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?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Hot n' cold

You truly underestimate the importance of hot water until you don't have any.
Since we bought our apartment 8 years ago, we had problems with the boiler. OK, maybe not the first couple of years, but soon enough we realised there was an issue. 

First, we couldn't get very hot water in the shower. I mean, it was hot but even if we raised the temperature on the tap it stayed the same and eventually became cooler. It was fine for a while as I don't take 20 minutes showers, but as time went by, I had to  really restrict my time under the shower.
It gradually got worse over the years. The water was hot for about 20 seconds and became stone cold for another 30, then was slowly getting warm again. I had to devise a complicated technique to take a shower: 

Step 1: Turn the tap on while standing outside the cabin. Wait for the water to be warm
Step 2: Step in and rinse myself as fast as possible.
Step 3: As the water gets cold, place the shower head strategically facing the wall so I don't get completely frozen. Wash my body and hair
Step 4: As the water gets warmer rinse my hair as quick as I can before the water turn stone cold again.
Step 5: Move the shower head again because I didn't rinse fast enough
Step 6: Finish rinsing and get out before I end up like an ice cube.

For me who has always been told to conserve water from a young age this was clearly a waste (Water charges are a rip-off in France and the price depends on where you live. In some towns you can pay as much as 6 or 7 Euros for a thousand litres!)

At least 5 plumbers came and try to fix the boiler. None of them knew what was wrong. Some of them tried to fix it without success (but took our money anyway). We were getting desperate. At some point, we barely had hot water and the pressure was so low it took 45 minutes to fill half a bath for the kids in the evening. For many weeks, while every plumber in the country was trying to figure out the fault, I had to boil water in the  kettle to give them their bath.

One guy thought it was the heat exchanger and replaced it, which fixed the problem temporarily, but somehow after a few months, it was back to the hot n' cold routine again. No one could figure out the fault, but all the plumbers agree this was the worst boiler that could have been installed in the apartment. It wasn't suited for that kind of building. 

But you see, it was already there when we moved in. We bought the apartment half-finished. Yes, another typical Irish oddity. The kitchen was fully furnished with appliances, there were built-in wardrobes in the master bedroom but we had to do all the flooring  by ourselves.

A couple of years ago, around Christmas time, the boiler started acting up again. We couldn't get hot water without having the heat on. Then the radiator in the living room broke. Then, the radiator in our bedroom broke. All that in the space of a month. Thankfully we found a good plumber this time, who discovered the root of all our problems: LIMESCALE. 

He advised we would have to change the boiler eventually after giving me a very detailed explanation of why the whole thing wasn't working, but I'm not going to bore you with that, mainly because, well, I didn't understand a thing. I just wanted HOT WATER. 

He cleaned the pipes, replaced the radiators, and yippee! The hot water and the pressure were back. But he warned us it would last no more than year, that we would be better off installing a water softener and change the boiler in the long term.

We saved a bit to install the water softener the following Christmas, and last week, we became the proud owners of a super-efficient new boiler. I have never been so happy in my entire life (OK, maybe except the day I got married and I had my children).

But trust me, I never took so much pleasure in doing the dishes that day. The temperature stayed the same all the time, I didn't have to frantically turn the tap in the hope of having warm water. Not boiling, not cold, not hot and cold at the same time. No. It was just the perfect temperature. 

And then I took a shower. Pure HEAVEN.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My idea of hell

That's it, Halloween is just around the corner and I'm actually surprised Christmas hasn't hijacked the run-up to that ancestral tradition this year. But you know what? I actually don't celebrate Halloween.

I can already see the eye-rolling, jaw-dropping and all sorts of funny faces you're making while reading this. Yep, that's right. I don't give in the trick or treating, binge sweets eating or fancy dressing. 

What about the children? you must be thinking... Well, I've managed to escape the whole thing until now, mostly because they're still young, and the eldest wasn't asking for it, which made my life a lot easier. The fact that we live in an apartment block and nobody ever knocked at our door on Halloween helped a lot as well.

But why don't you celebrate Halloween? you may ask. Well, the truth is, it was never something I grew up with. As a child, the only times I dressed up was for Mardi-Gras (which happens on Pancake Tuesday, and we eat pancakes another day - go figure...) which is when we parade on the street but we don't go begging for sweets and chocolate.

Halloween is pretty much a commercial affair in France anyway, and is quite recent, around 15 years old only. The only time I celebrated it was in college, but let's be honest, any occasion to get drunk was good enough.

Being from a celtic region, and therefore connected to pagan traditions, maybe more than in other parts of France, you would think that I'd be interested, but for some reason, I never really got into it.

Back home, we celebrate All Saints day, which falls on the 1st of November. We would go to mass first and then to the cemetery, leave flowers on the graves and remember our dead. In my family, it's also the occasion to catch up with cousins, uncles and aunts for an afternoon coffee. I am lucky in a way, as I haven't experienced many losses over the years, but on the 1st of November, I always have a thought for the people I knew who passed away. 

