Friday, 23 June 2017

Heatwave

The "mini-heatwave" may be over but I never cease to be amazed when I see how crazy the country gets when the sun comes out. I know Ireland doesn't get much heat and I have to get my yearly fix somewhere else, but as soon as the temperatures hit the low 20s, Irish people go a bit overboard...



Beaches are invaded






And some people regularly forget about the tide. Unfortunately, car insurance doesn't cover for drivers' stupidity...





They start sunbathing, with the results we all know


At the beach last week-end, this man was sunbathing with his girlfriend and I swear I just wanted to go up to him and triple the amount of sun cream on his body. The poor man was as white as paper and I knew from the start he would end up like a lobster. And he did.



They undress


Literally, as shown in this video of a naked guy on the canal... More seriously, one ray of sun and Irish people take the tops, shorts and flip-flop out. I was in my cardigan all week at work, and sure the weather was nice, around 22 degrees, but my colleagues kept making fun of me for being wrapped up. It's not hot guys, it's just warm!



They moan


"I'm roasting, it's scorching, I'm melting, Oh lads, I am not aaaable for this heat !!!!"



But they are in a good mood at the same time

Your boss brings ice-cream to the office, the playschool organises a water balloon fight and the primary school takes the kids to the beach. This year they also skipped homework for a couple of days because the teachers wanted the kids to be active outside instead of doing homework! And  for the adults, nothing is more enjoyable than an ice-cold pint of Bulmers in the local pub beer garden...

Unfortunately for Ireland, the weather is back to normal. Maybe it's a good thing for all the sunburnt people out there, but I hope it doesn't last too long and we can enjoy more good weather this summer (I am being VERY optimistic I know!).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Ignorance is bliss



If my memory is still intact, it was 2005. My husband and I were visiting a friend in Kinsale, near Cork. He invited us to his place because he had just moved back from Dublin, and he wanted us to see how beautiful the area was. He was right. The village was like an Irish postcard, with colourful houses and narrow streets, full of pubs, seafood restaurants and a little harbour.

It was really hot that day, well, by Irish standards anyway! Our friend was working in a pub close to the harbour so we went for a drink, and during his break we all sat down outside on the wall, looking at boats passing by.

As we were soaking up the sun, we started to talk about our life in Ireland. We didn't have any serious commitments at the time, none of us. There was no mortgage, insurance, or kids in the picture. I was still driving my French car in total illegality. My job was easy, without any real responsibility. We didn't have any worries, really. Maybe just paying the rent on time and the phone bill which was always expensive because of the calls back home. We had a cosy appartment, great neighbours and in a village we loved. We were going out regularly and had many friends from a variety of horizons.

We were thinking of going back to France though, but at that point in the conversation, our friend asked the question: "What is it that you like most about living here?". The answer came so naturally that I still remember it to this day (well, maybe not in exact terms, but the general sense is still there!): "What I love about Ireland is that we live here in total ignorance. We have an easy life and with our salary we can live comfortably for our needs. We live in that little bubble and we're not really interested in the economic or political state of the country because it doesn't affect us".

And as we were finishing our drinks, feeling the gentle breeze on our shoulders we all thought the same thing: "This the life!"

Of course, as the years went by, things changed, as they always do. I finally bought an Irish car, we applied for a mortgage and bought an appartment, had kids... And we started following the news and budget announcements more because this time it was affecting us, especially during the recession.

Surprisingly, I  had the same conversation the other day with a friend I hadn't seen for years. I was in Paris for work and we met for a meal. She was nostalgic about her life in Ireland, and if her health was better, she would be thinking of going back. And then she said it. The same thing I said all those years ago. She loved living in Ireland because she was in her bubble of work and friends, of going out and visiting the country. She was oblivious to the political or economical aspects of the country because it didn't affect her.

So maybe that's it. Maybe that's the reason why French people love Ireland so much. Let's face it, only a minority stays for the long-term, but for those who went back to France and long for their experience in Ireland, what is it that you loved about the country? Could it be this sense of freedom, fun and the fact that you were not really affected by anything else other than your little bubble?

