Bordeaux has been James’s home for the past 7 years, but his connection to region goes back much further. He was born, raised and studied in England, but spent every summer and school holidays in France as his father lived in the Médoc most of his life. So, he’s been flying to and from Bordeaux since the days when British Airways only had 1 flight per week on a Saturday, compared to up to 15 per day from the UK in peak season now.
He says that he was lucky to grow up exposed to both cultures, and try to take the best of both worlds.
“I understand ‘la belle vie’ and don’t just love but respect food, merci La France. But you can’t shake off the politeness, efficiency and GSOH that comes from being a Brit”.
After working for a couple of years in France before, and during uni, straight out of an International Business degree James headed back in 2012 to start his “career” and to avoid a soulless graduate scheme in some satellite town of London.
Like many other fresh Expats, he started in Bordeaux with the English teaching gig: working freelance for agencies, being expected to work like an employee without the perks.
“I thought I was balling to begin with: “Ohhhh €15-20 per hour, that’s much more than minimum wage !!! Get in!” I would convince myself: not factoring in travel time, lesson planning, no holiday pay and extremely limited social security”.
The precarity and pittance soon pushed him to up his game. He managed to sneak a foot in the door of a business school and has since developed his activity to lecturing in 4 different schools with over 450 students per year.
These days it’s less and less English teaching, with many classes of his classes focusing on Web Marketing, Digital Strategy and Change Management with regular but impromptu “lessons” on what perplexes many students here: respect, work-ethic and speaking because you have something to say, not because you have to say something.
“I genuinely do love teaching though and never expected to become a teacher. It allows you to meet people from all walks of life and to really understand how people live here in Bordeaux. When starting off working with “particuliers” I worked with ages ranging from 7 to 77!
Higher education works differently in France to the Anglo-saxon system however. In a nutshell, on the one hand you can go to public uni which is basically free but you may struggle to get a seat in the amphitheatre, your teacher will rarely know your name and you can expect months off at a time due to strikes. This might explain the 50% dropout rate after 1st year?
On the other hand, you’ve got private business schools where either you work on apprenticeship (“Alternance”) and your company pays for your studies (and gets you as cheap labour), or your rents stump up the hefty tuition fees without government loans etc like in the UK (there’s also the grand-ecole system but we’ll save that for another day…)”.
Nowadays, he only work with young “adults” between 18-25 in private business schools. The interactions are priceless and he can easily see how to manage/enjoy the more difficult egos.
“You’ve got the archetypal blasé bourgeois kid repeating his 2nd year for the third time, always late except for at the end of lesson when his coat is on and bag is packed with 10 minutes left. Just like the ones who drop Verlan and Arabic in convo saying “ouech” like their “frères” in the banlieue, but themselves have two good catholic first names, the first one is Jean, the second either Pierre, Paul, François or Baptiste. I’m guessing they don’t speak like that during Sunday lunch with the family at the weekend house in the Bassin however”.
But for every one of these clichés, he has come across even more top-notch hard-working and ambitious students, some of whom have become his close friends and really makes his job worthwhile.
For all the peaks and troughs of the classroom, the teaching gig only represents 8 months of the year. Thanks to the ridiculously long summer holidays, from April to September you can find James up on the Médoc coast where for 3 years, he and his best mate from uni, have been running an active glamping holiday operator, “Sanctuary Surf”.
They’re located just next to Plage Le Pin Sec near Hourtin, a wild beach with only basic amenities meaning you avoid the hoards in Lacanau and the Bassin.
The concept is to offer the hotel experience under canvas, showcasing the best France has to offer in terms of food, drink (wine) & nature, whilst providing access to surfing on Europe’s longest beaches & standup paddle boarding on the country’s largest freshwater lake.
If good vibes, having fun in the sun, being outdoors and enjoying fine cuisine appeal. Escape the city for the weekend and join them out in their little corner of paradise.