Cultural, Europe, France
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La Vie Française [Part 1]: Life In A Caravan Park

As part of my Year Abroad programme at uni (Modern Foreign Language studies), I spent half a year living in France! Wanting to gain an insight into the travel industry, I managed to secure a placement with the French travel company Siblu. I spent 2 months working on the reception desk of one of their campsites in La Palmyre, a small isolated town in South Western France…before moving to the amazing city of Bordeaux for the next 4 months to work in the marketing department of their Head Office.

Here are my adventures…


Ma Première Semaine

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So I’ve now been in France for a week – can’t believe it’s only been that long, it feels like I’ve been here for ages! Had a few days travelling around the area with the family (to La Rochelle, Royan, La Palmyre and all the other little towns nearby) and then arrived at the campsite Thursday thinking I was starting work on Friday. But when I introduced myself at reception they said I wasn’t starting till the Monday which was a bit annoying but I’m now really glad I had a few days to get myself settled!

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My tiny caravan room

When I first got to my caravan and looked around inside I nearly cried because it is SO small…and the French girl I’m sharing with got there before me so she got the double room. My room’s about a metre wide and my bed is about half the size of a single bed! But once I’d unpacked it really didn’t look so bad! Amandine, the French girl I’m sharing with seems really nice and chatty – she’s a kids entertainer so she’s really confident and it’ll be such good practice for my French talking to her!

That night, the reception lot invited me to go out with them for pizza and drinks which was good timing and I thought it’d be a good way to meet everyone before I start work! Although I didn’t say more than about 3 words that night, everyone was really nice and friendly and there are a few English people who work on reception so hopefully I’ll be fine!

The campsite is absolutely massive. I decided to go for an explore the other morning on my own and nearly got lost…10 minutes later I was standing in the middle of a sea of caravans with no idea how to get back to mine haha…So I’ve decided I’m taking a map with me next time! On the Saturday night I decided to go to the bar on my own for a few drinks, and on the Sunday I ventured to the beach for the day! After going down the wrong path and ending up on a main road, I eventually found it and it was completely empty! It was so great to have the beach to myself, until slightly later when a group of French people came and decided it’d be funny to come and put his towel down right next to mine when the whole beach was empty! I managed to get a bit of French practise in and then he left after a few minutes!

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An entire beach to myself on my day off

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Sandy path to paradise

On Monday, I was well and truly ready to start work! I mainly just did little jobs like making the welcome packs which I quite enjoyed it and everyone was really nice! Then one of the girls, Virginie, invited me to her house for the evening, which ended up being really lovely. We sat outside, chatting and drinking wine until the early hours. I could understand everything they said but didn’t really say much as by the time I’ve worked out what to say it’s too late…hopefully that’ll get better with time!

Work that day was hard – I had to do the welcome visits on my own, which means visiting the caravans of the people who arrived the day before and ask them how it’s going and if they need anything etc. I felt really useless on reception as well and found it hard to understand when people start talking really fast at me in French, and even worse on the phone! But it’s only my second day so I’m sure it’ll get better!

The past couple of days at work have been pretty good, except this one difficult woman who – from what I’ve heard – everyone has a problem with, not just me. So no-one has properly shown me how to do everything yet, I am sort of learning as I go along, and it’s mostly so busy that people don’t have time to show me anything properly. And then they’re surprised when I don’t know how to do something…


Mes Jours De Repos

The rest of the week went by in pretty much the same way – preparing lots of welcome packs, greeting people and showing them to their caravans on my bike, and answering the phone.

On my days off, which tend to be towards the end of the week, it really does depend on the weather. A lot of my time at the moment I’m spending reading in my caravan, going on short walks to the beach and the odd drink in the campsite bar.

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Could be worse walks to town!

