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am spending a few days back home, in France, and taking this as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family. The thing is, one of my good friends happens to be a maneater. She is bright, beautiful and absolutely charming. And of course she happens to be irresistible. She is French (I have yet to meet a British maneater). I love her to bits, but it dawned on me that I would never, ever, introduce her to my male friends (am I over-protective?), let alone my husband.

Does it make me a bad person or just someone who mitigates risks? I hope it’s the latter.

I think that this is, once again, a classic case of double standard. The male equivalent, usually referred to as a player, doesn’t bother me at all, because I know that I won’t succumb to his charm. Most of the time, players know how to talk to women. They make you feel special, and I am old enough to know when to stop the fun. So why am I scared to let her meet the men I like? I don’t want them to get hurt. So much for thinking that I was open-minded. I happen to know what makes men tick all too well, that’s all. Or maybe I am bossy. That’s just me, I suppose.

To be fair to her, she says that she has a ‘coeur d’artichaut’ (literally, an artichoke heart). This means that she falls in love easily, but somehow exclusivity is not her forte (that’s a British understatement). Come to think of it, I am not sure that we would agree on what ‘love’ means or is. She also once made an hilarious comment about the fact that sleeping with an ex-boyfriend is not cheating on your current partner. Interesting philosophy, right? Apparently, this has something to do with not increasing the number of your conquests. I didn’t think that it was bothering her: after 25 years of fun, who cares?

I know that I sound judgemental. I am trying not to be. Really. She makes me laugh. She is always in control, and knows what she wants. She calls the shots, and in the blink of an eye can leave multiple victims at a time. She dumps guys easily, and doesn’t look back. I admire the way she compartmentalises her hugely successful professional life, and her complicated love life. To an extent, she is still a teenager at heart, looking for her Prince Charming. Except that she exudes sensuality, and turn all men’s heads. I will admit it: I am a bit jealous of her power to seduce men, even if at 40-something I have never felt better.

As a friend, I like her humour, generosity and frankness. It is very refreshing and makes me feel like I am 16 again. And to top everything up she showed no sign of slowing down. Until recently.

Over the last six weeks, there have been some breaking news: my friend the maneater fell in love, and might get married soon (no, she is not pregnant). The whole thing was incredibly fast. She seems happy, but the relationship is turbulent from time to time (as far as I can see). I don’t know what to think.

In fact, I am not ready to believe it just yet, and I still wouldn’t introduce her to my male friends. Let’s just say that I am not convinced. Is it a case of ‘once a maneater, always a maneater’? Am I too judgemental? I don’t know. I also fear that she might be heading towards a massive emotional crash. We will see. So, why is life so complicated? Why do we talk about players with a smile and a wink, and about maneaters as if it was shameful? And how fast can people change? I thought that growing older would give me answers. Well, it is simply not the case… 
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Me, French, 40-something 

Last week was all about growing older gracefully – or not so gracefully, in some cases. You can’t have missed the articles on Renee Zellweger: she was trashed in the press for not looking her age (45). What a load of rubbish! I personally thought that she looked lovely, and I didn’t notice any drastic changes to her face. Speculation is rife as to the type of cosmetic procedures that she might have had.

Seriously, can we give her a break? Not to mention that I loved her dress, and she had a great body. What is wrong with people? Why can’t they just, well, be nice?

At the same time, older French women seem to have it all: there was another article on Sunday on The Times, and it made it look like we older French women don’t age, we just get better. Apparently, being older is sexy in France. And nobody bats an eyelid when you go out with a much younger guy. Really?

Again, give me a break! Here is a newsflash for you: all women age, French or not.
Maybe Renee should consider a short stay in France to be duly praised for the way she looks, and get a much-deserved (I believe) confidence boost. Just a thought. She would have all men at her feet there.

