Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

In France, Christmas is a mainly a family affair. In London, Christmas is nothing less than a winter social season. I am already exhausted and it has barely started. I keep hearing things like “Can you believe it? It’s already Christmas. Oh, I love Christmas!”.  Am I allowed to say that I can’t wait for it to be over?

First of all, I am all over the place. There are Christmas fairs, Christmas balls, Christmas plays, Christmas drinks and Christmas dinners. It never stops and I have to organise everything of course. “But Christmas is all about magic! It is the spirit that matters!”. Right, the thing is, I have to organise all the tricks, and drive everybody all over London to various parties. I don’ t see the magic of it at all. I just see that it is expensive and incredibly time-consuming. And I am already exhausted.

I will do most of my shopping on the Internet. We might spend a few days in France. Things will not be any easier over there as my parents are divorced and will want me to spend the exact same amount of time with each of them. No family dinner for us –they still don’t talk to each other. It will be tricky. They divorced 15 years ago, but some things never change. Maybe I should stay in London and take it easy. I am tired of trying to be a dutiful daughter of parents who behave like playground bullies.

To make matters even worse, I feel like an old fart. Everybody but me is happy about the Christmas season.  I went to see my daughter’s school play yesterday. I was looking forward to an evening with my teenage daughter. Silly old me. The play was great, but my daughter dropped me like an old sock as soon as she saw her friends. I had saved a seat next to me for her. She came, she sat, and off she went to sit with her friends (without me of course). My only role was, in fact, to pay for the show, drive her there and take her back. Lovely.

So here is my question today. As I am French, do you think that I should go on Christmas strike? Should I stop the parties, relax, and skip Christmas altogether? That would be a treat!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am going to ask you to put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Let’s say you start a conversation with someone. After a couple of questions, this person asks you:

“- Are you French?”
Well, it is complicated. You are French, and you are also British. You have Italian blood, and part of your Italian family emigrated to the US. What would you answer? You are from all over the place.
This is my dilemma. Usually, I say that ‘it is complicated’, or that I have ‘dual citizenship’. But the truth is that I don’t really feel French any more. That said, I don’t want to give a long-winded explanation. What to do? I usually give as short as possible an answer, such as ‘I was brought up in France’ or ‘half’.
It is funny how, having lived in London for more than a decade now, I keep being asked whether I am French. What is it going to take for me to be considered British? My children go to British schools. My older one is a talented sprinter and will try to get into team GB this spring. Come on, it doesn’t get any more British than this, does it? Am I French? Am I British? I don’t know. So tell me, what would you say?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Almost possible to touch this plant? I would think twice.
Is it possible to be almost right? As much as I like the British way of always being positive and never say ‘no’, right now I am feeling very French. I was looking at one of my daughter’s maths tests. On one of the questions, the answer was £1.60. She had answered £1.75. In short, her answer was wrong.

In France, the teacher would have put a red cross and written ‘Wrong’. Not over here. The teacher had put ‘Almost correct’ and given her half a mark. I couldn’t believe it. Is there such a thing as being ‘almost correct’? I didn’t think there was. Well, clearly, I was wrong.

My daughter was very happy to have got it ‘almost’ right. I wasn’t. She clearly thought that I was a grumpy old woman. Correction: a strict mum. If the school was happy, why wouldn’t I be? The thing is, especially in maths, you can’t have it ‘almost right’. It is either right or wrong. When, in a shop, you are given your change back, it is correct or it isn’t. Period.

What does being ‘almost right’ mean anyway? How can you progress and do better next time if you are told that you were ‘almost correct’? Kids (and adults, actually) need to know what went wrong in order to learn from their mistakes. Making mistakes and failing is pretty normal, right? And it is not that big a deal. The sooner you learn from your mistakes, the better. How can you do this if you are not corrected? Why are people afraid, in this country, to correct kids?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we should focus all the time on children’s mistakes. I am just saying that mistakes need to be corrected in order to move on to the next lesson/level. That’s all.

I know that life is not black and white. I know that, sometimes, the difference between success and failure is tiny. But it doesn’t mean that being ‘almost correct’ is ‘good enough, right? Or am I wrong?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Is it middle age? Is it the food over here? I had a huge shock this morning on the scale. Damn it. True, I have been less careful recently. You have got to live a little bit, right?
I am not that fat. My BMI, as they say, is still in the ‘healthy’ range. Right now, as I am writing from my favourite coffe shop in Hammersmith, there is a lady stuffing her face with three ham & cheese croissants. She is so huge that she has to sit on two chairs. Compared to her I am skinny. I love London for this: even when I am a bit fatter, I feel thin (isch). It wouldn’t be the case in Paris. Sometimes, living in London is liberating.
I digress. Compared to 10 years ago, I am a stone heavier. Where did this come from? Truth be told, I don’t want to go on a diet. I don’t do diets. I am far too old for diets anyway. And honestly, isn’t life too short to put my body through the pain of a diet?
Diets are boring. I like exercising from time to time but I am not a fitness fanatic. What to do?
On the bright side, my face is lovely, no wrinkles or anything. French guys say that, after a certain age, a woman has to choose between her bum and her face . They must be right: I chose my face. No injections needed, all this fat is keeping me plump.
I thought that French women were not supposed to get fat. Sigh. I was wrong. Maybe when I became British, I lost the French privilege not to get fat? I wonder.
The French way to lose weight would be to start smoking and maybe take a lover for more, let’s say, exercise. But I am British now. I don’t smoke and frankly, a lover would be far too complicated. Not to mention that I am happily married.
I will keep the chocolate and my extra stone. The other options don’t really sound too appealing. What would you do?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

