Our sojourn from the United States last July and settlement in Grenoble for Steve’s one year sabbatical at the Grenoble Ecole de Management was sometimes fraught with both expected and unanticipated difficulties and inconveniences. Perhaps you remember some of them from previous posts (see OFII, Orange Telephone, Apartment Hunting, etc.!). But now that that is behind us, it struck me how those trials were often softened by all the hospitable people who put out the “welcome mat” for us here in Grenoble.
Before we had left North Carolina, I had done a cursory internet search for possible groups we might join to integrate ourselves more easily into French culture. I came across Grenoble Life’s March 2010 piece, Anglophone Grenoble, a rough guide, and its reference to Open House Grenoble, a group that has been around helping English-speaking voyaguers (travelers) just like us since 1987, and Sweet Home Grenoble. I tucked these links into my computer favorites thinking that they just might be what we were looking for once we had finally touched down in Grenoble.
After settling in, I beelined to the websites to find some particulars about upcoming events we might be able to enjoy. I saw that Open House Grenoble held a weekly informal Tuesday morning get-together called Coffee Chat at a local café where the conversational language was English. It sounded like the perfect introduction to the organization without having to reveal our beginning French language ineptitude. We met at Pain et Cie (Bread and Co.), a café in centre ville, and were delighted to find a mixture of amicable French and English-speaking people who seemed eager to befriend us.
Soon after, those of us who were regulars at Coffee Chat questioned why a similar morning meet-up couldn’t be created for speaking solely in French. (Yikes!) Café Français was born this January and slowly built a following on Thursday mornings coming together at our old stomping grounds, Pain et Cie café. This became a great opportunity to share a coffee, stumble over our French words, and have native French speakers patiently help us with the practical issues we have negotiating life here in Grenoble.
When Steve and I formally became card-carrying OHG members in September, we discovered the French-English Exchange group that meets on two Fridays a month at CLEF (Association des Centres de loisirs Enfance et Famille). This group converses on impromptu topics and plays often humorous games aimed at language learning, dividing the time together between French and English conversations.
Getting our feet wet with the language groups led us to dabble in other OHG interest groups. We sometimes found our way to a local Grenoble pub for Chill-Out on Thursday evenings to share a drink and some conversation. And for me, the Open House Book Group has filled a special spot. Our circle of between 10-12 bookworms gathers at Le 5 Café at the Musée de Grenoble once a month where lively, stimulating, and intelligent conversation ensues about the books we read in English. (Note: The group is primarily native French speakers and readers; I am in the minority as an English speaker.) In the same location, the Creative Writers Alliance was meeting to support both fledgling and veteran writers alike allowing them to share their trials and triumphs.
Understandably, there are some groups that we didn’t join. We didn’t fit into the Baby & Toddler Activities group or those that arrange seasonal activities for older children and occasional outings for the kids on the weekly “No-School-Wednesdays.” But we thought we might join some of the outdoor groups that participate in Mountain & Outdoors activities and Cycling. Of interest, as well, was the fitness-oriented Wellness group that comes together at CLEF on Tuesday evenings with Hula dancing or occasional workshops featuring activities such as yoga, shiatsu, reflexology, or aromatherapy.
Last, but definitely not least, OHG also delves into the gustatory world. We already drink BEAUCOUP de café et de thé during language exchanges, but there is also an active Wine Tasting clique that explores regional wines in members’ homes.
Sometimes we attended the monthly Lunch Out activities, where together we sampled different Grenoble restaurants in the company of other adventuresome souls. Sushi-Me was one month’s choice, and in April we lunched at the Hotel Restaurant Lesdiguieres, the Lycée des Métiers de l’Hôtellerie et du Tourisme (Trade High School for Hotel Management and Tourism). This was the biggest and most lavish meal we’ll partake of and was “soup to nuts” or rather Mise en Bouche à dessert. (Literally, Put in Mouth, a foretaste of what is to come, to dessert.) But with the myriad of restaurants in Grenoble, we had an eclectic list from which to choose. As you can imagine, we haven’t been waiting to try them and time is running short!
Open House has also in past years hosted a Christmas Apéro (apéritif, but here meaning a party) and a Summer Picnic where members and their families have gathered together for good food and fun times in the spirit of the seasons. We attended the Apéro, but missed the picnic. Quelle dommage!
Similarly, we were welcomed into the smaller Sweet Home Grenoble circle. We primarily availed ourselves of the French/English exchange that met most Monday mornings in various cafés around Grenoble including a used bookstore/café called the Bookworm Café, which serves scones with clotted cream and English tea. Other times it’s the French Coffee Shop in the heart of the vieille ville (old city).
A recent post on Grenoble Doors was as a result of the excellent opportunity I had to join the Sweet Home Grenoble guided cultural tour exploring the historic portes de Grenoble that was given in both French and English. I also was graciously welcomed to join some of the jaunts that a few of the members independently organized to take a ramble to the beautiful places outside of Grenoble. Tain l’Hermitage on the Rhône River with it’s winery and the Valrhona chocolaterie were most memorable! Dining at a small café on the banks of the Rhône was how a perfect afternoon is spent.
Our life in Grenoble has undoubtedly been filled with one-of-a-kind opportunities and welcoming people. We have been fortunate to be able to easily partake of the activities, and we’re going to truly miss all nos bons amis (our good friends) when we must return to the U.S. So the next time someone from home asks me how I spent my time here, I’ll just have to point them to this post and let them envy all the convivial opportunities with our friends that we’re going to very reluctantly leave behind.
Here are the faces that we have come to love……..