Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A musical evening

A friend of mine invited me to a concert last night. She asked me if I was interested to go and see Mary Coughlan, Frances Black and Sharon Shannon performing together at a theater in Drogheda. Me being French and all, I had no clue who those singers were, except Sharon Shannon as she is quite well known in Brittany.

I really didn't know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. Mary Coughlan came up first and I discovered her raspy smoky jazzy voice. She is a fantastic singer, and funny with that. Despite suffering from pneumonia recently, she still took on the stage and delivered! Obviously I didn't know any of the songs but I really enjoyed her performance.

Then, Frances Black came on stage. The fact that one of her trick is to actually get people to sing along made me enjoy the songs more, even if I didn't know the words. The audience was a bit shy at first, but by the end of her slot, people were a little more relaxed and really started to sing along. 
One of her song was "All the lies that you told me", and as soon as the music started, I felt transported back to my teenage years. Somehow I wondered how I knew it and then I remember it was featured on an album me and my best friend kept listening back in the days. It was called "L'imaginaire Irlandais" (Imaginary Ireland) and was a compilation of Irish folk and trad music that was released in 1996, following a big festival that celebrated Irish culture in France. This album made me fall in love with Irish folk and trad music.

When Sharon Shannon came on, all I wanted to do was get up and dance. I didn't do it of course (I would probably have been thrown out of the venue!) but I was tapping and clapping along. That woman is a musical genius. It's hard to explain, but it is amazing to see how fast her fingers go when she plays the accordion or the tin whistle. Her pianist was equally amazing. I mean, come on! The guy was playing piano AND guitar at the same time!! How crazy is that? This is the kind of music that completely lift my spirit and makes me forget all my problems. 

My best friend also plays accordion and we used to dance to the sound of Breton and Irish tunes. She is very talented and I know she is a big fan of Sharon. 

I know she will kill me but well... picture taken a long long time ago

When I saw there were CDs for sale, I couldn't resist buying one for her birthday. It's a limited edition CD of an upcoming DVD of one of her concerts, but it will only be released on Saint Patrick's day. On top of that I managed to meet Sharon after the concert, get a signed copy with a personal message for my friend, and a picture!

Personalized message and autograph
I look a bit crazy don't you think?

I couldn't have asked for more and I'm sure my friend will be very happy with her present.

This concert was the perfect way to end a fantastic year. 

Happy New Year everybody, see you all in 2015 !

Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas break

This was taken on Christmas Eve, a few hours before it all went wrong!!
I had to take a forced break from blogging over the Christmas period. This wasn't due to the fact that I wanted to spend some quality time with my family and my friends, spend days eating chocolate and drinking wine or the fabulous Christmas dinner my neighbour had cooked. No, I was ill before, during and after Christmas...
It all started with a massive cold 10 days ago and all I was waiting for at that stage were my holidays. I had to work until 23rd of December but knowing I would be off until the 5th of January kept me going for the last few days. I could barely breathe day or night but eventually I felt better on Christmas Eve.
Fantastic! I thought. I'll be able to at least enjoy a nice evening with Fabrice, eat seafood (home tradition!) and drink lots of wine and beer. We were supposed to have Christmas day dinner at home with friends of ours, but they unfortunately had to cancel, due to illness (I'm sure it was a sign...). At the last minute, our Danish neighbour invited us for a traditional home-made lunch. It was perfect. No need to cook or even clean!
On Christmas Eve I was OK but not great. I couldn't drink alcohol for some reason but ate anyway. First we had prawns, crab meat and crayfish topped with lemon mayonnaise. Then, in pure French style, we dug in the cheese, saucisson, salami and pâté. God it was good!! 
Unfortunately I think this was way too much for my stomach to handle and I regretted my sins around 3 in the morning when I woke up with cold sweats and an urge to go to the bathroom. I will spare you the details but I'm sure you know what I mean.
It went downhill from there and today is the first day I feel well enough to put some coherent words together. I couldn't eat anything of what my neighbour had cooked and my Christmas day lunch consisted of a slice of bread, three potatoes and water. I felt so bad on St Stephen's day we didn't even get dressed at all. The kids stayed all day in their PJ's and I ended up on the couch, too weak to even give out at them for watching too many Minecraft videos. Mind you, I know everything about that game now. The bad thing about not being able to get up to switch off the TV? I had to watch the whole SpongeBog Gameplay they ended up putting on Youtube... Maybe worse than my stomach bug. The good thing though, is that I definitely didn't over indulge during the festive season, and I think I might have lost some weight. Every cloud has its silver lining after all...
I also had time to think about some new ideas for the blog. I will be doing an "A to Z" blog series about my Irish experience, more Expat books reviews, and I'm also going to write about other expats and their own story. This will be done in the form of features, not straight interviews. What I want to do is tell stories of ordinary people like me, who decided to live in Ireland. I have a few friends already interested, but please if you want to feature, don't hesitate to contact me.
I am looking for people from all backgrounds, all nationalities, who are living in Ireland and are willing to share their experience. I have a list of questions but this is just a base. You can tell everything that is important to you. So please, get in touch if  that's sound like something you want to do!!
That's it for now folks, I know I've been off for a long time, but I'm back now so watch this space for great new posts, and Happy New year !! 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Interview with Celtic Life International

A few weeks ago I was asked to take part in an interview for Celtic Life International, a Canadian magazine that specializes in Celtic culture. The journalist was particularly interested in the fact that I moved from a Celtic region to a Celtic country and wanted to know more about the Christmas traditions both in Ireland and Brittany.

