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Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso

I have heard this one so many times over the last ten years that it is starting to wear me off. After so long, I thought that people would actually start to get to know me, and also to understand my values. But nope, it hasn’t happened just yet, and it probably never will because of all the cliches on the French this side of the Channel. So let me make it crystal-clear for you: I don’t know a single French woman who would accept that her husband has a mistress without being upset. None. Yep, you read that well.

If you don’t believe me, just have a look at what Valerie Trierweiler, the ex-French First Lady, has written about how being cheated on made her feel. Suffice to say, she didn’t enjoy it. Quite the opposite, in fact. She wanted to end it all. What happened to the so-called ‘Gallic shrug’ in case of an infidelity? Well, it didn’t exist in the first place. And to make matters even more dramatic, Valerie Trierweiler took her revenge in a very public manner by writing a best seller. It clearly hurt the President, who was already very unpopular, and made her a fortune along the way. Never underestimate a scorned woman, I say.

Despite such a book, I was asked over the weekend for the umpteenth time how I was dealing with the fact that because he was French, my husband must have had mistresses. I quickly answered that he was British now and that, if he was cheating on me, surely it would make a good book, right? I hope that my interlocutor got the joke. I will probably never know.

Don’t get me wrong: I am the first to admit that French politicians seem to be a lot more inclined to marital indiscretions and sexual proclivities.
But are extra-marital affairs more common in France? I don’t think so. We French haven’t invented them. Just look at Prince Charles and his then-mistress Camilla, when he was married to Diana. I actually think that he expected his then-wife not to make a fuss and accept the situation as gracefully as possible, as lots of aristocrat women have probably done in a not-so-distant past. Some things never change, right? Just be reasonable, Darling. How very British! Keep a stiff upper lip, as we British do. Not nice.
And where does this myth that well-educated French are very accepting of marital infidelity come from? Seriously, the French are like people everywhere, apart maybe from some of our senior politicians who behave like the ‘fathers of the nation’ sometimes a bit too literally. You see, as we don’t have a monarch any more, they fill a strong urge to show how powerful they are by having as many conquests as possible. Pathetic.
And no, women don’t have more complacency for cheaters in France. Some stay in the relationship, some leave. Just like everywhere else.
So please give me break now. Enough with silly stereotypes. Stop asking me silly questions.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Venice: Lovely Facades, But What About Foundations?

London is the city of all superlatives. I recently read that London has overtaken London as the world’s most expensive city.

I am not surprised. That said, I think the London also holds the sad record of high functioning people with hidden mental issues. I attended a party over the weekend. I thought that it would be lovely to catch up with friends and acquaintances. The food was indeed amazing. They served, amongst other things, delicious little pizzas with mozzarella melting on top of them. Who can resist pizzas? I certainly can’t. Neither could my teenage daughter, actually.

So, us being us, we tried the mini pizzas and ended up having quite a few. They were really tasty. Then, it dawned on me that we were the only one eating them. In fact, apart from another woman who had had a couple of grilled prawns, nobody except us had touched the gorgeous food. How weird! I naively thought that pizza was the teenage food by excellence, and there were lots of teenagers. Well, I was clearly wrong. What was going on?

I had a good look around me. The women were all skinny and smiling. Some were looking enviously at me stuffing my face. A friend of mine came next to me and said:
“- Do you realise that most people are anorexic in this room?”

She was right. Of course she was. I was probably surrounded by high functioning anorexics. But why? Where was this coming from? When did it all started? How could I not see? To be fair, they all looked so happy. What was going on behind this happy façade? I wondered. The sad fact of the matter was that they didn’t look like the kind of persons who would seek help.What a tragedy in waiting!

I saw a teenage girl removing her cardigan. She had bruises and cuts on her forearms. I caught myself thinking: is she self-harming? She quickly put her cardigan back. But she kept smiling and looking lovely. Of course she did. I wondered what kind of silent suffering she was going through.

The food remained untouched, but the white wine bottles were coming and going at a very fast pace. In fact, I noticed that an acquaintance had drunk a couple of bottles without bating an eyelid. I was stunned. I hadn’t realised that she was a high functioning alcoholic. Come to think of it, some mums had already told me that they had a bottle of wine every evening, to ‘relax’. I thought that they were joking. They probably weren’t.