I still love Ireland of course, but the innocence stage is long gone. We've been through a lot in the past 10 years or so, but yesterday at the beach, soaking up the sun on what certainly was the hottest day of the year, I thought to myself "This is the life!".

Monday, 1 May 2017

An old friend I used to know



Back in March, I went to Mauritius with my husband and my best friends from France. While we were there, I realised my husband's attitude towards his country had changed. The most noticeable change was that he wasn't speaking the local language anymore. Mauritius' official language is English, but everybody speaks French (confusing I know...), and in private or in social situations like in a shop or the market, people speak creole. 

Every time we were out and about visiting places, he was acting as a guide (as usual!), but every interaction he had with locals was in French. The only time he spoke creole was with his family.  A few days after we came back I asked him about it. He said he didn't feel connected to his country, that he liked it of course, but that he had nothing to do with it anymore. And when we were there, visiting sites, he was like us, just a tourist. 

I found this almost impossible to understand. How could he feel so disconnected to a country where he lived for 22 years, especially his formative years? I replied I couldn't feel that way about France, ever. Even if I loved Ireland, I equally loved France and I would always be French.

But for the past week, I have been thinking about my own relationship with my birth country, and in the wake of the presidential elections back home, I have realised that maybe I am not as connected as I thought. Yes of course I still feel French but it's like I don't recognise my home country anymore.

I go there once a year, I have a great time, catch up with friends and family, eat and drink, generally just enjoy myself for  2 weeks and go back to Ireland with the boot loaded with wine and nothing left in my bank account. 

But I don't live there, I don't know what "real life" is like and what people are facing on a daily basis. All I know is the little bubble of my family and friends in Brittany, and the kind of life I live in Ireland. I do feel disconnected. Weeks before the elections, I knew who would be in the second round of the presidential elections, but I didn't (and probably still don't) realise what it really meant for French people. 

I watch everything from the outside, and I'm going to tell you what I see: A divided country, and angry, unhappy and frustrated citizens (I still hope I'm wrong and it's just the TV feeding me crap, sensationalist stories). 

Has France changed so much in the past 15 years, or have I changed? Probably a bit of both, but to me, at the moment, France feels like an old friend I used to know. Someone I was very close to, but time and distance made us drift apart. Someone I feel I don't have much more in common with anymore. Sure we see each other once a year, laugh and have a great time for a while but there is no more depth to our relationship.

Unless I go back to France for good, I will always feel that way, trying to understand what's going on in my home country with an outsider point of view. And let me tell you, it's not easy.

Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 roundup



I hope you all had a great festive season and I wish you all a Happy New Year! We had a great party on Saturday night with Danish, Indian, American and Irish friends, and even ended up singing our own national anthems. Looking back, that was a bit strange, so let's blame the alcohol, shall we? In pure Danish tradition, we jumped from the couch at midnight, and we moved onto the Venezuelan one, sticking wishes on the bottle of Champagne we just drank. We had to write my 5 years old's and well, he wished for penguins in the house, so I don't know about that one coming true. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...


Tomorrow is back to reality so it's time to close the door on 2016 and have a little round up of my blogging year.

My most read post

I wrote "Why is it hard to make Irish friends" back in April, and it has stayed on top of the list since. In a way, I knew many expats would be able to relate, but I didn't expect that much reaction. It was a bit like I said out loud what  everybody thought but didn't have the courage to say. The most interesting part is that I got many positive reactions from Irish people as well, so I guess the post had a very broad appeal.

My least read post

Surprisingly, it's the Irish movie "Brooklyn" review. I honestly didn't think it would fare so badly, considering the subject. This movie, even if it was set in the 50's can still resonate with expats so if you are still on holidays or have nothing to do, give it a try, it's worth it!

The unexpected hit

Sometimes it takes me days or weeks to come up with a good post idea, and writing "7 reasons why I enjoy living in Ireland" was one of those that took a long time to be published. So needless to say I was very pleased with the reception it got!