My Grandfather – No comments…

I started watching Homeland season 3 today. I had recorded it. I love this series. What surprised me is that Mira, Saul’s wife, is falling for her French colleague. She is clearly married but it didn’t deter then from having dinner (and possibly more) at her marital home. This made me wonder: are French men irresistible? Honestly, she must be pretty smitten to do this.

What makes French men so appealing? Is it a stereotype only? Come to think of it, well, I am not sure it is. I would know, I used to be surrounded by French men because I studied science. At some point, we were 3 girls out of 50 students. Ah, memories!

First of all, French men know how to dress. They are always immaculate and don’t do fashion faux pas such as wearing too many stripes or having sport socks with a business suit. Take note. They also seem to look good effortlessly. This is obviously not true. I had to give up having a shower in the morning because my husband spends forever in the bathroom. I shower in the evening. Sad but true. Relationships are about compromise. In France, in the UK and also anywhere else. Sigh.

French guys -young or old- also keep the door open for you. They wait for you even when you have to trot in high heels. They make it look completely natural. It doesn’t feel sexist or anything. They don’t slam the door in your face as is so often the case over here. They make sure that you go home safely after a night out, even if you are not particularly friendly. Not in the UK. A few years ago, after an office Christmas party, I was slightly drunk (you have to let your hair down sometimes, right?). My British colleagues didn’t make sure I managed to get back home. They couldn’t care less. This is something a French guy would not do, not even to his worst enemy. I am still shocked. They didn’t understand why I was a lot less nice to them the day after. They still don’t. Anyway: lesson learned – I don’t get drunk anymore. Or at least not with British guys

And then, there is the myth of the French lover. Ah, the French lover…according to some friends of mine, it is about the accent. I don’t get it. I don’t hear it. Maybe I am becoming cynical, after all. The french accent doesn’t do anything for me.

In short, yes, there is such a thing as a French identity. But French men being irresistible…I still think that Mira is making a huge mistake!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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That’s where I had to drive

 Things are speeding up. I seem to be spending all my time driving somewhere to pick up my children or attend a meeting. It just never stops.

I had to go to Nice on Thursday. I arrived late in the evening. It was pitch black and the car rental agency told me that they had upgraded my car: I was to drive a Mercedes class B, automatic gearbox. Great, except that I didn’t have a choice because they were down to their last car. I had never driven an automatic car before.
You have to understand that I am not getting any younger. I drive on the left in the UK and on the right in France and I am doing an OK job in both countries. But I am used to driving manual cars. In Europe, most of us drive manual cars. I was scared. I thought that automatic car must be easier to drive, right? I had no choice but to take the car anyway.
It was a long walk to the parking lot. I sat down in the driver seat and realised I couldn’t figure out out to go backwards in this automatic car. How was I supposed to exit the airport parking? What could I do?
Breathe, I thought, breathe. It can’t be that hard, can it? Well, Hard or not, I simply couldn’t figure it out.
As I wasn’t prepared to go back all the way to the front desk to explain the situation, I looked around me. There was a middle-aged guy on the other side of the alley. I asked him for help. He couldn’t speak French, so my English was quite an asset. He explained the whole thing to me.  It wasn’t difficult, you had to choose R for rear, D for drive and N for neutral on the right hand side of the wheel. The guy was American and I thanked him profusely of course. Who said chilvary was gone?
So there I was, driving a German car on a French road thanks to an American guy. Baby, it is a global world out there. And it is complicated!

NB: Congratulations to Mountainmum who won Sonia’s eBook
NNB: I loved the Mercedes class B. Obviously it was a bit difficult to leave my left foot on the side but I could concentrate on the road and it was a great drive!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Sonia On A Sunny Day In Paddington, London

We all think that we are different. I am no exception. Actually, it is even worse: as I am French born, I really believe that I am different. That’s the way we French are. Coming to live to London and saying ‘Goodbye!’ to the corporate world was a big deal for me. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty common, especially for a woman, to experience a career change. Except that in France, I was expected to have a job for life. I told you that I was different!

