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Our life in France – the bus

December 13, 2009
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Inspired by the graphic travel memoir French Milk and encouraged by a few fellow bloggers, I’ve decided to write a few posts about our life in France.

When we moved to France in 1992, we originally live in Cébazat, a suburb of Clermont-Ferrand.   We only had one car – Carl would drive it to Clermont for class in the morning, come home for lunch, and then drive to Riom to work in the afternoon.  For the most part, Vance and I would walk wherever we needed to go – the supermarket, the bank, the park, the Post Office, the bakery, etc.  Every once in a while I would drive Carl to work in the afternoon and keep the car, but that didn’t give me much time to do more than major grocery shopping, and I wanted to visit Place de Jaude, the downtown area of Clermont.

When Vance and I were out, we would pass a bus stop (it’s in the left foreground in the picture) right around the corner from our apartment.  I asked the ex-pats that we’d met about riding the bus, but no one could give me any information.  I stopped and read the flyers on the bus stop one day and saw that this bus did go to Place de Jaude and you could purchase a ticket from the driver, purchase a book of tickets at the bus depot or purchase a monthly pass.  I decided we would ride the bus one day and figured the worst that would happen would be that we’d miss Place de Jaude and end up making a loop and coming back home.

Vance and I set out one morning, bought our tickets from the driver and took a seat on the bus.  I was so intent on getting off at the right stop, that I looked out the window the whole time and didn’t observe our fellow passengers.  (When you live in a country and you’re not fluent in its language, you become a very good observer.)  I was very pleased with myself when we made it to Place de Jaude without incident and I found out where we had to go to catch the bus for the return trip.

I felt great after the success of that first trip (you have to remember that my French was not nearly as good as Carl’s and I’d never used public transportation before).  The bus in France was basically on the honor system – the driver never checked your ticket or your monthly pass.  If you were using a ticket, though, you had to validate it in a machine that’s toward the front of the bus.  I didn’t realize this until my second or third trip on the bus, when I watched other people validating their tickets – I had been throwing perfectly good tickets away after we rode.

From time to time, the “bus police” as I called them (I never did learn what they were really called) would board a bus and check everyone’s ticket or pass.  If you were riding illegally, you were kicked off of the bus and fined.  It happened more often than you’d think.

None of the other ex-pats that we knew used public transportation, but we grew to love the great system they had in France and really missed it when we returned to the US.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2009 6:29 am

    How long did you live in France, Kathy? I’d love to travel there someday. I’m not sure how far my long-ago high school French would take me!

  2. December 13, 2009 6:45 am

    I really enjoyed this, Kathy!

  3. December 13, 2009 6:50 am

    Oooooh… I didn’t know you lived in France before. That’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I can’t speak a word of French beyond “bonjour” and “merci”…

  4. December 13, 2009 7:48 am

    I hope this becomes a new feature — I loved it! I laughed when I saw this post because I am reviewing MY LIFE IN FRANCE sometime later today!

  5. December 13, 2009 8:11 am

    Oh … what a fun post idea! I love it! I love how doing the “smallest” things are an accomplishment when you are in a foreign country! Good for you for mastering the bus system!

  6. December 13, 2009 8:44 am

    That had to have been a little intimidating! I am afraid to ride the bus systems in Chicago, and they speak my language! Still, what a wonderful experience for all of you. I hope you write more about your life in France!

  7. December 13, 2009 8:48 am

    Kathy…this was a very interesting post. I had no idea that you lived in France!

    I went to France in the early 1970 on a high school trip (Paris and briefly Switzerland). I found the people in Paris so unfriendly and they would not do out of their way to try to understand what you were saying. I enjoyed the sites, but always said France was one place I would never want to go back to. Switzerland, on the other hand, was great–loved it.

  8. December 13, 2009 8:52 am

    This is such a fun post. It is kind of scary being somewhere that you are not fluent in the language. Public transportation in Europe is wonderful though. Tell us more about grocery shopping and how the markets compared to supermarkets here. That would be fun to read.