The one I enjoyed writing the most

That's going to be a bit of a cheat, but I loved experiencing with infographics for "The expat holiday: expectations vs reality". I knew it would be better to show what it's really like with images than words and it really worked.

The most controversial

I've learned a thing or two with that one. First, that I am not the controversial type. Second, that I am not cut to write these type of posts and handle the flood of bad comments. Third, that there are some twisted people out there. The post was "Why are the French rude and judgemental?" (I can't actually share the link because it had been reported to Facebook at the time which means I cannot share it ever again, which is probably a good thing!) and if I had to do it again, I don't know if I would write it. This is my own fault, with a title like that, it was obviously a click bait. I was a stressed for days with this one, thinking about what readers were going to comment. I am not going to put myself through that again. Lesson learned I guess.

My personal favourite

I really enjoyed going back in time to write "Back to the beginning", which is about how I ended up in Ireland 14 years ago. In a way, it made me remember where I come from and what I have achieved since I arrived. Sometimes we tend to focus on the negative and this post made me see that all the problems I had to face at the beginning shaped me into the person I am today.

Honourable mentions

Those are the ones that are in the top 10 most read posts:

My biggest achievement

It's probably when someone called me by my blog name while in the queue waiting to meet the French president. Also that day I met people I didn't know but who had read my blog. Sometimes it's nice to have a little recognition because let's face it, I'm writing for pleasure. I don't make any money out of it (except a few cents a week from Google ads). Of course it would be a lot more rewarding to write for money but I haven't found the magic formula yet.

My biggest disappointment

The Blog awards again! This time I didn't even make the shortlist. It's a bit ironic that the first year I was blogging and didn't have that many readers I made it to the final and now I don't even make the cut! I think I have missed the social media train as well. Some bloggers put so much time and effort to promote their blog it's crazy. I just don't have the time and energy to look into details on how to grow my audience, have my own domain name and all that sort of things. I suck at Twitter and I don't have even have a Pinterest, Instagram or Snapchat account.

Plans for 2017

I have finally written a plan for my book, a structure that I think is the best way to put my experience across. Now I just have to write it. It's fine, I'm not really in a rush, after all, the ideas have been sitting on the computer for 4 or 5 years only...On a more serious note, I really want to get stuck into it this year. I have a lot of material with the blog, so maybe it's time to tie it all up.

That's it, I wish you all a wonderful year, filled with joy, health, happiness and laughter and I hope all your projects and dreams come true.

Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year's eve traditions from around the world



Tomorrow is New Year's eve, and for us, it's always an international celebration. This gave me the idea of looking into how other countries celebrate the passing into another year. Thanks to my friends and the Expats in Dublin Facebook group I have gathered a few New Year's eve traditions, and I have discovered some unusual ones!

France

At midnight, we do the countdown and pop the Champagne, then we are supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, something I have never done (Maybe my parents weren't into mistletoe, I don't know...). We also have fireworks and it is custom on New Year to give a bit of money to children (Les etrennes).

Venezuela

In Venezuela, they drink a bottle of Champagne on which they stick wishes on a piece of paper. Once the bottle is finished, they hide it for the year so their wishes can come true. I think that's a sweet tradition and I might want to do it this year!

Ireland

An old Irish tradition is to bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits. At midnight, everyone goes to the back door with a lump of coal, throw it out to "throw out the old year" and then go to the front door to welcome the new year. Another tradition is to just open the front door to let the New Year in. If you're in Dublin for New Year's eve, you might also want to go to Christchurch and listen to the bells ring at midnight.

Hungary

In Hungary, they eat lentils on New Year's eve for good luck and wealth.

Mauritius

In Mauritius, they throw  firecrackers. A lot of them! I've never witnessed it because I've never been to Mauritius at that time of year, but once, my brother in law and his friends threw firecrackers after their football team won a game, and it was rather noisy!

Denmark

At midnight, Danish people jump from a chair or a couch to "jump into the new year". My Danish neighbour introduced me to that tradition and now we do it every year!

