Monday 3 August 2020

The Hippo hangs out . . . . with Catherine Berry

Today I'm thrilled to be hanging out with Catherine Berry, author of But you are in France, Madame. Let's dive straight in with the introductions.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Berry

Catherine was introduced to the French language at high school in Australia and whilst immediately fascinated with this subject had no idea that it would guide many of her life choices.  With a dearth of Maths teachers at the time of her high school graduation, she went on to complete a Maths Science degree imagining that this would be her passport to employment.

In fact, it was her French that led her from teaching posts in Tasmania to country Victoria, to France as an assistant to the English teachers at her allocated schools in Grenoble and back to Melbourne. A Graduate Teaching Diploma, a Graduate Diploma in Educational Management, a Certificate in TESOL, a Masters in Education and roles in educational leadership (Head of LOTE, Head of School, Head of Professional Development) followed. This, alongside her marriage and three children, meant that her inner Francophile took a back seat for quite some time.

A series of lucky coincidences ultimately led Catherine, her husband and young family to set out on a French adventure of their own. ‘But you are in France, Madame’ is this story. After several years living in France, Catherine returned to Australia, but unable to turn the page on their French adventure, she and her husband purchased a home in France (search for Our French Village House in Talloires on the Annecy Lake).

Welcome to The Hippo Catherine. Just from reading your bio I can't wait to chat to find out more about you and your book. Pull up a chair and let's get started.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
My book is a memoir so it would not have made much sense to me to write under a pseudonym, but I imagine that it would have freed me up to write more openly: balancing harmony and truth is hard.

Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
All the time… and I love it. In fact, before we left for France from Australia, I would write ‘teacher’ on my job description. Now, I’m caught between writer, self-employed and family consultant. Joking aside, I have communicated with many people from around the world who are either dreaming of doing a major family move, or those who want to bring France into their lives but are not quite sure how.

What advice would you give your younger self?
To trust in myself. I was never the popular kid at school, but I wish that I hadn’t let that influence what I did and said. 

What’s your favourite motivational phrase?
I deliberately do not have one. In fact, when I see someone’s Instagram account, or social media, flooded with supposed motivational sayings, I generally run a mile. Sure, occasionally, I get caught out and laugh loudly at cute drawings and funny sayings, despite myself. Generally, though, I love it when people are the motivation, and not just bandying around phrases.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing etc come from?
Growing up in an era when households did not have television, there was one radio per household and the phone was attached to the wall – and generally in full earshot of all other family members – meant that escaping into books was hugely attractive. 

Image found on R Kikou Johnson

If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be and why? What would you get up to?
Oh, I do. Everyday. I’d head straight back to the beginning.

You must have had fun if you want to do it all over again! 😉

You get a brilliant idea/thought/phrase at an inappropriate moment (eg in the shower or driving) what do you do?
I have a pen and paper next to the gear stick in the car and my ‘for later’ indecipherable thoughts fill the notes page on my phone. We are always told not to write down passwords in case our possessions fall into the hands of the wrong people. It would be fun to watch a crook trying to work out the passwords to all my accounts from the mumbo-jumbo on my phone.

If you were a superhero what would you be called, what would your super-power be and what would you wear?
Mum. Flicking bullies into outer space. I’m quite partial to the Wonder Woman outfit.

That sounds like a good super-power and I think you'd look good in a cape Catherine! 😀

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I think it's now time for me to tell you all about Catherine's book, But you are in France, Madame don't you?

At the collège for a parent-teacher interview, I met my daughter outside in the courtyard and she showed me up to her classroom. Her teacher was busy chatting, so we waited patiently in the corridor. When he did come out, he indicated that the meeting would take place downstairs and headed off with us in tow.

Before sitting down, I introduced myself using my first name, and put out my hand to be shaken. He mumbled back his full name as he took my hand, although I suspect he would have been shocked if I had actually dared use it. By this stage, I had already understood that teachers did not expect to be questioned about their practices. Of course, I did—question him, that is; politely and almost deferentially. There was a slight pause, as he dipped his head to better digest what he had heard. Then, with the assurance of a perfect, unarguable answer, he replied, “But you are in France, Madame”.

Some months before, my husband, three children and I had casually unzipped and discarded our comfortable Australian lifestyle and slipped on life in the country of haute couture. On arrival, there was no celebrity designer waiting for us, ready to pin and fit our new life to us; so we threw it on and wore it loosely, tightly, uncomfortably, any old how—until we learned for ourselves how to trim, hem and stitch à la française. This book is testament to the joyous, but not always easy, journey that we took along the way.

Our story ‘But you are in France, Madame’ was written from the heart. If you love France, reading about France, are curious about the lives of others or are planning your own trip to France, then this might just be the book for you.

I think this sounds like a wonderful book and being a self-confessed curtain twitcher (please don't judge me!) one that would make for fascinating reading.

You can find out more about Catherine, her book and connect with her using the links below:


I'd like to say a big thank you to Catherine for taking the time to stop by and chat with me today. It's been great fun getting to know you and I wish you lots of success with your book and for the future!


  1. Thanks so much, Neats. I had actually forgotten that we did this interview, so it came as a lovely surprise...and I'm extra keen for a cape now.

  2. It was a pleasure to hang out with you Catherine and sorry that it took a while to put everything together. Nice to hear that it came as a pleasant surprise though. Do keep me posted about the cape! 😉