty sure I was the only person at the resort who was from outside France. I was certainly the only one not speaking French.

The afternoon of the second day of the “French spa tour and cure” Nevenka and I arrived at the Sourcéo resort in Saint-Paul-Les-Dax just in time to meet with the site physician. Before leaving on the spa excursion, I was required to bring a letter from my own doctor stating I had no serious condition that would kill me while taking a cure. He had to note a reason for a cure, as well. Since I’m in good health, fortunately, we choose “phlebology.” Improving my circulation certainly couldn’t hurt.

The doctor at the resort seemed satisfied with my credentials and I received his stamp of approval to participate in the “cure”. After unpacking the car and sorting out our belongings at our hotel apartment, we reported to the appointment center to receive our daily schedules.

French Health Spa

Sourcéo Thermal Spa, Saint Paul les Dax

French Thermal Spa Cure

My thermal spa assignment was to spend six days with four treatments each day. Each treatment was to last ten to twenty minutes. A body massage was added to the regimen each of the last two days. Everyday I was given a fresh, clean terrycloth robe which I wore with flipflops through the treatment area and to the swimming pools.

Here’s how I spent each day, but first, a little primer. (Click on photos for captions.)

Treatment #1: Bain carbo-gazeux- “Bath in cold Perrier”

I’m not kidding. Every morning I was immersed in a bath filled with cold, bubbly mineral water. Talk about getting your circulation going. If it hadn’t been for the cheerful assistant who helped me in and out of the tub, it would have been murder.

Duration: 10 minutes

Treatment #2″ Mobilisation en Piscine – “Water Aerobics”

This was aerobics of the simplest kind. Merely moving and stretching in a warm pool. It was a welcomed next step after freezing in bubbly mineral water. 

Duration: 20 minutes

Treatment #3: Hydro Massage – “Bath in bubbly hot water (36 degrees C, 98 degrees F)

Yes, it was hot, and bubbling, and absolutely divine. I could have stayed in the tub for days. But no … 10 minutes only.

Duration: 10 minutes

Treatment #4: La Pelotherapie – Boue = “Mud Bath”

This was the crazy good part of the cure. It was not really a mud bath, more of a “wallow.” First I had to disrobe, then enter a private cabin where the attendant plopped 3 huge mounds of gooey mud on a table that was covered with plastic wrap. I sat on the table just below the last plop of mud. The attendant spread a healthy glob of mud on my upper back, then I reclined onto the aforementioned piles of mud. “Squish.” The attendant, wearing an apron, mud boots and long rubber gloves then stacked mud on my shoulders, my knees, my feet and on my thighs. To keep the mud on my thighs in place, the attendant stuck my hands firmly into the mud on each thigh and slapped more mud on each hand. Next she applied dripping wet, cold cloths on my forehead, chest and on the shins of my legs. She wrapped me in the plastic I was laying on and I was left alone to sweat. In hot mud– 46 degrees C or 117 degrees F. Half way through the treatment, the attendant came into see if I was alive and to wet the cloth on my head with more cold water. When the time was up, the attendant came back into the room and removed much of the mud from my body. I was left to wash off the rest under the warm shower in the far corner of the room. She hosed me off from the back then disappeared into a back room. She quickly returned holding a warm sheet which she wrapped around me. Slipping back into my terrycloth robe, I was done. Literally.

Duration: 15 minutes

Massage personnalisé – Personalized body massage

French Health SpaA luxurious massage was added to my regimen the last three days of the “cure.” It couldn’t have been more welcomed after a mud bath. I’ve never been a big fan of massages, but this masseuse made a believer out of me. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I was already so relaxed. Whatever the reason, I needed to be reminded more than once that my time was up.

Duration: 10 minutes

French Thermal Spa Activities

There were plenty of activities we could have joined at the spa such as Pilates, sophrology, hypnotism, dietetic consultations and all types of water therapies. If we hadn’t planned to make side trips to the exotic places nearby we would have had plenty to do.

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