Monday, 28 December 2015

Watching French TV

I try to keep up with French current affairs, new movies, sometimes music, but on the whole, l don't know much about what's going on in France, especially in terms of entertainment, personalities and TV programs.

At least that was the case until a friend of mine gave us the link to a website that streams live French TV. I was never really interested in watching French programs since I came to Ireland to discover another country, but after so many years, I sometimes miss home more than I'd like to confess, so we gave it a try...

An old movie I haven't seen for years or a familiar game show take me back to the time I was living in France. The fact that I have no clue about current French celebrities led to funny situations where I didn't know half of the guests invited to talk-shows or entertainment programs. But at least I will look less stupid next time I go home. 

My husband almost killed me when I made him watch the "Miss France" election last week, but I was badly in need of girly stuff since I am surrounded by super heroes at home. In the end he didn't complain too much about the 3 hours show after he realised the candidates would walk the stage in a bikini. Actually, he's the one going a bit overboard with the whole thing. He gets all excited when there's an American movie on, and I have to remind him that there's no point watching it dubbed in French.

I also forgot how French programs are ALWAYS late and start at odd hours like 9:45 pm or 1:35 pm. There are fewer ad breaks but they last longer. One thing for sure, Irish and UK TV are definitely more structured in terms of timing!

I'll be honest. French TV is not better or worse than Irish, UK or American, it's just different but in a way, it brings a piece of my country straight into my own Irish living room, and it's nice to watch once in a while.

What about you? Do you miss TV from your home country?

Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas in Ireland: 6 surprising customs...

Irish people love Christmas more than the French I think, or at least that's what they're portraying. So here's a little list of surprising Irish Christmas "customs" I've discovered over the years...

1- Believing in Santa

This is the strangest one of all. In France I would say the average age a child stops believing in Santa is probably around 8 years old. Here, it's not uncommon for a child to believe until he's 11 or 12! Parents seem to be responsible though. I have heard things like "Oh, she's 10 and I really have to get her to believe at least one more year!" It's like they want to keep the Christmas magic as long as possible. Is it a good or a bad thing, I don't know. I just think it's a bit too much. On another note, I was also told some kids pretend to believe so late because they want better presents. Madness! 

2- Santa

Once again, Ireland can go a bit crazy with the Santa experience. Queuing for hours and paying 5 or 10 euros to get a picture with the man himself is not my idea of the Christmas spirit. Having said that, we visited Causey farm with the kids, and even me, being a bit of a Grinch, I had a great time. It was a bit expensive, but definitely worth it. The kids very much enjoyed visiting "Mary & Joseph", seeing the animals, learning about Irish traditions in the Christmas barn, meeting the elves and Mrs Claus, trying to find their name on the nice list in the elves workshop and Santa even came down the chimney. They received presents and even got to see real reindeer ! What more could you ask for?

3- Christmas cards

We're almost in Christmas cards overload both at home and at work. Friends send Christmas cards, customers and suppliers do the same. The craziest thing is kids giving each other cards at school. The first year Ciaran was in playschool, I was completely unaware of that "tradition", so imagine my surprise when I found 10 Christmas cards in his bag! We repaired the mistake the following year, but seriously, you know the parents are the ones writing the cards, it's wrecking everybody's head and the gesture is just becoming meaningless. 

4- Presents

Being far away from home, I don't have the dilemma of getting presents for my parents, sister, brother and nephews but this brings another problem. Where do you draw the line with presents? For example, the first Christmas with my son, our childminder gave him a Christmas present. And the parents of the other children she was minding too! Seriously, where does it end?? I love giving presents, but I'm starting to run out of ideas (and money)!

5- Christmas crackers

I know I talked about it before but this is my favourite Irish Christmas tradition. Who doesn't love a bit of a friendly "fight", a crappy joke, a small gift and a ridiculous paper crown? It's so cheesy but I just love it. And it seems to be a consensus with all my foreign friends, and even my family back home.

6- The general Christmas spirit

I know I haven't spent Christmas in France for a good while so I might be mistaken, but I think this holiday seem definitely more important for Irish people (unless I have just met Christmas nuts who start counting the days from September). For some reason it just looks more festive. Too many decorations, Christmas carols choirs, Christmas jumpers, movies, music, Xmas FM, Santa at every corner of the street, even the school is over the top with elves "watching" over the kids to see if they've been naughty or nice! 

I definitely think Irish people have the best Christmas spirit I've ever seen...

