Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Stereotypes : My vision of Ireland before I emigrated

All countries have a degree of stereotypes. French are supposedly arrogant, always on strike, walk around in stripy shirts with a baguette in one hand, glass of wine in the other, while smoking a "Camel" cigarette. German are very organised and don't have any sense of humour, and British are.... well, Irish people just don't like them (800 years of oppression, as  they like to remind me, is a good reason not to like the Brits).

The truth is, even if stereotypes have a certain truth in them, fortunately it cannot define a whole nation (although I do have a stripy shirt, I enjoy baguette and wine, and I used to smoke "Camel" when I was young). My point is, if you've never lived in a different  country, you will always have a pre-conceived judgement based on how this country is represented in the media, movies or travel brochures...

In France, and particularly in Brittany, Ireland is portrayed as a mythical land, where time is suspended. The Emerald isle is the country of green valleys, lakes , sheep, wild landscapes, cliffs and medieval castles. It's the country of red-haired people playing traditional music in a smoky pub, drinking pints of Guinness.

You might laugh, but this is exactly how I pictured Ireland before I moved here. I knew there wouldn't be that many sheep in the capital, but I thought the city was just like in "The Commitments". I basically had a vision of the early 90's Dublin in mind and didn't have a clue about the Celtic Tiger.

Needless to say I was a bit shocked when I landed. You might wonder why I didn't do my research before coming though, especially when every expat website tells you it's the most important thing to do. 

Well, I moved to Ireland because I had a job lined up.  My new employer gave me 2 weeks to organise myself. I was on holidays abroad when he called me. When I came back home, I only had 10 days left to book a flight and get everything sorted (optician, dentist, social security, leaving party...). He got me in touch with an Irish family who was renting rooms, so I also had accommodation secured before the big move.

I didn't have time to check what Ireland was actually like, and to be honest, I was so sure it was going to be like all of the above, I didn't feel the need to research anything... In a way it doesn't matter. I'm happy with what I discovered over the years. There is so much more to Ireland and the Irish than the regular stereotypes.

One of them is true though, Ireland definitely is the "land of a thousand welcomes", and I will not thank my host family enough for everything they did for me the first few months I was living with them.

What about you ? Did you have a different vision of your host country before you moved , or did you do some research beforehand ?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Expat dilemma - Sometimes I want a "real holiday"

Ile De Batz - Brittany
Le Morne - Mauritius

We're going to France for 2 weeks in July and I can't wait. I haven't had a holiday for a year and I'm glad to go home, spending some quality time with my family and friends.

We usually try to go to France once a year, and we especially make the effort now that we have the kids.  We also go to my husband's native country, Mauritius, as often as we can, which is usually every 2 or 3 years.

The thing is, because we "have" to go to France and Mauritius regularly, we never travel anywhere else. I do realise this is a first world problem, and we should be grateful we can actually afford to go on holidays. Sometimes I wish I could go to France and Mauritius once a year, and then take another holiday, somewhere I don't know anybody, where I could just chill out.

Unfortunately we haven't won the lotto yet. Holidays "in our home country" have to be part of the yearly budget, and it feels we are constantly saving just to go home. Saving to pay for flight or ferry tickets. Saving to spend while we're at home. Saving, saving, saving. Now that the kids are older, they pay nearly the full price, and because one of them is going to school, we HAVE to go during mid-term break or summer time (which of course means more expensive journeys).

I know what you're thinking. Mauritius has to be holiday for me right ? It's an exotic place on the other side of the world, sandy beaches and palm trees all over the place. How stressful can it be?  The truth is, it is stressful, for my husband (therefore it is for me too). I would say it's especially more complicated for him because he's coming back from Europe, so he's sort of expected to help out financially. There is still this stereotype over there, that because we live in Europe, we are wealthier. In theory we are, but the cost of living in Ireland is much higher. Unfortunately we still have to explain that concept very often. When we are in Mauritius, Fabrice usually takes the role of cook, driver, tourist guide , event organiser and so on. So this is definitely not the typical "holiday". As for me, after 5 time over there, and as much as I love Mauritius (I even have a blog about it), I think I need to visit other places. 

We always say "next year we'll go to New-York / Greece / Spain / Morocco"...But there is always something happening that we need to be present for. Last year was my brother-in- law's wedding in Mauritius, next year is my sister's 40th and my best friend's wedding in France. 

