Posted by / Category London /


An unofficial sport, this side of the Channel, is queuing. You have to do it everywhere: at the post office, while waiting for a tube or a bus, at your surgery, etc…There is a proper etiquette to queue. You need to be patient, courteous and maybe smile or nod, especially if you think you know someone in the queue. In short, your manners need to be impeccable in all circumstances, even if you are short of time or if it is pouring with rain or if the guy in front of you stinks because he is completely drunk. Anyone who tries to jump the queue will be told something like “Excuse me, Dear, the queue is over here, you need to get in line.”

Don’t try to be like this in France, especially in cities like Paris or Marseille, otherwise you are going to spend the whole day wherever you are queuing. As far as queuing is concerned, the French have no rules. Instead of thinking: let’s be gracious and wait for it to be over, your mindset needs to be: “How can I cut this queue?” Remember: you don’t know anyone and if you do, just pretend you don’t. All excuses are good to cut the queue, and whoever dares wins. Be really self-assured when you do it, otherwise someone will notice that you are a bit hesitant and will shout at you and might even insult you. It is all about making it look like it is OK. You can say something like “Excuse-me, but I have an appointment.”, while looking really stern. It usually does the trick. And if it doesn’t, you need to learn a few slang words to reinforce your point. Be careful, slang words might not be the same in Marseille than in Paris, and it is important to get it right. Don’t feel bad about anything said or done, it is not personal, and it will be done to you countless times anyway.
You have got to love the British politeness. This morning, I saw a lady, driving her car, thinking that there was a traffic jam, and waiting to be able to move again. In fact, all the cars in front of her were just parked in line. She seemed baffled because all the traffic lights were green but her line wasn’t moving an inch. Dear oh dear! I wonder if she is still there. I will have a look this evening, just in case.
As for me, I feel like I am now suffering from some mild form of split personality disorder. As soon as I queue, I assess the type of queue (French or British). It might be a bit complicated, the French queue is coming to London, especially after the last General Election, and the British queue exists in France too (I have seen it a few times. I couldn’t believe it). I have to make my decision really quickly and then, I behave accordingly. And believe me, I can be ruthless!
How about you? How do you queue?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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What I like about London is the fact that I am less judged for my choices than in France. Over here, people don’t judge others as harshly as in my home country. This is why looks matter less this side of the channel, which is great when you don’t want to go to work fully made-up. This is also probably why I wouldn’t have set up a business if I had stayed in France: I would have feared everybody’s judgement, and my business couldn’t be any simpler (I am renting out warehouses for local companies). To me, an idea, a business, needed to be complicated. How silly I was! A business just needs to be useful…
But some things never change, and, in the UK just like in France, one thing remains the same: talent without work means nothing. Today, I went to visit the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio and it was simply amazing. Honestly, I was blown away -which doesn’t happen very often as I am becoming more cynical with age…obviously, all the family loves Harry Potter. But I have to admit that I hadn’t realised all the work behind the scenes. From the great hall of Hogwart to all the creatures, hundreds of persons have worked to contribute to the magic of the movies. In order to create a few seconds of wizardry, stunning paperboard models were built, and complicated machineries were designed to create, for instance, the illusion of a living book. It is so nicely done that you don’t even realise all the efforts. Everything looks completely natural, as if it always was the way it should have been.
Naively, I didn’t see the amount of work behind the movies…
That said, the fact that talent without effort means nothing is a reassuring thought, don’t you think?

And I would like to mention that I have been busy meeting lots of talented (and hard-working) bloggers over the last few days: please check out Sonia’s blog and how our meeting in London went here

