It’s all over the press. In case you’ve missed it, here is a quick summary: the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has impregnated one of his staff, a much younger woman, while still officially married to his long-suffering wife (with whom he has four children). The affair was an open secret in the Canberra circles, but completely blew out of proportion over the last few days (I am not sure why. Politics, probably). There are now questions about the use of taxpayer money (you are not supposed to employ your partner. But was she his partner?), and also because he presented himself as a ‘family man’ (The irony!). Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is a sorry mess and I am #teamfirstwife all the way, but, being French, I am struggling to understand the media frenzy. What I am trying to say is this: in France, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. It would be considered, well, a private affair. All French politicians find a way to employ their friends, mistress and family members. When they can’t, they ask a fellow MP to do it for them, and they return the favour. More often than not, knowing who has slept with whom is a guessing game in political social circles. But apparently, not in Australia. What am I talking about? Well, because of the ‘Barnababy’ scandal, Australia has banned sexual relations between government ministers and their staff. This is called the #bonkban, and has been trending on Twitter.
This much I know: such a sex ban couldn’t happen in my home country. People would laugh at it out loud. You have to understand that things haven’t changed in my home country. Sexual harassment is still rife in France, and more often than not it is considered acceptable. Recently, there has been a scandal about a senior minister having an affair with a young intern twenty years ago. She accused him of rape a bit more than ten years later, but the limitation period had expired. Somehow the story resurfaced recently. Nothing will happen to him, and there won’t be any #bonkban in France -nobody has even considered, let alone mention it. Let me make something clear: if the intern had been my daughter, I would be fuming. I would have considered beating the guy up (I am 25% Sardinian -don’t mess with me). Nobody has defended her, nobody has even mentioned that, when you go to work, you expect to be safe from your boss’ advances. At least, the Australians are doing something, and trying to address the problem. Obviously the ban will be difficult to enforce, and I am sure that there will be lots of difficulties, but hey, kudos to Australia. In the meantime, it looks like the elites in old Europe will never change. Why am I not surprised?
Wherever I go, I seem to take my Frenchness with me (whatever that is, really). Like most civilized countries, France has a particular set of rules, and don’t you dare ignore them. When visiting my home country, you’d be wise to keep some of these social norms and expectations in mind. We are not as tolerant as we look. Now you are warned. Truth be told, we will actually be aghast at your breaches and blunders. But of course it goes both ways: you will find us odd from time to time. Or rude, bizarre, even arrogant maybe. We are just French, warts and all. Don’t hold it (too much) against us, we were born that way. Cultural awareness and respect goes a long way, so here are 7 things NOT to do in France or with a French friend. Oh, and the list is far from exhaustive, feel free to add to it…
We Don’t Hug, Unless We Are REALLY Close
To kiss or not to kiss, that is the question when meeting people in France. Some even call it the conundrum of the bise. It’s a cross-cultural minefield of greeting gaffes, especially if you are too familiar with someone. I once almost slapped a British colleague who kissed me a bit too close of the corner of my mouth- in my opinion. I am sure that he meant no harm, but I haven’t forgotten it (and it was, like, 10 years ago). In other countries, you might welcome someone with a hug, a peck on the cheek, a high five, a firm handshake or even a kiss on the lips (the Russian way!). Simply put: in France, don’t do it. The customary greeting between friends is to kiss both cheeks once or twice, depending on the region – PLEASE no sloppy wet ones, it’s disgusting, just light kisses. Even casual acquaintances and colleagues might greet each other this way. Just follow suit. Oh, and a hug is mostly reserved for lovers and close family.
As some of you may know, I eventually set up a small business in France when I was working in London. To cut a long story short, everything had to be done from London (which wasn’t always easy), and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. I know that it looks completely counter-intuitive. Truth be told, I could have set the business up when I was living in France. Except that I didn’t. Why?
When you can’t see what’s right in front of you…
Well, it’s quite simple really: I didn’t see it as a business opportunity when I was living in my home country. It just hadn’t crossed my mind. I had been taught quantum physics and all sorts of complex scientific theories, and as a result, to me, a business had to be complicated. Something to do with sending rockets into space, for instance. Anything less would be, well, a waste. Meaningless. Not even worth considering, in fact.
To make matters even worse, our schools, from the infant classes through to university, penalise failure. Generating innovation and making changes challenge our usual ways of thinking, but we French have never rewarded being different and taking risks, which are two fundamental aspects of innovation. In our education system today there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture where individual’s ambitions are crimped. It’s actually even worse: everyone must fit a certain mould. Everyone must be on the same median, on a pre-defined bell-curve. In France, everybody has to learn the same things and imbibe the same knowledge. However, at the end of the day each student has to find a way to differentiate him/herself. No wonder France is one of the most depressed nations!
