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There is a new fashion in London. I have never seen anything like it before, neither in Paris, nor in Singapore or New York. It downed on me yesterday, when I was taking the Tube to go to work. (Mind the gap, please, mind the gap!). 4 women, whose ages were ranging between 18 and 45 -I am not very good at assessing ages-, were sitting next to each other on the train and applying their make up in the most conscientious way. And they were not discreetly putting some lipstick on. No, not at all. Their toiletry bags were wide open, as if they were in their bathroom. They were at different stages of the process. They didn’t know each other. One was cleaning her face with a wipe, another was applying her foundation cream, the third one was putting some eyeliner on (which I found very brave given the fact that some trains can brake abruptly) and her mouth had the shape of an inverted V –women look very silly when they put their make-up on-. The last one was putting some powder on her face with a brush, and she was gently patting her face with her other hand while checking in her hand mirror, on her lap, that she looked good.

I felt very uncomfortable. The train was packed, and they were behaving as if they were in their bathroom- which is, I believe, only for your (very) close friends (I actually like to be alone in my bathroom). My fellow passengers and I were standing in front of them, and they were completely oblivious to the fact that we were present. I might be old fashioned, put putting your make-up on in public is a no-no. What’s next? Getting clothed on the train? Scratching this pimple on your nose? How about a little wax? Deo maybe? Come on ladies, let’s behave.
I caught myself wishing that the train would brake and it would ruin their effort, but it didn’t happen (I am mean). The whole point of being a woman is to show some class and keep some mystery (or at least part of the point. Obviously I try to show some class after my coffee rather than before, because I am too sleepy)! Nope.  No one seems to care here. So please, tell me, do you agree with me: no applying make-up on the train. Actually, no applying make-up in public.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Well, there are some good news: it looks like the 21st of May wasn’t the end of the world after all. That being said, I am not sure that we are in good shape. You see, I believe that we are becoming more and more judgemental.

We judge each other all the time. Maybe we can’t help it. Maybe it just reassures us.
Recently, it all started with the comments the French made on the American justice: a soap opera (Elisabeth Guigou, former justice minister), a justice of cow-boys and a media circus (Robert Badinter, former minister of justice)- see here.
The American response followed shortly, accusing the French to be obsessed by sex, a society where elitist machos who can do whatever they like, and finding some very creative nicknames for DSK.
It looks like the competition is set to continue. I am not sure that it will achieve anything in the end. What does the winner get? A medal to have won the war of words? It reminded me of some old newspapers that I found in my attic (see here and here). 150 years ago it was exactly the same: we couldn’t help judging each others. Well, it is simply amazing: nothing has changed. In more than 150 years we haven’t learned a thing apparently. Disappointing.
We can safely say that the situation will not improve any time soon. I strongly believe that being judgemental is killing us from the inside : we want to convince the world that there is only one way: ours. On top of this, I am not sure that it is making us any happier…
Before moving to London, I was quite judgemental and I had strong views about, for instance, the fact that women should not stop working when they become mums and that the only way to succeed in life was to have a Master degree -or two-, and a MBA if possible -at least-. Now that I moved country, am older (and, let’s face it, heavier -that’s what middle age and 2 pregnancies do for you ), I am not so sure. There are many ways to succeed and be happy. My way sort of works for me (except for the fact that I feel knackered all the time), but others seem to work just as well ( or sometimes -shock horror- even better!).
I am not saying that we should accept anything, but just be nicer to whoever is a bit different. And also, before criticising, it helps to try to understand, and to take it easy.
So please don’t judge me when I say this: tomorrow, I will send some blankets across the pond to Jenn and Angela (see Wrapped with Hope here) for the victims of the tornadoes in the US. I know it is a bit silly because  I am so far away, and it’s only a couple of blankets. But I think that it is a great idea and I like the symbol.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Breaking news: Joy has mentioned my blog and I just love what she said about me. Check it out at Catharsis.




Where has the week gone? It is a glorious day in London and I am knackered. I need a good holiday, but having a break is not on the agenda yet. That said, it was a good week…
Thanks to my 6-year old daughter, I went to the Royal College of Art this week. She has been selected amongst 7000 participants in an art competition organised by a charity, and her painting was displayed there.


I could hardly believe that she was selected. It is apparently an honour, and saying that I was surprised is a bit of an understatement here: let’s just say that we are not an artsy family. Far from it.