What about you? How do you celebrate Christmas in your own country and what do you think about the way Irish people celebrate it? 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Expat portrait: Cory Hanson

Today I’m sharing Cory’s Irish experience. I have never met him in person, but I have been an avid reader of his blog for the past two years. He made me discover parts of Dublin I never knew existed, even if I've lived in Ireland a lot longer than him! 

I don't think I have ever come across an expat who embraced Irish culture and history so much and in such a short period of time. And on top of that he decided to share all his newfound knowledge by writing a tourist guide about Dublin. I am truly impressed.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up in a small town in the US state of Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River. I attended a small university in Iowa and earned a degree in instrumental music education, and there I also met my wife. I served as a public school band director for six years before following my wife to Dublin in 2013.

Why did you move to Ireland?

Not many Midwestern twenty-somethings get an opportunity to live a temporary and secure life abroad. When my wife was offered a three-year postdoctoral contract in Ireland, we saw no reason not to take the plunge. I pushed the pause button on my teaching career for a chance to see the world.

What do you do?

As the spouse of a hosted researcher, I am not granted an easy work visa. With my free time as an unemployed “trailing spouse,” I started writing. What started as a hobby blog became a more serious travel writing website and two books. It has been very rewarding, and I’m glad I didn’t simply fall into the “man of leisure” habits so many locals assumed of me.

Tell me a bit about the early days. Did you find hard to settle, find a job, make friends and so on…

We came to Ireland with very few possessions, so we endured fewer headaches than many permanent expat movers. Finding suitable accommodation in Dublin required some hard work and a good bit of luck, but we were able to settle and establish a new life relatively smoothly.

Navigating the bureaucracy of establishing ourselves was laborious and frustrating. Paperwork grinds very slowly, and we found ourselves in some circular traps: needing proof of address to establish a bank account while needing a bank account to establish proof of address, etc.

Once established, with our home utilities finally set up and financially secure, we quickly began a busy schedule of travelling and maximizing our new and exciting opportunity.

Do you mainly socialise with expats or locals?

We have made friends from both local and expat communities. I stay connected with a number of expats in the blogosphere and forum groups, and regularly socialize with the Dublin community. I have also made some lasting friendships within a local environmental volunteer organization. I found volunteering to be the best way to contribute meaningful service to my adopted country and meet friendly, helpful, like-minded people. I would highly recommend volunteer service for anyone setting up in a new country.

What do you enjoy most and least about living in Ireland?

The summer weather and the winter weather. Need anyone say more?

What Irish cultural or lifestyle aspect did you embrace straight away?

Curry chips. Never in my American life would I have thought to slather curry gravy over greasy fried potatoes. What a surprise it was at Croke Park when we saw (and smelled) everyone around us eating this exotic and tasty snack.

Don’t tell the Irish, but I prefer making my own curry chips with French-style, thin-cut fries—not the thick, soft chips so common at local takeaways.

What local custom or tradition surprised you the most?

I had heard of Gaelic sports before we landed in Dublin, but I learned quickly just how much these games mean to the locals. That there was so much controversy over the GAA deal with Sky for hurling and Gaelic football broadcast rights demonstrates just how protective the Irish are of their native games. These sports are more than entertainment and more than money; they are an unbroken connection to the past that the Irish treasure and fight to maintain. Everyone who visits Ireland should try to catch a match.

What has been the hardest aspect of your expat experience so far?

Living so far away from home and family means missing out on some important events. We can’t pack up and fly across the Atlantic for every holiday, every graduation, every wedding, every baby birth, every important family moment. We have to make difficult choices and plan our visits carefully. Sadly, this means telling some of our loved ones, “Sorry, we can’t make it this time…”

What do you do in your free time? Do you have a hobby or a passion?

I have always loved the outdoors. Whenever weather permits, I get outside to enjoy angling in my local river and hillwalking around Dublin and around the country. I wouldn’t say the outdoor sports opportunities are better or worse than those of my home state, but they are certainly different. I wouldn’t find trout in a stream flowing through the middle of a city in Iowa, nor would I have to squish through hilltop bogs when I struck out for a day’s hike.

In the cold, dark Irish winters, I have found the time to rediscover a passion for the classic video games of my childhood. With a light work schedule, I have become something of an expert in a few of these games, and have joined some active online communities dedicated to promoting and exploring video games from the 80s and 90s.

What’s your favourite place in Ireland?