Russia

Russian people usually watch the president's wishes and when the Kremlin rings the bells, they drink champagne and open the window to let the New year in (At -25 degrees, I'm not sure I would cope...)
Another tradition is to write a wish on a piece of paper at the chime of bells on a Kremlin tower, burn it and put ashes in a glass of champagne, then at midnight you should drink it, and the wish is believed to be granted.

Finland

Finnish people try to predict how the next year will turn out by melting tin and pouring it into a bucket of cold water. The tin then freezes into a shape and they try to figure out what the shape means. This unusual tradition is called "Molybdomancy".

Peru

Over there, they eat 12 grapes, eat champagne and throw fireworks, but most importantly wear yellow clothes for good luck.

Italy

Italians wear red underwear for good luck, eat cotechino (a type of pork meat), lentils for hope of wealth in the coming year, and they pop a sparkling white wine at midnight.

Austria

At midnight, everyone starts waltzing everywhere in Austria. No matter what age, no matter with whom - they just waltz. It's especially wonderful in big cities like Vienna, when there's fireworks above and thousands of people meet up in front of the cathedral and at midnight everyone starts dancing!

Germany

German people watch a Sketch at 7pm called dinner for one, then dinner and then Bleigießen , which is actually Molybdomancy, the same as in Finland!



Portugal

They also eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the year making a wish for each one and they toast with Champagne or some other sparkling wine.

Spain

The Spanish also eat 12 grapes, one every time the bell rings midnight and if you manage to eat your grapes on time, it means you will have a lucky and prosperous year.

England

Families usually open the door to let the new year in, but the original tradition was to invite in a man with bread, salt and coal. This later changed to having a man be first back across the threshold.

Brazil

In Brazil they have a huge dinner, almost like Christmas dinner, fireworks at midnight with popping a bottle of champagne or any sparkling wine, and most important, for those passing it near the beach, they jump 7 waves on the sea, and for each wave you make a wish for the next year. The majority of people wear white, but some can choose other colors based on its meaning, like yellow for money or red for love.


As you can see, there seem to be as many traditions as countries, and I'm pretty sure there are some regional variations as well. On the other hand it's interesting to see countries from different parts of the world sharing the same traditions like eating grapes or lentils, wearing a special colour or making wishes in a different way.

On that note, I would like to thank all the contributors to this post and wish you all a happy and prosperous new year, no matter how you celebrate it! As for me, I might pick a bit of every tradition to make it a truly international celebration.

Do not hesitate to share more traditions from your home country in the comments!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

My painless visit to the French Consulate



Gone are the days when I knew everyone at the French Embassy. One of my friends used to work there and we spent a good amount of time barbecuing or just chilling out at the gendarme's house on the grounds of the French residence. All the administrative duties were a bit simpler when you knew you would see a familiar face in a bit of an uninviting environment.


I'm not saying the French consulate on Aylesbury road was a horrible place, far from it, but as a French abroad, the last thing you want is to come face to face with a microcosm of French society. Let's be honest here, the French Embassy never really had a good reputation, and I have my fair share of annoying anecdotes, but trust me, they don't all come from the staff.


I'm sure you've all heard stories about unhelpful members of staff, and yes, there were times where I felt I was talking more to a prison officer than a consulate representative. But I have also witnessed bad behaviour from French people, who think they are entitled to everything, that they can bypass you in the queue or just be disrespectful to the staff and other users. And sometimes, it's not even the French. The icing on the cake has to come from a foreign woman who took all of her clothes off inside the consulate when she was refused her visa. I wasn't there but I've been told the story by the guy who was at the counter that day. And trust me, it wasn't pretty!


Anyway, I'm sure you can understand I try to stay away from the consulate as much as I can, unless it's for a few drinks, which sadly is not going to happen any time soon (unless I'm invited for the 14th of July or something...).


Today, however, I had a very positive experience. I was completely stressed out at the idea of going to the consulate to renew my son's passport. Firstly because I had never been to their new place on Fitzwilliam Lane and I am really bad at driving in Dublin. I always get lost and can barely follow GPS directions. The second reason was I was afraid of not having the proper documents (the proof of address only had my name on it and not my husband's), or that the pictures wouldn't be the right size (it happened  before), or that my kids would misbehave, or that I would be late etc etc.


