It is typical, isn’t it? I was expecting some more rain, cold weather and grey skies but there is a bright sunshine in London.
This means that, of course, I am not prepared for my daughter’s first day at her new school as I only have her winter uniform. As a result, I have to cross London to find everything I miss, such as white ankle socks (for summer) and knee high dark blue socks (for winter). And the bad news is that I won’t get the summer dress by tomorrow. I am now considering sending my daughter to school with her newly bought white socks and her winter uniform. That said, I am not sure that you can mix and match.
The things we have to do when we become parents… I will blame it on the weather. I hope that they won’t send her back home.
But it gets worse. I thought that I was done with the leg wax and other niceties. Turns out, I am not. I have to attend various barbecues and new parents’ tea meetings and I need to make a good impression. There is nothing worse that meeting new mums and being told ‘you look tired’ (this means: for God’s sake, put some make-up on, Darling) or, even worse ‘you are French? Really? You don’t look French to me…this means that I have either put on some weight or my dress sense leaves much to be desired. That said, I can always answer ‘that’s right, I don’t smoke’. It might buy me some time. Might only. Usually, most of them are skinny and blonde. Why am I always a misfit?
In short, even for a veteran Mum like me, the pressure is on. I am sure that all will be ok in the end but I don’t want to let my daughters down. And I badly need a manicure too. How am I going to find the time to get presentable? The answer is: I am not. I need to think outside the box here and now. As a mum, you have to be resourceful. I have found a lovely light brown nail polish in my teenage daughter’s bedroom (where did she find it?). That will do. And her foundation to hide pimples. That will do too. How did I manage before having a teenager in the house? I have no idea.
Oh, and to hide the dark circles I have taken my husband’s designer sunglasses. He is not using them, right? Dress on. High heels on. I am good to go.
No matter how hard I try, I know that I will never be truly British. It has nothing to do with my vocabulary or my grammatical skills (ok, I admit, maybe a little), and everything to do with references and allusions. You see, the Brits recognise themselves with jokes, references and allusions only they can understand. Tough but true.
I remember once being told that a situation was ‘curiouser and curiouser’. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but discovered later that this was a phrase used repeatedly by Alice in Lewis Carroll’s story ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Everybody had understood the allusion except me. I was lost in translation. Neither did I understand the many references to a programme called ‘Fawlty Towers’. Some were about French women because of a character named ‘Madame Peignoir’, who apparently was often inebriated and slightly mad. Others were about not becoming bad tempered: ‘Don’t become a Basil Fawlty’. Apparently the programme was hilarious. The references to it, I have to admit, have always left me cold. But the Brits love them. They serve them at every possible opportunity. I suspect that it is their way to distil cultural stereotypes and convince themselves of their cultural superiority. If it makes them happy, well, it can’t be that bad…
To be fair, some allusions are easier to understand as they refer to a common culture. I understood a colleague talking of another colleague and saying ‘he seems to have stepped directly out of Magritte painting’, because of the shape of his hat. I was very proud to get that one. We French also talk about ‘nymphs’, noble savage and Notre Dame. In short, I am not completely lost. But sometimes, I just don’t get it. I remember a mum telling me that ‘there is no joy in Mudville’ when our daughters had lost a netball match. I didn’t get that one.
But I have a secret weapon. When a well-intentioned soul tries to impress me with various allusions, I fire back with French words, authors, philosophers or food -whatever works well and whatever comes to my mind. It usually does the trick.
What about you? How do you deal with references and allusions?
Do you know the sinking feeling that you have when something good is ending? Well, that’s what I am going through. The summer is finished, and my daughters are going back to school. But all is not doom and gloom. This morning, while walking back home, I met a Greek Goddess. Yes, honestly. She was standing in front of the Chelsea college of art. She was gorgeous. Actually, she was more majestic than gorgeous.
Meet the “Big Woman”. Don’t ask me why, but I instantly knew that she was a woman (Come on, it is obvious, isn’t it?). She doesn’t seem to have any arms and she is definitively not skinny. But there is something in the way she is standing that reminds me of a Greek statue. She simply has a strong presence.
