Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Exchanging my driver's licence

Goodbye French licence!

If you have a car and had to renew your insurance recently, you were probably shocked when you discovered by how much your premium had increased. According to the industry, higher claims payout in the past few years are to blame for the increase. Well, I'm not in the insurance business, but having to pay twice the price as last year without any claim for the past 5 years is kind of taking the piss, don't you think?

Anyway, after my initial state of shock, I decided to get a quote with different insurers and brokers. The cheapest price I got was 850 euros (last year was 400). Then I realised maybe my French driver's licence was a problem. I never thought about it before because insurance was always affordable, and let's be honest, possessing a foreign licence allowed me to avoid penalty points (not that I was reckless or anything, but it did help me a couple of times for speeding fines).

When I did simulations online with an Irish licence, the price dropped every time, and by a few hundred euros! In the end, the best quote I managed to get was for 540 euros. Being an honest person, I told the insurance I was in the process of changing my licence and asked if that was a problem. I was told it was OK, that I just would have to provide a copy of the receipt from the NDLS centre and a copy of my new licence when I would receive it. I also pointed out the process could take between 6 weeks and 3 months, and it wasn't a problem either.

If you own an EU licence, you can just exchange it but for some other countries, you might have to re-take your driving test. To exchange your licence you need to book an appointment with your nearest NDLS centre and bring in some documents: the online application form, your current licence, a proof of address (correspondance from your current insurance is accepted), your PPS number and your passport. Oh, and of course it will cost you 55 euros (it's Ireland after all!). All the details can be found here. If you are a married woman like me and your maiden name is still on your old licence, I advise you to bring in your marriage certificate to prove that your name has changed. In my case, I didn't know so I showed my ID with the two names on it and they accepted. However, my maiden and married name now appear on my Irish licence.

They take your photograph and signature at the centre, and they also keep your original licence. Some people might find this distressing. You see, a French licence is valid for life, so many people can get attached to their old pink licence and how they looked when they were 18. That's not the case for me. I was more than happy to get rid of that ugly picture of me as a teenager!

The date on your new licence is the same as your old, so you're not starting back from scratch, which is a relief because I've been driving for the past 16 years and as a matter of fact, longer in Ireland than in France. The difference with a French licence is that the Irish one is valid for ten years only, so it will have to be renewed when it expires.

After my visit to the NDLS centre, the waiting game started. I got worried when I didn't receive my new insurance disc. I rang the broker and they said the receipt from NDLS wasn't enough in the end, and that if they didn't get my new licence straight away they would cancel my insurance! After getting a bit angry and explaining they were at fault for telling me it would be OK, they gave me 3 weeks extra to provide my new licence.

I rang the NDLS centre and I swear, I have never spoken to kinder customer service agents. They were helpful, understanding and informed me my licence had been dispatched so I should get it in the post within a few days. They also advised they could send an official email that would serve as a proof for the insurance. I received my licence the following day so it took 4 weeks in total.

So that's it, I am now a proud owner of an Irish licence and won't be able to avoid penalty points anymore.

It took me 14 years to change my licence and I am now thinking about how much money I could have saved if I did it earlier. So I only have one piece of advice: change your foreign licence, it's worth it!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

9 tips to improve your English

Let's be honest, the way English is taught in France is kinda crap. The best way to learn a language is to speak it, however, the emphasis is mostly put on grammar and written work. Now, put your hand up if you're still traumatised by the list of irregular verbs you had to learn by heart. I know countless people who hated English at school because it wasn't taught in an interesting way, so they gave up before they had a chance to appreciate the language. Now they're in Ireland (or any other English speaking country), trying to learn again because they've realised that speaking English is almost compulsory when trying to find a job. Even in France. Here are a few (and maybe some unusual) tips to improve your English during your short or long-term stay in Ireland.

1. Ditch the dictionary when you're having a conversation

I know it might sound weird, but there's nothing more frustrating for both interlocutors than being interrupted mid-way through a conversation. If you don't know a word, try to work around it and explain yourself with the vocabulary you have. It might take longer, you might have to use sign language, but in the end, it will make your brain work more and help the words flow easier.

2. If you don't understand, say it (or fake it)

I used to nod and smile when I didn't understand someone (it got me into strange situations but that's another story). And when I started to work with Irish people and couldn't understand them on the phone (bear in mind I was working with truck drivers who had strong Irish accents), I pretended the line was bad so they could repeat their question. Once I got to know them and was more comfortable, I didn't hesitate to tell them when I didn't understand. If you're having a conversation with friends, ask them to repeat. If you're at work and you don't understand the instructions, ASK (you don't want to get fired on your first week, do you?!). Nobody will take it against you, after all, you're here to learn. And if you're tired, don't want to make an effort (it does happen sometimes), just say "Yes", smile and as the Irish say, you'll be grand (most of the time!). And if like me, it lands you into a tricky situation, take it as a lesson.

3. Take up a hobby

I used to do drama in France, so I joined a drama society here. I was the only foreigner so I didn't have a choice but speak English. If you had an activity back home, try to find the same in your new country to practice the language. You'll more than likely meet natives and it will greatly improve your conversational skills. And you'll make friends as well.

4. Have a drink

I'm not joking. When you drink alcohol (always in moderation of course), you become less self-conscious. You won't care about making mistakes and trust me, people you're with, they won't care either. It's a win-win situation (except for the next day hangover).

5. Read the news and watch TV

Watch series and movies in original version with English subtitles for a start. When you're more confident,  watch without subtitles. Try your luck at Irish programs and movies to hear the local accent as well. Read Irish news, it will give you an insight into the country and its people. You'll learn new words and expressions (you are allowed to use your dictionary of course!).