I guess it's all a matter of being brought up in another tradition. I could have embraced Halloween since I came to Ireland, but even though I understand and accept that it's different than in France, it's just something I'm not into. We can't like everything, can't we?

Anyway, this year might be a bit different, as Fabrice and a couple of friends have unanimously decided -without me of course-, that we would celebrate Halloween, dress up and go trick or treating with the kids. Knocking on strangers' door, dressed up as a witch is kind of my idea of hell, so I don't know how I'm gonna cope. Who knows, I may have fun in the process...

My only hope? I think they didn't realise it's on a Friday, so we will all be working, and I might get another free year (until next time...)


Monday, 13 October 2014

My thoughts on "French Leave" by Liz Ryan

source: Facebook

I finally finished Liz Ryan's memoir "French Leave" and I have to say, it was hard to put the book (well, the Kindle) down every night as I always wanted to know what was going to happen!

Liz is just my opposite. She left Ireland around the same time I arrived here. She quit her job, sold her house and happily gave up her daily commute and crazy urban life to settle in the middle of nowhere in Normandy. I left everything in France (which wasn't much to be honest- that's where we differ), and especially my rural life, to build a new life in the city (which thank God, was on the seaside, or I wouldn't have survived).

As I was reading about her daily struggles and how she described her new surroundings, how she discovered the culture, the mentality and the French lifestyle in general, I found myself laughing, smiling and nodding. A lot.

As a French person living in Ireland, I empathized and understood both sides of the fence: The French crazy bureaucracy, the love of wine, the strikes that sometimes paralyse the country, the social etiquette that seems so normal for us French, but can be daunting for foreigners. On the other side, I knew what she was talking about when there were mentions of RTE, Joe Duffy, Galtee sausages or just the description of a country who had gone crazy during the Celtic tiger.

She even talked about Thierry Henry's infamous handball and we ended up in complete opposite situations the following days... Everybody in France apologising to her, all my Irish colleagues slagging me off...

I liked the way she described French TV, politicians, current affairs (riots, strike, protests and so on). I followed all of those events from my couch in Ireland, she was living them, and her accounts were very accurate. 

I found her very honest as well. She talks about France in a very positive way, yet she doesn't romanticise the country. Yes, France is a great place to live, the quality of life is second to none, but if you decide to live there, it's not going to be easy. You'll have to learn the language, make an effort, socialise and basically integrate into French society to be accepted.

Towards the end of the book, she wonders if it's time to go home or if she wants to stay. After all, 10 years is a long time and sometimes homesickness comes knocking at the door... She is actually asking the reader what he would do if he was in the same situation.

"Suddenly, I'm standing at a crossroads, with no maps and no compass. In an ideal world, there'd be some way to keep a foot in both camps, but I can't see how...or that would just be "chicken" anyway, and a shortcut to schizophrenia?"

"What would you do, if you were me?"

I've asked myself the same question. A thousand times. The difference is, I'm married, I have kids and our life is here now. Yet, I still keep the idea at the back of my mind. I can't see myself getting old in Ireland. I'm not really French anymore, but I'm not entirely Irish either. 

And to finish, a quote that I completely agree with:

"France does sensational fireworks, but Ireland does verbal pyrotechnics."

I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who wants to have an honest insight about life in France. It's funny, witty, there's action (mainly with the Police), drink, shopping, not that much romance, but hey, you can't have everything!!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Liebster award

I vaguely heard about the Liebster award before, but didn't really know what is what about. I've been following Danica's blog for a while so I was thrilled when she nominated me for the award. 
The rule is that I have to answer the questions I've been assigned so you can get to know me a little better, and in return, I have to nominate other bloggers to do the same. This process helps bloggers connect to each other and gain a little recognition in the process.

Here we go...

1)  Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I'd love to invite Bono! I know Irish people are rolling their eyes here, but look, even if he has an oversized ego, I'm sure he's great craic after a few drinks! We could try saving the world together... And after all, we almost know each other already considering Fabrice invited him to Mauritius once!
2)  Would you like to be famous? In what way?

There's a lot of hassle with being a celebrity. If I was famous, I would like it to be for something positive, not participating in some stupid reality show for example! I dreamt of becoming famous when I was a child, I think I was craving for attention and recognition (some underlying issues there maybe..?).

3)  Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? Why?

