Workaway is a website I discovered before arriving in France. It allows you to search for hosts to stay with; in exchange for room and board you help out with various jobs – from cooking, to construction, to childcare.  I thought of it as an opportunity to practice (or force myself to learn) French and try living somewhere completely different from what I am used to! My first Workaway is in Neuilly-en-Donjon, a small town of approximately 234 people, in the Auvergne region (next to the Loire Valley and Roanne) in Central France.  My host, Raphaëlle, owns a family style restaurant where I help with food prep, serving and cleanup.  I live in her home above the restaurant in the “town center.” There is a church with a clock tower that chimes every hour on the hour directly in front of the restaurant and a few other houses, but beyond the houses there are miles and miles of rolling green hills.

IMG_2282 IMG_2296Photo (left): My house and the restaurant, called "L'Herbe Folle" or "Crazy Grass." Photo (right): One of the views from the restaurant's front door.DSC04131 Photo: View of the town from my room

I’ve always loved living in big cities – I love the fast paced rhythm and the wide array of things to see and do, but there is something to be said about living in a small town, too.  The pace of life is more relaxed. Everyone knows everyone, people say hello wherever you go, and people help each other out.

Raphaëlle is a very welcoming host and has introduced me to nearly everyone in town, or so it seems, and her horse Bimbo!  Over the weekend she closed the restaurant for a few hours and we had lunch with friends in the neighboring village and I was able to taste a traditional dish from the Savoy region – hot cheese (very similar to cheese fondue) with potatoes, cold cuts and a tasty bottle of wine.  Her friend, who is also the butcher for the restaurant, had us over for an apéritif – a before dinner drink (or a few) – one night, too.  I was also able to get out for a few hours and take a quick tour of the town and the surrounding villages and take a quick walk along the Loire River.

DSC04237 Photo: Bimbo

DSC04296 DSC04282 Photos: Neuilly-en-Donjon's soccer field and the little lake

DSC04179 DSC04195DSC04348 (1) DSC04311 Photos: Around town

After spending two weeks in Neuilly-en-Donjon I am finally starting to get people’s names straight – at least the regulars that come into the restaurant.  I’m speaking enough French to have very short conversations, but I still find myself lost in conversation often enough. Attending language school gave me the French base I needed to survive in France, however French people talk A LOT faster than language professors do; they also use loads of slang (as expected). Sometimes it seems like there are least three or four different expressions used to say the same thing.  I try to pay close attention to conversations to grasp at least the gist of what is being said, but some days my brain feels like it has been smashed by a panini maker and won’t work anymore.  However, I knew the language learning process was difficult and I’m confident my brain won’t hurt so much in a few months!  Until then, it looks like I’ll be playing Duolingo (language learning game) on my phone and reading children’s books at night!

IMG_2420 IMG_2404 Photos: Neuilly-en-Donjon has some amazing clouds and colors at sunset.