6. Listen

Listen to people at any occasion: when you're queuing at the supermarket till, in the bus, at work, in the street... When you're talking to someone, listen to the way they put their sentences together, what idiomatic language they use. It will help you later in a different context.

7. Make foreign and local friends

Try not to stick to much to your own kind. I know it's good sometimes to speak your own language. You don't have to think and it comes naturally, but keep it to a minimum. If you work with people from your own country (I did it for four years!), live with people from Ireland or other countries. In short, give yourself a chance to improve. Don't spoil it by speaking your native language all day every day and then complain you didn't improve. I might be harsh, but I heard that speech from former colleagues. Their year in Ireland was a waste, language wise.

8. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and accept criticism

I've been here 14 years and I still make mistakes. My accent is not perfect and sometimes I still don't understand everything I'm told. But I'd rather have someone tell me I said something wrong than let me make mistakes for years. And trust me, it happened. But this is the only way to improve.

9. Don't be discouraged

I know, easier said than done, but it will be rewarding in the long term. I used to come home after work and cry because my brain was fried with hearing English all day long. I was frustrated because my oral skills were very good, but I couldn't understand everything I was told. Then it passed, I started to understand my colleagues and the drivers' thick North Dublin accent. And when I struggled with my Donegal or Cork colleagues, my co-workers laughed, saying they couldn't understand them either. Then I started using slang, swear, and use typical Irish expressions. You WILL get better.

Do you have any other tips to help improve your English? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The expat holiday: Expectations vs. Reality

We are back from a two weeks holiday in France where we had a great time. Like every time we go home, we want to make the most of it and this time was no different. The thing is, even though we had the perfect trip in mind (cultural visits for the kids, aperitifs, meals with friends and nights out for us), things didn't go according to plan... I have put on 3 kilos, my liver is need of serious care and we're broke. On the plus side, we enjoyed the company of our friends and family and we loaded the car with an insane amount of wine and food. We might not have any money left until our next pay day, but we won't die of hunger or thirst!

To sum up our holidays, I created an infographic that I'm sure a lot of expats will be able to relate to. Please be indulgent, it's the first time I make something like that and I'm far from being a designer, but I thought it would be easier to show what an expat holiday is really like, rather than write a whole post about it. Let me know what you think!

Friday, 5 August 2016


Hopefully the weather will be as good as that...

The blog is probably going to be quieter for the next two weeks as we're going to Brittany tomorrow for a well deserved holiday. The kids have been there for three weeks already and according to my mum, they still don't speak French. As a matter of fact, my mum is the one who improved her English... Looks like things didn't really go according to plan!

Talking about plan, I'm sure if you're an expat, you know that holidays home are usually  planned with military precision. Friends and family want to see you and sometimes it  can feel like you're being pulled in all directions. Trust me, a holiday home is exhausting.

And  it's not going to be different this time. I haven't been home since July last year, and it was only for a few days, so I have a lot of catching up to do. We also decided it would be a good idea to make the kids discover the region because every time we have been to Brittany with them, the days consisted of going to the beach or meeting friends.

This time we have a lot of activities planned. We're going to take them to the aquarium, go on a boat trip to an island, maybe drive down to the "Broceliande forest", home of the many legends surrounding King Arthur. I want them to know where they're coming from and appreciate the region. I can't say if they'll be interested, but we have to try and who knows, we might be surprised!

Of course, I can't wait to eat delicious seafood, drink wine and just enjoy the company of my best friends and my family. My parents are not getting any younger either so we have to make the most of it while we still have time.

The good thing this year is that we're taking the car, so not only we won't depend on my parents to move around, we'll be able to bring back A LOT of stuff to Ireland. I just hope there will be enough space for all the food and the cheap wine. On second thoughts, there is always space for wine.

There's only two things left to do: packing the suitcase, and enduring a 14 hours ferry journey.

Oh, and pray for warm and sunny weather.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

5 Irish things that still surprise me

Living here for that long, nothing should really surprise me anymore. And yet, I sometimes find myself thinking "This is really strange"...

Hearing the National Anthem in odd places

In France, La Marseillaise is mostly played in a stadium or at a political event. In Ireland, you'll hear it at the end of the night in the pub or even a night-club. The weirdest place I heard it was when I was part of a musical society and "Amhrán na bhFiann" was played every night before the curtain opened. And everybody (bar me) was singing. You want to know the lyrics for your next night out? You can't pronounce the words? Don't worry, here's the Irish national anthem in phonetics.

Strangers saying hello

Sometimes, when I'm out for a walk with my husband, strangers would pass us by and say hello. Nothing wrong here, but I always ask my husband "Do you know them?" and the answer is usually  "No". Irish people are just courteous. Then I go home and say "Bonjour" to strangers in the street, and they look at me funny.

Irish people not being dressed for the weather

Or at least I don't think they are. I came back from work today and it was raining. I saw people in shorts and flip flops in the street. I guess we can't predict the weather, and it might have been sunny 5 minutes before, but I'd rather over dress and take off some layers than risk being wet or cold.

The seasons are different. Or do we actually have seasons?

Technically we are already in autumn. Yes, since the 1st of August. Winter starts on the 1st of November, Spring on the 1st of February (mad, I know!) and Summer on 1st of May. But you know what, that depresses me a bit, so I function on a mix of French and Irish seasons. This way, Summer is from 1st of May until 21st of September. And even if Irish weather doesn't live up to my expectations, it just makes me feel better.

People crossing themselves when passing a church or cemetery

I was told it happened, but I didn't believe it until I witnessed it myself. Actually, I've seen it a few times in the bus or even walking by my local church. It's not always old people either... It's probably a mark of respect and there's nothing wrong about that, but I still think it's odd.

What about you? Anything you still find strange in your host country even after many years?