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Someone Loves Unwrapping Presents
As you know, I am an online ambassador for ActionAid UK. I am therefore taking part in their Christmas Campaign. I hope that, during the preparation of the festivities, you will spare a thought and possibly some money for the many children all around the world whose basic needs are not met. I am talking about going to school, having enough food, or getting medical care. Nothing too fancy, really. To be clear, I am not talking about having the latest Frozen outfit or Lego’s Cave.  If you can help, please donate here: Here are a few questions suggested by ActionAid and my responses:
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to become an architect to build houses all over the world. Well, things didn’t happen as planned, but I eventually became a project manager. Instead of building houses, I started my career delivering trains to Transport Operating Companies all over the world. It was good fun, but I couldn’t keep up with the traveling when I started a family. I had to reinvent myself.

How did you envision the future as a child, what did you think it would be like? How is it different?
I grew up in a small village in Provence. To me, Provence was the centre of the universe. I thought that I would stay there forever, and that nothing existed outside of my small circle, let alone outside of France. I also thought that happiness and money were natural, and all you had to do to get some was to help yourself from a big pot on the kitchen table. At the time, I felt like I was set for life. Well, I was wrong.
My parents divorced, and the whole episode was quite nasty. I had to leave my beloved Provence and move abroad, which was a heart-breaking decision. Putting down roots in London was a massive change, and living here is still a steep learning curve. Although it sounds like a cliche, the divorce completely rocked my world. I became even more independent, and promised myself that I would never rely on anyone to become who I wanted to be. I mellowed a bit over time but remained fiercely independent. Maybe some things are not meant to change.
What piece of advice would you give to your 10-year-old self?
Keep doing what you are doing: you don’t know it, but you are doing great. Oh, and be nicer to your younger brother, he is lovely.
What role does food play in your family?
We all love food. For Christmas, I am trying to perpetuate a childhood tradition: the 13 desserts. We usually have them on Christmas Eve and, before you ask, you only need to have a little bit of each dessert. It is funny to do it outside of Provence but hey, it is a global world, right?
What about you ? What is Christmas for you?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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It is all over the newspapers today: we French women are quite competitive. I am no exception. OK, I will go straight to the point: I need to be reassured. Right here. Right now. Let me explain: Valerie Trierweiler, the scorned ex-First Lady of France, is on the cover of this Saturday’s Times magazine.

I am gutted. It is all going downhill from here, right?

First of all, I think that I look better than her. Please tell me that I look better. Then, I think that it is totally unfair that she has such an advantage simply because she slept with the French president. Because I never have. And I never will. We have an expression in French ‘S’il etait dans mon lit, j’irais dormir dans la baignoire’, which translates as ‘if he was in my bed, I would sleep I the bathtub’. That’s exactly how I feel about Mr Hollande. I simply don’t understand what women see in him.

As much as I agree that she has been treated appallingly, the whole story is, after all, a common one. Of course, the President behaved like boor and a liar. And an amateur: some of my French friends believe that his main mistake was to get caught. That said, at the end of the day, he dumped her for a younger actress. Yawn. Something similar happened to a couple of acquaintances of mine and it didn’t make the headlines. The French way to get her revenge would have been to publicly go out with a toy boy and leave proudly. The fact that she completely broke down is at the same time touching and incredibly naive. I am of two minds about what she went through. Because what goes around comes around, right? After all, she was the mistress before becoming the girlfriend, and everybody knows that when a man officialise his relationship with his mistress, it creates a vacancy. Having said this, it was a very public humiliation, and I suppose that we can’t fully comprehend the magnitude of his betrayal. In short, it is a sad and slightly sordid story with no hero and no villain.

There is a happy ending for her: the affair allowed her to get a great publishing deal, and the publicity that she is getting is simply amazing. Would people be interested in knowing how my heart got broken when I was younger? I seriously doubt it. Damn it. I will never understand how these things work. 

Today, I wanted to set the record  straight: I don’t like it when women get famous because of the men they have relationships (or one-night stands) with. It must be the old feminist in me. Because, come on, I am sure that she is more than a scorned girlfriend. Could we please talk about what she has achieved rather than her sex life? Oh, and I didn’t sleep with anyone to be on the cover. Just saying. 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Me, 42. Picture by Alejandra Moral & make-up/hair by Anastasia Parquet

As much as I try to deny it, I am turning 42 by the end of the year. Sigh. The thing is, I feel 15 in my head. And I have never felt better. But the sad reality is that, just like everybody else, I am not getting any younger. My energy levels are not the same: after a  couple of weeks spent caring for the whole family and the business while hubby is away, I am knackered. The good news is that I look less like a monkey because of Jasmin, the lovely lady who threaded my growing moustache and shaped my thick eyebrows. But the bags under my eyes seem to be here to stay, and it doesn’t feel good. And who said acne is just for teenagers? I seem to have started a competition with my older daughter on that one –she is actually better than me at covering the pimples with foundation. Damn it-. To make matters even worse, I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted without putting on weight. Well, not any more. And the last time I had a haircut, we removed 25 grey hairs. Against only two not so long ago. Life is cruel. And it keeps getting worse. Seriously, why?