She is publishing her book soon on how she went to live to Belize with her family and I can’t wait to read it! I have also met the multilingual and multitalented Barbara.Check out her blog, Late Bloomers, here.
And, funnily enough, my visit to Harry Potter’s studio and my various meet-ups with fellow bloggers have re-energised me. All I need is to work more on my blog, articles and various projects …
And finally…
Please visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour if you are interested. Here is a selection of hotels should you need it.
Don’t forget to like me on FB here
Follow me on Google + here
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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One of the (many) joys of living outside of France is that you have to deal with the French administration abroad. If you need a new passport, an ID card or a birth certificate, there is only one place to go in London: the French Consulate on Cromwell road, in South Kensington.
In order to get your papers in time, you need to be organised. As in: very organised. For starters, you need to book an appointment on the website. And usually the first appointment you can get is in 4 to 6 weeks. And guess what: they are only open between 8.45 am and 4.30pm. Except on Fridays – they close even earlier. Obviously, you can’t book any appointments during weekends. Obviously. Silly me.
Someone will have to tell me how people manage when they need something. My children are usually at school during the week.  And the adults work. To make matters even worse, if you want a passport for your child you will need to bring him/her for the application AND to get the passport as well. Why make things simple when they can be complicated? Oh, and don’t believe what they say on the website: just bring all your papers. Everything (Mark my word). You never know, and the rules keep changing anyway…On the bright side, getting your ID card is completely free and the fee you have to pay for a passport is marginal compared to what the Brits have to pay. If you want to get fast tracked in France, you need to know someone at the Embassy. If you don’t, tough luck.
The British way is neither better nor worse: it is simply different. You have to send various application forms with a (usually hefty) cheque and you will receive a response, positive or not, a few weeks later. Or a few months. You never know. Oh, and the Brits have all sorts of help lines. That said, don’t bother calling them: they never work. After a 30-min wait you will be told that the lines are busy and could you please check their website? Simply charming. That said, if you are willing to pay a few thousand pounds, I am pretty sure that there will be a fast track system somewhere. Apparently if you pay a £6 000 fee, official representatives come to your house for your work visa application and you will receive a response the following day.

Why is life so complicated? Why all this non-sense? I sometimes dream of living on a remote island where everybody would know each other and where there would be no need to justify anything. A dream come true. In the meantime,  I need to renew my passport.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson

Who said fun was dead? Certainly not me.  I love nothing more than walking around Camden Town for some impromptu shopping. It all happened at the very last minute and we decided to get there this morning. You see things that you didn’t even know you needed, such as eco soil. This is simply brilliant, and it makes my flowers look so much more fashionable! I feel like a decoration goddess now (which I am not. At least not without the eco soil).

You can also find T-shirts that light up when you listen to music.  It kept my little one busy all morning and she has spent more than an hour dancing in the kitchen when we got back home. Here is a (short) video of what we had to endure…Hopefully, someone will sleep well tonight.

There was a lot to keep us busy. More than 5000 shops and stalls, apparently…
Furthermore, you have food from all over the world on display, and my lunch consisted of a roll of spinach and feta. It was simply divine, and set me back only £4. While I was happily stuffing my face, my daughters were having a £2 slice of pizza. They didn’t even finish it –That’s how huge the portions were.
We got offered lots of other savoury foods when we were wandering around.
This whole family trip made me think that I am not the same person than in Paris. I would never have had a sudden whim to go to the flea market on a Sunday morning. Never. I was much too serious for this. It simply wouldn’t have crossed my mind.
The thing is, I can’t put my finger on what has changed in me. Maybe it’s something to do with age? Why am I having more fun over here? Why am I doing things that I would never have considered doing when I was living with France (This includes blogging and shopping in Camden Town, obviously…). Furthermore, I don’t think that I would have set up a business if I had stayed in France. Maybe it has something to do with the air we breathe over here? What has happened to me? I simply don’t get it.
Well, instead of fighting those changes I am now happily embracing them. Who knows where it will take me. The sky is the limit!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Muriel Spark in 1960

I wish I had changed my first name to Julia –my middle name- when I moved to London. The thing is, my first name, Muriel, is pretty common in France.
But over here, when I say it, I always get the same reaction. It usually is along the following lines:
“Oh, what a nice name! My great grandmother used to be a Muriel too. She was living with her sister, Great Aunt Mildred, who was a spinster. They both died in the 1920s, well into their nineties.”
Lovely.

 
 Apart from the fact that it makes me feel much older than I am, I also hate the way my name is pronounced over here. In French, you need to stress the last syllable, MuriEL. But not over here. They stress the first syllable and the best way to describe the sound people make when they say my name is a meowing cat. Something like MEOWrial. Awful. And, to make matters even worse, as I don’t recognise my name, they usually have to say it a few times, preferably louder and louder. They must believe that I am a bit hard of hearing. I am not.  
Believe me, I have tried hard to explain the difference between the French way and the British way of saying Muriel but, most of the time, my British friends don’t get it. They look at me with round eyes, as if I were barking mad. They are so entrenched in the British way of saying things that they can’t even notice the difference.
That said, when the barrista at Starbucks asked me my name the other day, I said “Julia” to avoid a long-winded explanation of how to write it, etc…but he managed to write “Giulia” on my cup. I don’t think that I will ever win…
Some first names just work in their country of origin, I suppose. Jules is very popular French first names for little boys, but apparently over here it is for girls? I don’t think that I will ever get it. Maybe, after all, Muriel is not that bad a choice. I wish I could blame my parents but I am too old now.  I am stuck with Meowrial now. Such is life!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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The meaning of some words can deceptive over here. Before I draw any conclusions as to what somebody really means,  I have to take a step back and analyse how things were said, what wasn’t said, what the timing was, etc…And, despite my best efforts, sometimes I still don’t get it. I shamefully admit it: I have given up more than once. Sad but true.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine has just had a baby and she is a bit overweight. She is not bothered by it at all and was even telling me the other day: “People are so nice! They all say I look well”.