From my answers, she wrote a piece that featured in the Christmas print edition of the magazine (My first feature, I am so proud!). My answer were so detailed and long that she asked the editor if the whole Q&A could appear in the website itself. And now it is! You can read my whole interview below or have a look at the website

Anne Canaveera is the blogger behind “Nearly Irish?” She grew up in Brittany and as a young adult moved to Ireland in 2002. Celtic Life International reached out to Canaveera to learn what it was like living in both Celtic nations and to see how the two compared this yuletide time of year.
What do you miss most about living in Brittany?
Apart from the obvious like my family and friends, I miss the food (typical for a French girl, hey!). In Brittany, we eat a lot of seafood, and I miss big platters of langoustines fresh from the sea, crab, scallops, crayfish or prawns. I also miss all the sweet stuff: biscuits, cakes, crepes…My mum sends me packages full of buttery biscuits and home-made Breton cake regularly (much to the delight of my Irish co-workers!) I also miss the buzzing atmosphere during summer, my home town weekly market on Thursdays, traditional music and dance festivals, and days at the beach. Thankfully, I usually go back home in July so I have a taste of all that at least once a year!

What do you like most about living in Ireland?
I just love Irish people and the “Land of a Thousand Welcomes” is definitely not a myth. This is going to sound cheesy, but the majority of Irish people I’ve met throughout the years were just fantastic, from my Irish host family to my former landlord, my kid’s childminder, my colleagues and obviously my friends! Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe I had the right attitude, I don’t know. I’ve always tried to integrate as much as I could in the country and get to know Irish people, instead of staying in an expat bubble; which probably explains why I’m still here after 12 years! Life in Ireland is less stressful, people are more laid-back and less judgemental than the French, and that’s playing a big part in our quality of life. I love the fact that Irish people always find a funny side to every situation; “better laugh about something than cry” should be their motto. Irish humour is dark, sarcastic, satiric, full of puns. I’m jealous sometimes that I can’t be as funny as them! I also love the atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub. Even though Irish people are known for their fondness of alcohol (Breton people as well, don’t worry!), the pub is actually an important place in the community, and helps maintain a social link. Every time I go to my local, there are people of all ages, from young adults to retired, and you would never see that in France.

From your personal experience growing up in Brittany and now living in Ireland is Celtic culture obvious in both places?
I grew up in Brittany, a region with a very strong cultural identity. Even though I was never actively involved in traditional music or dance groups, I was always interested in Breton culture. I have a lot of cousins who play in a bagad (the Breton equivalent of a pipe band), and friends who belong to Breton Dance groups. I can dance myself, but just for fun and I used to go to fest-noz (the equivalent of a ceili) a lot when I still lived at home. There are a lot of fest-noz during summer, and all the generations are mixed, it’s very popular. I also studied the basics of Breton language at school, and my parents, even though they are not fluent speakers, can understand the language very well. As a kid, I also used to dress up in traditional costume for the yearly parade in my village. Some members of my family used to wear the traditional costume everyday (up until the 1950s) and speak Breton fluently. So as you can see, I was pretty much surrounded by everything Celtic! Although I am very attached to my region, I always knew I wanted to live abroad. I had already been to Scotland and Wales twice, so naturally, when the opportunity of a full-time job came up in Ireland, I took it. One of the main reasons I chose Ireland was because it is a Celtic country, but when I arrived, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of Celtic “feeling” to the place. Maybe the fact that I lived in Dublin didn’t help. I was hoping to find Irish music sessions in pubs, people going to ceilis at the weekend, traditional music and dance festivals etc, but in fact, it nearly seemed like a dying culture, only staying alive for tourists in Temple Bar or Carroll’s (the ultimate Irish gift shop). I might be a bit harsh, because I know it’s different in other parts of the country, especially in the West, but that’s how I felt about Dublin. Having said that, I know people who play bagpipes, some that used to take part in Irish Dancing competitions, and even a few fluent Irish speakers. I just feel Breton culture is being constantly renewed and revitalised, but the Irish one seems to live in the past and has become less popular and too old-fashioned for the younger generation. Maybe it’s because, as a region we are trying to stand out compare to the rest of France and we have to fight to keep our culture alive.

Was Christmas a big deal for you growing up in Brittany?
Of course! I was raised in a Catholic family, so we learned from a young age about the significance of Christmas. We usually decorated the tree and set the crib all together, as a family. And every year, we went to Midnight Mass. Obviously, Santa Claus (or Père Noël as we call him in France) was as important (if not more!) as the birth of Jesus and I couldn’t wait to open my presents on Christmas morning.

How does Christmas in Ireland compare to Brittany?
The Christmas season starts early in Ireland! As soon as Halloween is over, shops are filled with decorations, chocolates boxes, toys, cards, Christmas pudding, and so on. The streets are decorated and the houses as well. You’d never see that many lights in Brittany! The religious side of Christmas is pretty much the same in both countries but the Santa Claus tradition is a little bit different. In Brittany, we don’t put milk and cookies out for Santa and actually I don’t remember leaving anything for him when I was a kid. I know in other parts of France they leave water and carrots for the reindeer, but my family never did that! The important meal in Ireland is on Christmas day but in France it’s generally on Christmas Eve. Except in my family. We usually had finger food (salmon, foie gras or paté on toasts) and sparkling wine on Christmas Eve, but the big family meal would be on the 25th of December. The menu however differs slightly. In Ireland, you can’t escape the turkey, stuffing and gravy, mash, roasted and boiled potatoes, vegetables, and the Christmas pudding to finish it off. In Brittany (in my family at least), the typical menu is fresh langoustines for a starter (sometimes oysters), roasted chicken and chips or green beans, salad, cheese and the “Christmas log” for dessert, which is a cake shaped like a log (in case you didn’t guess!). One tradition my parents brought back with them after a trip to Ireland is the Christmas crackers! They absolutely loved them. Sadly the jokes are in English so they never understand them, but at least they get a little gift and are very proud to wear a paper crown!