 So why do French women age better? The only reason I can think of right now is that most of us try to upgrade our ”maintenance regime’ after 40. I try to exercise every day (even if it is a bit of yoga or a nice walk). And I don’t buy cheap foundation any more. Now more than ever, it is about quality, not quantity. In short, we haven’t given up on the way we look. Is it vain?
I sometimes wonder why I even bother, because it is a fight that I am sure to lose. Of course I will get older! So why do I still make an effort?
Well, I suppose that I like to keep fit. It makes me feel good. And when I am happy, life is easier for the whole family (who said happy wife, happy life again?).
I also believe that this is yet another cliche, and that nothing I will say or do will change it. Obviously, it is a nice cliche: it would be a lot less nice to have the reputation to look like the back of a bus.
The other thing I like about getting older, is that I am becoming the person I want to be. I have always wanted to write, but somehow started my professional life in a completely different field. Now that I am doing what I love, well, surely it shows.
And maybe, just maybe, older women are becoming less invisible…if only!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I learned the hard way that despite my brand new passport I will never be truly British. That said, the worst comments I get usually come from friends and family back in France. And to make matters even worse, I keep hearing them again and again. Frankly, it is becoming a bit tiring. Here they are…

1. ‘Now you are a tax exile!’ Well, here is a newsflash: I have to pay taxes in London too…and as I am renting out my flat in France, I still have to pay taxes there. Double the red tape for me. Not very efficient for a tax exile, right?
2. ‘Don’t you know any cheap hotels in London?’ Nothing is cheap in London. Don’t come here for cheap holidays. A single zone 1 tube ticket costs £4.70.  If you find a deal that’s too good to me true, well, it probably is. £20 won’t get you a night in Central London. This much I know.

3. In the same vein, some so-called friends have called after years of silence to tell me something like ‘as you will be in France for Xmas/Easter/summer -take your pick-, can we stay in your house?’. As much as I respect the if-you-don’t-ask-you-don’t-get concept, the answer is no. Just have a look at my rental deposit. I will not risk it for you. Sorry
4. ‘My daughter would like to become an au-pair to learn to speak English. Do you know a family for her?’ I have heard this one countless times. Let me spell it out for you: I am not an au-pair agency. I often end up giving a list of suitable companies. A thank you would be nice, for a change.
5. ‘You must be tired of never seeing the sun’ Well, the weather is broadly similar than in Paris, so please give me a break.
6. ‘Take some more bread, you don’t have any in London’ Wrong again. I have a French boulangerie just around the corner. And it is open seven days a week. Between you and me, it is even better than in France.
7. ‘You must be a banker and make millions’ Shame I didn’t know. What’s next? That I won the lottery?
8 ‘ How can you trust the British? They lie through their teeth!’ Do they really? I kind of like them. So much that I am British too, now.
9 ‘A rosbif rented out the house next door. He is from London. Maybe you know him?’ Well, it is highly unlikely: we are more than 12 millions in London. Yes, 12 millions. Next question?
10. ‘You studied in France. You owe it to your home country to come back.’ What do I do with my husband and children? Do I just drop them and leave?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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It is a well-known fact that, in London, everything sounds sexier in French. You get menus in French in most restaurants (most of them with awful spelling mistakes, I have to say). And just think of a French kiss if you are not convinced. Between you and me, I really don’t understand why we French have such a reputation. I can only speculate. So here is my latest theory: maybe it is all because, in my view, the best descriptions of kisses can be found in French books. Because, let’s face it, nobody describes a kiss (French or not) better than the French. As a geeky teenager completely lost in a sentimental desert, I used to devour every book to get some information as to how a kiss should feel. French authors were my confidants, they taught me everything. I remember reading such descriptions for days on end. It was the sort of stuff that was making my teenage self incredibly happy. 
The first description that I found was in Candide, written by Voltaire. Candide is a child of “the most unaffected simplicity”, whose face is “the index of his mind”. Candide is in love with Cunegund (whom I never really warmed up to, she is quite pedantic), and he kisses her at the end of the first chapter. Here it is:
Cunégonde laissa tomber son mouchoir, Candide le ramassa, elle lui prit innocemment la main, le jeune homme baisa innocemment la main de la jeune demoiselle avec une vivacité, une sensibilité, une grâce toute particulière ; leurs bouches se rencontrèrent, leurs yeux s’enflammèrent, leurs genoux tremblèrent, leurs mains s’égarèrent.

