Volunteer In France

Volunteer in France

         The ‘French’ experience – c’est normal!

It’s a month since I left La Giraudiere but, as they say in the classics, the memory lingers on and will for many more months because La Giraudiere is a unique and special place.

Its mantra, to give volunteers an opportunity to experience French culture and a way of life, may not gel immediately with the first exposure to the English voice of Paul Rice but, as the days go by, the French environment and the people of the little village of Brossac and Chalais become a part of your psyche.  You develop the confidence to bring out your schooldays French and return the smile of the boulangerie with a ‘merci, Madame and when the comme ca va follows you suddenly remember - bien merci, et vous!   It happens subtley, when you least expect it and suddenly you find you’re searching for added words, thinking in French.
Paul is well known in the village, if not the, region and there are often visitors,  especially  the local youngbloods if there are beautiful young females volunteering and they are never short of invitations to the beach or for a ride on their motorbikes. For those older, who may not turn so many heads, Paul becomes the Pied Piper and is happy to escort volunteers to the weekly market, the Petanque game, dinner at the local restaurant or anywhere he happens to go.  Nothing is compulsory and one’s four days off are to do with as you wish but following the Pied Piper always brings surprises.

One outing, however, stands out in my ‘mature-age’ mind, as a typical example of the kind of hospitality and generosity that the French would refer to as ‘c’est normal’ and it happened on my last night at La Giraudiere.

Before La Giraudiere was habitable enough to receive volunteers Paul found many of the young local boys eager to be trained as apprentices in building skills.  The girlfriend,  Sarah,  of one of the boys was having a birthday, her 24th,  and, in typical French fashion, any friend of Paul’s was welcome to come to the celebratory birthday ‘dinner! to start at 7 o’clock by the lake at the rear of the house belonging to the young man’s, grandmother . 

But no dinner in France ever starts at 7 o’clock – aperitifs and nibbles start at 7 o’clock and they continued on a long wooden table on a seductively warm night as the guys kicked a ball around till one had to dive in and rescue it from the lake and shirts peeled off, possibly to impress a new volunteer from the US who had just arrived at La Giraudiere. Certainly not me, probably as old as grandma herself but, as at La Giraudiere, nobody made me aware of the vast age difference between us. 

Eventually the barbecue fire was lit but, even at dusk, around 9 pm,  it still didn’t look ready and by the time the meat was cooked it had already started to rain.  Pas de problem, all hands to the tables, lift them and all their contents up and into the little wooden shed.  Then the food arrived – chicken, spare ribs, steaks, a beautiful salad, they must have been preparing for days.  The generosity was overwhelming as the food kept coming.  This was no ordinary ‘dinner,’ this was a feast.  Finally camembert baked whole and melted onto the baguettes as Paul kept the fire going, even though distracted by the way desperate ants were crawling out of the wood to escape.  

The laughter, kidding around and fun amongst a wonderful group of young French people was infectious and I always felt included.  We all shared the anticipation and the joy as the birthday girl unravelled layers of paper around the gift from her boyfriend. It was a double celebration as she was to leave for Quebec City to complete her second year of studies in International Criminal Law, like so many of the young students who opt to spend part of their ‘gap’ year at La Giraudiere.

It was far from over when we had, reluctantly, to return to La Giraudiere at 2 am as Paul was to drive me to Chalais at 7 to catch the early train to Bordeaux. 

What a wonderful way to finish my weeks of volunteering! To be accepted and immersed in a typical French ‘celebration’ that was far more than just ‘a dinner! Again, they would say, c’est normal, and that’s what you will experience at La Giraudiere, definitely something you won’t get from your normal classroom lessons about life in France. 

So thanks, Paul, for taking us along for yet another ‘french’ experience and thanks,  Sarah, for extending the invitation, and merci beaucoup NiKo and your ‘mates’, as we say in Australia,  for spreading the joys of France.  You’ll always be remembered.

Barbara Booth, an Australian Volunteer in France


Barbara Booth has been a freelance journalist for over 20 years, published nationally in newspapers and magazines including The Age, The Canberra Times, The West Australian, Qantas Club magazine, Home Beautiful, and OzArts.

Youcan see an article she had published in an Australian Magazine at

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The 2019 volunteers program starts 1st May 2019 and will continue until the 30th September 2019
 The recommended volunteering period is 3 weeks but you can apply from 1 - 6 weeks.

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