That’s when it dawned on me. Over here, when you are told that you look “well”, it means, more often than not, that you are fat, or that you have put on weight. That’s what I was told after my pregnancies too. “Oh! You look well!” I did indeed look well. Really fluffy, to be honnest. It all makes sense now. How come I hadn’t noticed before? Why hadn’t anyone told me?


If you look really well (as in, not fat), then people will tell you that you look great or even “amazing”. Or they won’t say anything at all because they might be a bit jealous. How am I supposed to learn these things? I sometimes wish that there were a dictionary to spell out, in no uncertain terms, what some words mean, under each possible circumstance.

I have now established that “well” means “fat”, most of the time. That said, if you don’t know what to say to someone you haven’t seen for a long time, you can always say “Hi! You look well.” It doesn’t mean much and is supposed to make the other person happy. In short, you are just being polite.

I wonder what more I will discover, over time. It is a steep learning curve. I am becoming less and less spontaneous because I know that I have to be careful with what I say over here. This also makes me question everything I am told. Nightmare. I especially hate it when I am told that what I did was “great, but…”and then the critics start.

Oh, and as I am looking well too, apparently, I went for a 5 k run today. I might be looking well, but I am feeling good now. Really good.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

What do you do when it all gets too much? I am trying hard to take my business to the next level, and, over the last couple of months, I have had more than my fair share of patronising comments. Don’t get me wrong, it is all taking shape and I will get there eventually, but there is a limit to the amount of cheap statements and condescending looks I can take and, today, I simply needed a break. Just to give you a flavour of what I am talking about, here is a quick selection:
1.     You don’t have a business acumen, Darling, you shouldn’t have stopped working in an office (from family –they all used to be civil servants);
2.     You should read the latest publications about the Friggit’s tunnel (French mathematical model as to what property prices should be). I certainly wasn’t expecting a lecture when I started to present my project. For the records, I am not selling anything, my project is about property management (French bank);
3.     I am not sure that I can give you an answer today, and I need to make a few phone calls. I will call you back shortly (British Bank). I am still waiting.
As you can see, the French have different ways of saying no than the Brits, but it all comes down to the same result.
To recharge my batteries (more precisely my ability to hear rubbish comments without losing my composure), I decided to walk around London for a couple of hours. This is something I sometimes do to forget it all. As it wasn’t raining this morning (for once), I decided to go. I just walked, looking at the people, the streets, the buildings, not saying a word and not answering my phone. There is something energising in London’s streets.  One minute, you hear people shouting in their phone in languages you can’t understand and the next, you are just walking on your own in a lovely street of terraced houses.
I especially enjoyed this:



This is the architectural equivalent of a crescendo. A crescendo of houses. They are higher and higher. The sky is the limit.
I also marvelled at the woman in front of me, who was taking multi-tasking to a whole new level: she was pushing a pram and talking on the phone at the same time. 


What you can’t see is on the photo that there was a coffee stuck in the pram and she was sipping it from time to time, while pushing the pram with her hips, and holding her phone. Then, 50 yards after this picture was taken, she stopped and opened an entrance door. Once unlocked, she pushed the door with one of her feet, still talking on her phone and pushing the pram. Wow. She is one of London’s unsung heroes.
But the best was yet to come.  I overheard a lady talking on her mobile phone. I have absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but here is what she was saying:
“- Well, I sort of said I would…”
This is genius: instead of simply saying “yes”, or “I have”, she used no less than 7 words. That’s exactly what I am missing. This is a talent I don’t have. I need to use more words. “Yes” is much too direct. And why only use one word when you could use a whole sentence?
I came back home and found out that I had a message from my insurance company. I have threatened to cancel my contract several times because they keep increasing their price. I called them back and they asked me whether I would reconsider my position if they were to give me a generous discount. I wanted to say “yes of course” but somehow ended up saying “Well, I have already sort of said I would”. There is nothing like a walk around London to give you new ideas to get what you want!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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The queue on Cromwell road