I was in shock: how do you help people who don’t believe that they need help? How do I protect my children from such mental illnesses? Can I protect hem? Just because they are high functioning, with good jobs or a prominent positions in the London society doesn’t mean that they are not putting themselves (and possibly others) in danger, right? For the first time in years, I must admit that I was scared.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Dating Isn’t Aways Plain Sailing (Port Moresby)

It happened again over the weekend. I caught up with a friend of mine. She explained to me that she had just met this French guy, and that she really liked him. And then, she asked me the dreaded question:
“- So, tell me, what should I do? Do you have any advice as to how to date a Frenchman?”
I started to panic. The thing is, I have not played the dating game for a very long time. I tried to mumble something about just being yourself, but I don’t think that it made the cut. In short, she left without an intelligible answer. I thought about her question for a long time, and started remembering that, because of my engineering studies and my various technical jobs, I used to be surrounded by men. More often than not, I used to be the only woman in a meeting/project/office…After all, she was probably right to ask the question, because I had to learn how to read guys. It was a survival matter, really. So here is what I should have told her. Better late than never, right? Here we go…

1. There are no rules. 
Unlike in the US, there is no specific plan as to what you need to do at the first, second or third date. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. You are in control. Obviously, he often will want to go fast, but it is up to you to slow him down, if you so wish. Now you are warned. 

2. Exclusivity goes without saying.
What is it with Anglo-Saxon guys dating several women at the same time until you declare your love to each other? If you date a French guy, he is with you, and you with him. Period. From the very start. As for the misconception that French men are serial cheater, well, I say that fidelity has nothing to do with nationality. More controversially, I also say that is all about risk management: take as good care of yourself as possible, and you will limit the chances of him having a roving eye.

3. Always be at least 10 minutes late.
I know that it is silly, and personally I hate being late. But it is all about not appearing to be too eager.  And chances are, he will arrive even later than you. It is a French thing, and I can’t stand it. But in Rome, you have to do as the Romans do, right? Well, it is the same with French men.

4. Don’t smile too much.
I know, I know, you weren’t expecting this one. But apparently, men just love a woman who pouts. That’s probably one of the reasons why Victoria Beckham became so successful. It is beyond me, because I am a happy-go-lucky sort of person, but it is a tried-and tested thing: if you appear to be too happy, they aren’t interested in you. Men in general (and French men in particular) seem to love women with issues. I had a friend who never smiled or laughed. She always had men flocking around her despite her sad face. So unfair. Maybe French men love to be the knight in their shining armour. It must be their romantic side. So look serious and worried, he will love it. Come on, you can do it. Think of something sad.

5. Ditch the granny pants.
And the M&S nighties. As you know, it is one of my pet peeves. He doesn’t care about your wobbly bits, I can assure you. Especially if you wear laces.

6. Do not take the initiative.
Most French men are quite old-fashioned: they want to be the one to take the initiative and do the first step. So much for trying to be independent women, right? The good news is that it usually doesn’t take them as much time as their British counterpart. But often, it is all about making him believe that he took the initiative, when clearly you have paved the way for the relationship to start. And yes, it is a conundrum. So good luck!

7. Feel free to ignore my advice. Yes, all of it.
After all, you are a big girl, right? This is the opportunity for you to start a clean slate. Come on, I am pretty sure that you don’t need my help. Yes, he might be the one, or your fragile heart might end up being broken again. There is simply no way to tell in advance. Whether he is French or not doesn’t really matter. Just go with it, and enjoy the journey!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Over dinner, the other day, I was told that a French primary school that had opened recently in Ealing (West London) was already oversubscribed. Because apparently, all French schools are. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, because I was French (or was it because of my French accent? I will never know), my interlocutor had assumed that I was sending my children to a French school. The thing is, I was not. I was brought up in the French system, and we sent our older one to a British nursery, because the French Lycée was oversubscribed (unless you had friends in high places, that was, but we didn’t. I am told that, following a certain Ofsted report, the transparency of the admission process has greatly improved). I must admit that I was extremely disappointed at first, but as she was clearly thriving, we ended up keeping her in the British system, where she so clearly belonged. We didn’t hesitate for our younger daughter: she went straight to a British nursery. To us, it was all about having happier children.