  9. December 13, 2009 9:16 am

    You are so lucky to have lived in France for awhile! Thanks for sharing the fun memories!

  10. December 13, 2009 11:01 am

    Lovely post – and I look forward to reading many more of your adventures!

  11. stacybuckeye permalink
    December 13, 2009 11:21 am

    I wish we hade better public transportation in the States outside of the big cities. I’m looking forward to reading more since I will be planning our France trip soon 🙂

  12. December 13, 2009 11:22 am

    I loved this little glimpse into your life in France – thank you!

  13. December 13, 2009 12:15 pm

    Fun post! I’ve never been to France, but I did go to England once and learned to use public transportation — mostly the Tube (subway system). I’m not great with busses though… I always get paranoid I’ll miss them! I hope you have more posts about living in France.

  14. December 13, 2009 12:25 pm

    France posts. With pictures. Yay!!!

    I love Europe’s mass transit, especially the metro systems…I always miss it when I come home.

  15. December 13, 2009 12:34 pm

    What a great post. I love your France story. Keep ’em coming. I’d love to go some day.

  16. December 13, 2009 12:49 pm

    I am so glad you decided to write about your time in France, Kathy.

    My mom, brother and I often rode the bus when I was growing up because that was the only way to get around other than walking. Living in California, things are a bit more spread out than in other cities and so if we wanted to visit Grandma across town, that was the only way we could manage it. I both loved and hated traveling by bus as a child. I haven’t done much of it as an adult, now that I have a car of my own. I sometimes wish there was a bus line that went from my house to my office. I’d probably get a lot of reading done that way. LOL

  17. December 13, 2009 1:10 pm

    Kathy, this was such a wonderful post! I’m glad you were convinced to begin a series about your life in France. I’m looking forward to them.

    If it makes you feel better, I bought twice the amount needed to get to the Smithsonian on the Metro in September because I felt hurried and apparently couldn’t read well in my own native language as a result.

  18. December 13, 2009 1:27 pm

    Great post Kathy! I’m so glad you decided to do this. I’d love to visit France. I look forward to more of these posts.

  19. December 13, 2009 1:48 pm

    This was so much fun to read. It’s amazing how the simplest of things, like getting around town, can be so difficult when you are in a completely new place. I’m looking forward to hearing more about you time in France. As someone else said, tell us about the ordinary – the grocery store, did your son go to school, what were the neighbors like, and so forth.

  20. December 13, 2009 4:00 pm

    I miss living in Europe so much. Isn’t it funny how we learned to get ourselves around? I lived in France for several summers, but I lived in Germany for two years. The scariest moment was there, as a new bride, when I had to drive myself to Frankfurt to get my teaching certificate verified. Driving on the autobahn was scary in our 1969 Beetle. Painted blue with white clouds as it was when we bought it for $350.00. Those were the days…

    I loved hearing about yours.

  21. December 13, 2009 4:01 pm

    They have the bus police in Russia too! And the ticket was so flimsy, I was always paranoid about losing it. 🙂

  22. December 13, 2009 6:06 pm

    When I was first married, we had two very unreliable cars but a bus line only 1/2 block from home. My husband and I both rode the bus into town every day and I loved having that time to read. How great that you were able to avoid driving and parking in a city and that it was so easy to do!

  23. December 13, 2009 6:20 pm

    How exciting?! To live abroad is a dream of mine, heck I would be happy traveling abroad.

    The bus system in San Fran was very good. Clean, cheap, and friendly bus drivers, at least the ones I met.

  24. December 13, 2009 7:00 pm

    Wow…. living in France… HOW COOL!

  25. December 13, 2009 7:21 pm

    What a neat post! Your story reminded me of my first time on a city bus. When I went to college I came straight from the country (not having lived in a town except for about 3 months of my life, and then it was a small town without buses). The bus system was very foreign to me, and city life in general was a huge culture shock. The first time I got on a bus I didn’t even check where it was going, just climbed on figuring that all of the buses must eventually go to the mall (yeah, I was clueless). I ended up riding the bus through it’s whole loop – out to the sticks and back to the college. I managed to figure out how the bus system worked while on the ride, and my next trip was more successful. 🙂

  26. December 13, 2009 8:30 pm

    I loved going back in time with you and visiting France!! You must share more with us because I find it so very interesting!!