I left very early and bribed treated the kids with a Burger King lunch. I didn't get lost and understood the GPS directions, and was half an hour early. I almost died when I found out the cost of the cark park ( 2.90 euros per hour!!!), but I didn't know how long I was going to be in there for so I forked out 6 euros just to be sure. Of course the youngest wanted to go the toilets, but luckily there was a pub only a few steps away from the consulate, so we took the opportunity to sit down and have a drink. After all, we had half an hour to spare.


At 3pm sharp we were in front of the gate. We were let in and my handbag went through a security scan. I was mortified at the idea of the man there, seeing all the crap that was inside, but he didn't say anything. The waiting area was empty and they had a good selection of toys for the kids to play with, something that was cruelly missing in the old place. I waited no more than 10 minutes before being called in and all I was hoping for at that stage was for my kids to avoid talking about poop and fart, their favourite subject of conversation at home.


The lady was very nice and the process was painless. The pictures were fine (Phew!), the proof of address as well, and the phone call she took in the middle allowed me to take my son to the toilets for the 4th time since we left the house. My son had a very insightful question for her: "Why do you speak French and work in Ireland"?. He never asked me the question! He also tried to charm her by counting to ten in French and was all-around well behaved. My eldest was oblivious to the whole thing, playing on his tablet.

20 minutes later and I was out. Painless I told you! Of course, I realised I picked the right day, between Christmas and New Year, when Dublin traffic would be light and the consulate quiet. The appointment process was probably helpful as well, because there was less waiting than before. Thankfully I'm not the one who will pick up the passport once it's ready, and the next time I will be at the consulate will be for the French elections. At least I know how to get there now!


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Home for Christmas?



At this time of the year, you can see numerous videos of Irish people surprising their family with a visit home. Spending time with your family at Christmas is important in many countries, but particularly in Ireland, probably due to the emigration history of the country. So it's hard not be emotional when you see people meeting their loved ones at the airport on Christmas eve.

Even if I only spent one Christmas in France over the past 14 years, I always check the flights as early as July or August, just to see if we could make it home for Christmas. And every time, the price is extortionate. I mean, even if I had a thousand euros handy, I wouldn't spend it on a Ryanair flight. Add to that a rental car, and the holidays could cost as much as going to the other side of the world. And talking about the other side of the world, we did try to go to Mauritius for Christmas once, but at 4000 euros the ticket, we quickly forgot about it.

We did manage to go to France once, when I was on maternity leave with my second child. We had a good time, but it had been so long since I spent Christmas with my parents, that the spirit didn't feel the same. I have memories of spending Christmas eve with my parents, brother and sister, eating delicious finger food and drinking champagne, watching silly programs on TV and exchanging presents at midnight. When I was a child, we would put the Christmas tree up all together, put our slippers next to the chimney, and have an extended family lunch on Christmas day. Then we would spend days eating chocolates...Ah, memories!

But I had been in Ireland for 9 years already when I went home for Christmas for the first time. Most of my uncles and aunts that would have been present on Christmas day had passed away. My brother came for lunch, but my sister only came in the evening. I was so tired on Christmas eve (a 4 months baby didn't help) I think I went to bed before midnight. Most of my friends spent time with their own family, which is completely understandable, so I didn't really get to see them as much as I would have liked.

I had a nice time and I did spend quality time with my family, but for some reasons, it wasn't as "exceptional" as some summer holidays I spent there. I guess I liked the idea of going home for Christmas, but it didn't live up to my expectations. I was hoping for a Christmas like the ones I had, back when I lived in France, and it just wasn't the same.

"Home" for Christmas? Well, it looks like "home" is in Ireland now, where I've been making new Christmas memories for the past 14 years and where my kids will make some of their own.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Irish Christmas memories


It's the 1st of December and Christmas FM is finally on air, which means it's the official start of the festive season. This is the occasion to share some of my Irish Christmas memories, and I have a few, having spent 14 of the last 15 Christmases in Ireland!

