Saturday, 29 July 2017

The long-term expat

We travelled within Ireland for the first time in 10 years!

How many years after a move abroad can you consider yourself a  long-term expat? Two, five, ten years? There is probably no right answer, but one thing for sure, we all have a few things in common. So let's see if you recognise yourself in the list below...

You've become a pro at booking flights

You know the best time to book tickets, the best airline and the one to avoid at all costs, the connections available to go home and the time of the year they operate. You could almost book a flight eyes closed (because you probably know your passport number by heart anyway). And I bet you're always the one who helps other family members find a good deal to book their flight to come and see you. You might also be the one who guides them through the online check-in...

You have a favourite airport

Well, it's no surprise that Dublin is my favourite. I've always found staff friendly and helpful, which makes a trip a lot easier, especially when you have kids. On the contrary, my least favourite airport is Nantes. I had problems almost every time, from security who took my Breton cake away, to check-in staff who told me they were wouldn't be anyone to help me go down a flight of stairs with my child, hand luggage and buggy (while I was pregnant), because they were not there "for that".

There are more passports than people in your house

There are 8 passports for the four of us, and technically, we could have 2 more (but we never asked for Mauritian passports for the kids, because there's no point really). Before flying out, the same question always pops up: "What passport are you taking this time?"

You always take time difference into consideration when calling someone

Mauritius is 3 hours ahead in summer, 4 hours in winter. France is always one hour ahead. My brother in law is in Australia, which is 7 hours ahead, our friend in Morocco is on the same time zone etc etc. When I arrange a call with my mum or sister I always have to add "French time" to the time they want to call: "Call me at 8pm, French time, OK?". And it's always French time because I am more used to the time difference than they are...

You have a holiday budget

There is always this expectation from family and friends that you are coming home every year. "When are you coming back?", "Why are you only staying one week?", "Why do you come only once a year"?... We do try to go home every year, even if it's just for a week. I want to see my parents as they're not getting any younger, and see friends that cannot come over to Ireland. We also go to Mauritius every 2 or 3 years, and we want to visit other places as well, so our holiday budget is pretty big! Having said that, it is our choice. When other people enjoy going out to fancy restaurants, concerts or buying twenty pair of shoes, we just enjoy going away. So we make it work, it's a question of priorities.

Your friends are also long-term expats or locals

Most of our foreign friends have lived in Ireland as long as we have, sometimes longer. And our local friends, well, they're not moving anytime soon either! When you know you're going to stay in a country for a long time, you  stop making friends with people you know won't stay, or at least you make a "lighter" commitment to "new" people.  For me, it's a way to protect myself. I've always taken friendships very seriously and I need time to get to know someone. I don't always want to invest my time and energy with someone who will only be there for a few months, so I now have a tendency to detach myself from the relationship. I am friendly and always will be, but I don't expect anything on the long-term. Having said that, there are always exceptions, but trust me they are rare.

You haven't travelled in your host country for way too long

The first 4 years I was in Ireland I travelled all around the country. I visited major Irish landmarks and sites, and my little Ford Fiesta brought me everywhere. And then routine took over, my husband was working at the week-end and we just couldn't find the time to travel anymore. At the same time, living and working in Ireland meant I didn't want to also spend my holidays there. It's not a foreign country anymore and if I'm off work, I want to go somewhere else. Until the last bank holiday week-end when we had a great time in West Cork (but knackered after a 6 hours drive!).

You mix languages when you speak

I speak Frenglish most of the time, which is fine with my husband or friends, but when I go to France it gets a bit difficult. At the beginning, some people thought I was doing it on purpose, but now they just laugh at me when I can't find a word! On a separate note, when I was in France last week, someone told me she was surprised I didn't have a foreign accent when I spoke French... That's weird, right? I don't think I can ever lose my French accent in my native language, it's hard enough losing it in English!

You don't bring presents back home anymore

The first couple of years, every pre-trip organisation included a day in Dublin to buy presents for my parents, brother and sister, aunts and uncles, nephews etc. I would always end up in Carroll's and break the bank to buy t-shirts, Guinness chocolates, shamrock pencils and the likes...Now I go home empty handed. I think my parents have a fair share of Irish memorabilia in the house. The only thing I do if I have time, is to go to Penney's for my sister. I know I'm not helping her addiction, but a little scarf or a top always makes her happy.

What do you think of this list, did you recognize a bit of yourself in it? Anything you want to add?

Friday, 21 July 2017

6 things I forgot about France

I usually go to France once a year, for a holiday in my hometown. I know people and the surroundings so when I go there I am not surprised by anything really.

But lately, I had the opportunity to travel to other parts of France thanks to my job, and I realised there are some little things I forgot about my country…

Military presence in airports

When I landed in Beauvais a few  weeks ago and also in Mulhouse the other day, the first thing I saw at the exit were military people, with full on uniforms and shotguns. I completely understand they were there for safety, but still, when you not used to it, it feels a little bit scary. It reminded me that France was still in a state of emergency and the possibility of a threat was real. Having said that, I did feel completely safe any places I went to after I left the airport. A terrorist attack is really not the first thing on your mind when you are visiting a foreign city. Even in the metro in Paris, I was more worried about getting out at the right stop than the possibility of an attack...