We all have a choice right?  I think my friends and family will always be the first choice for me. Even if it means I have to endlessly postpone a "real" holiday. 

Off I go playing the Euromillions now... 

Are you in need of a "real" holiday?  How do you manage between the need to go home and the need to chill out somewhere else once in a while?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sun's out !

Yesterday was very lovely day. It was sunny the whole way through, and everybody seemed to be in the good mood (even if nobody could buy alcohol).

After work, I stopped by the supermarket, and all I could see were people in shorts, skirts and tee-shirts, wearing sunglasses and eating ice-cream.

I know it was a nice day and all, but seriously, it wasn't more than 15 degrees! I suppose we all need to make the most of the sun because let's face it, we don't see it very often, but I am always amazed at how fast Irish people can take their clothes off every time the sun makes an appearance (and get bad sunburn after)!

I have the chance to live in a seaside village, but it also means that as soon as it starts to get warm (by the Irish standards of course), everybody rushes to the beach. There can be traffic jams like this:

Can you believe cars can *actually* park on the beach ? This is something I will never get used to. And it's not free either. Well, it is, but only off-season. During Summer it will cost you 2 Euros!

Sometimes you have the occasional scatterbrain who forgets the tide... and flood his car.

I definitely love walking or sunbathing on that beach, but when it comes to the sea, I'm very  hard to please.  Do you know I have yet to go for a swim in the Irish sea ? 

I'm sure you're going to think I'm crazy, but for me the Irish Sea is, well, a sea. It's in between Ireland and UK. It's nearly too small, there are a lot of cargo ships, and boats and it might be a bit dirty (in my mind anyway). I also have this strange fear of swimming in the Mediterranean for example. It's  too "closed off". There are no tides, no renewal of water.  The same  goes with lakes. I need oceans! The west coast of Ireland, Brittany, Mauritius... They are all surrounded by oceans and I love swimming in them. Maybe I feel more free ?

That may be a good subject for a psychiatrist because proof reading the above paragraph made me realise I really have an issue here...!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Good Friday and other alcohol related stories...

I already mentioned that Irish doctors have strange advice sometimes. Well, this has been proven once more. I went to my GP on Friday with neck and shoulder pain, and I was told that all I needed was a massage, a holiday and a bottle of wine. Is alcohol the answer to everything in this country? By the way, I took the doctor's advice and had even more than one bottle.  I also had a massive hangover on Sunday and my neck pain moved right to my head.

Sometimes it's the lack of alcohol that is a concern in Ireland. Take Good Friday for example. It's falling next Friday, and according to the law, the sale of alcohol is prohibited on that day. Pubs are closed and supermarkets, off-licence, and even restaurants are not allowed to sell any alcohol. But there's always an Irish solution to an Irish problem.  Basically, people buy their drinks on the Thursday. And Good Friday is the day when all the biggest house parties are organised. I went to one of those massive parties once. There were so many drinks, the kitchen fridge wasn't big enough and the host had to fill up the bathtub with all the cans and bottles...That was a bloody good party...

For a country where alcohol is really part of the culture, I find its regulation quite tough. The sale of alcohol is forbidden before 10:30am week days and before 12:30pm on Sunday (basically you can only buy your drinks after mass on Sundays...). How many times did I forget the Sunday rule and found myself at the checkout with a bottle of wine I had to leave behind... Cruel. 

You can't buy alcohol either if you are under 18, which makes total sense. What's a bit stranger, is that if you look under 25, the cashier is allowed to ask you for ID, just to make sure you're over 18... I don't mind that. I would be happy to look less than 25 ! 

It actually happened last year. I was buying beers for the husband and the cashier asked me for ID. I felt really good about it. I told her with a big smile that I was flattered, but I was actually 32, and I gave her my ID. She looked at it and replied it wasn't a valid ID because it was French. She wanted an Irish ID or a passport. My smile disappeared. 

"I don't have an Irish ID, because I'm French"
"I can't accept a French ID"
"I have my driver's license. It's French as well, but it's the European model. Irish people have the same. Look it's the same birth date"
"No, I can only accept Irish ID or passport"
"What's the difference? What if I don't have a passport? Am I not allowed to buy alcohol because I'm not Irish ???"
"I'm sorry, but I can't accept that ID"

I was so p*ssed off I left the beers in the shop and my husband went back on his own. A few days later I told the story to another employee of the supermarket and he made me understand it wasn't the first time it happened with that girl...

