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Nisha JamWal
My friend Nisha is a star in India and she has inspired novels, articles and TV shows. She is in town and I am spending as much time as possible with her. We have a lot of catching up to do. That said, Nisha has forgotten her nightie in Mumbai and, this afternoon, we have tried to find her a suitable one. This proved to be a more difficult task than expected, and I am ashamed to say that we lamentably failed.

I need to come clean here. I am not a nightie person. I prefer to steal my husband’s shirts and sleep in them. Much better. Much more comfortable, not to mention cheaper. And I love the bohemian vibe of an old shirt. In short, it is a win-win. I couldn’t borrow one of my nighties to my friend Nisha, I am not sure I have one. There you go. Not very French, I know.

I was confident that we would find what Nisha needed at M&S. Little did I know that the only nighties on display were dotted or with floral prints (some with both, actually). How can a guy fancy a woman in M&S nighties? I am pretty sure it must be the first recommendation of all marriage counsellors: ‘ditch the M&S nighties’.  Honestly, it is better to sleep naked. Maybe you need a M&S nightie when you want to make it as hard as possible for the poor guy lying next to you. Nisha summed it up the following way:

“I wouldn’t die in it!” There you have it.

Undeterred, we tried H&M. There was almost nothing. We were told that nighties were out of fashion. There were a couple of pyjamas, but that’s as far as it went. Still no nightie for Nisha.

We tried a few other shops, to no avail. Where are the nighties gone?

For the first time in my life, I decided to go to Ann Summers, thinking that it was just a lingerie shop. Wow! Where did I take Nisha? I felt almost ashamed of myself. This is a shop where you go if you want to become a dominatrix. Who wears this type of lingerie? I am French and I really thought that it was too much, even for me. We were out after two minutes.

Nisha will probably use one of her partner’s old shirt or T-Shirt tonight. It looks like there are no acceptable nighties in London. 
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I had a very French education. Some of it was good, other stuff, well, a bit too narrow-minded. What can I say? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What worries me is that my daughters will not go through the same process. They have a very different education.
As a result, they will have very different memories. Take field trips, for instance : almost all my field trips were in Porquerolles (see picture), a small island near Hyeres. One time, it was to study the ecosystem; other times, we ‘studied’ the geology or the vegetation, and then had a lovely swim…My daughters have been to British parks and forests, sometimes under heavy rain. They are disciplined and have never swum anywhere other than at a swimming pool with their school. Not really the same. It was always sunny in Porquerolles. We climbed trees and hid in bushes. I even got lost in Porquerolles (not my proudest moment, I must admit, but I am terrible with a compass). This couldn’t happen in London, could it?

This is why I decided to take them to Porquerolles. Selfishly, I thought that they needed to have a taste of where they are from. Or rather, where I am from. Anyway, I think that it is too late, they are already far more British than French. They were surprised:
“Mummy, the cicadas are annoying me. They are making too much noise.”I grew up with cicadas. How can you find their ‘noise’ annoying ?
“Mummy, the Mediterranean is really salty. It’s disgusting!” Well, darling, it is the sea…
“Nobody speaks English over here. How come?” Welcome to France, my dear!
And best of all:
” Mummy, all women are topless on the beach. I will kill you if you do the same.” It looks like the bra police has infiltrated the family. I have brought up two future British ladies without even noticing.
Maybe I should have been more careful. Maybe I should have fought more for their ‘Frenchness’. Well, it is too late now, that’s for sure. Next time I am taking them to Brighton or Whitstable, and I will stuff their faces with fish and chips (did I also tell you that they don’t really French cuisine?). Things have changed. Maybe my trip down memory lane wasn’t that good an idea. I will never get it right.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Where am I? Well, I am far from London, in a small island called Porquerolles, near Hyeres. This is close to where I grew up. It feels weird (in a nice way) to be back. 
I had forgotten the cicadas, the sun and the sea. It is all slowly coming back to me. What took me so long?
There is something magic about living on an island. The wild beauty, the golden sands followed by the cliffs. It is a different world. Time to recharge the batteries.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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My daughter now, as a model..