Always, always, always. Even if it's just to book an appointment at the hairdresser. English not being my native language, it probably plays a role in my lack of confidence.  But you know the irony ? I used to work in a call-centre, taking a hundred calls a day, and still, I was afraid of making one tiny phone call to Domino's pizza. Thankfully I've overcome that fear (more or less) and even though I rehearse before calling someone, I'm fine once I start talking.
4)  When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

In the car this morning (other motorists probably think I'm crazy). I haven't sang to someone else in a very long time... I think it was when I was in a musical, back in 2009. We played "Hot Mikado" but thankfully I didn't have to sing on my own!
5)  If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

I would have liked to be taught how to be more positive. I was told to always expect the worse, so I wouldn't be disappointed. I really try to be more positive, but it's something that has stuck with me since I was young.  
6)  If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?

 I'd love to be able to play a musical instrument... or stop time (and take a long nap after lunch).
7)  Is there something that you've dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?

Change job (I hope my boss isn't reading this!). I've been in the same position for 5 years and the same company for 8 years. I had a few opportunities but nothing really  concrete. I also want to change career but have no clue what I want to do! Not easy isn't it?!
8)  What does friendship mean to you?

You know it's real friendship when even if you haven't talked for a year, you eventually get to see each other, and it feels like you never been away. My friends are the most important thing in my life (with my family of course!). Being friends mean being there for each other (not necessarily in person) for the good and also the bad things.
9)  When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

I don't remember, which means I haven't cried in front of someone for a very long time. I cry when I watch movies though (and Fabrice always makes fun of me...)

10)  Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?

Are you kidding? I'd have to spent all the money on therapy to be able to cope with all the nightmares..
11)  Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."

 my sarcastic humour with... (the other-half doesn't really get it sometimes!)

So here comes the tricky part! I now have to nominate other bloggers and pass on the torch... I think 11 bloggers and 11 questions are way too much. My mind is melting after that Q&A session, so I've decided to nominate 5 blogs and ask 5 questions (after all, the rules are not set in stone!)

My nominee, who share the same experience of living in another country, are:

The narcissistic expat diaries
Rachel in Ireland
Dubliner in Deutschland
A Frog at large

And here are the questions:

1. Name one thing that you always bring back from a holiday in your native country (and why)
2. What is the most unusual question you've been asked about your expat experience? And what did you answer?
3. What do you miss most from your home country?
4. What cultural or lifestyle aspect of your host country did you embrace straight away?
5. What local custom or tradition surprised you the most?


Monday, 6 October 2014

The Blog Awards Ireland

On Saturday, Fabrice and I attended the Blog Awards Ireland ceremony in Clane. I was very excited about the whole thing but anxious at the same time because I didn't know anybody. Thankfully, I had my husband (a.k.a my PR executive) to keep me company and introduce me to people he didn't know either( because that's definitely not a problem for him). I'm not a shy person as such, but when I am in a room full of strangers, I just panic and can't seem to be able to start a conversation. 

When we arrived, I signed up and wrote my name and my blog's on a name tag and stuck it to my coat. One of the organisers came straight up to me, and with a big smile said: "Oh, I know your face!, I probably read your blog! What is it?" I pointed to my name tag and replied "Nearly Irish". Her face suddenly shifted... she mumbled something and invited us to try the craft beer and cider on display. Awkward.

The night was starting well I tell you. We made our way to the drinks reception, but before even ordering something, we had to have our picture taken with 80's props. That was fun although I never want to see the result. TG4 was also filming the whole thing, and having just watched the highlights I'm glad I didn't see myself. But I recognised a few familiar faces.

Thanks to Fabrice who eventually started to talk to someone, we met Lucina who blogs for MS & me, a community blog for people living with Multiple Sclerosis, something I can relate to, as I have a couple of friends who have MS. 

The function room was absolutely splendid and you could see the organisers put a lot of effort in the decoration. And the must, we all got a goody bag. Not the crappy ones you get at any trade show. No. It was the Ultimate goody bag, full of vouchers, pens, a cup,  pop corn, drinks and so on. 

 80's props
There was no allocated seating, so we set camp at a random table, which happened to be full of very nice people, although we quickly realised it was the looser's table. We were 5 nominees, and none of us won. But the spirit stayed high nonetheless (thanks to the wine, mainly).

I had the chance to meet the lovely Debbie from Saucepankids (Her blog is about how to get your kids cooking, which is a fantastic idea), Aisling from Babysteps, and Marie from Irishjobs (probably the website I know best!). The food was good, but the highlight was undoubtedly the dessert. I think I will start a campaign to have those Glenisk delights sold in Tesco. Basically it was a cocktail yoghurt. Forget Tiramisu or black forest. Think Mojito, Irish coffee, Sunrise, Pina Colada... 2 or 3 shots and you don't need wine anymore. 
You can tell Fabrice enjoyed it!
As the evening came to an end, all of our table deserted so we decided to join another one. Sure, why not? After so much alcohol I was definitely not afraid to talk anymore. We had a great time with Caitriona and her boyfriend, from True Romance weddings. Such a shame I'm already married twice (to the same man,be reassured), or I could have used her services. 