It is nothing short of a miracle. I voted for the French presidential election today ! YAY! I didn’t go for the first round a couple of weeks ago because I was put off by the long queues and the French don’t do postal vote or e-vote for some reason. But I received a lovely letter from the Consulate telling me that they had improved the organisation, so I decided to give it a go this time. After all, one more vote can’t hurt, can it?
It didn’t start very well. The Victoria line was shut for another weekend of planned engineering works. Transport For London makes sure that the lines are open for football matches. Surely they should have kept the tube open for the French election?  Nope, not a chance. You have got to get your priorities right: a football match is apparently more important than the French election. Come on, we are only 400,000 around London. Nothing to worry about. I can’t believe it.
I have to be honest here. I thought of heading back home. But I didn’t. I took the bus instead.
At South Kensington Tube Station I started to panic. French people were queuing everywhere on the streets. It was not 10 am yet. Thankfully, I was directed to the right office and managed not to queue on Cromwell Road. I was swiftly guided to the entrance of the French Lycee and a lovely lady found my name on the electoral lists. She had lost her pen so I ended up giving her mine. This is another small gift of mine to the  French democracy today –on top of two hours of my time-! Very grand of me.
First stop inside the lycée

I was led inside the French Lycee -“Bureau de vote 19” as they say. The queue was outside, in the playground and it was absolutely freezing. I took comfort in the fact that at least it wasn’t raining. You have got to see the positive side of things, don’t you? The queue in the Lycee’s playground was a complete mess. To cut a long story short, for some funny reason I always felt that I was the last person of my line. This is the very definition of queuing the French way. No discipline. After half an hour things were not going any better. People who were known within the French community were cutting the queues and nobody was saying anything. Undeterred by such behaviour, I started reading my copy of the Sunday Times. Eventually, things started to improve and I managed to vote. Because women must vote under their birth name, most women were surrounded by young kids but managed to keep them quiet and they all patiently waited in line. They deserve a medal. My other half decided that I was completely mad to want to vote for an election that is not going to change much for us and stayed at home with the children.
The queue in the playground

I had to show my ID card at least twice more and I patiently complied with everything I was told to do.  On the bright side, I had a good look at the French Lycee and couldn’t believe how derelict it was. It is in a dire need of a refurbishment. I was glad to have sent my daughters to a British school.
The French Lycée- Not so nice

I came back home just in time for lunch. My daughters are looking at me in a funny way.  They don’t understand why I wanted to vote today. I can’t believe how British they are!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Yesterday was the 1st of May. I tried to call my contacts in France to chat about various business matters, but nobody was answering the phone. I was wondering why. Suddenly, it dawned on me: nobody works in France on the 1st of May and on the 8th of May (another bank holiday). Basically, in France, you cant count on anyone in May. Unlike in the UK, the bank holidays are not necessarily on Mondays. They are on the exact day they are supposed to beSo, when the first of May falls on a Tuesday, just like yesterday, most people do the bridge, which means that they take a day off work the Monday before in order to have a 4-day week-end. And they can do the same the following week, with the 8th of May. Things start to get a tad more complicated when the bank holiday is on a Wednesday. What do you do? Well, you can do the viaduct, and take Monday and Tuesday off, which will leave you with a really long weekend. To cut a long story short, if you are doing business in France, dont do it the first half of May.
I shamefully admit that I had forgotten! Silly old me. As for once I had some time on my hands, I went to run some errands around Bloomsbury, an area of London that I don’t know very well. We are talking about the streets around the British Museum. It is a very eclectic part of London, with old Georgian houses and very modern buildings. But what I liked most was this:
Can you see what it is? Let me help you:  it is an umbrella shop. They only sell umbrellas. That’s not entirely true: they sell walking sticks and wooden boxes too. In this shop, you will learn that gent’s umbrellas are not the same than ladies umbrellas. I am sure that you could buy an umbrella that matches your outfit. Obviously, all umbrellas are lovingly manufactured and don’t come cheap (prices start at £20 and can go above £200). I thought that I was travelling back in time and was a bit scared to bump into Mary Poppins. The downpour in London must have been good for the business. A shop like this couldn’t thrive in Saint Tropez.
Well, in short, yesterday certainly wasn’t my most productive day but it felt good to travel back in time in an umbrella shop that had been established almost 200 years ago.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London