And in English of course:
The miss dropped her handkerchief, the young man picked it up. She innocently took hold of his hand, and he as innocently kissed hers with a warmth, a sensibility, a grace–all very particular; their lips met; their eyes sparkled; their knees trembled; their hands strayed.

What’s not to love about such a first kiss? To me, this sentence still epitomises what a kiss should be about. It gave me very high expectations of how my first kiss should feel, and it is fair to say that the real thing didn’t live up to them. Not to mention that the guy dumped me after a few days. I moved on (Don’t we all?).
I soon found out another description that was at the same time deeply serious and incredibly frivolous. The irony is that Cyrano, the main protagonist of the play (written by Rostand), doesn’t actually kiss Roxanne. He borrows his words to the handsome Christian, who gets the kiss. So tragic. So unfair. By reading it again and again, somehow I forgot about my own heartbreak. I still know the lines by heart. I am pathetic.
Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
Plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer, 
Un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer; 
C’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille, 
Un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille, 
Une communion ayant un goût de fleur, 
Une façon d’un peu se respirer le cœur, 
Et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !

A kiss, when all is said,—what is it?
An oath that’s ratified,—a sealed promise,
A heart’s avowal claiming confirmation,—
A rose-dot on the ‘i’ of ‘adoration,’—
A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,—
Brush of a bee’s wing, that makes time eternal,—
Communion perfumed like the spring’s wild flowers,—
The heart’s relieving in the heart’s outbreathing,
When to the lips the soul’s flood rises, brimming!
I watched Cyrano de Bergerac the other day, and I could still feel the magic. Seriously, it is an incredible text, right?
Growing older, I became passionate about a French author called Zola. I liked the realism of his books; I could live and breathe the characters. The most dramatic kiss of the Rougon-Macquart series can be found, in my view, at the end of Germinal.
Catherine and Etienne are trapped in a mine’s tunnel. Just before she dies, they share an intimate moment that starts with a kiss.
D’un élan, elle s’était pendue à lui, elle chercha sa bouche et y colla passionnément la sienne. Les ténèbres s’éclairèrent, elle revit le soleil, elle retrouva un rire calmé d’amoureuse.
With a sudden impulse she hung on to him, seeking his mouth and pressing her own passionately to it. The darkness lighted up, she saw the sun again, and she laughed a quiet laugh of love.
Very dramatic, right? And then she dies.
As I grew older, I started reading other authors. I also realised that all kisses were not happening center stage, and that some were actually harder work than others. This one is coming from The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald). I like its simplicity, it just sounds true, almost familiar.
It was like that. Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white-plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.
So here it is. Here are the best kisses of all times. What can I say? I feel in a romantic mood tonight…I sometimes wish I was a teenager again to be able to feel the way I felt back then. That said, I learned one thing over the years: nothing beats living your own life. Not even the greatest French kisses of all times.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Usually, when I am in France, friends and family taunt me because they assume I can’t find decent bread in London. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. I have better bread than when I was living in Paris. There is a lovely French boulangerie just around the corner. The owner happens to be from Bosnia, and learned to become a baker while working for the French army in Sarajevo. It is a very London story, isn’t it? As a result, I have fresh bread, croissants and pains au chocolat every morning, and the short walk to get my morning pastries is always a pleasure, even when it is pouring. I just love it. Let’s face it, it is even better than France. There it is. I said it.

In fact, in a funny way, I miss French yogurts in London. This is what the yogurt department looks like in my local supermarket, and even after more than 10 years over here it puzzles me.