So maybe she was doing that on purpose and I don't look like  under 25  after all...I had my hopes high for a moment!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lost in Dublin

I have no sense of orientation whatsoever. Give me verbal directions, I'll get lost. Give me written directions, I'll get lost. And don't ever give me a map. I won't know how to read it. The only solution to find my way is to be driven to the destination once, and I will remember how to get there. I have a great visual memory, and I couldn't thank Google Streetview enough for the life changing experience of finally finding my way around Dublin.

I don't generally like driving in big cities, but Dublin is one of the worst. You can have a sign at a crossroads, and at the next junction, it's gone. Do I go straight? right? left?  The first few years I was in Ireland, I was lucky to live near the airport. There are signs everywhere in Dublin for the airport, so I was just following " the little plane" sign all the time...And hoping I wouldn't end up in Cork airport by mistake. 

But the worst thing you can do when lost in Dublin (or anywhere in Ireland as a matter of fact), is ask for directions. 

When my boyfriend and I decided to get married, we had to go to the registry office in Dublin to fill out forms and register a date for the wedding. We looked up the address, but didn't really know which way to take. We parked the car in the usual spot (meaning the only car park I knew how to get to) and looked for the place. Of course we had to ask for directions:

"You go through the bridge, turn left at the pub down the road, then right, up the hill and it's around the corner. It's only about 10m minutes walk"

Right... Of course we we turned left, but we probably didn't take the right turn after that. There was a pub alright... There was more than one, and more than one street as well. After 20 minutes of wanderings, I really had to go to the toilets so we went in the first pub in sight. We had a drink and asked the barman for new directions.

" Sure, it's not far away at all. You see the road there, don't take it. Go straight and then it's the 2nd turn on the right. Keep going straight until you see the pub (another one?), and then turn right again, and you're there"

We saw the road, didn't take it, but we didn't find a 2n turn right so we kept on going straight until we got lost again. And had to stop in a pub...again. And ask for directions ... again. At that stage we were losing hope and I wasn't sure I wanted to get married anymore.

"Ah sure, it's just around the corner" the barman told us

"I don't believe anybody anymore. Just tell me exactly how to get there."

"I'm not joking, go out, take right and it's just on your right"

We did just that, and eventually found the registry office. It only took us about an hour and a half...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Juggling full-time work and family

I was so tired for the entire week that I didn't have the courage to publish anything. Everything I attempted to write about felt boring, flat and uninterestingNot that I had a particularly busy week -I even took a half day on Wednesday- but I had this feeling of extreme tiredness coupled with neck, shoulder and back pain. 
Maybe I'm just a bit stressed and I need a good holiday. The problem is the holiday is only happening in July. So I guess I still have to suck it up for the next 3 months.
I wonder how the other mothers juggle work and home, especially expat mothers... Sometimes I envy my Irish friends who can drop the kids to their mum whenever they need a rest.  
Ireland really doesn't make it easy for working parents. First, childcare is very expensive. The cost of full-time crèche can be as much as a month rent or mortgage, so you can understand that sometimes families can be better off financially if one of the parent stays home! Thankfully my husband and I work completely different hours  so our youngest goes to the childminder only 3 hours a day. 
Then you have school hours. In France, kids go to school from the age of 3 for the whole day (9 to 4:30). The younger classes even take a nap at school in the afternoon! Here, kids go to primary school at 5 years old only, and it's from 9 to 1.40pm (at least at my child's school). How can full-time working parents drop and collect their kids to school? I know I can't. I start work too early and finish too late for the school run. My husband drops my son and the childminder picks him up, but I suspect everybody think he's a single dad, as nobody ever sees me at the gate.
The truth is, I need to work, for my own sanity. I really couldn't see myself being a stay-at-home mother. I need to see other people and think about something else than my kids during the day. But I'm not a career driven individual either. I work at something that I like, even if it's not my dream job. There's a good atmosphere within my team, and that is mainly the reason why I can still get up in the morning!  To sum it up, work is a break from home, and home is a break for work.
Today, my husband took the kids out for the whole day so I could have a rest. I did rest, between the grocery shopping and cleaning the house. I can't win, can I ?