Only in this technical day and age, could I know someone for four years and have only just met them.
When we first moved to France I was an active blogger, posting content over 1500 words three-four times a week. As we explored the region, I had so much to say about our new life in France and I would use social media and online networking to spread our story to draw people into our little B&B business in Capestang.
During this time I met Annette on Facebook. She was active on most social media fronts; Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus, Twitter, and everyone who lived in the Languedoc region of southern France seemed to know her. But back then, I was determined not to mix much with fellow expats, only with the local French. I was ass-bent that if I live in France surely I should assimilate to the French culture, learn the language and embrace my new French life.
And although I still feel the same in some ways, I do realize just how much easier life would have been if I was more open to fellow expats, especially as a woman. We need a strong support system in place; to reflect, to collaborate and to inspire. If only I could have incorporated some of these local relationships sooner.
As municipal councilor in charge of international affairs (which really means the local foreigners) I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between the French community and the English community here in Capestang. We didn’t need another ladies luncheon group but a way to connect Anglophone small businesses like ourselves, to other French and English businesses to cross promote.
I was at a local pop-up shop buying artisan products from Anglophones, a congregating point for the English speaking expats, when in walked Annette.
She was nicely dressed in a long sleeved shirt and classic cut jeans. Her leather boots and her height made her stand out, and she wore a loosely thrown scarf around her neck. Her tossels of blonde hair fell just past her shoulders and I recognized her straight away from her Facebook image, which is normally not the case in the land of photo editing!
“Hi, it is so nice to finally meet you in person.” And that was when I finally met this very dynamic, Internet savvy lady, who I already knew.
From there we started networking through her Jelly Group here in Capestang which has proved to be a huge success. She has been helping small business owners like ourselves throughout the area to make them far more social media connected, building websites, marketing or helping make already existing sites far more efficient. She connects everyone to each other, in a way that benefits all involved. And she does it in her soft spoken kind way.
I am happy to introduce to you, someone whom I admire, Annette Morris!
My Expat Life Interview Questions
Who are you?
Annette Morris – English by birth, French by heart, also known as La Franglaise.
Why did you move to France?
It was a dream of mine to try out “life” here in the south. As a family we spent a lot of time in France when I was young, and particularly the Languedoc area. We got to know some lovely people. I’m also a ‘foodie’ – say no more!!
Did you experience culture shock?
Initially no, but the British and French cultures are very different, and little things can sometimes surprise you. The time I spent here before making the move has proved to be a great help.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
I became a teacher. I was offered a contract to teach computer skills (in French!) to adults at Les Buissonets college in Capestang. I also spent two months teaching at a college in Béziers whilst someone was off sick.
What do you do for a living?
I spend a lot of my time designing, building, repairing or improving websites. I have a background in marketing so also provide design work, social media management and all aspects of digital and offline marketing.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
Working from home, alone, and without children it wasn’t easy to meet people locally to me. However I got to know a lot of local business people via the local Mairie, and a few years ago put together a French website for the local villages of Cruzy/Quarante. I also found working from home very isolating, which is why I started ‘Languedoc Jelly’.
‘Jelly’ started in New York as an informal event for homeworkers and freelancers to just spend time working together in a shared space.
I realised how many people (especially English speakers) must be living and working in France and feeling the same sense of isolation as me. So, inspired by the success of Jelly events in the UK, I held the first event in a coffee shop in Montpellier in April 2011. Since then I’ve met hundreds of interesting professionals all across this region of France. It’s a very casual concept but has developed into a genuinely supportive and very positive networking community.
Why is it called ‘Jelly’?
Simply because the guys that started it were eating Jelly beans at the time! Since restarting the events in Languedoc in autumn 2015, I decided to call our meetings J2 – just because they’re now slightly adapted to better suit the needs of local English speaking people in business.
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
A large proportion of Languedoc wine is shipped off to be blended, labelled and sold as Bordeaux wine.
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Being labelled an expat!
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Freedom. Every day is different, and the scope for personal development is endless. Overcoming so many challenges definitely makes you stronger. You are free to make new life choices, meet amazing new people, free to be who you want to be.
I’ve also really enjoyed meeting expats from other countries, we might all speak ‘the same language’ but it’s amazing how much diversity there can be and how much there is to learn and understand about each other’s cultures and traditions.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Friends and family. And a ‘proper country pub’.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
A lot of people assume that here in the south it’s all beaches, fêtes and fun all year round. There are generally four weeks of ‘silly season’ in the summer and then it’s pretty much business as usual.
What advice would you give other expats?
Speak the language of your adopted country. It’s tempting to spend a lot of time mixing with people from your homeland, but find a balance and integrate with local people and events as much as possible.
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
I am designing a number of websites at the moment – these are for clients across Europe, some British, some French, some Belgian.
My marketing work is keeping me busy too, and amongst others that’s for an estate agent, a farmer, an artist, a restaurant and an interior designer.
In my spare time (in short supply at the moment!) I’m also rebuilding the ‘Jelly/J2’ website www.languedocjelly.org. We don’t hold events during the summer months but I am sure there will be more in the autumn – so I aim to relaunch the website before then!
I highly recommend Annette to help with your website, marketing and social networking needs online and off. She has helped ‘My Expat Life – That’s Hamori’ website run far more efficiently, made vital changes to the set-up to run smoother, and is always professional.
Related links for anyone interested in attending an event or setting up one of their own: