Posted by / Category London /

The other day, when I was talking to French friends, they asked me when I was going back to France. They made it sound like:  “The holiday is over; it is time for you to go back where you belong.” They seemed convinced that no meaningful life is possible outside of France. How very French.

News flash: I am not going back to France. Of course, I will go for some holidays, or to visit family and friends. But not permanently. In order to explain to them why, I have tried to list the 10 best and worst things (we need to be balanced here) about London.

1.    The coffee culture. There is nothing like the cappuccinos and lattes here, and my first sip in the morning is probably the best time of the day;
2.    The permanent Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. Guess what: it is completely free!  You can turn up whenever you like. Being French, I was taught about the Impressionists, but never about Turner. What a mistake! Turner is a precursor, a genius. For an exhibition like this in Paris, the queue would be one mile long. I used to go every day when we moved here, until I realised that I was falling for a dead painter. I am trying to go once a month now. I am still in recovery. He is simply great;
3.    The parks. The list is endless, and you can spend a day in London walking in different parks without taking the Tube or a cab. St James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington gardens, Holland Park..;
4.    The fact that I feel thin here (but not in Paris);
5.    The chocolate croissants. Especially when the chocolate is melting inside…;
6.    “Show and tell” at school. My daughters have become very confident and it is a pleasure to listen to them;
7.    The solidarity between Mums. One day, the school was closed because of a major leak. I had had 3 phone calls before 8am to warn me, with babysitting offers. I was amazed. It had never happened in France;
8.    The streets between Smith Square and Westminster school. It feels like travelling back in time. The houses have not changed. You can see the signs showing the entrance of shelters used during WWII on Lord North Street. On Barton Street, the old houses are leaning towards the street and some of the windows are not straight. I feel like I am going to see a carriage with two horses whenever I walk past it;
9.    Jogging along the Embankment;
10.Spooks (The TV series). I think that I am addicted to it.

1.    Parking in London. It is so complicated that no one understands it. It is all about your resident permit. It can be completely different from one street to the next and I am not sure whether you can park on a yellow line on Saturdays and Sundays. I am told that it depends (on what?). I have given up and have to pay the odd parking ticket from time to time (£60. What a rip-off! And in France it is just €15!!!);
2.    The sandwiches. It is almost impossible to have a lunch that doesn’t involve a sandwich or a salad here;
3.    The price of a decent education. OMG!
4.    London GPs. Especially when you are used to your family doctor in France. Here, they do you a favour when you finally book an appointment and you are on your back foot from the start. Someone will have to explain to me of what use GPs exactly are;
5.    Being called darling, sweetie, honey or love by people you don’t know. Weird and not necessarily nice;
6.    The way people look at me when they hear me speak with a French accent. I can assure you that being French is not an illness. It is not contagious and I don’t understand why apparently it is so sexy. I am here to work, not date;
7.    Porridge: can someone honestly tell me that they like it? Is it just a test that you have to take to become a British citizen? I never understood whether you put salt or sugar in it. That’s how bad it is. I think that it looks like solidified saliva;
8.    The white cream the Brits put in chocolate éclairs. Not nice;
9.    Custard. Not, it is not like Crème Anglaise. It is much worse;
10.Chutney: what is it exactly? If decay had a taste that would be it!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

I moved to London seven years ago. In pure French middle-class tradition, my first foreign language was German, which did not really help. Taking German at 11 years old is supposed to put you in better classes. English is taught later…and when that time came it was probably too late for me to speak it properly…
The beauty of the brain is that it can adapt to any situation. I had to brush up my British skills. And I did. Enough to live and work in English, anyway.
But I must not kid myself here. I will never really speak proper English. Speaking or writing English is a subtle art that requires patience, practice and an excellent knowledge of the social rules. Too late for me, I am afraid.
That said, you know that you are on the right track when you realise that the sentence you are reading can mean one thing and its exact opposite at the same time. One day, I was reading about what seemed to be a clear-cut corruption case in one of the leading newspapers.  But the internal investigation had concluded that:
“There [was] no clear evidence of corruption.”
On the face of it, it is a simple sentence. But, as I have learned, simplicity doesn’t always mean clarity. What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that the guy hasn’t done anything wrong? Or does this mean that there is unclear evidence of corruption -in which case he actually has done something wrong.  With my usual esprit de l’escalier, I have finally realised that the Director in charge of the investigation was probably a lazy lump and he didn’t really want to conclude anything. The English language had allowed him to keep all options open.
I was relieved to have eventually found a credible theory on that one –believe me, it took me some time. When I explained it to a friend of mine, he said:
“I don’t disagree”
I was baffled. Technically, if he doesn’t disagree then he agrees. But then, he has chosen not to simply say that he agrees. Why? Probably because, in fact, he doesn’t really agree -see, one thing and its opposite again…I have come to the conclusion that, in fact, he doesn’t really care or he believes that my theory is too far fetched. That being said, I will not ask him to clarify. Too risky. Am already tired of interpreting.
I thanked him for his response (I was told that it is polite to do so) and he told me that we should agree to touch base next week. I panicked.  When I found out that touching base had nothing to do with, actually, touching your base (or anyone else’s) I couldn’t help being relieved! 
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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A growing epidemic is affecting Britain: indecision. No-one knows what to do anymore. A friend of mine, A, doesn’t know what to do with her life. She has been living with the same guy for the last seven years but they don’t know whether to get married or not. She doesn’t know whether to have kids or a career. And when you don’t know here, you do nothing. You just carry on. They call it business as usual over here.
It means that you have to ignore the fact that you don’t know and you pretend that everything is fine. It feels a little bit like there is a pink elephant in the room and no-one is allowed to talk about it. Some people watch their lives passing by because of this disease.
 And don’t even think about mentioning that you sort of feel that there is a problem. It is rude. People will stare at you and look completely surprised. I learned it when, at primary school, I dared to ask what the problem of the little boy with serious behavioural difficulties was. What behavioural difficulties? Well, he was chewing electrical cables. Oh really? It felt as if I was completely mad. That said, a couple of weeks later, I was taken aside by another mum and told (or rather whispered) that he had a mild version of autism. Well, that explain it. Maybe you just have to persevere to find out what is really happening and actually make a decision?
Pretending that everything if fine is an art here. It is all about acting as if you were happy, smiling, in the hope that it will come true eventually. When a rude customer assistant gives you a hard time because he is too lazy to fetch the carrier bags, you must pretend that he is friendly, even if you hesitate to make a formal complaint. No wonder customer service here is appalling.
It is all about not to make a fuss, even if you are boiling inside. If things get really bad, well, you always have the option to say “thanks for that”, but it is only to be used:
1.    With the right tone,
2.    If you are extremely angry,
3.    And if you are still hesitating to make a complaint.
This disease is highly contagious. I know friends who have been renting the same house for more than 20 years because they couldn’t decide whether they should buy it.
I now need to do my grocery shopping for the week. I can’t decide whether to take the car or the Tube. I might be getting the disease too… To be or not to be?… That is the question!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am surrounded by strong-willed women.  Most of the time, I like it. My grandmother, my mum, my nanny (I mean, my daughters’ nanny of course), my female friends and my daughters all have their own (strong) personality. There are fights, sparks, and arguments. It is a high-pace life. It must be my lot in life to be surrounded by alpha females. That said, I have always believed in women’s right to be educated, right to have a career or right to choose to stay at home. I have been brought up thinking that everything was possible, and I actually am grateful for that, even if, in fact, everything is possible but that little bit more difficult for girls.

In the run-up to the 11+ exams, I had to visit a few secondary schools in and around London. First of all, where we live, most secondary schools are single sex. After all, why not?  But then, most schools pride themselves in showing you their Home Economics Labs (in other words, their kitchen) where they teach the girls to cook and run a home. And they boast about it. The feminist in me was outraged and I had to force myself not to make a comment. My husband, who knows me well by now, made me understand that I had to keep quiet. After all, all I had to do was to nod politely, just like the other Mums. But I was asking myself whether they were also teaching the girls to be good wives and it was killing me. Some schools didn’t even show the science lab. I am French, and in France the Holy Grail of education is Science (and maths, actually). I felt that I was travelling back in time. I wanted to run away and escape. How could this country be the first to allow women to vote and still be so conservative?
Don’t get me wrong: knowing how to cook in this country is part of your survival skills if you want to avoid bread that tastes like the plastic it is rolled in. But you learn this at home and I don’t want to pay school fees for it.

When I tried to express my concern to other Mums, the response I got was along the following lines: “but why would you want your daughter to study maths or science?” “What is the point, for a girl, to study hard?”. The best one was “You don’t want your daughter to outshine her husband, do you?”  I thought about it long and hard and came to the conclusion that, here, it is rude for a girl to be bright. You need to have a pretty face, be polite, be able to sustain a decent and interesting conversation. Oh, and I forgot: under any circumstances, stay skinny and keep your sunglasses. In short, shut up and be gorgeous.

For such Mums, the secondary school is just some sort of finishing school where you can meet the right people and learn to manage how to run a household. Well, I have decided that I will be rude and that my daughter will go where she can keep being strong-willed.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Stop all the clocks! Nisha is in town. I am normally a very discreet person. I only wear make-up when absolutely necessary. But Nisha is my (only)celebrity friend and she is in town. My whole world is upside down. She makes me discover new beauty products that I didn’t know existed. She knows all the names of the fashion designers just by looking at the clothes. That’s shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone as she is the person behind the Nisha JamVwal brand. She is an editor in chief, an architect, a model… and, more importantly, a friend of mine.
We met at her hotel and went straight to Harrods for a shopping fix. It turned into a whole expedition. With her larger-than-life personality, she managed to get a ton of tester products. How does she do it?
We ended up having a bouillabaisse at Harrods seafood bar. I was keen to make her try my favourite dish, the flavour of the special occasions of my childhood (marinated soup of fish and seafood). She loved it. We laughed a lot.
Seeing Nisha in the street of London is a treat. Actually, it is like a thermal shock of cultures: the Indian warmths meets the British coldness…So much fun…But do expect some surprises. She brightened my day (and it was a tough day, not least because we had a leak in the house and cannot use the upstairs toilet. Nightmare). Thanks, Nisha!!!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

My daughter has just finished her last interview for London top secondary schools. In this country, this is called the 11+. Going to a secondary school is a selective process and only the best get their first choice of school. The selection is ruthless and my daughter had to deal with a lot of pressure. All of this is already well documented and all of it is true ( the reality is in fact much, much worse). Having being educated in the French system, I am kind of used to this.

What is less talked about is how it affects mums …I wish I had taken some meditation classes to keep my cool. I basically survived on Daylesford organic brownies and 5k runs. I do not recommend it, despite the fact that I managed to lose some weight during the process (not a lot. Damn it)

First of all, forget about any kind of social life from September of year 6. Just write it off. Cancel any work engagement. Then, find a good tutor or be prepared to tutor your daughter yourself. Do not believe anything you are told by the school, all the girls are tutored and must be prepared unless you still believe in fairytales -and at the end of the process you won’t any more. Prince charming will not come. Some mums learned it the hard way-.  Some girls even started having a tutor at nursery (on top of the school fees, of course). Really. That said, do not kid yourself: the 11+ can not be outsourced, you will have to get your hands dirty. Do not count on your husband, he will be on business trips at all the crucial times and there is no point in complaining, they all do it and you don’t want to start divorce proceedings during this process anyway.

Then, information is key. You have to pump the other mums for information and-shock horror-, discover that sometimes you will be interviewed too. My advice: preparation, preparation, preparation. You have to attend with your husband and present a united front. It was tough for a friend of mine whose hubby ran away with her best friend. But, for the sake of her darling daughter, she did it. That’s what it takes. I think that there might be a business opportunity for pretend-husbands here. Oh, and the power stripes are mandatory for him, he must look like a banker (see (  Then, you have to understand that most Sloane Square mums look similar:
– skinny
– blonde. Blonde highlights are acceptable, hair extensions are a real bonus
– loads of foundation on  the face (do not even think of visiting a school without make-up). Botox is recommended
– designer clothes. For some unknown reason, most of the mums look  like they are going to go horse riding (please do not bring the whip or leave it in the Chelsea Tractor), and they accessorise the look with a Prada bag. I have tried to look around to see the horses but couldn’t find any.

I am ticking none of the above boxes. I have bought some fancy boots but the girls are laughing their heads off when I am wearing them. With a mum like me, my daughter does not stand a chance. I would be taken for the French au-pair, which would not boost my self confidence. My only choice was to hire an actress or to choose schools with no interviews for me. I chose the latter ( but just in case I had a skinny friend lined up to represent me).

Finally, be prepared for anything. My daughter was asked about what was happening in Tunisia. She acted as if it was perfectly normal for a 10-year old to analyse Tunisa’s political situation and explained that Ben Ali’s wife stole a ton and a half of gold. In short: do not let anything bother you. Maybe, after all, she could tutor me now.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

We all had, at some point, to see our GP (General Practitioner – that’s how we call our doctor over here). It is a very peculiar experience. My daughter had been suffering from a bad cough for what seemed to be a very, very long time (especially when you wake up every other hour. I had to send my other daughter to the guest room as she was in the middle of her 11+ exams so that she could sleep -more about that in a few weeks- ).

But we just talked. He didn’t examine her.  He didn’t even look at her, or take her measurements. You know: weight, height, blood pressure…he explained to me that there is a virus out here, the cough lasts 4 to 5 weeks and there is nothing to do. Tough luck, dear lady. The consultation didn’t last more than 5 minutes. I insisted that he should take a look at her, listen to her lungs, look at her throat, or simply do something but no, he didn’t do anything. He didn’t give in. He just didn’t see the point.  But he was really, really nice.  And polite too. The next thing I did was to get a prescription for antibiotics from a French friend who happened to be a doctor and I am pleased to say that the cough has gone in less than 3 days, which means that the whole household was able to get some much-needed sleep at last.

The problem is in fact a cultural one. Whereas in France we talk and then we do something, here we talk, and talk, and talk again. Then, eventually, only when absolutely necessary, something is done about the issue. Not always.  A (British) friend of mine managed to talk about how tea is made the proper way for more than 25 minutes (I timed him.). Given that it must take a couple of minutes to actually make a cup of tea, it took him twelve times longer to talk about it.  Amazing.  I just can’t imagine the time it must take to tackle a real issue over here. I think that I would have time to die of boredom 10 times before it happens. I am still unsure as to how you would solve the issue though. Maybe that ‘s the reason why we can’t get our dishwasher repaired: a week of talking would be required.

Mind you, this love of words also has its upsides.  A defining moment of my life in this country was when I had my second daughter in London. When in France I immediately got an epidural when things got rough, here I was asked to talk through my pain. I ended up doing so much more than talking: I shouted, insulted, begged and threatened (I can’t remember the exact order)…but in the end no epidural was needed. That’s what’s called efficiency!

On the bright side, I have learned to trust my instincts here. In France, people will actually do something (and sometimes they will actually do too much. I still resent the science teacher who gave me a 0% to make me understand that grades were not important). Here, finally, I don’t care any more about all the talks and unwanted advice. And we are going to change the dishwasher.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

It is this time of the year again: the stripes are back. Beware: they are on the tube, at work, in the street… I am not talking about the discreet little stripes on a white shirt here, but of the thick, usually purple or green ones. My favorite is when they are on a pink shirt. They usually try to cover a fat, well-fed tummy, but with limited success…

What is even better is when, together with the shirt, the trousers have stripes too-not the same ones of course. The possibilities are endless. The jacket can have stripes as well, and the tie too -usually oblique ones to be fair. Some even decide to have a tie with dots to add a little bit of variety. Lovely touch. After careful observation, I have come to the conclusion that stripes give an ego boost to the guy who wears them. The more stripes, the better, and the smarter the guy will feel. It is a sort of trampoline. The more they have, the higher their confidence jumps.

What I am still struggling to comprehend is the choice of colors that some men like to wear. I have seen a green man. The trousers, the jacket, the tie, everything -with the mandatory stripes of course. Pink and purple are also very popular. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, except when it is with some light-blue trousers. In the run-up to Christmas, I was wondering whether there was a Christmas tree competition. Now I am starting to believe that color blindness is much more widespread this side of the channel.

That said, the beauty of this country is that, even with no make-up and wearing my husband’s socks, I feel great. No one seems to care and I find it liberating.  When I was working in Paris, I once was so asleep that I put a brown tight on one leg and a black one on the other. You could barely see the difference but I was so ashamed that I rushed to the first supermarket to correct my mistake. I wouldn’t do it here. Nobody would have noticed anyway and if someone had, being French, for some funny reason, seems to mean that everything I do is stylish. I love it. I feel like I am a style icon here. Whatever I wear, I have some friends who are always telling me that I have a lot of style, even when I have my scruffy jeans on. I think that my friends are a bunch of very nice people!

As I am writing there is a group of teenage girls outside. They have mini-skirts and sleeveless jackets. Outside, in the cold, of course. Of course I could be shocked. But well, if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

In my quest to understand what British people really think, I have a secret weapon: my 11-year old daughter.  She understands how I think and can explain to me what her friends are really saying with words that I can actually relate to. She attends a British school, which allows me to see how they are trained. It is simply fascinating. Children are taught to say things in a certain way from a very young age, and it makes it impossible for anyone who wasn’t brought up the same way to get what it is they really think.

When my daughter was seven (yes, seven), she bumped into an older girl from school. When you are in the senior school apparently you don’t have to wear a uniform, so this girl was wearing a mini-skirt with a very large red belt. Let’s just say that, if there is a fine line between originality and bad taste, this girl had clearly crossed that line, and the whole arrangement was of bad taste. In short, she looked like a pre-teen prostitute. My daughter just smiled and said “Hi! How are you? Nice belt ”. The older girl was clearly delighted and she beamed. As soon as the girl couldn’t hear us my daughter told me “ What a horrible outfit!”.  I was amazed.

From then on, I started to question everything I was told. Is this school any good? I asked one of my friends. Oh  yes, it is a good school, she said, very sporty. What she meant was that they were not very good academically.  How could I have guessed it? Another example: anyone who has been in London for a while will also know that every kid has a tutor. But it is a complete taboo. No-one says anything about it but most teachers are finding it an easy way to earn some side money while at the same time denying they are doing it.  I once asked another mum about it and she said “No, of course not, I wouldn’t take a tutor except if my daughter had specific difficulties in one subject” I later found out that the daughter in question had a tutor every day and trying to set up a play date with her is a little bit like asking for a papal audience.
In short, I am progressing but I still have a long way to go. More often than not, I still get a response that I don’t understand. I have come to the conclusion that, in some instances, maybe British people actually don’t have an opinion.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

Before I start, I have to admit that I love London. I love it so much that I have applied for Permanent Residence and maybe one day we will have a British passport.

That said, I keep wondering what makes British people that extra bit special. After the best part of 7 years I don’t have the answer yet, but I might be getting closer as I had an epiphany the other day during the school run.

I am always in advance -big mistake- and I had managed to park my Chelsea tractor just in front of the school for once. I was pleased with myself as I hate parallel parking. We were waiting and nicely listening to the radio, and my 5-year old was probably telling me something about Tinkerbell that, I must admit shamefully, I can’t remember.
Then, this woman parked her car just in front of mine. She went out of the car. She was still waking up, she didn’t have any make-up and was wearing an ample track suit bottom with what looked like Uggs shoes. She was middle-aged, very normal and I would normally have forgotten her immediately. But she decided to open her trunk and when she did, her trousers collapsed, showing her bottom. I am talking about the whole thing here, not just the start of the bum cheeks at the end of the back. For some funny reason -and this proves that the law of gravity can be deceptive sometimes, she ended up with her track suit on her knees.

Suffice to say that if it had been me, I would have been mortified. Not that her bottom was an awful one -it was average – not a star’s bottom, but just the normal, average wobbly thing…but, being French, I would have been so ashamed and embarrassed that I would have dyed my hair blonde, change car and basically entered the local equivalent of the Witness Protection Programme.

She did none of this. She didn’t even look around to check that anyone had seen her. She just pulled up her pants, closed the trunk, got her kid and brought him to school.
I was amazed. That is the essence of Britishness. Never complain, Never explain, Get on with your life whatever.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London