Friday, 21 July 2017

6 things I forgot about France





I usually go to France once a year, for a holiday in my hometown. I know people and the surroundings so when I go there I am not surprised by anything really.

But lately, I had the opportunity to travel to other parts of France thanks to my job, and I realised there are some little things I forgot about my country…


Military presence in airports

When I landed in Beauvais a few  weeks ago and also in Mulhouse the other day, the first thing I saw at the exit were military people, with full on uniforms and shotguns. I completely understand they were there for safety, but still, when you not used to it, it feels a little bit scary. It reminded me that France was still in a state of emergency and the possibility of a threat was real. Having said that, I did feel completely safe any places I went to after I left the airport. A terrorist attack is really not the first thing on your mind when you are visiting a foreign city. Even in the metro in Paris, I was more worried about getting out at the right stop than the possibility of an attack...

Table service in bars

I spent an evening in Nancy, on the beautiful Place Stanislas. The square was surrounded by bars, all with an outdoor terrace. I sat down and looked out for waiter. He was a bit busy and told me he would be with me within a few minutes. It got me thinking how this French system is complicated. If you want a drink in Ireland, you go to the bar, ask for it and pay straight away.
In France, you just sit down. The waiter comes, takes your order, goes to the bar, gets your drink, has to remember where you sit, gives you the drink, comes back with the bill, takes the money, goes back to the bar, gets the change, comes back to you…
It’s just a waste of time if you ask me!

People speaking French around me

I know it’s kind of a given if I’m in France right? Well, I’m just so used to be surrounded by English speaking people that I often surprise myself by thinking :”Oh, there are some French people here!” when I hear them talking French beside me. And then I remember than I am in fact in France… Please tell me I’m not crazy and I am not the only one experiencing this!!

The beauty of the country

I am ashamed to say I have visited Ireland a lot more than France. Of course I know Brittany because that’s where I’m from, but aside from my home region, I know very little about my home country. I have been to the Southwest twice and Paris a few times. With my job I have now the opportunity to travel a bit more and I really feel like a tourist when I go to France. When you live somewhere, you don’t really see the beauty beside you and I am now seeing my country from an outside perspective. I don’t really have time to do proper visits as I am mainly there for work, but I always take the time to walk around the cities I’m in, admire the architecture, take pictures and have a nice meal. I have been to places I would have never considered before, like Reims or Nancy and I realised France really has beautiful buildings and landscapes. I drove through the Vosges region and the views were really breathtaking. Next time I’m over in France I think I’ll take an extra day off just to visit, it’s really worth it.

Place Stanislas, Nancy
                                              

Paris Opera


The (very) hot weather

Seriously, I think I was going to melt. I am not used to this kind of weather anymore (not that I was used to it in Brittany or Ireland!), and yet I was looking forward to it before flying out. I kind of regretted my enthusiasm when I discovered there was no air-con in my hotel room. The whole time I was there I was just hoping I wouldn’t look too sweaty for my job meeting! The good side of the hot weather was enjoying a cold refreshing cocktail in the evening and not worry about rain!

This one was well deserved!!

French people can actually be nice

Last year I wrote a very controversial post about French people being arrogant (I can’t even post the link because it was reported to Facebook, and I wouldn’t want to re-open this touchy subject anyway). This time I had a completely different experience in France. From the time I booked my rental car to the time I gave it back, I only came across nice, helpful people. The hotel staff, the people I met for work (and I was with competitors so it could have been awkward and less than amicable), the bar I had a drink in, the airport staff, the people in the queue at check-in… Even when I was in Paris a few weeks ago, everybody I met was in a good mood, and I didn’t have high expectations, trust me! I don’t know what happened, but I was so impressed it made me want to make up with French people. That’s a good start, right?

What about you, anything that you find strange, amusing or that you forgot about your home country?

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The joys of having mixed-race children



When you have mixed-race children, it can sometimes lead to awkward and funny situations...

At the maternity

The morning after my first son was born, the nurse came down to show me how to give him a bath. Everything went well until she took his nappy off. She looked at him, then me, then him again, and then the conversation went a bit like this:

"Is the dad, uh... uh... uh...? ".
I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. "Is the dad what?" I replied.
"Well, is the dad....coloured?"
"Yes, he's black, why? Is there something wrong?"
"No, it makes sense now"
"What makes sense?"
"His testicles"
I burst into laughter. "What??"
"Well, that's why his testicles are a lot darker than the rest of his body"

I hadn't even realised they were, because let's be honest, it was my first baby and to me they just looked normal. Upon closer inspection, they were indeed a lot darker than the rest!!

At the childminder

After a few days, I also realised he had a birth mark on his bottom. So I did what every new mother would do, I googled it. And I found out it was a common birth mark in mixed-race children, a Mongolian spot. Once we knew what it was, we were relieved and didn't think about it until my son started to go to the childminder. I picked him up one day and the childminder was a bit agitated:

"I changed him today, I saw this mark on his back...I thought his jeans had rubbed off on his skin"
"Don't worry, it's just a birth mark!"
"Oh my god, I scrubbed him, trying to take it off!!"

Oops.

At the supermarket

My husband was in a supermarket with one of the kids, and he lost him in an aisle. He  was a bit panicked and started to look for him everywhere. He finally saw him with a security guard so went straight up to him and said it was his son. The guard look at him, looked at the child, and asked  "Are you sure you're the dad?" .Thankfully my son jumped right in his arms, so that was it.

I never get the question "Are you the mum?" because there is less difference between our skin tones than with my husband's. But I can understand why some people would be asking the question...And to be honest, better be safe than sorry.

At school

My kids know how their dad has a different skin colour, but the interesting thing is that they don't refer  to white children as "white". They are "peach", which is funny because it makes a lot more sense when you think about it.
And to be honest, it's only when I look at school pictures that I see the difference between them and the other kids in the class.

On holidays

They tan so easily I'm jealous. I have to use sun cream, after-sun cream, tanning oil and hope I won't get sunburnt. They are just exposed for a couple of hours and they instantly get darker. Life is so unfair.
My son's tan after 2 hours in the sun...
Being mixed-race is part of who my kids are, and they know their parents have a different skin colour, but it doesn't seem to affect them one bit, for the moment anyway. And well, I don't want to go into a "color chart" debate, but their skin tone is quite subtle, you only see a big difference in summer time (as if we had a summer in Ireland, but you get what I mean!). I think it's harder for their dad who had to justify himself (Yes, I am the dad!) more than once...

If you have mixed-race children, any interesting stories you want to share?

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.