Friday, 22 July 2016

Meeting the French president

No need to introduce him!

Before I left work on Wednesday, my boss came to me and said: "Tomorrow, when you talk to the French president, you tell him you work for an Irish company that takes on French students, and that we do great business with France as well". She was obviously a lot more excited than I was. I laughed and replied: "Well, I doubt he's going to talk to me anyway, he'll probably do his speech and leave!". Fast forward 24 hours, and I couldn't have been more wrong!

I received, like all French expats registered with the embassy, an invitation for a reception with Francois Hollande in Dublin Castle. Let's get things straight though. I am not a fan of his, if you want to know, I didn't vote for him. I think France is in bad shape, be it socially, politically and economically. But if you were given the opportunity to meet a head of state, would you not take it? I mean, I don't think I will ever have the chance to meet another president so I took the whole thing as an experience.

I didn't want to go just to meet Francois Hollande of course. It was also an opportunity to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen for 18 months (even though he lives in Dublin!), and meet members of the French community in person, not just through a Facebook group. Oh, and I wanted to drink wine and eat delicious food as well, but that goes without saying.

My friend and I arrived early because we wanted to be amongst the first ones in. As we were in the queue we talked to a few people, shared our respective backgrounds and I was quite surprised to see that long-term expats like me are not a rarity in Ireland... And for the icing on the cake, a girl behind me called me by my blog name. Now that was a first, and for a second I felt like a minor celebrity (I'm not getting big-headed, don't worry!). But in a way, it's nice to see that some people can relate to what I write, and that's what keeps me going.

The red carpet (I was afraid to get it dirty by walking on it...)

Anyway, back to the main subject. Because we were the first ones in, we literally planted ourselves on the front row, happy that we would be so close to the main man. The feeling disappeared rather quickly when we were told he was late. But we were stuck, and there was no way we were going out as it meant losing our spot. We were really determined, and hungry, and thirsty...Our feet and back were killing us. The girl beside me even took her shoes off (sorry, the whole world knows now) and changed to more comfortable ones. There were kids, and I swear, as a parent, I don't know how I would have handled it if mine had been with me. I have to say, the little boy and girl by my side were so well behaved it made me question my parenting abilities.

A big bunch of very patient French people (it does exist!)

The only good thing about waiting for 2 hours was that we got to talk to people around us, made new friends (I got a request on Facebook this morning, you know who you are!) and even saw old friends. Mid-way through the wait, my phone rang. A girl I hadn't seen for 7 years was just a few rows behind. Talk about coincidence! Finally after a long long wait, Francois Hollande showed up. I think we were all too tired and hungry to boo and even clap actually.

I won't bore you with the speech. It was unoriginal to say the least, but what could we expect? He talked about the relationship between France and Ireland, terrorism and the infamous Brexit. He also talked very positively about the expat community and all the skills we bring to Irish companies and Ireland in general. We couldn't really disagree with him, and the only thing that made me irk a bit is when he said France was not going to war against terrorism for mercantile or political purposes, but just because he wanted World peace. That sounded a bit like a beauty pageant's contestant speech and I had a hard time believing that... One thing for sure, everything he said made me realise I'm better off living in Ireland.

Then it happened. I really thought he was going to leave by the back door, but no, he decided to go through the assembly and talk to people. First he asked the girl beside me what she was doing and she replied she was a law student. Then he turned around to me and said "Are you a student too?!" OK...Francois, I think you need to change your glasses, and maybe you should pay your optician as much as you pay your hairdresser... Joke apart, I did get the chance to tell him about my job, and he even asked for my boss's name. And then I took the compulsory presidential selfie (where you can see he might also have to take a trip to the dentist), with the French ambassador in the background photobombing the whole thing...

That was all well and good, but I was absolutely starving by then. And the buffet didn't disappoint. Sadly I didn't take pictures as I was too busy eating bread with twenty different sort of cheese, cured meat, macaroons and little French pastries, all of that topped with glasses of delicious white wine. I probably had one too many but who cares, I won't get to do that ever again I guess..

The beauty of this reception is that I got to meet old colleagues I hadn't seen for at least 10 years, back when I worked in a call-centre. So what did we do? Go to the pub for a catch-up of course! We all went our separate ways at some point after the call-centre and kept in touch with different people so it was a great way of reminiscing and finding out what everybody we used to know had been up to. And there we were, still in Ireland after 20, 18 or 14 years...

What I'll take from this day is that it had to take a French president to make me re-connect with old friends and maybe make some new. And for that, I am grateful.