Have you been back to Brittany for Christmas since you moved to Ireland?
I work in an industry where Christmas is the busiest period of the year, so unfortunately I only went back home for Christmas once since I moved to Ireland. It was in 2011, when my second son was only 4 months old. I managed to go back only because I was on maternity leave—it was pure luck really. It was really nice to spend the holiday season with my family and of course, my two kids were spoiled by their grandparents, and the rest of the family. It was a bit like going back in time and I truly enjoyed it.

How will you be spending Christmas this year?
Because we don’t have any family around (my husband is from Mauritius), we started a little tradition of our own for Christmas. We usually spend the day with friends who are not going home either. We spent Christmas with many different people over the years, but the celebration is always international. We usually take this chance to learn about the way other countries celebrate Christmas. This year…we will probably cook a nice meal for some friends. We love eating mussels for Christmas; that’s definitely not your traditional Christmas dinner!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Book review: Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs, Expat style

My only experience of the Netherlands consists of a two days training in Amsterdam. I stayed in a hotel near the airport, went out in the town for a meal and that was pretty much it. During that intense experience I noticed that the "bike" culture wasn't a myth. While walking towards the restaurant, I saw a multi-storey car park FULL of bikes, literally thousand of them. How are you supposed to find your own in this mess? 
I would have also liked to try one of the famous coffee-shops, but being with my boss, I didn't think it was a great idea. We eventually ate in an Italian restaurant, went back to the hotel and that was it. The following day I went back home. The stay was so short I feel I didn't have time to experience anything really "Dutch". And despite all my efforts in bribing my superiors, they never sent me back there for more training.

For the past year or so, I've been reading Amanda's blog, a British mum of 3 boys, who has lived in The Netherlands with her Dutch husband for the past 14 years. She was recently a featured author in the anthology "Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs, Expat style". As you might know, memoirs are my favourite type of books, so I had to give that one a go. Who knows, I might go back there at some stage.

The book is a collection of stories from women expats who live in the Netherlands, and it's divided into topics: Culture shock, language learning, food, working, marrying someone Dutch, pregnancy and birth, and so on...

Even though my own experience of the Netherlands is very limited, I took a lot of pleasure reading about anecdotes and stories about foreigners trying to settle in a new country. I learned a lot about Dutch culture, from "open to view" houses (they apparently don't put curtains on their windows over there), to drug-free births. It seems the Dutch are a very direct, no bullshit kind of people (that would probably disturb the Irish a bit as they usually don't mean what they say and don't say what they mean).
There's one thing Irish and Dutch have in common though: Doctors who don't prescribe medicine or antibiotics unless you are dying in front of them. Usually bread and rest solve everything in the Netherlands. I've experienced exactly the same here... quite frustrating sometimes.

I think the hardest thing when you move to another country is learning the language and re-building a whole new social network. The authors explain those barriers very well and how they overcame them. This is what made the book really interesting. Real people, real experiences.

This book is definitely a must have for anyone who, like me, loves reading about other expats stories, and also for people who want to move to the Netherlands and would like to know more about what it's really like living over there.


Friday, 12 December 2014

Lost and found

I've lost it...again!  

I'm knackered. I've spent about an hour trying to find Ethan's beloved soft toy "Coco". I know he's in the house somewhere. Ethan was playing with it on the couch before going to bed, and of course, when bed time came, he was gone. It's probably in the black hole along with the Gruffalo book we lost last week, and half of my husband's socks.

Of course my 3 years old couldn't tell me where he put it. "He's in the river", he said excitedly. I checked the bath, the shower, the toilets, the sink, but no sign of Coco. I looked pretty much everywhere. To be fair, it's not the first time it's happening. Once I found him in a drawer. Another time it was on the highest shelf in the living room. I think the best one was when Ethan put him in the bin. I couldn't believe it and I had only looked in there because I was desperate...! Now it's the first place I look in. But this time, nothing. I even checked the washing machine, the dishwasher, all the cupboards... I am puzzled. Where the hell is that rabbit??

Honestly, I should know better and actually, we're already on Coco number 2. We lost him while on holidays in France during summer. I have no idea how it happened, but I think Fabrice took Ethan on the bike and Coco fell on the road. I didn't notice he took him in the first place so that's kind of my fault. Anyway, I looked it up on the internet and in two clicks I bought his replacement. To avoid big tears, my mum went to the supermarket and bought a different one, a cow. But you know kids, Ethan wasn't fooled one bit, and kept telling my mum it wasn't Coco. So he called it "Coco mamie" (Grand-mother in French). The "real" Coco was delivered two days later and everything went back to normal. Except he was already attached to "Coco mamie" by then, and we had to bring it back to Ireland as well. So now, he has two Cocos... Double trouble, twice the chances of losing them!

At least I found it easily online. It wasn't the same story when we lost Didi, Ciaran's plush toy. Fabrice had the brilliant idea of letting him take it to IKEA... The land of super efficient storage spaces. It was during the "I-open-every-cupboard-and-put-something-in-it" phase Ciaran was going through. Needless to say Didi probably found a new home in one of the children's bedroom cupboard. 