She was lovingly being prepared by young Dutch artist, Maarten van den Bos and I forgot my French accent and my usual shyness to have a quick word with him.
He is a Master student at the Chelsea college of Art. The Greek Goddess is made of plaster, and he was trying to coat her to prevent her from melting. Wise precaution, As the Bank holiday weekend has been a wash-out, I am sure that the Greek Goddess will need to use all her divine powers to stand all week long!
There is something universal about this sculpture, something that I needed at the start of a gloomy week. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is at the same time uplifting, human and also extraordinary.
I thought that I was becoming cynical. It has been a long time since I have been moved by a piece of art. But miracles do happen, after all. It is the small things that matter, isn’t it? And the Greek goddess has made my day!
It is always nice to get noticed, right? I am talking about being noticed for all the right reasons, obviously. So when ActionAid invited me to their blogging party, I immediately said yes. They wanted to share with us the fact that they are starting to get involved in Myanmar (Burma), which I didn’t know. As some of you might have noticed, I was born French by mistake, my heart is in South East Asia and I go there at every possible opportunity, which is nowhere near often enough.
I like working with ActionAid. I like being noticed for the right reasons. Look at Prince Harry, for instance. If you are not aware of the whole story, you can read about it here. To cut a long story short, Prince Harry was pictured stark naked, crown jewels and everything, cavorting with surgically enhanced blondes in Las Vegas. I can assure you with 100% confidence that you won’t find any pictures of me playing strip billiard. That’s because I have never played strip billiard. It is official: I am a boring old fart, I know.
But I digress. I am sponsoring a child in India with ActionAid. His name is Suresh and this blog pays for the sponsorship fee (To be honest, I have to top it up, but we will get there!). It is my small way of making a difference, thanks to my readers. So why Myanmar? Following decades of struggle and uncertainty, Myanmar is starting to open up and now is a good time to get involved there. We had a presentation from actor Jimi Mistry and ambassador Alex Graham. Not to mention the fact that I met some lovely fellow bloggers (see here for the list). I was impressed with ActionAid approach. It is not about imposing our westernised ideas to communities. No, it is about training locals to become ‘change agents’ and letting them find the best ways to improve local communities’ life. And, to top it up, we had lots of cakes, which is always nice.
It is also worth mentioning that80% of your donation goes to local communities. If you are interested in sponsoring a child please Sponsor a child with ActionAid.
I am pleased that I can help in my own way. What about you? How do you get noticed?
How pushy exactly is too pushy? Who takes the initiative? To make matters even worse, what’s considered good practice in London might be unacceptable in France. Life can be difficult. It feels a bit like driving in the dark with only your clearance lights sometimes.
Let me take an example. A few years ago, Stefanie (NOT her real name), a lovely French trainee, came to work with us, in London. She was funny, cute and very bright. She was also very French and chain smoked. All the male colleagues of the office used to rush outside whenever she was having a cigarette. She started liking this English guy and, eventually, he took her on a date. She was obviously very excited about the whole thing. Except that, the following morning, she explained to me that he behaved like a perfect gentleman and didn’t even try to kiss her. He drove her home and even waited for her to open her entrance door to make sure that she was safe, but nothing else happened. How odd.
She was confused. So was I. As I have never dated a British guy, I couldn’t really offer any advice. So we did our research (how did we manage before Google?) and asked around. Apparently, some guys wait a bit before making a move. “Ok”, she said, “I can wait”.
And wait she did. 5 more dates down the road, nothing had happened. (This couldn’t happen in France). She didn’t know what to do. I suggested dating continental guys, because I (used to) find it a lot easier to know where to stand with them –better the devil you know…-. But she wanted to persevere. We had a quick brainstorm. At the time, I was trying to get my daughter into a local Catholic school and found out that I needed a priest reference. So I told her that, maybe, in this country, you need a priest reference before starting a relationship? We asked around but no, apparently it was not necessary. Some Church of England priests are even openly gay over here, and nobody has a problem with it, which I actually find great. Well, back to square one then: how does it work over here?