So, a bit stressed, I walked from Gloucester Road Tube Station to the Royal College of Art. I then had to pay £3 for the privilege of entering the exhibition, and was suddenly surrounded by 700 kids’ paintings. Very helpfully, my lovely daughter had explained to me: “Mum, you can’t miss it, there is a pineapple, a pear and a flower”. I expected a “nature morte” and surveyed all the walls, desperately looking for the pineapple. Surely I would recognise her style. But nope, I couldn’t find anything. I tried to understand how the paintings were organised ( by school? By age group?) but I couldn’t figure it out. In the end, I had to ask one of the lovely ladies at the entrance door to help me.


To be fair, it took her quite some time to find it but she managed. There it was, right in the middle of one of the walls. 




The yellow thing on the right is, I am told, the pineapple. No wonder I missed it. I was baffled. Very proud, of course, but a bit disappointed. To make matters even worse, I had to make a (generous) donation to be able to get the painting back and order some postcards (given the family history, it will probably be the only painting selected for an art competition in a long, long time so I felt compelled to do the right thing ). Then, the lovely ladies tried to convince me that putting it on a canvas would make a great present but I resisted the suggestion…


So here I am, home, with the painting, and I can’t help thinking about something that happened at the Tate Modern a few years ago: one of the cleaners thought that a paperboard sculpture was a pile of rubbish and threw it away. I sympathise with the cleaner and I think that I will never “get” art. Don’t get me wrong, the Tate Britain is like a second home to me. I love going there, and the permanent Turner exhibition is fantastic. But sometimes, I just don’t understand art.

This is a small pyramid with names of real and imaginary persons. I didn’t get it


Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am still in shock. As I am trying to write, I find myself watching the recording of the new hearing, and I understand that DSK has been granted bail. Hopefully this will allow everybody (including me) to calm down. In the meantime, CNN, BBC and France 24 are my new best friends. The truth is: I am stunned by the comments I have read in the French press. I feel like I don’t understand the French any more. Something must have gone badly wrong with me while I was living in London. Little by little, I have become less French. Let me list all the reactions that bug me and please let me know if I have missed anything:

1.    According to a poll (and this is mentioned in the very serious newspaper “Le Monde”), 57% of French believe that DSK is innocent and that the whole thing is a conspiracy. Conspiracy against what exactly? The guy was arrested because he is suspected to have assaulted a hotel employee. Why do people always want to make things more complicated than they are? How arrogant is it to believe that THEY know better?


2.    Then, some so-called Socialists, who are supposed to defend the interest of the “working class” forget to mention the victim and try to minimise the alleged offence. Jack Lang in particular even said (see here) that “No-one died”, implying that what might have happened is not a serious crime anyway. How dare he? To make matter even worse, Bernard-Henry Levy (Known as BHL. Some sort of philosopher whose arrogance I hadn’t fully appreciated until now) went further and said that DSK should not have been treated like everybody else (see here). What does he mean? Shall we have different treatments depending on who is judged? Have they all gone mad?
3.    Then, the French strongly believe that seeing DSK with handcuffs was against the presumption of innocence. It is true that  such pictures could not have been shown in France -as a matter if fact I don’t think they have-. This is because, in 2000, a law was passed, mainly to protect corrupted politicians from being seen with handcuffs. Let’s face it : such a law sometimes protects people who are wrongly accused and yes, what DSK has been through is a PR execution. But most of the time, this law only protects people who are guilty. And in France, I am convinced that the maid couldn’t have pressed charges -she would have been vilified and her picture would have been all over the news-, so why are we trying to lecture the Americans again?
4.    Finally, some are quick to point out that the maid never goes on her own in a bedroom in such hotels. Here is a thought: why didn’t DSK use the security chain to lock the door?
It looks like we are going to hear about this for quite some time. I would like to clarify something: yes, the French believe that politicians have the right to a private life and are not too shocked when they have affairs. I think that I remain French on that one. Even if I believe that leaders should lead by exemplarity, I have yet to meet a perfect person and a relationship between consenting adults remain largely their own business. But we are talking about something different here: if proven, the crimes described here are very, very serious. Even if Jack Lang and BHL don’t seem to share this view.   
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As you know, I used to write about the old newspapers that I found in my attic. But I can’t do this anymore, so I have decided to talk about today’s newspapers. Me being me, I had prepared a list of potential topics but it looks like, today, the news have caught up with me and my good intentions.
Let me explain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK as we know him in France), head of IMF and one of the potential presidential candidates in France was arrested in New-York after allegedly assaulting a hotel employee (see here). A couple of years ago, he admitted to having an affair with an economist of the IMF (see here).
Obviously one of my questions has always been:
“How can an intelligent man be so silly?” (and on top of being intelligent, his wife is a very bright journalist) but I think that there is more to this than meets the eyes. In France, you see, there is an expectation that the President must be a womaniser. I think that it stems from the fact that we have no king any longer, so our President becomes the Father of the nation. I mean, literally. Where else have Presidents had two families (Mitterrand -one official and one “on the side”, and of course the mandatory mistresses)? Where has a President had an accident with the milkman when he was coming back from a (hopefully passionate) night with his mistress ( Giscard d’Estaing)? In France and nowhere else. Behaving badly with women seems to come with the job. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.
For obvious reasons, I will not speculate about what has happened to DSK in New-York. But there is one thing I wanted to say: in France, I don’t think that such a scandal would have transpired in the press and I don’t believe that DSK would have been arrested. For this, hats-off to the Americans, and let’s see what happens next.
I think that you might not realise it, but your politicians, in the UK and the US, are more scrutinised than in France. There, no-one, not even the press, dares to challenge the establishment. It is not possible and as a journalist you might loose your job. As a result, dare I say, the caliber of politicians is probably better in the UK/US  than in France-I know that it might not be what you want to hear, but, sadly, I am convinced that it is true.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Article first published as The Truth About raising Bilingual Children on Technorati.
 

 
When friends see my daughters, they are amazed that they can speak English without any hint of a French accent, and reply to me in French as if it was completely natural to switch from one language to the other. I am obviously very proud of my children, but I can’t help thinking that:

  • It was, and still is hard work to make them speak French. My younger one especially has explained to me countless times that French is boring and, by the way, she can’t be bothered to learn to speak it. They go to British schools and are more British than French by now;
  • It is me whom my friends should be amazed at, as on top of a full time job and taxiing them to their various after-school activities, I try to teach the girls some French at least twice a week, and once a day when I am ready to put up a good, old-fashioned fight against them, which can happen after two weeks of taking vitamin supplements and usually doesn’t last very long anyway.



In short, it is not as glamorous as it looks. To make matters even worse, the selective nurseries will test your little darlings at age three and, if they are coming from a bilingual family, their English vocabulary will be narrower than “proper English kids” and usually this will be held against them. I also know some kids who started speaking very late because they were coming from bilingual or even trilingual families (parents who speak different languages and communicate in English). Everybody was worried that something was wrong with them, whereas they were just confused.
The truth is, there is no such thing as perfectly bilingual. I would say that English is my daughters’ primary language, and French will remain my primary language.
On top if this, French is awfully complicated. My daughters have a tendency to use the colloquial form if “you” (“tu”) with everybody, even with doctors or policemen. Most of the times it makes them laugh, but some were really offended. French can be really stuck-up, you see. (I would know, I am French.)
So, all in all, is it worth it? Of course it is, especially in the longer run. But not as much as I thought. You see, I have seen kids really messed up with this whole “bilingual” fashion, and they ended up having to undergo years of speech therapy and seemed very, very unhappy. My advice : Happiness prevails. Life is too short. If it’s too big a deal, stick to English.
A few useful resources for busy Mums:cned : This is the site I use to teach some French to the girlsCenter For Applied Linguistics
American Association of Family Physicians

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As some of you know, I have found old copies of “The London Illustrated News” in my attic when we started renovating our house. Today, I am talking about the last newspaper I found. The London Illustrated was created to inform people, and it was thought that the illustrations would attract and hence inform a wider public. Fair enough. Today, I am talking about the last newspaper I found. This time, it is dated April 13, 1889. It is a bit of a different one, as it only consists of a short story called “The history of a slave”.
This initial story is a catalog of all the cliches you might have on slaves and Arab countries.  Here are a few examples:
” The Master had me tied to a stake and flogged on the back until I fainted ( note from me:the Brits seem obsessed by flogging somehow). Then, the slave escapes and manages to see the Sultan:
” He was a tall Pulo ( no idea what this is. I think that they invented it for the story) with a yellow face marked with small-pox, and with a thick, black beard.” Then, the slave manages to convince the Sultan that his old master is a traitor and the Sultan has him executed:
” They thrust a wooden gag into his mouth, so that it prised his jaws open; and, when this was done, the executioner took from his waistband a pair of iron pincers…” you don’t want to read the rest.
The Sultan is eventually attacked by another sultan (of Yakuba) and everybody has to escape. The slave betrays the Sultan but ends up being sold . He explains ” I was now forced to walk in step with a poor wild pagan in the slave caravan.”
A long story follows, and the slave becomes a soldier.
This had me thinking : can you really benefit from someone else’s views and experiences? When someone tries to educate you, or teach you something, he or she will pass on to you all his/her cliches, ways of thinking and even small defects. Even with the best of all intentions, you are going to end up with something subjective, biased, and partial. As a result I was wondering: isn’t experience the best way to learn? Instead of learning about a different country, isn’t it better to travel there? Likewise, instead of reading parenting books, isn’t it better to be a mother and do it your way? Do we really need all this so-called education? Being French, I used to think that education was the Holy Graal leading to a successful life. Now I am not so sure. Isn’t the school of life the best way to be educated? When educated people write all sort of cliches on other countries – like in this week’s newspaper, isn’t it time for good, old fashioned common sense and life experience? I know so many seemingly intelligent and educated people with patronising, rigid views that I tend to prefer less polished people, who have learned their lesson the hard way or have had the real intelligence to remain humble despite all their degrees.
And here are this week’s interesting ads:
– “Brooke’s soap – the world’s most marvellous Cleanser and Polisher. Makes tin like Silver, Copper like Gold, Paint like new, Windows like Crystal, Brass Ware like Mirrors, Spotless Earthenware, Crockery like Marble, Marble White. Won’t wash clothes.”
– “Jewsbury & Brown, original and only genuine Oriental Tooth Paste. Sixty years in use.” I wonder what it might be…
So, this is the end of the old newspapers’ post. Thank you for reading and for your support. Starting  next week, I will speak of today’s newspapers, and choose something to discuss -something unusual, or simply funny. Stay tuned.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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This post can also be found on Technorati: http://technorati.com/women/article/french-style/


My daughter, my red coat and me in London

I sometimes find living in London liberating. As a French woman, the pressure to look good is huge. In Paris, I once was on the verge of crying when I realised that I had tights of different colour on each leg (one black, one brown black). And I always felt that I had to be skinny, because all my female friends were looking like models. Life was tough.

Well, it is not the same in London. Basically, I have seen most of my female colleagues with a torn tight and they didn’t really care: they either didn’t notice or found it very amusing. How weird! As a result, I am much more relaxed here. Best of all, despite being a middle-aged mother of two, I don’t feel fat. In fact, most of the time, I feel great.

It is as if being French was giving me some sort of aura. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t work in fashion and I am far from being glamourous. But for some reason everything I wear seems to strike the right note, even my scruffy jeans and my cow-boy boots. Last time I was wearing my red coat, I had looks of envy from everybody. Being French, people seems to believe that I have a natural sense of style. In fact, I don’t. But if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad…the secret is that I have no secrets and I am just sticking to some very basic rules:

  • Less is more: flowery dresses, for instance, tend to be hard to wear…I stick to simple designs;
  • I am trying not to let myself get too fat. I am amazed to see that a lot of young women have a muffin top over here, and for some reason they proudly show it -not nice;
  • No make-up is better than too much make-up;
  • Don’t try too hard. Being natural is what works best for me. In this country for instance, a good hairdo seems to mean that your hair must look like a souffle. Well, it is a no no;
  • And finally, try just a subtle touch of originality (a nice necklace, or bracelet, or belt…).



But despite all this, it all goes wrong when I try to speak. The problem is that I have a strong French accent. Apparently, British men find it incredibly sexy. Good for them. I was born this way, and despite my best efforts I still have it. This means that men look at me thinking of anything but work and it simply drives me mad. I once missed a step after an early meeting. In the blink of an eye, I was surrounded by no less than three well-meaning British men asking me “are you OK, Miss?”. Give me a break, I just missed a step. To top it up, I am nearing 40, and no longer a Miss…
So that’s the problem of my life over here, and I am seriously thinking of getting some professional help to get rid of my accent. What would you do?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London