The West. I know it’s not specific, but I have enjoyed every village, rock, and hill of the Atlantic coast. Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Cork are all jam-packed with outdoor adventure and stunning natural and cultural beauty, and I get out there as often as I can.

What do you miss most about your home country?

I am a passionate American sports fan. I follow teams in American football, baseball, and basketball through the year. Living in Europe makes access to these games difficult, with limited TV coverage and an inconvenient time difference—the Super Bowl usually ends around 4 a.m. Irish time.

I particularly miss cheering on my local university football team—the Iowa Hawkeyes—on Saturday mornings during the autumn season. I miss the excitement as tens of thousands of fans swarm the city in their team colors. I miss the experience of the “tailgate,” an American pre-match tradition of cooking meat on a barbeque and drinking beer in the stadium carpark.

How often do you go back?

We have only been able to travel back to Iowa twice, once each summer we’ve been away. The length and expense of the flight (and the long drive from the nearest big airport) limit us to one a year.

Name one thing that you always bring back from a holiday in your home country (and why)

Boxed macaroni and cheese. This American convenience food is a taste of home comforts, even though it’s just a box of cheap elbow macaroni and a sachet of powdered cheese sauce. We always return with a few in our suitcases.

Also, medicine and toiletries. Pain relievers like ibuprofen, upset stomach chews, and contact lens solution are much, much cheaper at American supermarkets than Irish pharmacies. We always stock up when we visit.

What is the most unusual question you've been asked about your life in Ireland? And what did you answer?

I am often asked about stereotypical Hollywood Irish tropes. Have I kissed the Blarney Stone? Do I eat corned beef and cabbage? Do I wish people a “top o’ the mornin’?” Have I developed a good Irish “brogue” yet?

To be fair, Irish tourism organizations do nothing to fight these stereotypes, as they keep Americans piling into Ireland year after year. How would most Americans know anything else if these are the only images of Ireland they see?

I usually address these questions with polite corrections: Irish people don’t kiss that disgusting Blarney Stone, most Irish people have no idea why corned beef and cabbage are such a big deal with Americans, and no one here would ever call their accent a “brogue.”

Any funny anecdote or story you want to share?

I’ll never forget the American fighter jet flyover of Dublin at an American university football game at Croke Park in 2014. This is a common tradition at big American sports events; a formation of fighters fly over the stadium at low altitude just as the American national anthem is nearing its climax.
This is obviously not a common occurrence in Ireland, and the Irish Internet blew up with locals complaining about the militaristic Yanks buzzing their city with F-16s. Some thought that World War III had started, and Dublin was the first target. It was the first time I saw the cultural tables turned in Dublin—they had to learn about (and whine about) my traditions for a change!

What has been the highlight of your expat experience so far?

I have sincerely enjoyed the opportunity to explore Ireland and Europe at my leisure. It’s a long, long flight from Iowa, so we have maximized our opportunity living in an easy European hub like Dublin. As a bonus, I have the flexible schedule that allows me to write about my travels and experiences.

How long do you intend to stay?

We will be leaving Ireland in summer 2016, as was always the plan with my wife’s postdoctoral contract. A big part of our expat experience appeal was the knowledge that it wasn’t necessarily permanent. After three years of Irish adventure, I think we’re ready to return to our home country, richer in memories and experiences—if not in our bank statements.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?

If I came to Ireland again, I would have made writing a more serious pursuit right away. As it was, I kicked around the possibility of a variety of jobs for the first year or so, letting writing be a casual hobby. Had I devoted more attention to writing, I would have a stronger body of work at the conclusion of my Irish time. Then again, writing all those hobby posts allowed me to find and hone my voice as a writer, so some of my wasted time may have been well spent after all.

If you want to tell  me something else about your experience, feel free to add anything!

Not long after settling in Dublin, I began to receive questions about the city from tourists—mostly American—planning holidays in Ireland. I was flattered that they would ask me for advice, and always wrote long, thorough responses addressing all of their questions. Soon, I turned these letters into one long document that I would send to trip planners, just to save myself some time. When the document neared 10,000 words, and required an introduction and short chapters to keep it organized, I decided to turn it into a book.

I originally saw the book as a simple collection of my free and inexpensive Dublin recommendations, to be given away for free as my way of promoting the parks and walks in the city that don’t have big advertising budgets. As I worked, the scope of the book grew to include routed walking tours, maps, and reviews of many of Dublin’s highlight attractions. With the help of volunteer copy editors—family and friends proofing the book chapter by chapter—I released the first edition of The Frugal Guide: Dublin for free in December 2014.