On Friday I decided I had to actually get out the campsite and do something! So I ventured into the small town of La Palmyre. After a hot walk in the full sun, I eventually found the sea and a pretty little marina, where I sat on a bench reading and people watching, before wandering into the town. It really is the smallest town ever – I kept going round in circles so many times that the people sitting in the cafes must’ve noticed! Eventually I found a really cute little café typical of France to sit at and have a coffee. I must’ve stayed there quite a while – it was so nice to get out of the campsite and have a fresh change of scenery for the afternoon.

The other day I also got the chance to visit the gorgeous nearby beachside town of St Palais sur Mer where we wandered around the few little shops, picked up an ice cream and sat on the beach. It was a bit of a cloudy day though so no sunbathing!


Q u e l q u e s  J o u r s  d e  P l u s  a u  T r a v a i l

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My office

So it was the staff BBQ last night which was good…and got me out my caravan for the night! At work, the days varied a lot! The following day at work was probably the best so far – I was working with a nice group of people and for some reason it was really quiet (so quiet that it was the first day yet that I didn’t have to go out on my bike at all) so we just chilled and drank coffee! That night, a few of us were going to the manager Claire’s, who was lovely, for drinks. We ended up finishing work slightly early, then spent the evening outside on her terrace drinking cocktails and eating the pizzas and nibbles she’d prepared! Really great evening and after going to bed at 3am, I was glad that it was my day off the following day.

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A few days later, however, was the busiest in a long time! It was a Saturday, so we had about 50 arrivals. As soon as I returned to reception on my bike, I’d have to go straight back out again… Then Claire asked me if I could do some cleaning in the caravans as there weren’t enough cleaners that day, which I was quite keen to do just for a change. They were all nice enough but didn’t talk to me at all or teach me how to do anything, but it was good to just listen to the French and after a while I got used to it and it was pretty straightforward!

I definitely do feel like I’m getting the hang of everything on reception and I now actually know how to do things myself instead of asking other people absolutely everything. Also I am understanding people a lot more and them me!

The next week or two passed by in much the same way! When it was a hot, sunny day I’d make the most of it and spend it at the pool – literally not even leaving my sunbed! When the weather wasn’t great I used the time to get my washing done in the laundrette, clean the caravan, do the food shopping, and a lot of reading. Sometimes when I fancied a change of scenery, I’d head down to the secluded beach at the end of the campsite, found a cute place to sit on my towel and read.


Jour à La Rochelle

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The pretty marina in La Rochelle

On another of my days off, we decided to take a roadtrip to the gorgeous harbour town La Rochelle just over an hour away (which I’d been to briefly with my family when we arrived). We spent most of the day just walking around the town with its cute café culture and old stone buildings, its pretty turquoise harbour and gorgeous sea views.

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Sampling some of the local crêpes

After a lunchtime pizza in one of the restaurants lining the main street, we found a little beach to sit and watch the views. The next morning after our night in our little hotel just right off the main road, we picked up some pastries and fresh orange juice and found a spot by the harbour in the sun. Was a really great day and escape from the usual environment of the campsite and I didn’t want to leave!

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Back at the campsite, straight after work that night there was a staff barbecue, with a “champagne reception” on the patio which was really cute…No-one had eaten anything yet though so everyone was pretty drunk! We then headed to the barbecue for some much needed food…until I found out it was seafood paella. And I hate seafood. But I tried it and I was actually pleasantly surprised! So I ate mussels and prawns for the very first time and actually enjoyed it. There was wine, punch, everything…it was a great night!


Septembre

It’s now nearly September, which is low season, so there are less and less people staying here. Work has become quite boring as there’s literally nothing to do. Today we had about two customers the whole day. I literally spent the afternoon putting pages into the brochures for the mobile homes. Also, a lot of the reception staff are starting to leave. In a few days there’s just going to be 5 of us left. And The only thing I’m worried about is that when the campsite closes in mid-September, the supermarket and the laundry and everything will close too…which is fine for everyone else as they have a home to go to…but I live here!! Also the evenings are starting to get a bit darker and lonely – the atmosphere of a dead town!