It is time to face the music: I need to upgrade my maintenance regime. But is it really worth it? Should I try to fight the ageing process or just embrace it, and not care about the way I look? I sometimes wonder. What is the point of going to the gym more often, of making sure that I stick to the right diet, and spend forever at the hair salon? I will get older anyway. In short, it is a fight that I am bound to lose. So why bother? Why am I so vain? Well, maybe because I am French. So here it is: I won’t give up. The best is yet to come. And to prove my point, I seem to be spending my time doing photo shoots and castings…I can’t tell you more, it is all hush hush at this stage, but watch this space.

The thing is, I know that I have to be careful. There is a tsunami of divorces amongst my friends, and I would like to remain happily married as long as possible. Which probably means that I have to make an effort (So unjust: men look sexier and more mature with grey hair, women just look older. That said, all this running has paid off, my tummy is much, much flatter than before, and I feel great).

Guys are so lucky: do you know how much it hurts to wax your legs, underarms and…the rest? Do you really?  We women all pretend that it is fine, and we are used to it but it doesn’t make it a nice experience, just a very common one.

So here it is: I am a fighter and will not let myself get defeated by a silly number. No matter what. Things will continue to get better. I will never be a has-been, and always a will-be. Because that’s the way it is. Just like good wine, I seem to get better with age.
And that’s what I will keep telling myself. What about you, how to you cope with getting older?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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First Mince Pie of the year…Yummy!

It might have something to do with age, but I find that small things make me incredibly happy. It can be anything, really: a smile, a nice message from a friend, the first mince pie of the year, a beautiful dress (it must be my French side) or a run along the Serpentine (well, not today obviously, because it is pouring again). But here it is: nowadays I seem to be easier to please.
Just yesterday, I was asked  whether I was training for a marathon (I am so not, I just jog to stay in reasonable shape). The question simply made my day. It made me feel like a pro.

The thing is, some of my friends are not like me. As in, not at all. I recently caught up with one of them, and she spent the whole time in tears because her husband is away on a business trip for three weeks. She was so sad. I tried to reassure her as best as I could. It was all going to be ok, she should focus on her children and relax a bit. It didn’t work. She couldn’t stop crying. It went like this:
‘-I miss him’ -sob sob sob
I gave her a tissue. She blew her nose noisily.
‘-what am I going to doooooo?’
‘-I miss him’ sob sob sob. Here we go again. Bring on the tissues. This is a tad boring.

I stopped talking, because there was no point. To be honest , I felt a bit miffed because my husband is also constantly traveling, and I simply got used to it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it, but I don’t make a big deal out of it, even if it means that I have to manage life’s mishaps and catastrophes on my own sometimes (for instance, flat tyre last weekend). Just saying. I am trying to be an independent woman. No need for emotional clutches. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. And it seems to be working.
Once my friend had gone, I made myself a cup of tea (my British side must have taken over). I started thinking: why are we so different? Why, in similar situations, can one person be happy, and the next so utterly miserable? When did we make the choice to pull ourselves together, or to start indulging in self-pity? How did we decide it? Why did it work out just fine for some of us and not so well for the others?
I have no clue. I can’t help thinking that we do have a choice and that it is up to us to decide how we react to various situations, but I might be out of whack.

What do you think? What makes you happy? Do we have a choice? Just wondering.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Today is Remembrance Day. All over the world, we recall the end of the hostilities of World War I and subsequent conflicts. WW1 started exactly 100 years ago. In London, poppies are everywhere to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. I used to wonder why poppies were used in such a way, because in France there are no poppies for Remembrance Day. I was explained that it was because of a poem, “In Flanders Fields”, by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John Mc Crae. Apparently, poppies were the first flowers to grow near the soldiers graves, in Flanders. Well, I will never see poppies the same way again, that’s for sure.