We tried to find other explanations. If he didn’t fancy her, why would he keep inviting her to nice restaurants? Stefanie, who was not a quitter, decided that he was simply too shy to make a move (maybe it was because of his boarding school education?) and, one evening, after two months of lovely but uneventful dates, she invited him to the pub. After a few drinks, she took him to a dark corner of a beautiful mews and tried to kiss him.
Fatal mistake. He didn’t respond well to her initiative (that’s actually an euphemism) and she felt very ashamed. So ashamed, in fact, that she cut her work placement short a couple of weeks later, after profusely apologising to the guy (she argued that she was drunk).
I bumped into my former English colleague approximately a year ago. He was still single and living with his dog. To this date, she doesn’t understand what has happened -but she moved on. As for me, I understand that I suck at the role of confidante, but I am still struggling to get what went wrong. Any advice/insights?
What I love about London is its international vibe.
I have spent my morning coffee surrounded by a table of loud Spanish girls on one side and a smooching Russian couple on the other side.
Where else could I have such free entertainment? To add to the surreal side of my morning coffee, the office building next to the coffee shop was being emptied and the pathway was full of lovely yellow leather sofas of all shapes and sizes and small wooden office tables. It was all being charged in huge lorries. Completely surreal, especially on a Monday morning.
Things keep moving in London, nothing stays forever, and maybe the office block next to my coffee shop will soon be redeveloped with swanky and very expensive new flats. I wonder.
One thing that doesn’t seem to change is my love for my morning coffee. I need caffeine to wake up, no matter what. I wonder why that is. Is it the coffee that I enjoy, or simply the ritual of having coffee somewhere outside of my house? I don’t know.
I like good coffee, and I walk a bit further than me nearest coffee shop to go to a small chain I like.
I can’t stand coffee of poor quality. Good coffee is warm and a bit bitter. Its taste slowly fills the mouth. Heaven.
Talking about coffee, I noticed, when I was in New York, that lots of independent coffee shops have opened and they serve excellent espressos. It doesn’t come cheap (such boutique coffee shops serve espressos at 3 dollars a pop) but waking up in a good mood doesn’t have a price, right? I was glad to see that I was not the only one to enjoy good coffee.
Funnily enough, France doesn’t seem to have this culture of good coffee. Some Starbucks have started to appear, but no other chains and no coffee shop at each corner of the street like over here.
If you want a coffee there, you are likely to have to go to a bar. You might also see some local people starting to drink a few glasses of wine there. First thing in the morning. Not nice. I much prefer my lovely coffee shop in London.
I think that it can only mean one thing: I couldn’t go back to live in France. Where would I have my coffee?
Today, I had another reminder of how different the Brits can be. I was nicely queuing at my local coffee shop when the lady right before me made a big fuss about her croissant being too brown and, according to her, over baked. The placid and polite shop assistant swapped it for a white, flat croissant that, for some unknown reason, she was a lot happier with. There and then it dawned on me: she didn’t know what a good croissant was. I should have tried to educate her but, frankly, I didn’t really feel up for it, especially before my morning’s coffee.
Me being me, I ended up talking to the baker, who explained to me that most British people like their bread or their croissant whitish, flat, and under cooked. You see, he explained, they are so used to the soft, white industrial bread that they can’t cope with the crusty French bread.
This can’t be right! Real bread must be dark gold, with a hard crust that makes a lovely, squishy sound when you press it (needless to say, such a sound is music to my ears). As for the inside, it must be light and melt in the mouth. Nothing to do with the taste of plaster and plastic that you get with the carefully wrapped industrial bread. It is a completely different feeling.
Croissants are the same. They mustn’t be white and flat. The crust needs to be, well, crusty and round. As for the inside you must have thin layers of buttery pate feuilletee, with a lot of air between then. Simply delicious.