My online quest for a new Didi lasted for a whole day. I spent hours on the web looking for that damn toy. It was originally a present from a cousin of mine who, of course, didn't remember where she bought it. It was coming from France so I searched every French online shop possible with the description " blue and brown rabbit". I was getting nowhere when I decided to use Google images instead and finally found the treasure! It was on a "Lost soft toys" website, and there was only one left. That's when I discovered it was not a rabbit, but a dog. Don't laugh, it definitely looks like a rabbit shaped dog.

I don't know if all parents out there feel like me, but all this losing and searching for their favourite soft toy is exhausting, and stressfull. Not only you have to rip the house apart but you also have to deal with the tears and the lengthy explanations on the whereabouts of their beloved teddy... And if you have to buy another one, you have to pray that they will not make the difference between the old and new one.

If only there was some sort of tracking tag we could put on those things and every time you lose them you could "call" the toy and it would make a sound.. I've looked that up online, it doesn't seem to exist, so I might be on to something here!! I just need to take a crash course in electronics and computing. The thing is, I'm sure a lot of parents would be interested!

Anyway, for the time being, I have to keep searching. I'm off to the freezer, I haven't looked there yet.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My 100th post and 1 year of blogging !

I can't believe it's been one year already. I remember thinking about starting a blog in English but I was afraid it wouldn't work. "Who would want to read stories in English about a French mum in Ireland?" I though to myself so many times...
It took me months (if not years) to finally take the courage and start writing. And I really thought nobody would be interested. 
I had a very insightful conversation with my mum about this blog yesterday. She was wondering why people were reading it and why they were interested in my experience as an expat in Ireland. 
At the moment, she is reading the memoirs of a Breton author, about his youth in a boarding school. So I asked her why she liked it so much.
"I can relate" she said. "It reminds me of my own teenage years in a boarding school".
It was exactly the answer I was looking for. I think people read my blog because they can relate. Maybe they are expats, French, they have kids, they know me or maybe they just like Ireland...
I've also realised that writing made me read a lot more. I've discovered so many great blogs along the way and I didn't suspect the Irish blogging community was so big! My greatest achievement was definitely making the final of the Blog Awards Ireland, and the awards ceremony was without a doubt one my highlights of 2014!
I also want to say thank you to everyone who reads and appreciate my blog. It makes me want to keep at it and not give up. Finally I want to say a very special "Merci" to Muriel, who inspired me and whose blog gave me a kick in the butt to start my own!
I have a few ideas for the year to come, so all I'll say is "Stay tuned!"

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Birthday party

On Friday evening, I noticed a birthday invitation in my 3 years old school bag. An invitation for the following day! After moaning for a while about inconsiderate parents who don't even give a week notice before a birthday party, I realised my son only goes to playschool 2 days a week, Monday and Friday, so maybe that's why he didn't get the invite earlier (although they really could have given it on Monday...)

Going to a 4 years old girl birthday party wasn't exactly in the plans I had for the week-end. Fabrice was out at the races for the day (a guys day out...Some people have it good, don't they?!) and left at 11am, so I had to bring my eldest along to the party.

Great. I had to find a birthday present, and go to a party where I didn't know anybody. Not exactly how I was hoping to spend my Saturday afternoon. I went shopping and time was against me to find a birthday present for a girl I had never met. Ethan  tried to help and insisted on buying little hair bows. It was very cute to watch! Somehow, I found a pink, fluffy piggy bank that was also a bubble bath bottle, all at a very reasonable price. I am proud to say that I'm super efficient when it comes to present buying. 

It was time for the party which was held in an indoor play area. Finding the mum was easier than I thought and Ethan gave the present to the little girl. She opened it straight away and I got a little bit scared. To be honest, I wasn't ready for rejection in case the present wasn't to her taste, but the look on her face said it all. She was delighted! And her mum as well: "Thank you so much, she absolutely LOVE pigs!"... At least I got one thing right. 

All the kids started to run around, so it was time for me to stand awkwardly by the side, and look at my phone pretending I was busy. Every few minutes I took a glance at my kids to make sure they were OK. 
I didn't know anybody. Not one face. You see, I don't drop Ethan at playschool, and the childminder picks him up so it doesn't help the social interaction. Everybody was sitting at the same table, all chatting away and I was completely left out. When I'm in a room full of stranger, I'm just the most uncomfortable and shy person so I had no clue on how to start a conversation.

I noticed a girl who was on her own, but I wasn't sure she was part of the party so I quietly observed her for a while. After 15 minutes of pure discomfort, I just decided to go for it and started a conversation. She was glad I did because she was in the same boat. 

Then it was eating time. I can't say if it was lunch or dinner or snack. What do you call a 4:30pm chicken nuggets and chips meal? Anyway, both my kids were supposed to share their food as only  Ethan had been formerly invited, but it didn't matter as they're not big eaters. In the end, he didn't even want to sitdown  and Ciaran just ate all his food, even the cake. Ah well... At least there was no fight. 

The hardest part of the day? Trying to leave the play centre (which is more like an attraction park). It took A LOT of bribing to exit the place, but we eventually made it out. I was exhausted.

And we had to do it all over again the following day as we were invited to another Birthday party. Except that time it was in a house, and I knew everybody. Phew! 


Thursday, 27 November 2014

My very unorganized life

I'm normally super-organized at work, or at least I used to be until two weeks ago, when I started my new job. Suddenly, everything I knew was gone and I was thrown in the unknown. I was the new person again, the learner, the trainee. I love being on top of things. I hate being all over the place and most importantly, I need to have a clear understanding of what I need to do. 

