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 .

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Is it too early to talk about Christmas?

As we were eating dinner, we reminded the kids they had to be good and eat everything on their plate because Santa was watching. Before going to bed, they started to misbehave and we told them if they didn't stop they would end up on the naughty list. Once they were in bed, Fabrice went back to the living-room and he started to sing a Christmas song.

That's when it hit me. It's only November! Why do I feel that Christmas is starting earlier and earlier each year? Tesco has been stocking Santa chocolates from before Halloween, the lights have been turned on in some parts of Dublin already and I think we're not far off hearing Christmas songs on the radio (although that's the only part of the run-up to the holidays I actually enjoy). On top of that, my Facebook wall has been filled with Christmas posts from over-excited friends. To be honest, there's too much hype for too long and I feel I'll be bored of it all before the day actually comes. Before you say anything, I know I've just written a Christmas book review, but I didn't have a choice, I wasn't gonna do it mid-December (the author would have killed me...).

For me, Christmas festivities should start on the 1st of December. You know, that's when you start eating your advent calendar chocolates (and you manage for about 5 days then it just goes downhill!). In my family, we used to put the tree up around the 10th of December but there were no outside decorations or lights. I'm still quite amazed when I see the amount of the stuff people put on their houses here. My childminder even has a giant Santa in her front garden (It's not there yet, although I expect him any day now). I just think it's all a bit over the top.

I know I am guilty in a way, because we don't stop the kids from talking about it, and we actually encourage them to an extent. We bribe them into being "good boys" so we're not doing ourselves any favour. Their list to Santa is already done, but there are only 3 toys on each, so I'm quite proud on this one! Now if only someone could tell me what a "Golden coin maker" is, I'd be happy. I guess I'll have to go trough the Smyths toy website to find out!

What do you think? Is it too early to talk about Christmas or are you the type who already wears a Christmas jumper, dreams about the Late late toy show and has the decorations up?


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Book review: Christmas Confessions & Cocktails

It's that time of the year again... I like Christmas but I'm not the over-the-top type who has been counting weeks since August (you know who you are!). Although that's when I received this review request from Vicky Lesage, the author of "Christmas confessions & cocktails", asking me if I wanted to read it. Of course I instantly accepted because, as you might know, I'm a big fan of her books (you can find other reviews here, here and here).

Reading Christmas stories in August was too much for me, but November seemed the right time. And look, since I'm writing this review now, it might give you an idea for a Christmas present.

So what is it all about? Well, in this book, Vicky, an American expat living in France with her French husband and their two kids, recalls 25 of her Christmas experiences, either in St Louis where she's from or in France. It is written in her usual informal cheery but honest tone. Yes, she's telling it like it is: The good (family reunions and bizarre kris-kindle traditions...), the bad (a poignant and heart-breaking story about her grandfather) and the plain ugly (puke fest on a plane to only name one!).

The bonus of this book has to be cocktail recipes she sneaked in after each story. A lot of great ideas for Christmas (or any time of the year) drinks...

I really enjoyed this book. It's an easy read and really sets you in a good mood, especially ahead of the Holiday season. It's a bit like a taking a trip down memory lane with your best friend, sipping cocktails! You will definitely laugh, sympathise and relate to Vicky's experiences.

So, if you want to make a nice present, or you just want a good read ahead of Christmas, you can grab a copy right here 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

9 cultural shocks French people experience when moving to Ireland

French wine... Because that's something French expats always moan about

A few weeks ago, I came across a conversation on the Facebook French Expat group. Yeah, the same group where French people ask stupid questions, but this time it was very interesting.

One of the members was trying to compile a list of things that, as French people, we found odd, funny or just plain crazy about Ireland. And trust me, there were a lot of comments, many I could relate to. Even if I've lived here for a long time, it reminded me of my first months in the country, and there are still a few things I can't get my head around (like the lack of shutters, but I've talked about this way too much already). Once again, it proves that even if France is close, there are many cultural differences...

1- Rectangular puff pastry

French people like to bake tarts and eat quiche. I know it sounds cliché, but we do. How come pre-made puff pastry only comes in rectangular shape? I mean, a quiche and a tart are supposed to be round, but here,  you have to cut each side and then stick them as best as you can in your round tin. This doesn't make sense at all. It's a bit like the rectangular pillows. Maybe Irish people just like rectangles...

2- Getting your pictures developed at the pharmacy

"Why do they sell cameras at the chemist?" is usually one of the first questions my lovely French students ask when we talk about what they find funny about Ireland. Every time I tell my mum I have to get photographs, she starts giggling and says "Oh, you're going to the pharmacy then..." I don't know why the chemist sells cameras or develop pictures. It's a very puzzling question.

3- Having to pay the exact change on Dublin bus

The journey cost €2.25, and of course you only have €2.50. But that's fine, just get your ticket and walk all the way to Bus Eireann central office to get you 25c refund. Yes, this is Irish logic for you. And that's one of the reasons why I gave up using public transport after a month.

4-Strange opening hours

This can actually come as one of the biggest culture shock. In France, shops are opened Monday to Saturday, 9am to 7pm, with 2 hours lunch break. Almost all shops are closed on Sunday and some of them on Monday as well. Banks are opened Tuesday to Saturday with the same opening hours as the shops (but they're closed on Saturday afternoon). Supermarkets would open a bit longer, but not later than 10pm.
So imagine the utter surprise when discovering you virtually cannot go to the bank because it only opens from 10am to 4pm! But there's no problem if you run out of milk or bread because Tesco next door opens until midnight. And when Sunday is a dreadful day in France, here, it's the opportunity to go on a shopping spree.

5- The fact that people don't care how you dress

As a girl, it's something that I find very refreshing compared to France. I don't come from a big city, but still, there is always this feeling that people are judging you on your appearance. Sometimes, I still have the French reflex of wondering if I should wear that skirt, or that top, or those shoes... And then I remember, Irish people out there in the street don't give a shit about what I'm wearing. And I love it.

6- The love affair of Irish people with Ice cream

I mean, the sun comes out for about 5 minutes and you're guaranteed to see someone with a 99. Even in winter people buy ice-cream! That's something that actually surprised Fabrice when he arrived from Mauritius. Everyone was all wrapped up, and still, they were eating ice January! My guess is that if people were waiting for hot weather, they'd never get to enjoy an ice-cream.

7- The price of wine and cheese

Sometimes I feel like I'm a walking cliché, comparing wine prices in Tesco, and feeling how hard is the Camembert before buying it (yes I do that, don't judge me!). Then I ponder if I should really buy that 15 euros bottle or that 5 euros Camembert. Does it really worth it? Am I that desperate to eat French cheese and drink French wine? I usually refrain and buy the cheap wine (which most of the time turns out OK, and I know feck all about wine anyway).

8- The kindness of Irish people

I will always remember that old man who walked me to my destination when I got lost and couldn't find the post office, or the total stranger who stopped and changed my tyre in the middle of the motorway. You only have to open a map in Dublin and someone will come over, offering to give directions. Believe it or not, most Irish people are nice and helpful. 

9- The weather

This country has the most changeable weather I've ever seen (and I come from Brittany so I should be used to rain and wind). But we all know that right? We don't come to Ireland expecting tropical weather (although some summers it can feel like it). What's more amazing is the lengthy conversations Irish people can have about the weather, and the 20 different words used for rain, wind and sun.

Did I forget something? What cultural shock did you experience when you moved to another country?

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