  27. December 13, 2009 9:06 pm

    I love this post, Kathy – I’m looking forward to more about your life in France. It sounds like such fun.

    Here in Ontario we have a similar honor system for the GO commuter train – they occasionally have GO officials going through the trains, checking to make sure everyone has validated their tickets at the machines or has a monthly pass.

  28. December 13, 2009 10:09 pm

    What an excellent post! I’d love to visit France someday.

  29. Karina Worlton permalink
    December 14, 2009 10:24 am

    I know where those places are! I lived in Cournon, not far from Clermont-Ferrand, for a couple months. Beautiful area!! Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

  30. December 14, 2009 10:25 am

    Beautiful post Kath. I’d love to see what France is someday.

  31. December 14, 2009 12:29 pm

    Wow, your first experience with public transit was in France! When you do it, you go all out! glad to see it turned out ok. Will you be posting photos of Place de Jaude? I want to live vicariously!

  32. December 14, 2009 2:20 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I honestly don’t know if I would have ever been brave enough to give the bus a try.

  33. December 14, 2009 4:33 pm

    What a very cool memory! It seems like you really took the opportunity to try and experience everything while you were there, and didn’t let the lack of transportation stop you! Way to go! It sounds like you had some awesome experiences there.

  34. December 14, 2009 5:30 pm

    It sounds wonderful. When husband and I travel in other countries we always use public transportation and wish that we had a good system in our home town.

  35. December 14, 2009 5:39 pm

    It sounds like living in France was a lovely adventure and one you will be remebering for years to come. I am hoping to live abroad at least once in my life…we’ll see!

  36. December 15, 2009 3:45 am

    wow, I didn’t know you lived in France. Singapore has a similar system of swiping and out when you board the bus, except that it’s not honor system. The driver makes sure that everyone has swiped in. But it’s still very convenient 🙂

  37. December 15, 2009 7:34 pm

    Oh I loved this post – thanks for sharing!! It looks so wonderful….

  38. December 16, 2009 7:28 am

    Lovely story Kathy. Living in a city with fabulous public transportation (which I never use sadly) is a wonderful advantage. It’s so much more interesting and healthy to be able to observe and enjoy the ride.

    Can’t wait to read more about your time in France.

  39. December 17, 2009 9:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It must be fascinating to live in another country. I’ve never been overseas. Looking forward to more of your stories!

  40. December 18, 2009 8:42 am

    I love this idea! I can’t wait to hear more about your life in France. There are no bus police in the UK, since you buy your ticket or show your pass to the driver when you get on, and now I’m glad! I do love being able to get almost anywhere in the near vicinity pretty easily on a bus, train, or the metro. And they say that the UK is the worst in Europe, so France’s public transportation must be amazing.

  41. December 19, 2009 12:06 am

    I made the same mistake in Germany once: we took an “accordion” bus and boarded it via the back door (which was perfectly legal), but there was no way to get to the front to validate our tickets (too many people). We didn’t realize they could be validated using a machine further back in the bus. (However, we didn’t throw out our tickets; we used them again!)

    I lived in France for a year when I was a kid, just outside Paris. My dad was taking a sabbatical year there.

    How long were you in France?

  42. December 20, 2009 7:33 pm

    I love these kind of stories, Kathy! I hope you post more.

  43. December 21, 2009 10:59 am

    Great post! I hope we hear more of your life in France. I used public transportation all the time in the UK. But even without the language barrier, I’d have trouble figuring out the finer details. Older people in Guernsey thought I had to be a native, because they never heard of visitors using the buses.

  44. December 22, 2009 9:55 am

    What a great memory! I love the public transportation in Europe as well, so much more convenient than here! (Though DC’s isn’t bad either). I hope you plan to do more of these!

  45. December 23, 2009 5:33 am

    I am really enjoying reading these “asides”
    about your life in France, please do more of these 🙂

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