We have all had some challenging times, right? As for me, it was when we first moved to London. The move happened very fast and I didn’t have much time to prepare the family.  My daughter was 3 and a half years old and she couldn’t speak a word of English. In London, she basically didn’t say anything for the best part of six weeks and was communicating with her Australian nanny by showing pictures of what she needed on a book. She had nightmares every night and I still remember her terrified shouts. To make matters even worse, the French Lycee didn’t take her. I felt badly let down. You keep hearing that kids can learn a foreign language just like that, but, from my experience, it is a load of rubbish. At her local British school, she was just sitting in a corner, crying. Lovely. I remember wanting to take the first Eurostar back to Paris.

I don’t think that I could have coped without the support of the other mums at the (British) nursery. It is fair to say that they took me under their wing and reassured me. One was Portuguese and had been through a similar process herself, when she was 8, which must have been much harder. The others were just incredibly supportive, inviting us for play dates after school and sharing a glass of wine with me while my daughter was playing on her own and in total silence. I remember one in particular, A., who was always reassuring me. And she was right. Eventually, my daughter started to say a few words, then sentences, and after a few months we couldn’t stop her (Actually, we still can’t, she speaks all the time, in French or in English, and she is 13 now).

What goes around comes around. When, a couple of years later, A. eventually moved to France, her 7-year-old son couldn’t speak a word of French and had a really hard time. One day, she called me in tears. As her son wasn’t speaking, one of the teachers had asked her whether he was a bit ‘retarded’. This was the French way of dealing with a little boy who was struggling to speak French. Don’t ask. I did my best to reassure her, reminding her of my daughter.  We laughed at all the happy memories (and white wine) we had shared. Her son is now bilingual, but it was a lot more difficult than anticipated.

What is my point here? Well, from time to time, we need support, and a friend who can help, or is just here to listen, can make all the difference. There is nothing like knowing you are not alone. There is nothing like knowing there are others just like you, and that they have had to overcome the same hurdles. This is why, when I was contacted to support the Face 2 Face Befrienders Scheme, I decide to do my best to help them, despite my back of knowledge regarding kids with disabilities. Scope obviously deals with much more difficult issues than mine, but don’t you think that there is enough nastiness in this world and, sometimes, all you need is a friend in your corner. Check out their campaign here.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I think that my home country is in denial. The French president told the nation yesterday that France is in recovery. France is in the midst of the deepest economical crisis but don’t worry, everything will be fine. The number of job seekers keeps increasing, but we are in recovery. Recovery, my foot.

This made me think. Maybe, after all, we need denial. We crave denial. Life would be so boring without denial. So, after all, denial might be a good thing, don’t you think?

Maybe, if we believe hard enough that we are in recovery, well, we will be in recovery eventually? If only it were as simple as this.

It made me think of an old flatmate at university. She was lovely, beautiful and intelligent. She was also dating a (French) guy who already had a girlfriend. She was in complete denial about the whole thing. It was love, you see. He was her soulmate. He was going to leave his girlfriend for her. He was the one, according to her.

Me being me, I told her to stay safe and use, well, rubber. She was shocked. How could I ? Silly old me. We drifted apart.

He did leave the girlfriend, but it took him a few years. Soulmate, my foot.

Fifteen years down the line, she is divorced with two young kids and he is married to a much younger woman expecting their second child.

Who am I to judge? She was happy with a lothario for a long time, after all. That said, I can’t help thinking that her denial didn’t help. Denial is not always helpful, after all.

So, are we all in denial? Wouldn’t it be better to face the music and implement some much-needed reforms before it is too late? The problem is that it takes a lot of courage to face the truth.

As for me, the result is the same. France and me are drifting apart.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Today I am taking you for a gentle stroll in Kensington. What I like about London is that you can have a modern building and then old Victorian houses. It all looks completely natural. This is taken on Hornton Street and, somehow, it reminded me of Tuscany.
It might be the sun, it might be the pillars, but somehow it made me think of the Sienna cathedral…Maybe I am just in a summery sort of mood!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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 Malala Yousafzai – Credit: T.Mughal/epa/corbis
 
I have been asked by a charity I support, ActionAid, to explain why I believe that education is so important for my children.

I need to come clean here: I spend most of my days complaining about the French education system (too academic, you see, and you’d better be good at maths), and if I am not moaning about the French system, I switch to the British one (the maths level is appalling, right?).