It got me thinking: if the French love London so much, why do they absolutely want to send their children to a French school? To me, the whole point of living in London is to embrace its international vibe, and have as open as possible an education. The French education is very academic, with a strong emphasis on maths, and I certainly wouldn’t praise it for its international awareness and open attitude. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to study, live and work in France, then you should go for it. But for a truly international experience and a stronger business acumen, in my view nothing beats British schools in London.

Maybe the French choose such schools because they only will stay a couple of years, in which case it makes sense to keep the same curriculum than at home. Maybe it is for the children to be really bilingual. It is true that sending the children to British schools means that I have to try speak French at home to maintain my daughters’ bilingualism (sometimes with limited success). That said, what I love about British schools is that kids try a bit of everything, and the emphasis on sport and art is really strong, which I find great! I also like the fact that learning, as much as possible, is done by playing or experimenting. Finally, children are taught to be confident and to present their various projects to the whole class from a very young age. I was pleasantly surprised that my daughters started doing ‘Show and tells’ from the age of 4. I have never heard of something similar in France. There is also a real sense of community in British schools: at school, with the assemblies and the various activities, but also outside of school, with the other parents. I don’t remember having this in France.

A French mum explained to me that she considered the British system to be ‘too soft’, and that it would be impossible for her offspring to go back to the French system after a few years in a British school.

She might well have a point, but I thought that she sounded a tad arrogant (Is it me? Am I becoming that British?). That said, anyone who has been through the 7+ and 11 + entrance exams knows that the British system is very academic too, probably with a stronger emphasis on humanities and presentation skills than the French one. Let’s be clear, a child attending a French school doesn’t stand a chance at such exams. 

Suffice to say that, in spite of everything I have heard against the British system (uniforms, single sex…), it works for us. After all, it is all about finding the right school for the right child, right?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

Eugene Delacroix, La liberte guidant le peuple

From the Sunday newspapers, it certainly looks like the French don’t do romance any more. They have replaced it by vaudeville. When did it all happen? How come I didn’t see it coming? I don’t know. Seriously, why do French politicians put their love life on display like it is some sort of show? In case you started hibernating a few of months before winter is actually supposed to start, here is a recap of last week’s French affairs. Bear with me, it is quite complicated:

    Valerie Trierweiler, President Hollande’s jilted lover, has written a revenge book on their tempestuous relationship. She mentioned that her ex-partner used to mock the poor despite being a socialist, and even called them ‘toothless’. Despite Francois Hollande’s denial, she says that she has evidence of this. It looks like we will know everything, eventually. I wonder what’s next. Come on, Valerie, just publish the text messages and let’s get it over with!

    Julie Gayet, who used to be the President’s mistress when he was with Valerie Trierweiler (did you follow?), has a bodyguard now. This is highly unusual. Is she the official girlfriend now? If so, why did she go on holidays with somebody else? Go figure. I wonder if the bodyguard brings the croissants too.

    Arnaud Montebourg, who was sacked from the French government a few weeks ago for criticising it a tad too openly, has been caught in California frolicking with another ex-minister, Aurelie Filipetti. Maybe they started comforting each other after he got the sack -I am speculating here, obviously. Montebourg’s known lovers over the past two years or so have included one journalist, Audrey Pulvar, one actress, Elsa Zylberstein, and now the ex-culture minister, Aurelie Filipetti. As much as I agree with the right to a private life, this is becoming a bit too much. Can’t French politicians have a love life without the whole world knowing about it? Here is a thought: maybe we French should be allowed to bet on the life expectancy of Arnaud Montebourg’s relationships. Or how about trying to predict who is with who? That surely would be a way to reduce the French deficit.
In short, France is, once again, making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I can’t help thinking that Anglo-Saxon politicians are a bit better. My dentist, whom I shared this opinion with, and whom I saw a lot recently (don’t ask), wanted to know why. I blurted out ‘they have less mistresses’. There it is. Or at least, less publicly.