Because you see, in France, yogurts come in individual pots. You buy them by the dozen, and it lasts a whole week. In London, you buy a big pot, and it only lasts two to three days. Not to mention that you never now how much yogurt you are really having unless you use a kitchen scale (which I don’t). The taste is sort of the same, but not exactly. The brands are different. Apparently, there is a company that sells French products (at a London price obviously) around here, but frankly, I don’t think that it is worth paying extra to have, let’s admit it, something similar.

This means that I have to get used to British yogurts. I am still learning. I know that it is a first world problem but right now I feel a bit homesick. I suppose that it is this time of the year. 
Don’t get me wrong, it is not all bad: I learned to love fishcakes and Yorkshire puddings over here. I suppose that it is my lot in life to be stuck somewhere between France and the UK.

On this note, I leave you with a video that sums it all up… 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

image by stockarch – 
 The relationship between sex and the Brits never ceases to amaze me. It is all or nothing: they don’t talk about it, and suddenly you can’t stop them. This week, I witnessed such a behaviour again, in an odd and slightly creepy way. Let me explain: at 14 (almost 15, actually) my teenage daughter is getting more independent by the day. Seeing her starting to spread her wings is a pleasure, apart from the occasional panic attacks when she arrives home later than expected. It is hard to let go, but it is part of being a mum, I suppose. A few months back, despite being in an all-girls school, she told me that she had a boyfriend. He is the same age, and from a similar school. They seem to enjoy each other’s company: they keep texting and snap chatting all the time, they meet up at the tube station, and once or twice a month they see each other with friends somewhere in London for a couple of hours.
The other day, she was with him and other classmates on the Tube. His arm was on her shoulder, and one of her teachers saw her. The following day, her form tutor asked to have a quiet word with her. She explained to my daughter that she had been seen ‘fraternising’ with a boy, and that she needed to be careful ‘because boys might want other things’.

Does she mean, like, sex? That’s what she meant, right? I still can’t believe that she said this. In fact, I find it incredibly creepy: right now, all my daughter is risking is to have her young heart broken when the relationship ends. She is still at a stage when holding hand and kissing her boyfriend makes her happy for days on end. Bless her. Why would the school get involved? Let her enjoy her life! And for the records her school is not a faith school.
In short, you might think that I am a progressive mum, but I am not worried at all. She is trustworthy; she knows what her priorities are. It might be my French side, but I don’t think that I should forbid her to see him. I also believe that what she will learn about friendships and relationships now will be useful later in life. After all, we all learn by experience, right?
Now let’s talk about sex. I am sure that she wouldn’t let a boyfriend coerce her into having sex, if it were the issue (which, once again, it is not). We would talk about it obviously, and I know for a fact that she is strong-minded. I remember her getting elbowed during a sprinting competition. She elbowed back and won. And seriously, it is her first boyfriend, let her live!
I don’t know whether the school will call me. They will probably mention something at the next parent teachers meeting, and I will have to brush it off. I am not French for nothing, after all. But again, what is it with the British and, well, sex? Why is the school so fixated on my daughter’s love life when it is rife with serious mental issues such as anorexia or self-harming? Is it because we are French? I am starting to wonder. I don’t understand why they felt that they had the right to interfere, because it didn’t happen on the school premises, and it wasn’t anything inappropriate. Some girls, apparently, are popping pills instead of having lunch, to cut their appetite. It seems to me that this is a more serious issue, and as far as I know, the form tutor didn’t have a ‘quiet word’ with them. Others are smoking outside of school without anyone batting an eyelid. In this country, getting completely smashed during a party is also completely Ok, but not having a boyfriend. Why the double standard? I don’t get it.
I thought about it and came to the conclusion that the British have a different attitude to sex. They don’t discuss it. They have tea and quiet words instead. The word ‘sex’ must not used, apart maybe during biology lessons. In all other circumstances, it will be referred to as simply ‘that thing’. Lovely, isn’t it? ‘That thing’ implies something dirty and shameful, that you hide behind huge granny pants and opaque curtains of apparent respectability. As a result, we get sexting MPs and religious zealots explaining to us how we should live our life.
We French are a bit more open. Or maybe it’s just me. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I openly discuss sex and relationships with my daughters, and we started when they were eight or nine. We have long conversations about divorce, marriage and even same-sex marriage -one of my best male friends is married to another man. Because of this, most other mums believe that I am quite progressive and possibly, as we happen to be French, a bit promiscuous. That’s the reputation we French have, and despite having lived with the same man for twenty years I have learned that I can’t fight such clichés. Well, I just happen to believe that trust and openness can do wonders. So far I am actually quite proud of having brought up responsible and well-balanced daughters. And I will help them when their heart is broken, or when they are ready to have a sexual relationship.
In the meantime, can we please let teenagers just be teenagers please?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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On the face of it, it was a beautiful day, and I decided to go for a pre-work run in Hyde Park. Everything was going extremely well, as it usually does after ten minutes or so of running (for some reason the first ten minutes are always excruciating, and then suddenly it is all fine), when it started pouring. I was drenched. And I must admit that I didn’t like it. Everybody seemed undeterred, except for me. I am not that British yet, after all. Instead of running my usual two laps, I stopped at one, and waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t. I ended up taking a phone call from a French client under a tree. That’s when it happened: two guys, apparently work colleagues, passed by, heard me and started looking at me as if they had never seen anything like it before. And then, one of them said:
“- French women have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, don’t you think?”
I couldn’t believe it: I was wearing black leggings and the first sport T-shirt that I could grab this morning, and they thought that I had a certain ‘je-ne-sais-quoi-! Why? I was sweating and dripping at the same time. Not to mention my lovely ponytail. 