100 years can seem like a long time. That said, I believe that it takes at least three generations to recover from war atrocities. 100 years is probably just about the time it takes for families to be finally at peace. The past is always ready to catch up with you sometimes. And it can happen in unexpected ways.
For me, it was a few years ago, when I found out that the WW1 French army archives were online. In a few clicks, I found the death certificates of the two brothers of my great-grandfather.
They were all coming from the same small village in Provence. Gabriel and Louis died within weeks of each other, in August 1916. One hadn’t started a family yet, the other had just got married and his wife was pregnant. The remaining brother, Felicien, came back with half a leg missing. He ended up marrying his brother’s widow and bringing up the baby, my grandmother’s brother, as his own. Then they had my grandmother.
Felicien eventually died in 1941, during the restrictions of WW2. Today, I think about my great uncles who died in Verdun, aged 24 and 26. They were so young, and so far from their small village. I don’t even know where they were laid to rest. Gabriel was killed in action. Louis died of his wounds in a hospital.  I don’t think that it is possible to fathom what they must have gone through. I take some comfort in the fact that life in the trenches was so incredibly difficult that maybe, just maybe, their untimely death ended their suffering. 

I am fully aware that such stories are by no means rare: in France, most families lost at least a loved one in WW1 (There were 1,7m casualties).

Today, here we are, thinking of all the ones who died. I sometimes wonder how we got to be so fortunate. Who decides and why? After all, had we been born in a different time, it could have been us.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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The Dress I Bought…

Maybe it has something to do with being French. Maybe it has something to do with being me. But here it is: I am always in love. Always. For the record, I am not talking about romantic love here: as most of you know, I have been happily married for, like, a century,   and contrary to all the cliches on the French keeping one man (and a couple of children) happy more than fills up my days. That said, I can totally fall in love with a nice smile, a child, a relative I haven’t seen for ages, a British painter or a long-lost friend. I can also fall in love with something: it can be a witty word, a book, a place, a necklace or even an app. So here it is: right now I am madly in love with a dress I saw on a catalogue, and yes it is vain but I can’t get it out of my head. Argh….

When I was younger, a boyfriend dumped me for not being cynical enough. He was of the opinion that becoming more cynical was a normal part of getting older. So sad, right? French men have the reputation of being philanderers. Who would have thought that they could be killjoys too? But he was wrong. I never became cynical. And I don’t want to. I moved on, and I kept being in love. Because that’s who I am. I must admit that I googled him the other day, and becoming more cynical has definitively make him less good-looking (and that’s actually a British understatement). I knew it. I was right all along.

Whatever we do, I think that we must be passionate. Of course I sometimes get disappointed. So what? I fall on my bum (not literally, obviously) and stand up again. Should I change? I sometimes wonder. It is tiring to be like this, but the alternative doesn’t really appeal to me. Why should I become cold-hearted and bitter? I just can’t. It’s not me.

Maybe all the cliches on the French woman are right after all: we are all about passion. We kick asses. We haven’t forgotten the power of femininity. Why did I want to debunk all the myths again? Silly me. Tonight I will happily admit that I am still very French.

And oh, I bought the dress. I just had to. A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do, right?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Marseille, Old harbour

My journey back to London was more eventful than initially thought. I had to catch a plane from Marseille airport, which is quite far from my small village on the Mediterranean. The traffic was of course terrible, but, me being me, I was more than two hours in advance anyway.
Once arrived at the airport, we sat down to grab a bite and started eating. I remember thinking that the airport looked empty compared to Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.
Then, suddenly, when we were almost finished, we were given a paper saying that the staff at the restaurant was not happy with their salaries. My daughter asked me what the paper was about, and I tried to explain it to her.
A few minutes later, we head loud whistles and people tooting. A group has entered the airport: it was the staff of the restaurant, and they were starting a strike. There and then, before our very eyes.

The paper That Started It All

My daughter was bewildered. I explained to her that striking was a national sport in France, and that on top of this Marseille was probably the unofficial capital of strikes. After all, Marseille had experienced spectacular bin men strikes. The city was stinking for weeks on end, and huge rats were crossing the streets as a result. The situation was so unbearable that local residents started burning the rubbish on the streets. I am not sure that my little one felt reassured by my explanations. I was just trying to illustrate my point.
Shortly afterwards, the security teams started to follow the protesters. The police joined them eventually, and a chase ensued all over the arrival hall. I felt like I was in the middle of the action. It was hilarious. The group of strikers kept going outside and coming back, and every time they ended up running one after another and running around.

Things calmed down eventually. We went upstairs to board our plane. In London, everything was quiet and uneventful, which was nice. You have to give it us: nobody strikes like the French. Nobody.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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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