Table service in bars

I spent an evening in Nancy, on the beautiful Place Stanislas. The square was surrounded by bars, all with an outdoor terrace. I sat down and looked out for waiter. He was a bit busy and told me he would be with me within a few minutes. It got me thinking how this French system is complicated. If you want a drink in Ireland, you go to the bar, ask for it and pay straight away.
In France, you just sit down. The waiter comes, takes your order, goes to the bar, gets your drink, has to remember where you sit, gives you the drink, comes back with the bill, takes the money, goes back to the bar, gets the change, comes back to you…
It’s just a waste of time if you ask me!

People speaking French around me

I know it’s kind of a given if I’m in France right? Well, I’m just so used to be surrounded by English speaking people that I often surprise myself by thinking :”Oh, there are some French people here!” when I hear them talking French beside me. And then I remember than I am in fact in France… Please tell me I’m not crazy and I am not the only one experiencing this!!

The beauty of the country

I am ashamed to say I have visited Ireland a lot more than France. Of course I know Brittany because that’s where I’m from, but aside from my home region, I know very little about my home country. I have been to the Southwest twice and Paris a few times. With my job I have now the opportunity to travel a bit more and I really feel like a tourist when I go to France. When you live somewhere, you don’t really see the beauty beside you and I am now seeing my country from an outside perspective. I don’t really have time to do proper visits as I am mainly there for work, but I always take the time to walk around the cities I’m in, admire the architecture, take pictures and have a nice meal. I have been to places I would have never considered before, like Reims or Nancy and I realised France really has beautiful buildings and landscapes. I drove through the Vosges region and the views were really breathtaking. Next time I’m over in France I think I’ll take an extra day off just to visit, it’s really worth it.

Place Stanislas, Nancy

Paris Opera

The (very) hot weather

Seriously, I think I was going to melt. I am not used to this kind of weather anymore (not that I was used to it in Brittany or Ireland!), and yet I was looking forward to it before flying out. I kind of regretted my enthusiasm when I discovered there was no air-con in my hotel room. The whole time I was there I was just hoping I wouldn’t look too sweaty for my job meeting! The good side of the hot weather was enjoying a cold refreshing cocktail in the evening and not worry about rain!

This one was well deserved!!

French people can actually be nice

Last year I wrote a very controversial post about French people being arrogant (I can’t even post the link because it was reported to Facebook, and I wouldn’t want to re-open this touchy subject anyway). This time I had a completely different experience in France. From the time I booked my rental car to the time I gave it back, I only came across nice, helpful people. The hotel staff, the people I met for work (and I was with competitors so it could have been awkward and less than amicable), the bar I had a drink in, the airport staff, the people in the queue at check-in… Even when I was in Paris a few weeks ago, everybody I met was in a good mood, and I didn’t have high expectations, trust me! I don’t know what happened, but I was so impressed it made me want to make up with French people. That’s a good start, right?

What about you, anything that you find strange, amusing or that you forgot about your home country?

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The joys of having mixed-race children

When you have mixed-race children, it can sometimes lead to awkward and funny situations...

At the maternity

The morning after my first son was born, the nurse came down to show me how to give him a bath. Everything went well until she took his nappy off. She looked at him, then me, then him again, and then the conversation went a bit like this:

"Is the dad, uh... uh... uh...? ".
I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. "Is the dad what?" I replied.
"Well, is the dad....coloured?"
"Yes, he's black, why? Is there something wrong?"
"No, it makes sense now"
"What makes sense?"
"His testicles"
I burst into laughter. "What??"
"Well, that's why his testicles are a lot darker than the rest of his body"

I hadn't even realised they were, because let's be honest, it was my first baby and to me they just looked normal. Upon closer inspection, they were indeed a lot darker than the rest!!

At the childminder

After a few days, I also realised he had a birth mark on his bottom. So I did what every new mother would do, I googled it. And I found out it was a common birth mark in mixed-race children, a Mongolian spot. Once we knew what it was, we were relieved and didn't think about it until my son started to go to the childminder. I picked him up one day and the childminder was a bit agitated:

"I changed him today, I saw this mark on his back...I thought his jeans had rubbed off on his skin"
"Don't worry, it's just a birth mark!"
"Oh my god, I scrubbed him, trying to take it off!!"


At the supermarket

My husband was in a supermarket with one of the kids, and he lost him in an aisle. He  was a bit panicked and started to look for him everywhere. He finally saw him with a security guard so went straight up to him and said it was his son. The guard look at him, looked at the child, and asked  "Are you sure you're the dad?" .Thankfully my son jumped right in his arms, so that was it.

I never get the question "Are you the mum?" because there is less difference between our skin tones than with my husband's. But I can understand why some people would be asking the question...And to be honest, better be safe than sorry.

At school

My kids know how their dad has a different skin colour, but the interesting thing is that they don't refer  to white children as "white". They are "peach", which is funny because it makes a lot more sense when you think about it.
And to be honest, it's only when I look at school pictures that I see the difference between them and the other kids in the class.

On holidays

They tan so easily I'm jealous. I have to use sun cream, after-sun cream, tanning oil and hope I won't get sunburnt. They are just exposed for a couple of hours and they instantly get darker. Life is so unfair.
My son's tan after 2 hours in the sun...
Being mixed-race is part of who my kids are, and they know their parents have a different skin colour, but it doesn't seem to affect them one bit, for the moment anyway. And well, I don't want to go into a "color chart" debate, but their skin tone is quite subtle, you only see a big difference in summer time (as if we had a summer in Ireland, but you get what I mean!). I think it's harder for their dad who had to justify himself (Yes, I am the dad!) more than once...

If you have mixed-race children, any interesting stories you want to share?