Suffice to say, I am gutted, and I can’t stand this charade any more. I am not proud to be French right now. That said, on a different front, there are some good news. An old friend of mine (by old, I mean that we have known each other for, like, 25 years) got engaged over the weekend. Her new boyfriend is so besotted that he popped the question at the very start of the relationship, only after a few weeks. She said yes, they are insanely happy, and I can’t wait for the wedding reception. And, if your must know, he is German. I am really starting to believe that romance is wasted on the French.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

It wasn’t all for me, I promise…

I am shattered. If it was down to me, I would go straight back on holidays right now. Today, for instance, my daughter was finishing school at 2.30 pm. How am I supposed to get anything done? I couldn’t help thinking that if you arrive late for school, you might bump into those who leave early. How do women work in this country? But miracles do happen: yesterday, I was invited by the lovely Charlotte of @LDNWalks for a secret pub tour. This was exactly what I needed: I met fellow bloggers, including my old friend Flora @AccidentalLDNr (old because we have known each other for more than two years, which is a long time in the blogging world. She is obviously very young and also very bright). I met other talented bloggers (and they were so young. Sigh), namely: @SquibbVicious @MissKatyEnglish  @whoismilly  and found an unexpected ally in gin. Who would have thought? After all, it is only berries, right? And as I am not a huge fan of beer, the girls made me discover gin. What a fantastic medicine ! And boy I loved it so much that I couldn’t be stopped…My head hurts today. 

I was a bit worried that we were going to walk a lot. There was no need to. We ended up drinking a lot, and frankly the walk was the least of my worries! We started the tour in Blackfriars, and Charlotte was waiting for us with pink balloons (I promise) at the station. She took us to five different pubs around the city, and I am ashamed to admit that I knew none of them. It looks like I have been far too reasonable. I don’t want to spoil the surprise if you take the tour, and I will only say that we went to an Art Deco one, a haunted one, the oldest in London, one that specialise in gin -of course-, and also a literary one. Each pub was a gem for different reasons. I think that I will return to each of them to spend a relaxed evening and grab a proper bite. Charlotte was very knowledgeable and explained lots of historical facts such as the origins of some street names and the colourful life of Henry the VIIIth. She even said that champagne was invented by an English scientist before the French claim they did, and although I was initially offended, after a couple of gin & tonic, who the hell cares? Champagne will always be champagne, but last night was a gin sort of night.

St Bride’s church: wedding bells anyone?

However, the real encounter of the evening was the one with London. I thought I knew it all. Well, I clearly didn’t. If you look closely enough, London is full if hidden treasures: old prisons in the basement of fancy pubs, churches with funny names (St Andrew by the wardrobe, anyone?), old buildings that look like they will crumble any minute next to brand new ones looking like swords, viaducts without rivers, old palaces where history was made. The list is endless. And I fell in love all over again with London. And with gin. 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

I used to love quid pro quos. When reading a Moliere’s comedy, I always found quid pro quos hilarious. That said, are quid pro quos that funny when they happen to you? Well, I am not so sure.  Let me explain: a few days ago, I went to this party to catch up with friends and ex-colleagues. I went on my own because my husband was travelling for his job, and I suspect that some of my acquaintances believe that he is a product of my imagination. To be fair, my shyness probably compounds this perception: believe it or not, I happen to be quite reserved. Anyway, here I was, trying as best as I could to mingle, and also trying to get to know some new faces.
I ended up next to this guy, who was quite tall, with pale skin and freckles. In short, as much as I dislike cliches, I have to say that he looked very British. I introduced myself “Hi, I’m Muriel.” , and initiated some small talks about the usual topics: the weather, the end of the summer hols…
After a couple of minutes I must admit that I was expecting him to answer back with more that one word and maybe, just maybe, find some other topics of conversations. Well, he did, but, it wasn’t what I expected at all.
“You know,” he said, looking dead serious “I am married”