I still don’t know what went into me, but as soon as my phone conversation was over, I started running after them, and decided to confront them. Don’t judge me too harshly, I just wanted to understand.
“- Hi,” I said, “Excuse-me, but I overheard what you were saying. What do you mean exactly by ‘a certain-je-ne sais-quoi’?”
I know that it is not British to confront people like this, and it is not ladylike, but you need to understand that we French women don’t mince our words. I desperately wanted to know.
They looked a bit bewildered, and one of them muttered:
“-Ooh la la!”
I ignored him. The other was a bit more composed. I wanted an answer, and somehow he seemed to get this. He looked at me and said:
“- It is the attitude, Darling”
Don’t Darling me, I thought to myself.
“- What attitude? Running in the park?”
“- No. Somehow despite the rain and everything, you managed to pull it off .”
“- Pull what off?”
“- Well, he hesitated, good looks.” He smiled clumsily.
I sensed that I wouldn’t get anything more out of him, muttered a quick “Thank you”, and ran back as fast as I could.
The sad reality was that, because they had heard me speak French, they had simply thought that I looked good. That’s how strong the cliches are over here: you speak French, you look good. It is automatic. Speaking French simply gives you style and beauty, even when you are in your running kit under the rain. Lesson learned. It isn’t rational, it just is.

Because, come on, the simple truth was that I didn’t look good. This much I knew.
On the bright side, after talking to them I ran my fastest km ever (since I started running again), at a bit less than 5 mins (YAY!).

They got it all wrong: I didn’t look good: I was just fast today. That’s the problem with cliches, right? You simply can’t see people for who they really are.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Why is French bashing so popular? Seriously, it is starting to get a bit annoying. Not to mention the fact that, after more than a decade, I have heard it all before. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about some constructive criticism here, and I am the first one to admit that I am happier in London than in France, mainly because I find people more pragmatic. But seriously, what is it with the violent diatribes against the French? Things reached a new low last week with Andy Street’s speech (you can read about it here). Basically he said that France was finished, and that we French were lazy lumps (that was implied, actually). He later claimed that his comments were tongue-in-cheek, and ended up apologising unreservedly. However, it was too late, the whole incident had already created quite a stir, and the French told him to go back home to have a fish and chips.