I wasn't expecting to know everything about my job within a couple of weeks, but I was hoping to have clear answers to my questions. Or at least work off clear procedures. None of that has really happened and I'm starting to wonder if this is an Irish thing. There's no certainty, everything is approximate and well, of course I end up making mistakes (which I absolutely hate). This is as much as I will tell you about my job, because I don't think this is the place to do so, but today, I'm feeling really down about the whole thing and I just need to vent.

The thing is, this new job has taken up so much space in my mind, I can't think about anything else. My brain is constantly working, and for some reason, I find it impossible to switch off (see, I'm even writing a post about it!). 

Before, my super-organized working brain was enough to compensate for the mess that is my home life. It's hard to believe, but I'm really messy when it comes to my house, paperwork, kids stuff, and so on. For some extraordinary reason, we've never been late paying any bills or never missed any appointments. I always pay my childminder on time, remember my friend's kids birthday parties, and I rarely forget to buy milk or bread on my way home. My job and my personal life were always separated and as soon as I stepped in my car after work, I stopped thinking about it until the following day.

But for the past two weeks, switching off has just been impossible. I keep forgetting things and it's destabilizing. Every time there's a change in my routine, I freak out and can't seem to stay calm and rational. In short, my life is pure chaos. I even dream about my job so it's in my mind 24/7, and I'm tired.

I think I like what I do. It's very varied, interesting, but incredibly stressful. I thought I knew what stress was but I was clearly wrong. It was nothing compared to what I have to deal with now. I'm not dreading to go to work as such, but the amount of things I have to do and the fact that I haven't found a way to be efficient yet is scaring me.

I hope it will get better but for the moment, I'm lost and I hate that feeling.  

Any advice will be greatly appreciated :-)

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Expatriation vs emigration

Expat or emigrant? After 12 years in Ireland and with no intention (so far) of going home, I should maybe start considering myself as an immigrant. When I decided to leave France, in my mind I was "going abroad", "expatriating", "discovering a new country". Never once I told someone I was "emigrating"!

Why do Irish people always talk about "emigration" when they leave Ireland? It's something that gets me confused because I really feel this word has a very negative connotation. It feels like they are being forced out of their home country to re-build a whole new life somewhere else.

I've looked up the definition of both words and this is what I found:

Expatriate: An individual living in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work reasons. 

Emigrant: A person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another.

I understand that Ireland is a small country (therefore with less opportunities) and emigration is part of Irish history for centuries, but I don't believe we should talk about it so negatively. When I read articles about the subject, most of the time it's about families torn apart and people being forced to leave. And it feels like there is no hope of these people ever coming back to Ireland (hence the "emigrant" definition). So yes, maybe even before leaving, they already believe there is no coming back.

I left France voluntarily. Back in the early 2000's when I finished my studies, the economic outlook in France was quite bleak. If you didn't have experience, there was very little chance of a job. But if you couldn't get a job, how were you supposed to get experience? I made the choice of leaving the country, but it was more to discover another culture and improve my English than just by pure economic necessity. I was hoping to stay two or three years and then go back home with experience and find a better job. As it happened, I met a guy, bought an apartment, had kids and I'm still here. But it wasn't my initial plan!
The majority of French people and foreigners I've met throughout the years are back in their home country and found a job without too much difficulty. The experience abroad definitely helped.

My husband left Mauritius in 2002 because he was offered a job in Ireland. Of course, his reasons for accepting the offer were very different than mine. He was working at the time but wasn't earning enough to sustain himself and take care of his parents. Trust me, when you earn less than 200 Euros a month (and you're the only one working in your family), you're not living, you're just surviving. He decided that leaving would be a better option to be able to help his family. He had the same plan as me. A couple of years saving money and he would be back home. As you can see, things haven't really worked the way he had planned! Now, there is no way he would live again in Mauritius. Re-adaptation would simply be impossible.

My brother-in-law also came to Ireland, in 2005. He left behind his wife and his then 5 years old daughter. He came here, studied computer science during the day and worked as a chef at night and at week-ends. He worked and worked and worked. He saved a lot of money and really sacrificed himself to offer a better life to his family. After a few years here, he had enough money to build a house back home. He actually had a great time in Ireland. He made a lot of friends and managed to have a good social life. He really enjoyed his time here but it was just impossible for his wife and daughter to join him and after 6 years, he decided to go back home and move into his newly built house. 
Nobody ever forced him to emigrate. He just decided to do what he thought was best for his family. I'm not saying it was an easy choice, but he took the experience positively and in the long run, it paid off.

And he's not the only person I know in this case.  A lot of foreigners come to Ireland to work, save money, and go back home after a few years. And then, some of them like me or Fabrice just decide to stay. I also have other family members in Mauritius who are not in a great financial situation but wouldn't want to leave their country and their family, even if it meant more money. 

So why is it so hard for Irish people to realise that maybe a good part of all these "expats/emigrants" will come back to Ireland? Why is there such negativity around the idea of emigration? Why does the general consensus seem to be that people are forced to leave without any chance of returning?

We all have different experiences, but maybe if people who emigrate were trying to take it as a chance instead of a punishment, and had a more positive attitude there wouldn't be so much negativity around the subject. 

Maybe we should stop using the word "emigration" for a start...


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Shopping nightmare

I should have written this post last night, but I got stuck in my children's bedroom. Literally. Let's just say I will never ever slam a door again, or I will carry a screwdriver at all times...

Anyway, back to the real subject of this post.