In the 2016 edition, I have made several major additions to the content and features of the book. Using another year’s experience in the Dublin travel scene—having explored more of the city’s more obscure corners and having reviewed more of the city’s paid attractions—I have expanded the reach and scope of the book, without abandoning its Frugal Guide spirit. I have also included a much better navigation system within the book, building in handy hyperlinks to my reviews, tips, and the 18 custom-made maps. To ice the cake of the new edition, I have been in contact with the planners of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising centenary celebrations, and have included specific coverage of the many Dublin-based events surrounding this historic celebration. The 2016 edition of The Frugal Guide: Dublin is available for free since December 3, 2015 on multiple eBook platforms.

Cory Hanson writes and blogs at, and his free eBook, The Frugal Guide: Dublin is available on Smashwords and many other eBook platforms; 2016 update available now. 
Follow him on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Monday, 7 December 2015

Irish Christmas vs. French Christmas

Since I'll be spending my 13th Christmas in Ireland, I thought it would be funny to have a friendly "fight" between French and Irish ways of celebrating Christmas.

1- Decorations

To be fair, not all Irish houses are decorated as much as the one above, but Irish people are definitely tackier more creative with outside decorations than their French counterparts. My childminder had a giant inflatable Santa in her front garden last year, and every time my parents come for Christmas they are always amazed by the amount of decorations they see on houses.

I think when it comes to garlands, illuminated reindeer and giant Santa I'm still French and go by the motto: "Less is more"...

2- Music

The only French songs about Christmas are the ones that I learned as a child: the French version of Jingle Bells (Vive le vent), Petit Papa Noel or the odd religious one like Holy Night. French artists don't release Christmas songs, which is a pity because hearing them on the radio is my favourite part of the holiday season. And I cringed when I heard "Last Christmas" in the middle of July on a French radio...

Of course, my favourite will come as no surprise, it's "Fairytales of New-York"

3- Food

Both countries eat turkey, but I think the similarity ends there. I haven't converted to the mince pies yet, and  although I would eat a slice of Christmas pudding, I cannot resist the traditional French Christmas "log".
Christmas food differs according to the region you come from, and in Brittany, it's all about seafood for starter, with oysters and langoustines being the favourites. We usually have chicken or turkey as a main course, then we move on to salad and cheese platter, and finally dessert. And we stay at the table for hours.
I'm still very French when it comes to food,so I think France wins here...

4- Movies

Like music, it seems that French people are not the Christmas movies type either. The most famous one  is "Le pere noel est une ordure" (Santa Claus is a stinker), which is definitely worth a watch. Apart from this one, there is not much choice. Here, there's even a dedicated Christmas Movies TV channel, and it's my guilty pleasure...

I have many favourites so it's hard to pick one, but I think I'll have to go with "Love actually", because who doesn't like a bit of Hugh Grant? I also have to give a special mention to "The snowman", a beautiful magical story that I only discovered a few years ago.

There are a lot more small traditions I love in Ireland like Christmas crackers, or the fact that 26th of December is also a bank holiday. Getting an extra day off to recover from Christmas is not just brilliant, it's necessary. 
What I miss from a French Christmas is obviously my family, spending time around the table, eating and drinking and laughing... I have spent many great Christmas in Ireland with friends, but there is always a little something missing. And a phone call on Christmas day is just not the same.

In the end, it looks like it's a tie between Irish and French Christmas, and I do like both, in different ways. Next time I go to France in December I'll wear a Christmas jumper, bring some crackers and introduce everyone to Christmas songs. 
For this year, I will eat all the seafood I can get and drink Champagne on Christmas eve, the kids will put their slippers next to the tree, and leave water and carrots for the reindeer (no cookies and milk for Santa in France!).

And we will probably spend Christmas day like every year since we are in Ireland, with friends who are not going home either.


Monday, 30 November 2015

Bits and pieces

My state of mind at the moment.... Photo credit: Flickr

I don't know what it is but I found it very hard to be inspired for the past couple of weeks. Maybe it was the events in Paris, the fact that I was extremely busy at work or just the run-up to Christmas... The fact is, I have about 5 drafts of interesting subjects that I can't get myself to finish for whatever reason (and I have to apologise because I can't even think about a proper title for this post). Maybe I should just forget about them for the moment and ideas will come back eventually... 

