Sunday, 17 September 2017

House hunting fever

One day...

Over the past few months, I have seen at least 3 or 4 new housing developments being built in my village. "For Sale" signs are appearing on every corner of the street, prices are going up, and people are back queuing up for hours to buy a house.

All of this brought me back to the time when we were house hunting, and trust me, it wasn't pretty. We bought an apartment in 2006, at the height of the Celtic tiger. But we were looking for a property for at least a year before. It was a stressful time and it seemed we were never going to find something. The demand was huge, the supply sadly wasn't.

On one occasion, we went to a public viewing of a 2 bedroom house in the Blanchardstown area. The price on offer was 175,000 euros. The viewing started at 7pm, but by the time we had stepped in the house at 7.10 pm, we couldn't afford it anymore. The offers had gone up to 290,000 euros. IN 10 FECKIN MINUTES !!!

The same happened to house we visited in Stamullen. There was only one property left for sale in the estate. It was small, the garden was facing North, the bedrooms were like shoe boxes, but still, we were amongst 50 potential buyers. And it was a case of who would put the most money on the table. And it certainly wasn't us.

The worst experience we had was trying to buy a house off the plans in Slane. We had seen the ad on the newspaper and rang the Estate agent, who told us to get there the following morning, as the sale was starting at 11am. Now, who in their right mind would want to buy a house, off the plans, for 270,000 euros?  For all we know, it may have never been built!! But I still went.

I arrived around 9:00am, thinking I was early enough. I didn't know it was already too late. There were a good few people already, but the rule was that the Estate agent would start giving tickets at 10:30am. In the mean time, I learned that some houses had been pre-sold. Seriously?? And that some potential buyers had come the night before to get tickets... A bit unfair, don't you think?  Anyway, I waited patiently and when the guy came out of his little portacabin to give out the golden tickets, it was every man (and woman) to himself. There was rushing, running and a lot of pushing. I eventually got my ticket and stood in the queue. Every single person in front of me was buying a house. Not an apartment, not a duplex. They all wanted a house. So of course when my turn came, the last one had just been sold. I gave up and went home in tears.

In the end, we didn't get a house. We bought a 2-bedrooms apartment for 275,000 euros. and we're not even in Co.Dublin. But you know what, we were just happy to finally find a place for less than 300,000 Euros.

The whole thing was surreal. I am a rational (most of the time) person and couldn't get my head around how crazy people were. How crazy the banks were as well. But at the same time, we were obviously not thinking straight ourselves. We were caught in the whirlwind of house hunting, mortgage lending, money spending. "Get your foot on the ladder! In 2 years time you can sell your house, make a profit and buy bigger". "Clear that small 500 Euros loan and we can lend you 20,000 Euros more!", "Do you want to include a new car in your mortgage, why not?!" I should have known better (even if I didn't take the "new car offer" with the mortgage). I come from a country which experienced several property bubbles so I knew it was going to happen at some stage. I didn't think it was going to happen so soon.

A couple of years after we bought, recession kicked in, and after 11 years, we still live in the same apartment. The view I have from my balcony is that of an unfinished apartment block. and the shops that were supposed to be opened around the complex are still empty. There is a TESCO though, which is probably one of the reason why no other shops opened. There has been a glimpse of hope recently when the whole complex was bought, and hopefully the last empty block will be put to the ground, but what a waste!

I do like where I live though; it's by the seaside, the school is great and it's a village, which is perfect as I'm not fond of big crowds. But... All I really want is a house. A garden. A bit of grass. I want my children to be able to play outside without having to supervise closely in case one of them climbs and falls off the balcony...

We're in negative equity like thousand of other people. We can't sell and we can't rent as it wouldn't cover the mortgage. We are stuck and unfortunately, it looks like another property bubble is on the way. It might be a grim outlook, but I'm thinking we'll have to go through another crash before being able to sell and buy a house.  

In France, lands are sometimes bought by the council. Instead of contracting a developer to build 50 exact same houses, they sell plots of land to private individuals. Then, those people contract a company to build their house. There are a few building companies who sell "key-in-hand" properties. You choose a model from their catalogue, you can personalise your style (the amount of bedrooms, the shape of the kitchen, a garage etc), and it costs less than here. But I guess the developers wouldn't be happy about that...I also learned from a former town planner that, considering the amount of land available and the amount of houses needed in an area, it is a lot more cost efficient to have a developer build full estates.

Buying a house is a life investment (my 35-years mortgage speaks for itself!) and it's supposed to be a big decision. Yet, it seems a lot of people here (and me included) end up buying a house in a rush.

We all need more rational thinking...

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Back to school

That's it, the kids are back to school, which means I'm also back making lunch boxes and supervising homework. All of this made me think about the differences between French and Irish schools. I'm not talking about the big ones like lunches or school hours because I already expressed my frustration about it, but the more subtle ones, the ones that made me think "When I was a kid in France, this was  different!"