For the past 8 years, I wore a uniform at work. I never had to ask myself "what am I going to wear tomorrow?", which in my case was just perfect because I absolutely hate shopping. And especially for clothes. Retail therapy? Well for me it's more about the therapy I need after the shopping experience...When I was a teenager, my mum used to give me money to go shopping, because she knew I would come back with nothing. And if I did, it meant I would definitely wear it. I'm just not lucky when it comes to clothes, and I'm not making this up, it's been witnessed by several people. When I eventually find something I like, you can be sure there won't be my size, or the colour, or it will be too expensive. If my size is available, it won't fit. The size above will be too big. Basically, I never win. The thing is, I just find the experience too stressful and I give up easily if I can't find what I am looking for. The fact that I usually have a very precise idea of what I want doesn't help either, because I rarely find what I have in mind.

Starting a new job, I had no choice but to go and buy office wear. I didn't even know if there was a dress code in the company, but considering I have a very casual style, I really had to buy something decent. I had a plan in mind: 3 tops/jumpers, 3 pair of different colour trousers, a new pair of shoes and a coat. Simple enough you would think, well, not for me.

Off I went to Penneys. I couldn't have picked the worst day. The shop was celebrating 30 years in business, so it was absolutely full. Basket in hand, I tried to make my way around the aisles. Every time I was checking something out, a few clothes would fall as the hangers were too full, or I would bump into a customer. The queue for the fitting rooms was unreal, so I just threw a brown jumper and a pair of black trousers in my basket. The only choice of colour was black or blue (or hideous prints) so I couldn't find any other pair I liked. I then tried on a few coats, and in the end I was lucky. I found the perfect one but off course they didn't have my size, so I took a chance I tried a smaller one, that amazingly fitted.

In the shoes section,things got a bit more difficult. Seriously, why are there no shoes with a regular heel? They are either completely flat, or 10cms high. I can't walk in high heels but I'm not very tall so I still need a bit of height! Needless to say I got very frustrated, so I just decided to pay and escape the battlefield.

I went to another shop. Same story. Giant heels or flat shoes, no middle. In the end I gave up and decided the pair of boots I had at home would be fine. I was so stressed I didn't even try on the grey pair of trousers and cardigan I found, and just made my way to the checkout.

In the end, I came home exhausted, with a headache and unhappy because I didn't find everything I wanted (even though I knew it would happen). Then I spent a good hour figuring out what I would wear and finally settled on the grey trousers and brown jumper.

I went to work yesterday in my new "office clothes". Everybody was in JEANS.

Friday, 14 November 2014

My last day

As you might know, I'm crap at saying goodbye. And when I'm the one who leaves, it's even worse. 

Today was my last day at work and I will start my new job on Monday. I'm excited and nervous at the same time. You always know what you leave but you never know what you get, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Sure, I'll be grand (I'm really trying to convince myself here -Irish style!-).

First of all, I thought I would actually not make it to my last day. My village was flooded on each side, and I had to take a 20 mns detour to go to work! Thank God I eventually got there after a good hour of driving. All the way to work, I thought about how it was the last time I was waking up early, taking the same road, going through the toll bridge. The last time. The LAST time.

I arrived at work and started my day as usual. I'm actually surprised about the amount of work I got done. Of course I took it a bit easy today, but I'm still professional and didn't want to leave on a bad impression, especially after all those years.

I worked (it feels very strange to say it in the past tense) for an International delivery company, so my early morning was spent saying goodbye to all the drivers before they left for their own day's work. I don't think I've been hugged by so many men in a such period of time. There were awkward hugs (most of them), squeezing hugs, kisses (they were trying to do it the French way obviously), a handshake (So impersonal!), and one of them even lift me off the floor... But all of them had kind words and trust me, by the end of my tour I was becoming very emotional. They really are a nice bunch of lads and they were always very nice to me (even at the beginning when I couldn't understand half of what they were saying).

I then spent probably an hour working on my "Goodbye" e-mail. I just couldn't get into it. I didn't know what to say, how to say it. I usually have no problem writing, but when it comes to goodbye, I just can't do it. Everything I came up with was flat, boring and didn't reflect how I felt. Maybe I'm just not great at expressing my feelings in general. I couldn't spend the whole day writing an email, so in the end, I wrote something generic, with a little joke and some words in French...

I got lovely presents from my colleagues. And here's the funny bit. It looks like the different departments and people I work with, didn't really consult each other. They all did their own little thing. And that's how I got 4 cards and 4 bunches of flowers! I also received a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine.

My managers slagged me off till the last minute. I wouldn't have expected my exit any other way to be honest. One of them joked that the next time I would have that many flowers would be on my grave... Oh, typical Irish humour!

8 years is a long time. It took me a while to settle, mainly because I wasn't used to work with Irish people, but I can now say that I've learned a lot about my adoptive country with my Irish colleagues.

And to be honest, I'm probably "Nearly Irish" thanks to them.

Monday, 10 November 2014

My great great Grand-mother

This picture has been in my family for a long time and has an unusual history. We don't know when it was taken or who took it. We don't even know if the woman in picture had any knowledge of her portrait being taken because when the picture was discovered, she had already passed away.

The headpiece she wears could indicate a time period, but I'm no expert, so I would say it's probably the early 1900s.  

Her grand-son, my grand-father's cousin, used to work for the SNCF (the National Railway company) and on a trip to Paris in the 1950's-1960's, he found this picture, which is actually a postcard, in a shop.

He instantly recognized his grand-mother and bought the postcard. When he came back he made it into photographs so the family could keep it.

The picture was taken in the church porch of my native village. This is also where I got married, so it has a special significance.

I love this photograph and the atmosphere the comes out of it. Every time I look at it, I feel serenity and peacefulness. 