We spent a brilliant night and even though I didn't win, I still received a certificate.

So what's next?

Well, I'll definitely keep blogging. Never in a million years I thought I would get this far in such a short period of time. I never thought people would actually read my blog, and find it interesting.

I want to thank all my readers, and also the judges who deemed my blog good enough to be a finalist.

Hopefully, I'll go all the way next year, and before I finish this never-ending post, I have to give a special mention to the blog who won in my category: With all the finesse of a badger. 

I was secretely hoping she'd won the humour category (So I could win in mine!), but she definitely deserved it. So well done!

Roll on next year!

Friday, 3 October 2014

7 things I thought I would never do in Ireland (but did anyway!)

When I moved over, although I didn't really know what to expect, I had a pretty clear idea of what I didn't want to do or try. Then there were things I thought I would never be able to manage because I was too afraid.

1- Enjoy a good Irish breakfast

If you told me that one day I would eat sausages, beans and black pudding for breakfast, I would have laughed at you. Croissants, baguette, jam and butter...That's my kind of breakfast. There was no way I wanted to eat meat at 8 o'clock in the morning. And then, one day, I ended up in that B&B and reluctantly tried the Irish breakfast. What a revelation! It didn't feel strange to eat mushrooms, rashers, or sausages. It was tasty and trust me, it filled me right up to dinner time! Some of my French friends still think I'm nuts. They obviously haven't tried it.

2- Have a phone conversation and understand everything

I used to hate ringing service providers. I usually rehearsed my speech about a hundred times, and when I finally decided to pick up the phone (after 3 cigarettes and 2 coffees), I forgot everything. I was afraid I wouldn't understand the person on the other end of the line. I was afraid they wouldn't understand me either. You're going to laugh, but I was even afraid of ringing Domino's Pizza. So I let Fabrice do all the talking. Over the years, when I became more confident in my ability to speak and understand English (well, the Irish accent, really) I started feeling a bit better about ringing. Now, I have no problem having heated discussions with the Tax office (you don't want to know why, trust me).

3-Drive an Irish car

I drove a French car for 4 years, and thought I would never be able to drive with the steering wheel on the other side. How was I going to shift gears with my left hand? I'm right-handed and it just seemed impossible. Fair enough, the first few days I kept scratching my right hand on the door, trying to reach invisible gears, but I eventually managed and I'm just used to it know. The hardest part was actually ringing the insurance (see point 2).

4-Manage to speak the slang 

This all took off when I started working with Irish people. The first few years, although my English was good,  it was very formal. Basically I was talking the way I learned at school. But this is definitely not how Irish people speak. Now I say "like" at the end of every sentence and start them with "sure, look it". Everything is "grand" (because "There's nothing we can do anyway"), and I over use the F word. The only thing I haven't mastered yet? The Irish wit. But acquiring such an art is hard, you're either born with it or you're not. And well, unfortunately I'm not (but I'm working on it!)

5-Buy a house

Looking back, it was probably not a wise thing to do, but I actually can't believe I survived the mortgage applications forms, the lengthy meetings at the bank, the stress of being approved for a mortgage, queue endlessly to buy off the plans. Yep, I really turned into a grown-up, which is amazing considering I still need my mum if I have a meeting with my bank in France. 

6- Be pregnant

I remember telling myself that if there was one thing I would never ever do in Ireland, it was being pregnant. I knew I would have children at some stage, just not in this country. I heard so many horror stories about hospitals and maternities that I was afraid of going through a pregnancy here. Having to go to appointments, knowing nothing about the terminology, the procedures, the care, it just seemed overwhelming. And then it happened, I became pregnant and going home was just not an option. Believe me, staying in Ireland at that moment was the best decision I ever made. I have nothing but a positive opinion on the Irish maternity services and I will have to devote an entire post about being pregnant in Ireland because it was just the best experience.

7-And raise kids

Raising kids in a different country never crossed my mind at the beginning, and this is probably the biggest challenge I have faced since moving here. I had to learn everything about childcare, entitlements, school. I had to face the task of raising kids in three cultures and two languages. My eldest having special needs (he has autism), I had to get used to how the Health Services work, how ridiculously long the waiting lists are for everything, from a speech assessment (14 months!!!) to a diagnosis... But on a positive note, we met wonderful therapists, we are immensely happy with the school and the help he's getting. And most importantly, I really think Irish people are a lot less judgmental than the French when it comes to disabilities and being different. And that is the main reason why I still want to live here. 

So here I am, those 12 years have definitely changed me. I have accomplished so many things I didn't think I would be capable of. When you move to another country on your own, you don't have a choice. You have to be open-minded, try new things, overcome your fears and in the end you become a stronger person.

To all the other expats out there, is there anything you thought you would never be able to achieve in your host country? Have you done it in the end?