That said, I know that I am very fortunate : my daughters are receiving a good education and, thanks to this, they will have a chance to reach their potential. I believe that education is even more important for girls, because eventually girls will become mothers and will have to find ways to work with a young family or to organise themselves as best as possible. Let’s face it: in order to grow up, you need education and gumption. And lots of both, actually.

One of my great aunts was told by her own mother, when she was younger, that you could have a baby just by kissing a boy. I am so glad that our generation is much better-informed. This poor girl, because of her lack of knowledge, was brought up completely controlled by her parents, kept in the dark by the very person who should have educated her. Some find it funny. I certainly don’t.

In this day and age, some children still do not get an education. If you can’t count or read, what are your chances? How will you make it? If girls and boys aren’t told about contraception, how will they be able to study? How will we control the AIDS pandemic?

You may not know it but today, 12th of July 2013, is Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday. Last October, she was shot by the Taliban because she was a campaigner for girls’ education.  Malalas determination for her right for schooling almost cost her life.

She survived surgery in the UK and will make her first public speech at a youth takeover of the UN.

All children deserve the right to an education. Why, in this day and age, are some not getting any? I am trying to help through child sponsorship. I am trying to be honest with my daughters. What about you? What do you do?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Why do the Brits feel compelled to give me a history lecture when they notice that I am French? I don’t get it. It happened last Friday as well. I was taking part in a filming for Littlewoods with Laurence Llewelyn-Boyen, the flamboyant designer. You can watch it here (go to 54 mins, and press skip if you don’t want all the FB notifications), and you will see me in part 4 -the last one-. I thought that it would be a fun thing to do (for the records I didn’t get paid) and I had indeed more fun than I bargained for…Let me explain.
The exchange went as follows:
“Where are you from, Muriel?”
“Well, originally I am French but now I am British”
“My great grandfather died at Waterloo. When I once mentioned this to a French acquaintance,  he asked me ‘which platform’?”
“Well, nobody is perfect, Laurence.”
This is typical. I have been given more than my fair share of history lectures on Waterloo, Trafalgar, the Dunkirk spirit, and so on, and so forth. Maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe, after all, it was just a joke. I will never know.
Why do the Brits feel that they have to make such points? Is it something I did? Is it my accent? Is it their sense of humour? I don’t get it.
When I am meeting German friends, I never talk about the members of my family who died during WW1 & WW2. Why would I? I live in the present, and, I don’t want to reopen old wounds. And I am not the hero here. Those who fought are. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of them and I get emotional when I see their names in my village’s cemetery. They made the ultimate sacrifice. But does the fact that I am French-born mean that I am accountable for all French victories & defeats? Maybe we should start with Hastings, guys (yes, the French can win). Please, give me a break.
So here it is: I think that you should send the cavalry back by now. Time to live in the present.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Sometimes we all need a little bit of magic in our life. I was about to take the Tube when I saw this on the street. It is a flying dolphin in the middle of the street. What is it doing here? Where is it going to? Well, I leave you to figure it out!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Right now, time is on hold. I am waiting. The thing is, I am probably the least patient person that you have ever met. I read the last chapter of a book shortly after having started it, because I can’t wait. I read summaries of the movies I am going to watch too. I just can’t wait. I hate waiting. It drives me mad.

That said, I have no choice. I have to wait. I am waiting for the school to finish. I am waiting for some important papers for my business. I am waiting for various persons to call me back, but nothing, absolutely nothing, seems to be happening.
Mind you, I am not the only one. Not that it is much consolation. One of my friends is waiting for her boyfriend to propose. My babysitter is waiting for her exam results. My neighbour is waiting for some medical tests results. Everybody is waiting. I am not alone.
In France, I once had a Jesuit school prefect who said something like “You need to see waiting times as times of hope.” Easier said than done. Right now, all I can see in me is anger and impatience. He is right, I know he is right. It is nice to hope, but come on, something has to happen now.
The British way is to have a cup of tea with friends and they will sympathise and say:
“Dear Oh dear, don’t worry, it will happen eventually.”
Eventually. I never really understood when eventually will materialise. How long does it take?
So here I am, waiting and hoping. Something has got to happen, right?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London