I ‘came out’ a while ago, and most of my readers know it: I like running very long distances (See here if you don’t remember: http://frenchyummymummy.com/going-the-ultra-mile/). Come to think of it, the work ‘like’ can be misleading. Ultra marathon runners will understand. What I really mean is that running ultra marathons make me feel alive, even if after a while everything hurts. Maybe, as a friend suggested yesterday, I need a good psychiatrist. So much for thinking that running was keeping me sane. We all have our own issues, right? But I digress.
It is easy to take running for granted. As a woman runner, one thing that I know I often take as a given is the freedom to run without social persecution. It wasn’t always like that. In 1928, at the Olympic games held in Amsterdam, women were allowed to compete in running events for the very first time. After the 800-meter event, the International Olympic Committee ruled that the collapse of women at the finish meant that the distance was too difficult a strain on the female body, and banned the event until the 1960 games. As for women running marathons, it was a big no no until 1972 or so. And I have recently been told (I kid you not), that running long distances could damage women’s reproductive organs. For real, in this century. I would like to reassure everybody: everything seems to be where it should be. What can I say: as a society, we still have some way to go. Not to mention that I know a few girls who could give most men a run for their money…
What a day! I woke up at the crack of dawn to try Parkrun in Sydney. I am not a morning person, and it was already way too warm for me (after all, I am British too!). That said, I needed to stick to my training plan -more about this in another post. In London, Parkrun (a 5k run) always started at 9 am. I found out that in Sydney, it’s 7 or 8am. Bummer.
I took the Tube to St Peters, and of course I got lost. Long story short: suddenly I was in a parallel universe. It was May Lane and continued on Caroline Lane, and, as far as I could understand it, it was an outdoor gallery featuring an array of work. Some looked legal, but many looked, well, a bit improvised. All were stunning. I felt like I was in a comic strip. I was literally walking in my very own comic strip.
If you follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/FrenchYumMummy), you know that I have decided to stay in Sydney a little bit longer to enjoy the Aussie way of life. I had come to a point where I couldn’t take one more British winter, and a change was long overdue after close to 15 years in Blighty. Not to mention that I am a nomad at heart. In short, here I am, and loving it. So, what did I learn? Well, so far, so good. The running is amazing and it’s incredibly warm compared to Europe. But let’s not wait, here are my main findings after a few weeks:
- 1. People TALK. I know, it’s amazing, right? Over here, you say ‘Hello!’ to the bus driver, to fellow runners, to the concierge or the cashier. You might even strike a conversation. For the record, I haven’t heard anyone say ‘G’day, mate!’ just yet. It must be urban legend. That said, you might strike a conversation with somebody you don’t know. Come on, it’s shocking! In London, you shut up. It’s considered rude to talk to others, and most of the time nobody will reply if you do. Not to mention that I always took the automatic check-out anyway.
- 2. I am a control freak. I totally need to relax. That’s probably what London does for you. Things are very chilled over here, and slower than in England. Simply put, it freaks me out. When, for instance, the food is slow to come, the light remains red for too long or the shop doesn’t open bang on time, I feel like the world is coming to an end. I. Need. To. Relax.
Things are slowly starting to pick up after the Christmas break. In Australia, nobody has commented on my French accent, and it’s pure bliss. In London, I keep being reminded that I am ‘different’. What I particularly hate is when my interlocutor pretends he (Let’s face it: it’s usually a he) doesn’t understand what I am saying. It hasn’t happened in Sydney, which makes me wonder what is wrong with British men (selective hearing maybe?). Obviously, according to them, we French women are supposed to ‘have it all’. We must look like a trophy wife, but we must also be strong-minded and financially independent. What a load of codswallop!
Come to think of it, this ‘having-it-all’ concept is really getting on my nerves right now. It must have something to do with middle-age. In no particular order, I am supposed to be beautiful, stylish, thin, independent, intelligent and healthy of course. Not to mention a good mother/wife/friend/cook/coach/taxi/business woman, etc. Here is a newsflash for everybody: I only have 24 hours a day. My life is already pretty full-on. And I am far from perfect.
As we were working long hours on a new project the other day, one of the (British) assistants cracked a joke:
‘But Muriel, you are French! With the hours you are working you wouldn’t be able to have a torrid love affair.’