School bags

If you're French, you'll know what I'm talking about. I took the "compulsory" back to school picture last week, and a French friend commented, pointing out that their school bags must have been bought in another country. And she was right, we bought them in France. You see, over there, most school bags are square, with a buckle closure. Few kids have bag packs in primary school (although when I looked at French friends back to school own pictures, the kids all had bag packs, so go figure!). Anyway, it reminded of my school years, and I just find those school bags are a lot more practical. My kids might be on the way to set up a new trend!

My 2 kids French school bags

Writing style

When we went to France this summer, my mum got worried and asked me if I noticed that my kids were writing in script. The thing is, this is how they learned how to write, but she wasn't convinced. "So they don't learn the proper way then?" Yes, they do, it's just a different style! In France, kids learn cursive straight away, but here they start with script. My son will learn cursive handwriting this year only, and he's in third class. As much as cursive handwriting looks "prettier", writing in script is a lot easier!

An old birthday letter I wrote to my mum, I was probably around 9...

I never really thought about the reason why copies are different in France and Ireland, but now that I realised the writing style is different, it makes a lot more sense. In France you have more lines, probably because everything is written in cursive, but you don't need that many lines if you're writing in script, so yeah, it makes sense now. Still, I was very surprised the first time I bought a copybook!!

French copy
Irish copy


The advantage of being in a French primary school is that you don't have to buy books. Here, things are a lot different. Kids almost exclusively use workbooks that have to be bought every year. I almost passed out when my eldest started Junior Infants and I discovered the amount of books I had to buy... School might be free but back to school is expensive!! Having said that, most schools now offer a rental scheme to minimise the cost.

That was only half the books by the way!


No uniforms when I was a kid! I remember going to the UK on a student exchange trip when I was a teenager and be puzzled by the school uniforms. Fast forward 20 years, and I just love it. You don't have to think about what the kids are going to wear in the morning, which also means not too many clothes to buy either! A lot of people I know also told me they think there is less competition between the kids, and less pressure to look a certain way. I'm not entirely sure about that because, even if it's a good start, kids will always find a way to "undermine" another peer because of his hair colour, his weight, his glasses or his school bag...

One thing for sure, my kids are having a completely different experience than I had as a child in a French primary school. I still think the Irish system is adapted to kids rather than parents (but that's what's important, right?) and I can't speak for every primary school in the country, but my kids' schools are very supportive and all the teachers I came across were very involved in my boys' education and progress.

As and expat, how do you find school in your host country compared to your home country?

Sunday, 3 September 2017

He doesn't want to speak French

I thought my 6-years old had reached a milestone when my mum announced he had been speaking French since day one of the holidays. As soon as he arrived at my parents, he instantly switched to French. Of course his sentences weren't perfect, but he was able to make himself understood without too much difficulty, and when he didn't know a word, my mum was able to help him.

Every time I rang, she was telling me he was doing great, learning new words every day and little by little, making more complex and structured sentences. When I went over to pick the kids up at the end of August, I was actually blown away. During the year, he hadn't been speaking French that much, but he heard a lot of it at home, on TV or with friends of ours, so I knew he would take some of it in, but I wasn't expecting that much improvement. The way he was switching from one language to another depending on who he was talking to was unbelievable. It made me think of all the articles I read about how bilingual kids are supposed to do that, and how discouraged I was at the time, because mine were unable to.

Just before going back home, I thought: "That's it, he speaks French now. Battle won!", but I couldn't have been further from the truth. The moment we landed in Ireland, he looked at me and said "Now we're in Ireland, so we speak English". Yes, he has that logic that in France, you speak French and in Ireland, you speak English...

Since we're back, I've been trying to keep speaking French to him, making it a game between us, telling him he can speak English to anybody else, but French just to me. Well, it works for a while ( 5 minutes usually), but he quickly moves back to English.

I have so home hope though. I witnessed how much he improved during the holidays without practicing that much during the year, and I realised only the fact that he hears French everyday has an impact on his learning.

And I have a plan for both my kids this year. With two other  mums, we are opening a "French club" for families in the same situation as ours. It will help kids confronted  to French at home, to improve their oral skills in a fun and relaxed environment. It will not be French lessons as such (I couldn't tell my kids they're going to school again on Saturday!), but activities-based sessions where they will put in practice their language skills and learn about French culture. I take this opportunity to invite all French and francophones families in the area to come to our open day next Saturday in Julianstown.

Hopefully, it will be another stepping stone on my kids way to bilingualism. Speaking several languages is such a chance in the world we live in, that we, as parents, really have to give them all the tools they need to achieve their potential.

And as my on own mum would say: "They will thank me later"!!