There's a silver lining to every cloud though. I am almost finished with buying Christmas presents, which is amazing considering it's not even December yet (and I'm usually the type of person who cries outside Argos on 24th of December at 5pm). Our own kids are sorted and I just have to buy presents for our closest friends. 

The Christmas tree is not up yet despite the constant demands from the children for the past week (but it should happen any day now because I can't stand the whining anymore). We haven't watched the Late late toy show either. In fairness, I forgot all about it and the kids were already in bed when I switched on the TV that night. I recorded it but they didn't want to watch it the following day (they might not be that Irish after all).

In other news, I have become a guest writer for Babylon Radio, a multicultural website for all visitors to Ireland, practical information about living here, visiting and things to do. The online radio station plays music from all around the world and features shows about different cultures and traditions. 

I write weekly articles about expat life and cultural differences, and I have also started an "Expat portrait" series that will feature on both Babylon website and my  blog, so please get in touch  if you're interested! 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

All I want is peace

Until tonight I wasn't sure I wanted to write about the terrorist attacks that happened in Paris on Friday night. I am still a bit shocked and in disbelief to be honest. But I just feel like, in order to move on, I have to let it out.

The fact that I live abroad is not helping. Not only I feel I can't do anything but the worse in all that is how I somehow feel disconnected. I'm not in France right now. I know what happened, I've followed every minute on the news, on Facebook, on Twitter. I have a few friends who live in Paris. I can empathize, but I cannot experience what people in France are living right now. And that's a very uneasy feeling.

On the other hand, I feel very lucky to be in Ireland right now and I cannot thank enough Irish people for the solidarity they demonstrated over the past few days. If there is something I have learned from them is resilience. Although it's not exactly the same, they have experienced atrocities first hand not that long ago when you think about it. But at the end of the day, I'm sure they tried to live their life as "normally" as they could. I think we can take a few lessons from the Irish people in this regard.

I won't get into the political aspect of it all, because it's way too complex and not for this blog, but all I will say is:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace... 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Expat portrait: Marianne

Welcome to the first of my series of "Expat portraits" in which I tell the stories of foreigners who have made Ireland their home either for a few months, years or life.

Marianne is a 22 years old Canadian from Quebec, who lived in Ireland for 8 months when she was just 20. It doesn't seem like a long stay, but judging by her enthusiasm when she answered my long list of questions, it is clear that Ireland left a long lasting positive impression on the French literature student.

Marianne decided to take a break from her studies and travel. At first, she thought of going to Germany, but the language barrier was one of her worries. So instead, she chose Ireland, a country she always wanted to visit since she was a child. "There was something very poetic and appealing about it. The mythical green lands, the castles, the music, the cliffs, the history. The fact that there is a great heritage of Irish descent in Quebec also influenced my choice. A lot of our culture, our food and our heritage merged with the Irish people throughout the years, and I was curious to learn more about it".

After arriving by ferry from France, she felt a bit disorientated but thankfully, she went to the USIT office, which answered all her questions and suggested she went to a Couchsurfing meet-up, "an amazing way to make friends". This is where she made her first friends and eventually found an accommodation. Although she met many other expats, she also befriended Irish people and even had the chance to celebrate Christmas in an Irish family, something that she will never forget. Living in Dublin allowed her to meet people from all over the world, "All my life I loved to have friends from different circles, and Dublin was no different."

What she loved most about living in Dublin was being able to walk everywhere, and especially to the pub to meet up with some friends and enjoy live music. She was very surprised by the age of people going to the pub here. "In Quebec, the people going to the bars are extremely targeted and exclusive. In Ireland, you can have a nice conversation with an 80 years old Irish man and there is nothing weird about that". She was also amazed by the generosity and laid-back attitude of Irish people: " I had great conversations with taxi drivers, not very common here in Quebec. When my parents and my brother visited me, they were invited to a house party in Bray with my friend’s family, which is a great memory"

The hardest part of her Irish experience (apart from living in badly insulated houses) was learning how to become independent. It was the first time she lived away from her family, and had to adapt to different situations like living with other people and stand up for herself when it was needed: "Those were hard experiences sometimes, but life-changing decisions".

During her stay in Dublin, she worked for a Canadian translation agency, which allowed her to travel around, but despite her efforts and willingness, she didn't find a job in Dublin. The highlight of her Irish experience is the friends she made for life and she has absolutely no regrets.

"When I left, I felt that it was the right moment. I wanted to leave while my memory of Ireland was still amazing".

If you want to take part and share your experience of living in Ireland, do not hesitate to get in touch via e-mail or Facebook .