Here we go again, I thought. How very un-French…
It’s this time of the year I suppose. But fear not: I will not patronise anyone (I am too old for that anyway). I just wanted to share with you my New Year’s resolutions. As I never keep them, I thought that I should make a lot of them -some big, some small- to make sure that I keep at least some of them. That’s just me: I always have a fallback plan. At my ripe age, you have to be pragmatic, right?
The problem is that we often only follow through with good intentions for a week or so. The more strong-minded among us may last a month, but sooner or later we all end up falling back into the same old ways which we tried so hard to change. (Let’s come clean: when I say ‘we’, I mean, well, ‘me’).
Why does this happen? And how can we improve our goal-setting strategies?
I have read somewhere that often our goals transform into failures because they’re not solid enough to maintain our motivation, or because they’re perhaps too hard to reach. According to psychologists, if we want to welcome a change and make New Year’s resolutions for real, we must use a strategy called SMART Goals, which outlines the criteria of successful goal-setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, relevant, Timely). Seriously? Again, fear not: I won’t bore you with this corporate BS (Excuse my French). Again, been there, done it, and I am sick and tired of having to agree with Powerpoint slides and so-called experts anyway. I have pretended to do so for far too long. My new mantra is more real life, less theory. Call it MindLessNess if you want. I have just made it up as well. I think I am on to something…
If this year was any indication of where things are heading, then I am hungry for you, 2018. What a year! It has been a steep learning curve for me, but I feel like things are nicely taking shape. So what were the main takeaways for me?
Apparently, I am glamorous. I still don’t understand why. Especially now that I am a year older (but aren’t we all?)
Being French, people seems to believe that I have a natural sense of style. In fact, I don’t. I happen to be a Signalling Engineer turned lawyer (for the record it’s even worse than it sounds). But if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad, right?…So what’s the secret? Well, listen carefully: the secret is that there is no secret. Naively, I thought that things would get easier as I got older. But no, I am still getting a lot more attention that I should/would like to. Yep, even at my ripe age (I feel 24 anyway).
In 2017 (just like the other years, really), I received inappropriate pictures on Twitter, a few love declarations, and was also asked for an ID when I bought some Nurofen at my local supermarket. Same old, same old, really. Some things will never change. Frankly, I have given up understanding them. Onwards and upwards and all that.
As you know, this year I made one of my dreams a reality: I ran the Canyon de Chelly Ultra in Arizona. Simply put, it was amazing. I managed to get a prize (a lovely jacket) that I keep wearing all the time (I am actually wearing it now while I am writing as it’s freezing in bloody London). What is the Canyon De Chelly Ultra? Well, in case you don’t know, it is a 34-mile race in the Navajo nation, where you first run in the sand and then climb up a canyon, and finally go back to where you started. You can read about it here: http://frenchyummymummy.com/running-in-the-wild-wild-west-the-canyon-de-chelly-ultra/ I have run several marathons, ultras and 100k races over the last couple of years. Yes, despite my ripe age (and two children, a business and a husband who spends all his time travelling the world, but hey, we’ve all got our own stories). I keep being asked how we ultra runners do it. The thing is, I have no idea. I am just an average runner (serious runners who read this are probably way faster than me). My only edge is this: I don’t give up. This made me wonder: what do ultra runners do differently? Are we really made of sterner stuff? Here is what I could think of:
1 For us, distance is relative: a 5k run is a not even a run, and a 10k run is a short run. A short long run starts at 10 miles. A long run is anything up to 100 miles. A friend of mine told me that she was a bit tired and had only run 4 miles that day. That’s just us.
2 We are eternal optimists. Or at least I am. For instance, when I found out that I was going to run in the sand, I trained in Hyde Park, in London, where the Royal Horse Guards train their horses. Needless to say, I was way undertrained: the sand in Arizona was much, much softer (and lasted slightly longer than the 300m in Hyde park). But I didn’t worry. I should have, but I didn’t. That’s just me. My calves survived. Just.
3 We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know that we are going to face at least one massive low, and want to quit at some point during the race. We push through. It’s alright, we just have to accept it and get to the ‘other side’. For instance, I was convinced, during my first 100k and after 8 hours of run, that I was going to die of pneumonia there and then. Before you judge me, you need to understand that I grew up in the sun and that London isn’t well-known for its warm climate. And my mind was probably playing up. Needless to say, I was completely fine. In Arizona, I had a panic attack while climbing on top on the canyon (I am not very good with heights). I stopped for a couple of minutes right in the middle of the climb. Took a few deep breaths. There wasn’t much I could do except carrying on. So I carried on;