I have never known my great great grand-mother, but I can feel she's watching over me.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Breton connections

My mum is sending me about 20 kgs of Breton biscuits next week. You've read it right. In fairness, a lot of those biscuits are presents for my colleagues. They just love them and there's always a bit of excitement in the office every time I receive a package full of Breton delights. This time, it's the last one, so everyone at work will taste a bit of Brittany before I leave for good. They all have their favorite. One of the managers love the chocolate-orange biscuits, another one always ask for "brioche" and one of my colleague couldn't contain his joy when I told him he would get a kouing-amann (literally "butter cake"), or "Cholesterol bomb", as he calls it...

I love when my mum sends me food packages. The thing is, I don't actively look for anything Breton in shops around here (because I could be looking for months, really). I'm satisfied enough with what supermarkets have to offer, and I didn't come to Ireland to eat the same cuisine than at home (actually, I didn't come to Ireland for the food, that's for sure!). But I think it's nice to taste a bit of home once in a while.

Sometimes I get surprised by the Breton stuff I can find around though, and yes, I get very excited whenever I discover little bits of my country when I go shopping.

A few months after I moved to Ireland, I went to the off-licence and do you know what I found in one of the fridges? A Breton Camembert! In a place where they sell alcohol? Seriously? I got all excited about it (I don't need much, I know), until I spotted the price: 5.99 Euros! Clearly, it was the only Camembert they imported from Brittany to sell it at that price, or maybe it was branded as a luxury product, to eat with their finest French Red wine (It was the Celtic tiger era after all)... I didn't find out. I was just shocked and left. Without my beloved Breton Camembert.

5.99 euros for that??

Last year, in Dunnes Stores clothes section, I saw this striped shirt, a typical Breton fashion item. 

I thought to myself " That's funny, a Breton shirt in an Irish shop!" And then I looked at the tag:

I really think Dunnes Stores has someone on the inside who is either Breton or passionate about the region, because a couple of months ago, this is what I read in their leaflet :

The last line reads "Bretonne Baguette"

A Bretonne baguette?!! I was so intrigued I asked the manager of my local Dunnes Stores if he knew who could possibly have come up with that name. Unfortunately, I was told the bread was made by Cuisine de France and that they were just selling it. 
So I contacted them, but sadly, I was informed they didn't make that bread. Back to square one, I sent an email to Dunnes stores Customer Service but they never came back to me. So I guess I will never know...

Another Breton delicacy famous throughout the world is the "crêpe". Because my mum makes the best ones, and I also can make my own on the traditional bilig (crêpe maker), I can be very picky when it comes to taste.

At the Drogheda Maritime Festival two years ago, there were of course a few "crêpes" stands. I was pretty sure they used the same horrible mix for sweet and savory crêpes but I decided to try one, just for the craic, although I made sure to ask what type of flour was used ( At this stage, you must really think I'm a freak).

"Oh, don't worry, I use buckwheat flour. I'm from Northern Ireland but I was trained in Brittany, in a crêperie" the seller told me.

So I bought one and I have to say, it was delicious. I was about to leave when the guy hailed at me:

"Wait, I'll show you something"

He went to his car, and came back with that:
A Northern Irish crepe maker, who drives around with a Breton flag in the boot...

I knew Irish people liked Brittany, obviously because of the Celtic connection, but I didn't think that some shops would actually try to sell products branded as "Breton" or that Irish people would learn how to make crêpes. 
Maybe I should make a business of selling Breton biscuits in Ireland. Who knows, it might just work!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Good things come to those who wait

A new chapter in my life

I've been ill for the past week. Cold, flu or something in between, I don't really know. All I know is I feel shit. The weird temperatures haven't helped I think. One morning it was 18° and the following day it was 5°. Apparently we had the warmest Halloween on record, and we'll have the coldest winter ever. Sounds familiar?

Anyway, between the odd weather and 3 boxes of Lempsip, last week was pretty eventful but I was so stressed and anxious during the day that I was shattered in the evening and therefore not very prolific with the writing. 

So what happened?  

At the beginning of the year, I took two big resolutions: Buying a new car, and finding a new job (I like putting pressure on myself, I know!).

I bought a new car back in March, a bit by accident. Well, because of an accident, really. In short, Fabrice was involved in a crash. Fortunately, he escaped uninjured but his car had to be written off. Mine had to be changed for a while, but I kept postponing the big purchase. A couple of years ago, my job moved 15 miles further and I knew I would have to buy a diesel car eventually, especially because my good old Citroen C3 kept giving up on me with all the extra daily travel. So, when Fabrice had the accident, although it was a shock, we realised it was actually the sign we had been waiting for. We decided he would keep my old car and I would get a diesel. I saw the difference in the petrol bill straight away and it gave us a bit of relief financially.

However, since my job has relocated, I have to drive an extra 20 mns each way and pay the M50 toll bridge (4.20 euros a day!). Even if my hours are good and I don't get stuck in traffic too much, I am very tired. I'm up at 5:30am to start at 7am and I'm not home before 4:15pm once the kids are collected from the childminder. And of course, it's not like I could just crash on couch after a long day. The afternoons are usually a mix of housework, homework battles and constant toddler entertainment! Add a mix of flooding when bath time gets a little to exciting, multiple story telling (of course none of them want the same story!), bed time fighting and I eventually get to put my feet up at 8pm. By that time, all I want to do is go to sleep myself, but that's when I take on the laptop and try to write a little something! I'm usually asleep by 9:30pm as I need my 8 hours of beauty sleep to be able to function the next day.