As far as I know, nobody is perfect, but the Brits are extremely quick to point out any flaws of their French neighbours. Given the fact that approximately three millions Brits have French ancestry, this is a bit rich. Not to mention the fact that France is full of Brits. And often, such intemperate diatribes simply miss the point: despite the bad economy, France still has a lot going for itself.
Here is just an anecdote that I thought I should share: a few months ago, my 90-year-old grandfather was diagnosed with lymphoma. As he lives in France, it took him only two weeks to see an oncologist once he had consulted his GP. He started the first campaign of chemotherapy a couple of days later. As he lives in a small village, a taxi was picking him up and waiting for him every time he had to go to the hospital. He didn’t have to pay a cent, it was all taken care of. After six rounds of chemotherapy, he is in remission, and I am pleased to say that he is doing well. He was even able to meet his newborn great-granddaughter. I am deeply grateful that he received such a fantastic care. I hate to think that, had he lived in the UK, things might have been different. I even remember one of the top doctors of this country saying that he wanted to deny cancer drugs to the elderly, because it was a huge burden on the NHS. When did showing a bit of compassion become a weakness? I wonder. In this instance I am incredibly proud to be French.
As for being lazy, the productivity of the French is amongst the best in Europe. The high unemployment rate is mainly due to restrictive labour laws (once you are in, you are in, and jobs for life are still up for grabs).
In short, I urge all French bashers to get a life. They completely miss the mark. Some of them might have been rejected by a a French girl when they were younger. Don’t take it out on us, Love!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Where Do I Go From here?

Where do I belong? I don’t really know. I would like to be able to say that I am a ‘citizen of the world’, but the sad reality is that I am still very French, and becoming more British by the day. How can I tell? Well, little by little, I started to notice some changes in me. It came gradually, and I didn’t see it at first. But here it is: I am going native. And I have identified the main signs of going native. Please reassure me and tell me I am not the only one. I am being brutally honest here…
1. I keep criticising the tabloid press but can’t help having a look at the Dailymail online every day. Especially during my lunch. I know. But, you see, I am telling it as it is;

2. I love having eggs and bacon for breakfast. No more croissants for me, thank you very much. Because when I have eggs for breakfast, I don’t have this pang of hunger at 11 am. See, maybe I was born to be British;
3. I don’t judge any more. OK, let’s be frank: I judge less. If I see female friends with huge granny pants, Spanx, Visible Panty Line, or even without any underwear under the yoga pants, I don’t say a word. Who am I to judge? If it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad, right? That said, if I see a guy wearing a suit and sport socks, I still judge him immediately. I told you, I am still French. Or maybe it is just a classic case of double standard?
4. I tend to forget my coat at home. I used to be tightly wrapped up all the time, but not anymore. Maybe I got used to the British weather. What a shocker!
5. When something has gone pear-shaped, like, for instance, it is pouring during a birthday party in the park, I tend to say that it could be worse. ” At least it isn’t snowing, right?”. I don’t know where this is coming from, I must admit. But here it is.
6. The other day, I went to buy my Sunday newspapers. I gave the money to my newsagent, and said something like “Here you are, Darling!”. That’s it, it has happened: I have called someone Darling. In a completely innocent way, for the record.
7. When I travel to Paris, I am disappointed not to find a Pret or a coffee shop at every corner of the street. Having a coffee in a French bar has become a depressing experience. When did it all happen?
8. When I was growing up, in France, one of my treats was Pepito biscuits. Now I talk about Digestives. Times have changed.
9. I want to text my French friends in English. It is just easier. Sometimes I even do it. The words come to me in English. I hope that I am not losing my mind!
10. I seem to start all my sentences by ‘Sorry’ or ‘Excuse-me’. What is going on?

So, what’s next? Are such changes normal? I am starting to worry now.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London