Got an email the other day saying that my Eramus cheque has been sent! This is great news – even though I feel like I haven’t spent much at all, I don’t think I’ve got much left. Firstly because the food in the supermarket here is so ridiculously expensive as it’s the only one on site, and obviously because I don’t have a car I have to buy it all here! Secondly, the laundry is €10 each wash (and I only realised the other day that staff can actually get tokens which are cheaper but too late now)! Lastly, it’s because I hardly get paid anything here and I’ve actually been out for quite a few meals and lots of drinks. So basically, I’m excited for the cheque to come through – thanks Erasmus!

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As there’s hardly anyone left on site (not even staff), we now close the reception for lunch from 12-2 and all have the same lunch break. Usually Lauren & Claire come back to mine and we eat and chat. I’ve been spending a lot more time with Lauren and at her house. The other day, her auntie and uncle from England were visiting so they made a massive roast dinner with lamb and veg which was absolutely amazing, after my mainly cold meals the last couple of months! Had to sleep on the sofa as they had a full house but they made it really nice and it was great! These days, we mostly spend the evenings going out into Royan for a drink or an ice cream, or I stay at her house for the night, or she just comes back to my caravan after work for dinner. It’s nice to have some more company – and to speak a bit of English too!


Mes dernière deux semaines à La Palmyre!

I’m really enjoying myself at the moment and going to have really great memories of these last couple of weeks in La Palmyre. My highlights include the evening Lauren, her boyfriend and I spent eating sushi in town, the night we got drunk off wine on the terrace of one of Lauren’s friends flats, and meal Lauren & Claire and I (& Nikki the manager who joined us a bit later) went out for to celebrate the end of the season and the closing of reception!

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Another afternoon, we had lunch at Lauren’s boyfriend’s place, before going to Royan for a bit of a shopping spree (which turned out to be more of a coffee crawl)! We honestly stopped for coffee between every shop! The café culture is typically French and I love it – sitting in cafés for hours on end smoking and drinking espresso. So much so that I feel I’ve definitely become a passive smoker.

So the campsite closed on Saturday! We were open at reception till 12 with was just Lauren and I working then we had the joys of closing for the year! The next few days at ‘work’ were the easiest I’d had yet – we wore our own clothes and just spent the days taking everything down off the walls, and a lot of general tidying and sorting out. I quite enjoyed it as I’m an organisation freak.

On Wednesday Claire was off so I had to work with the Sales team all day which I wasn’t looking forward to but which was actually a really nice change. We spent most of the day driving around the site in a buggy and check the measurements of certain caravans, And then the next day was my last day at work! It was so chilled – we did a bit of work in the morning and then in the afternoon me and Claire had to go and check some pitches on our bikes and we turned it into a bit of a bike ride round the campsite as it was such a nice sunny afternoon! We went past the little outdoor gym and had a go on all the machines and then went to look round all the model mobile homes deciding which ones we’d choose if we were going to buy one! When we got back I really wanted the phone to ring for a change – so that I could answer it for the very last time – but it didn’t! That night I went out for a meal with Lauren, Claire and her family, Nikki and some of her friends. The weirdest thing was that that night we went to the same restaurant that we went to on my first ever night here…so I started and ended my La Palmyre experience in the same place! It was a really nice night and a great way to end the season here.

And one afternoon earlier this week, I had some good news. I wasn’t sure what was happening about getting to Bordeaux, but all I knew was I was really keen and wanted to go that weekend but had been let down by someone who was supposed to be taking me but who wasn’t driving that way anymore. However, luckily Gianni from the Sales team lives in Bordeaux and is going home at some point this weekend so he kindly said he could take me – I’ve never been happier! So it’s time to leave the campsite and head to the big city! Even though I’m going to miss Lauren and everyone, I’m so ready to leave here and I can’t wait.

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