I had been looking for a job for a long time, but even more since the move. I have to admit I was always a bit picky. I didn't want a job where I would speak French (even though there are plenty of them), I wanted a job closer to home, with good hours, but still in line with my studies (I have a degree in International trade and worked in logistics for the past 12 years). I had quite a good few interviews over the years. I had a couple of job offers but the hours or the money didn't suit. Sometimes I didn't get the jobs I applied for and at times I was just too comfortable in my position to look for something else.

In French we say "Tout vient a point qui sait attendre", which means "Good things come to those who wait". After all those years of waiting for a good opportunity, I have finally come very close. I just landed a job 15 minutes drive from home, with very good hours, where I'll be able to put into practice different things I've learned in my studies and during my working life. 

Needless to say I'm very happy. Of course it will feel very strange to say goodbye to the people I've worked with for the past 8 years but I think it's time to open a new chapter in my life. 

And for once, it comes at the right moment.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

An american girl in Paris

Since I got my Kindle, I have read in a month what I would normally read in a year! Very good investment if you ask me.

I've been following Vicky's blog for a long time, found by chance when I was looking for inspiration to start my own. So of course, I had to read her books (yes, because she already wrote two!)

Vicky is an American thirty-something from St Louis (In Missouri, not in Louisiana like half of Parisian guys seem to think!), who has lived in Paris for the last 10 years. Within this time she managed to find a job, a husband, have 2 kids, write 2 books, drink a lot more wine than necessary, stuff her face with too many croissants and survive, with difficulty sometimes, the very frustrating French administration.

In her first book "Confessions of a Paris party girl", she recounts the early years, up until she gets married. The title says it all.  She really is confessing all her antics in the French capital. She finds some drinking buddies, one of whom is an Irish girl (of course!) who teaches her some Irish phrases amongst other things. The part where she doesn't understands what "taking the piss" means made me laugh, because I really thought it was a universal saying, not specifically Irish. She's not ashamed of telling it as it is, from the drinking sessions to the hangovers and strange encounters. And there is A LOT of drinking. I wonder how her liver has survived. I'm not going to tell too much but in the end, of course, she meets a really nice Parisian guy (Yes, it does exist, I wouldn't have thought so). The way she describes Paris and the French way of life is very positive (except the Government workers but I'll have to agree with her on this one!), and the weird thing is that it nearly made me like the city. I'm not from Paris you see, very far from it actually, and we have this habit in Brittany to always criticize the Parisians and the Capital in general. This book almost makes me want to go back there for a visit...

The sequel, "Confessions of a Paris Potty trainer", tells her experience as an American mother in Paris. I related a lot more to that book, probably because I have kids myself. She goes through the doctors and midwives appointments where clearly she can't be ashamed of her body, as she has to lay down naked more than once on the examination table. That's something that struck with me. No, not all French women are comfortable with showing all their bits to a stranger! I still have nightmares of my first appointment with the gynaecologist when I was 18 and I had to bare it all. One thing I loved about being pregnant in Ireland is that here, they really respect patients privacy, always ask if you're OK, and explain what they're going to do. From Vicky's experience and my friends in France, I feel that French doctors don't treat pregnant women with the same respect for privacy. 
She had a hard time with both her pregnancies and had a very emotional account of how she gave birth prematurely to a first son (35 weeks), who had to stay in the premature unit for 11 days. Going through pre-term labour on her second pregnancy as well, she was put on bed rest at 25 weeks (and that's where she obviously found the time to finish her book!). Again, she is very honest in her experiences but somehow always manages to stay positive and see the funny side of every situation.

There is a lot more to say about both books but I'm not going to give too much away. It's a very easy read (I devoured them in less than a week), funny, witty, honest and I'd recommend them to anyone who is interested in what Paris life is really like. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Writing in a foreign language

A lot of questioning in this post...

Before I started this blog I asked myself for a long time whether I should write it in French or English. 

I spent months thinking about it, trying to find other blogs or websites written by French people in English and couldn't find any (Of course, since I started I found plenty!). On one hand I thought I would reach out to a wider audience if I was writing in English, on the other hand, it felt more logical to write in French.

I've had mixed reactions about the language of my blog. Unsurprisingly, they all came from my French friends and family. You see, some of them don't understand what I write, and Google doesn't offer a very faithful translation. I can see some friends who "like" the links on my Facebook page but I know they don't read the actual post. They're just being nice and supporting me in what I do, but I well know they don't get a word I write. One of my friend told me it was a shame I didn't write in French because she was convinced it was interesting, but couldn't get herself to translate every time. On a more positive note, another friend had a completely different reaction and told me that thanks to my blog, she was brushing up on her English. I was really happy to hear that!

This is where it's becoming a bit tricky. As I'm trying to write a memoir relating my early years experiences as a French expat in Ireland, I'm wondering if I should write it in English or French. Words flow quite easily in English, but I think I'm better at writing in my native language, especially descriptions. Words come more naturally in French in that department, and I wasn't expecting that at all. I've started in English, but the more I think about it and the more I write, I feel like scrapping everything and starting fresh, in my mother tongue.

Although my English is good, it's not perfect. I know I make mistakes (even though I'm a spelling freak) and sometimes what I write sounds really French. Will writing in English give me a potential edge to be published one day because I would have done something a bit different? Or will it be to my disadvantage for the same reasons?

If I write in French, I will always wonder if I could have reached out to a much bigger audience. When I check my blog stats and find out that a third of my readers come from the USA alone, it gives me the confidence that I made the right choice to write in English.

But I still wonder if readers find it weird to read their native language written by a foreigner!

Maybe I'm asking myself too many questions (as usual) and should just follow my instinct, which is sticking with English.

What do you think?