Isn’t it sad that, because most British people don’t know good bread, they simply don’t recognise it? They even WANT bad bread instead of the real thing. I hadn’t realised that being French came with such a knowledge of good bread. It is probably part of the silent education there. I do realise that, in the grand scheme of things, this is probably a minor issue. But, you see, I am a great believer of quality as opposed to quantity. Having said that, good bread is easy to find in France. No need to be rich, you can find it at every local boulangerie. As for the woman this morning, well, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. What a shame!
I liked the Olympics very much. What a great experience! A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So here it is, have a look at my gallery…You can leave some comments below or click on each picture to see the original version and comment there. Please enjoy without moderation! I loved every minute of the Games and I feel like a citizen of the world. The sheer amount of volunteers and helpers simply humbled me. I have read (French) articles explaining that trying to gain a few tenths of seconds for a race was childish but I disagree. The Olympic games are all about effort and discipline, and trying to improve yourself. The athletes are real role models. We had a fantastic time! And don’t forget to share your experiences here.
I am spending a couple of days in New York but I will be back in time for the Olympic Games closing ceremony. I am very excited about it! That said, I am not entirely sure of what I will wear.
I can’t put my fingers on it, but there is something about French style. I can even feel it over here, in New York. The thing is, I am pretty low maintenance and I love simple pieces, but, despite not spending a fortune on fashion, I get the occasional look or comment about how nice my shirt/dress is. I got another one today, which was very unexpected because of the jet lag and the bags under my eyes. I was wearing a simple, LK Bennett red top.
From LK Bennett website
I love the color red. Always have. Always will.
I bought it in Westfield a couple of weeks ago, and it seems to do the trick!
Because the thing is, most people assume that I buy my clothes in France. But I don’t. I barely go back to France a couple of times of year and I am so busy there that I have no time to shop anyway. So how do I get the French look? Well, I have no idea. I was born this way. I tend to like simple, classic designs, with a dash of colour. Oh, and less is more. I don’t do fancy prints.
I also love the simple designs of All Saints. All Saints hold a special place in my heart because it is the only shop where I can buy clothes for my daughter and me…
I especially like their cardigans, jumpers and coats. I like Cos too, and they are very reasonably priced. But my daughter is more into Abercrombie and Fitch and I have to say that I feel really, really old when I see the half naked models at the entrance. She wears their clothes well, though…Have a look:
In short, no need to go to France to buy nice clothes.Westfield, in Sheperds bush, has it all.
Before starting, I have to tell you that travel is in my blood. I don’t know why, but I am never happier than with a suitcase and a plane ticket. I happen to be French. My birth country is therefore France. I live in London and the UK is becoming my adoptive country. That said, right now I am enjoying New York and, despite the jet lag it feels really good. I am watching my adoptive country doing well in the Olympics. But it doesn’t seem to go down very well with my birth country. They believe that the British have bent the rules and even used ‘magic wheels’ for some cycling competitions -the magic wheels in question are, ironically, manufactured in France. As a results, the anti-Olympic mentality is quickly gaining momentum in France, which is a shame. I will say it out loud: what is wrong with the French? They seem to forget that, when the rules play in their favour, they don’t say anything ( do you remember Thierry Henry’s hand during the France/Ireland match?). And when the French swimmers kept winning medals they didn’t seem to have any afterthoughts! Our newly elected president even joked that the British had paved the way for the French to win medals. What a difference a week makes! They simply can’t accept that they lost. It is probably because they believe that they are the best. How can you progress if you don’t accept that there is room for improvement? I hope that, in time, they will learn their lessons and thrive to become the best. You see, I have a bit of a loyalty issue here: I have therefore decided to support whoever wins, French or English. Somehow travelling has made me become more open-minded. I know that we are all humans and there is nothing like a healthy competition to push us a bit!
Welcome to French Yummy Mummy. My name is Muriel (you need to pronounce it MuriEL, not MEWriel, just so you know).
I used to live in Paris and, when my husband found a job in London,
I had two options: change husband or change job. I chose the latter, and the whole family moved to London as a result.