I couldn’t believe it: why would he say that? Then it dawned on me: the guy thought that I was hitting on him. Except that I wasn’t. I promise.
I wondered what had prompted such a reaction. Had I said something inappropriate ? Was I standing too close to him? Was it my dress (knee-length, covering shoulders & base of neck)? The answer to all questions was no. Absolutely not. The only reason he thought I was making a pass at him was my French accent, I realised. I honestly couldn’t think of anything else. To be fair to him, all British newspapers are full of stories of the French vaudeville involving the French president and his ex-girlfriend (no less that three full pages in the Sunday Times yesterday. I counted).
I was about to tell him that he should relax a bit, and that I wasn’t going to rape him there and then. I am married too, actually. But I decided against it. Why would I dignify his arrogant comment with an answer that would set the record straight? No, instead, I thought that it was time to have a little bit of fun. I decided that I was going to tell him what he so obviously wanted to hear. Come on, his attitude was out of whack. I had to take a stand. 
“Really,”I said “Good for you. She must be a very happy lady” and I smiled mischievously, as if his revelation wasn’t going to deter me from trying to seduce him. After all, I wasn’t French for nothing, right? 
I promise, I saw a red wave starting down his cheeks and quickly moving towards his eyes. I had made him blush. How funny!
I am starting to like this, I thought.
I gave him a short break and started talking about a couple of innocuous subjects such as parks in London and Oyster cards.
Then I attacked again.
“So how do you find married life?  How is it going with your wife?”
The red wave returned. Actually, this time it wasn’t red. It was crimson. 
I could make him blush on demand! I thought. That was clearly a new skill to add onto my CV: able to make a British guy blush in a matter of minutes. Wow!
It was time to finish him. I went for the kill.
” You know, I said, I might be French but I am quite conservative : I have been living with the same man for more than 18 years. It is hard to explain why things are going well between us. It is something that you have to live, right?”
Then, I made my excuses and left. I had had enough for one evening.
So, where did this come from? Why did he say something like this? I really wonder.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

Francois Hollande, French president

This book written by Valerie Trierweiler about her 18-month affair with French president Hollande isn’t making my life any easier. No later than this afternoon, another mum asked me at the school gate why French men were such players. A heated conversation with fellow mums quickly ensued, and everybody agreed that he had treated his then-girlfriend in an appalling manner. I had to take a stand, and fast. Come on, all French men are not like president Hollande, it is only a stereotype. I  explained that I had been living with the same French man for more than 18 years.
‘See, I said, there are decent French men.’

I was saved by the bell, and quickly realised that I had just lied. My husband was French when we moved to London more than ten years ago but he has a British passport by now. This means that, technically, I have a a British husband. In short, I am not sure that I can use him as an example of a decent French man.
Damn it. But I promise that there are decent French men. No, seriously.

That said, let’s face it: outside of France, everybody believes that we French have invented extra-marital affairs, that we are convinced that having as many affairs as possible is a sign of good health, and that we French women have learned to live with it. What a load of codswallop ! 

To be fair, some mums were quick to point out that ‘what goes around comes around’ and that Hollande had cheated on the mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, with Trierweiler. But two wrongs don’t make a right, I think.

The book is said to be a huge embarrassment to the already unpopular French president. Not to mention that apparently despite claiming to be a Socialist he doesn’t like poor people and call them ‘sans-dents’ (without teeth). That said, let’s not forget that being embarrassed is nothing compared to the very public humiliation Valerie Trierweiler was subject to. After all, the book is only the literary equivalent of a kiss and tell. He broke her: she clearly wanted to die when she found out about the extent of his betrayal. In my view, the book also gives a rare insight into the mind of a pathological liar. When asked whether he had an affair with the actress Julie Gayet, he first denied it. And when he had no choice, he tried to shorten the duration of his indiscretion. He was always charming, and even tried to invite her for dinner and ‘win her over again’ after all she had been through. And he clearly ignored a cardinal rule that all men would be well-advised to keep in mind: never underestimate a hurt woman.

Players can be of any nationality, and wherever you are, there are only two ways of dealing with them: crush them, or get crushed. She almost got crushed and is setting the record straight. Good for her. 

NB: today you can read another post that I wrote here…Enjoy! 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London