So, in true "Friends episodes titles" style, I share with you some of my best festive season stories...


The first one

The first Christmas I spent in Ireland will of course remain very special. I used to live with this Irish family and the daughter enrolled me to wrap the insane amount of presents she bought for her friends. She also had me writing the list of recipients for said presents, which led to a big laugh because I couldn't spell half of them. I was only in Ireland for a coupIe of months so I had never heard of Siobhan, Caitriona or Niamh at that stage. That first Christmas was also the start of our very own tradition of celebrating with friends who were not going home either, and we have done the same ever since.

The one where our landlord invited himself for dinner

Yes, he was the best landlord in the whole world, and tenants who are currently struggling with their rental house or apartment will definitely be jealous, so I apologise in advance. This guy showed up on Christmas Eve because he had nothing planned and ate dessert with us. He also brought us presents, wine and chocolate. Something he did every single year until we moved out.

The one where it snowed on Christmas day

I can't remember what year it was (2005 maybe?), but one thing I know is that it was completely unexpected. It wasn't that cold so never in a million year we would have thought it would be a white Christmas! Imagine our surprise when we opened the curtains in the morning. It didn't stick that much but we took time to enjoy a nice walk and built a (very small) snowman.

The one with the worst Christmas present ever

If you have a partner, I'm sure you know how difficult it can be to find a great gift. And let's face it, some people are better than others at choosing presents. And some of them are actually useless, even when you write a list. One year, my husband, despite the list I gave him, offered me a plastic shoe rack from Lidl. Apparently, it was to store my enormous shoes collection. Except I only had about 4 pairs. He must have confused me with my sister who is a total shoe addict. Let me tell you I wasn't impressed.

The one where I finished my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at 6pm

A few years ago, my then 4 years old decided he wanted a rocket ship from Santa. But of course, he told me that on the evening of the 23rd of December. Every normal parent would have found an excuse for the lack of rocket ship under the Christmas tree, but not me. So off I went to Smyth toys on Christmas Eve, only to discover they closed at 4pm (in fairness, they were opened almost 24 hours for 3 weeks before Christmas). So I raced to the other side of town to Argos. It was 6pm and the shop was closing. The employees were sending people out, and there I stood, almost crying. Again, completely my fault, who in their right mind would try and buy something on Christmas eve at 6pm? Luckily, a very nice employee saw me in distress and let me buy the beloved rocket ship, just in time for Christmas. It was somehow a very stressful evening, but when I saw the my son's reaction on Christmas morning, I knew it was worth it.

The one where I was sick

The first 12 years I was in Ireland, I worked over the Christmas break. As I was never going home, I didn't mind, and I could save holidays for other times during the year. But when I changed job, I discovered the company was closing for a week at Christmas so I had no choice but to be off. I was actually excited about being on holidays at home, and not having to travel anywhere for once. The excitement rapidly died off though. I had a cold for about 10 days before Christmas, then a severe stomach bug on Christmas Eve. My Christmas meal consisted of a slice of bread, three potatoes and water. I was sick all the way to New Year's eve, and on New Year's day, I finally got better so I decided to step out of the house, and you know what happened? I twisted my ankle! Of course, I was back on my feet and felt much better just in time to go back to work...But yeah, a Christmas I'd rather not remember!

The one with one too many Danish snaps

The joys of an international Christmas... A few years ago, my Danish neighbour had this great idea of bringing Snaps to our traditional Christmas meal. If you don't what it is, it's a very strong ice-cold Danish liqueur shot. The drink proved so popular on the day that all the guests were chanting "Skål!" (Cheers!) and "Glædelig jul"( Merry Christmas). Unfortunately some friends took the Danish Christmas spirit a bit too far and ended up either sleeping in the bathroom or sick in the corridor... And don't get me started on the worst hangover of all times...Having said that, it was one of the best Christmas I've had in Ireland so far, and all the friends who were there on the day agree (and they still want to drink Snaps).

What about you, any Christmas memories you want to share?