Blogging helped me realise that there were lots of men and women like me out there. And some -let’s say it fast- had harder choices to make. During my blogging journey, I met Sonia. You can read her blog here. When her elder son went off the rails, she decided to take the whole family to live to Belize for a year. She wrote a book about it: Freeways To Flip-Flops. Talk about being gutsy. See, I have got some way to go.

Sonia became a blogging friend and she even came to meet me in London when she was in the UK. We had a lovely time. It is quite funny how you can make blogging friends. You have never met, but you already know each other. Weird and fabulous.

Me And My Red Coat In London, Paddington

Sonia cannot be stopped. She recently published a new book, My Gutsy Story Anthology.
Sonia’s new book is about normal people who had to go outside of their comfort zone. My story is in page 14. There lots of other inspirational stories about normal people having to go through grief, adventure or just life. Do not expect sensationalism or science fiction. This is just about normal people deciding to do something extraordinary. And if even I, a pure French product,  managed to start a new life abroad, well, I think that we can all be gutsy! The book was such a success that Sonia is now accepting submissions for a second anthology. Ask her more on Twitter if you are interested.

Last but not least, Sonia will kindly give a free eBook to one of my readers. Interested? Please leave a comment on this post or send me an email by Friday, the 8th of November 2013 8pm (Greenwich time). I will put all names in a hat and take one randomly…Good luck!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

This is what we left behind…

As soon as we got off the plane, it felt colder. A lot colder, actually. That was it, we were back in town. After two weeks of half term, it was time to go back to the old routine. We started queuing at passport control. The custom official took my French passport. As usual, it wasn’t working. It never does, and the French consulate will not do a thing. My British passport works better but I had taken my French one for some reason. Silly old me.

The custom official looked at me, typed my passport number on his computer, and looked at me in a stern way. I sighed. What was wrong with my French passport again?

“- There is a mistake in your date of birth”
“-  Oh no, not at all” I duly confirmed my date of birth, taking his question very seriously indeed. You don’t joke with an official, right? I didn’t think that they are allowed to joke anyway. It is part of the job description: don’t joke, don’t have a sense of humour.
“-  Well, you are a gorgeous woman then! And you look so young!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and eventually managed to grin. My two daughters were with me and found the whole situation hilarious. I was too stunned to say anything. We have spent the last two weeks stuffing our faces and I felt fat, sweaty and tired. Not to mention that I badly need a haircut -my hair is really long. This proves that being gorgeous is relative. I France, I felt invisible. Over here, I feel like a goddess. It is all a matter of perspective. Maybe I was made to be British, after all?

We were back. The Gatwick Express was late as usual. I can’t even remember what their excuse was this time. The Tube was packed, with plenty of lines suspended or disrupted. We were back and everything was as we had left it, really.

And the smell. It smelled like curry and wet earth. The London smell. We are back indeed. What about you? How do you feel about going back to the old routine.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Right: I did it! I have managed to post every day in October. It became strangely addictive. I will post less often in November, maybe once every two to three days. We will see how it goes.

It is also the end of the half term break. Frankly, I can’t wait to go back to London. Don’t get me wrong: the weather was perfect and we enjoyed ourselves, but I miss the cleanliness of London’s streets, and also, strangely, the British driving. Do not take the motorway between Marseille and Nice: they all drive like mad, overtaking you from all sides and braking suddenly for no reason. I wonder whether some French drivers are suicidal. What is it exactly they want to prove? I really don’t know how I put up with it when I was living here. What a difference 10 years make!
I also wonder why there are rules in France. All public buildings are supposed to be non-smoking, but everybody is having a cig everywhere. How weird! Speed limitations seem to be, in fact, a minimal speed. On the beach, you could read a sign ‘nudism is forbidden’ (see picture) and everybody was stark naked. And finally, France doesn’t negotiate with terrorists but ‘someone’ paid €20m or more to get 4 French hostages back to France from Niger yesterday. This money will probably finance terrorist attacks now. Lovely. 
In France, are rules for decoration only? Why is there such a difference between the principles and the reality? Is it a French thing? I really wonder. It might be time to go back home. In London.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Sometimes, when you walk around in Provence, you don’t feel like you are in France. This picture was taken in Hyeres, a small town on the Mediterranean. It is an Anglican Church. Yes, you have read this correctly: there is an Anglican Church in the middle of a small town in France. Why would Hyeres need an Anglican Church? Well, if the story is to be believed, a lot of Brits used to come here to spend the winter in a warmer climate. Apparently, during the nineteenth century, half of the population was British over the Christmas period. Hence the church. At some point, there were even 7 services per week.

The church is a concert hall since 1953. I wonder where the Brits have gone. Where did they flee to have a warmer winter? Maybe the Carribeans? Or Italy? Or maybe, they are less religious. In the meantime, the Anglican Church in the middle of France made me wonder whether France and Britain are not a little bit of the same entity. Lots of Brits in France, lots of French in the UK. We keep thinking that we are special but, after all, we have been living together for a long, long time.  
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London