I will always remember my first day at work in London. At about 10 o’clock, I heard a bell. It took me a while to understand what was happening. A trolley was in the corridor. All my colleagues stood up and started queuing. The trolley man was in fact selling snacks like Mars bars, crisps and bacon sandwiches. Everybody had gone to buy something. I couldn’t move. This is because I wasn’t used to snacking between meals. I wasn’t hungry anyway. It must be a French thing, but we just don’t snack. In fact, come to think of it, snacking is looked down upon. Imagine my surprise when the very same trolley came again, fully re-filled, in the middle of the afternoon. To cut a long story short, on top of all their (already copious) meals, all my colleagues were having at least two snacks a day. No wonder most of them were overweight.
The weird thing was that some of my colleagues were also exercising during their lunch break or at the end of the day. But as soon as they had finished their workouts, they were having a couple of sandwiches and a chocolate bar. I started wondering what the whole point of exercising was. But they clearly didn’t see it the same way.
When something annoys me, I wait for a while to see if it still bugs me after some time. In this case, it did. What am I talking about? Celia Walden’s article on the seven lessons in the art of being a French woman (published on The Telegraph here). I didn’t understand what we French women had done to deserve this. Maybe it was as simple as having a strong French accent. Or being French-born. Seriously, what is it with this obsession with French women? It seems to me that such an obsession shows a close relationship with psychotic processes, and says more about perceived British shortcomings rather than how we French (if there is such a thing as ‘we French’) truly are. I have been told countless times that I shouldn’t complain because the myths on French women are considered to be positive, but try being taken seriously in a technical job when everybody else holds the belief that you are a glamorous creature who preys on unsuspecting British men at night. A myth, positive or not, remains a falsehood. And for the record, I am so tired at night that I tend to sleep, just like most mothers, come to think of it. Surprising, right? I know, I know.
I have tried countless times to correct false beliefs, but quickly realised that it didn’t work. In fact, things became even worse. I noticed that, when I was trying to give some fact-based evidence to my interlocutors that they were completely wrong about the French, it entrenched their pre-existing positions. Truth be told, it was backfiring on me in a massive way, and I was getting even more personal comments like ‘all French men have a mistress and your husband probably has one, whether you like it or not’ (don’t you love it when people know your life even better than you do?) or ‘French women are such sluts’ (Really? What did I do again?)
Following the success of the first chapter or Carine and Archie’s love story (read it here), I have decided to share with you the second chapter of the novel today. You need to keep in mind that I have submitted this story to various publishers, only to be told that they expected Carine to be nicer (who said French women were perfect?), some wanted me to ‘tone it down’ (a recurrent feedback I have), and everybody wanted more ‘Oooh la la’. In short, I couldn’t get it right. Well, here we are. Tell me what you think, and we will adjust as we go along.
The second chapter is all about Carine and Archie met…Here we go!
Chapter 2: Two years earlier…
Mum is going to marry in London this time. Marriage number four. I am seriously bored of mum’s numerous adventures. As a dutiful daughter, I have come from Paris to London and I am starting to regret it. I am twenty-six now, and I feel far more adult than her.
We meet in a cafe at lunchtime for a quick catch-up and after a latte I am swiftly brought to a studio in one of the Barbican towers. I thought that I would hang around with Mum but suddenly realise that I do not belong to her inner circle of friends any longer. In fact, I don’t know my own mother. The view over London is stunning. But I am literally surrounded by concrete and I can’t stand it. It is suffocating. The wedding is starting shortly. Maybe I should go back to Paris. After all, I can hail a black cab and jump to St Pancras. I could be back to France in no time. And miss this charade. It is exactly what I am going to do. My bags are still untouched anyway. I have finally made up her mind: I must go. I quickly open the studio door. .
What I haven’t anticipated is that someone is walking down the corridor. I haven’t seen him. My bags bump into him, full frontal shock.
Today I have a guest post written just for you by Paddy Davy, whom I met on Twitter (you can get his updates here). Paddy is a talented chef (just look at the pictures if you need any convincing) who wants to create a brand of traditional rural pubs that offer excellence in food and service. If you want to support his venture, please visit Leclere Taverns. I really think that he is on to something!
To top everything up, Paddy is a Francophile. Of course he is. And he has created a version of bourride with a British twist just for you! I like it so much that I think I will try it on next time I have guests at home. Read on, and enjoy!
I don’t know where I belong any more. What can I say? I am a citizen of the world. We landed yesterday morning from New York, and it was Bastille day. This means that nobody was working in France, but of course in London it was business as usual. Except that we all fell asleep on the sofa at some point.
I always feel a bit homesick on Bastille day. As in, a bit out of sync. There is no reason as to why I do, it’s just the way it is. In fact, it is not even clear what it is we French celebrate on 14th of July: is it the Storming of the Bastille on 14th of July of 1789 or the Fete de la Federation which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790? Nobody knows.
In order to get rid of the blues, I went to Brasserie Zedel to celebrate the 14th of July. They had invited me, and I had never been. To cut a long story short, Brasserie Zedel offers you a 3-course meal on Bastille day if you come wearing a beret and a stripy T-shirt. They do the same in January for the ‘galette des rois’ but you have to wear a crown. I felt a bit too old for this, and went with my LBD. They still invited me. Phew! Fashion faux pas averted.
Bloody jet lag. I was tossing and turning in the hotel bed, and I ended up checking the time. 5 o’clock. Damn it. What to do? New York was still dark. I stood up and decided to prepare myself a coffee. I gulped down a few cereals – I had fallen asleep shortly after 6pm yesterday, and I was famished. I started thinking. What I badly needed was a run. Not a fast run, just a run to live and breathe New York. There was no two ways about it. I needed to go. The day was slowly starting, and the light was peeking through at the top and the bottom of the curtains. Mechanically, I started to put on my running gear. Me being me, I was a bit scared. I have always had second thoughts before starting a run. Especially in the morning. Today was no exception. This wasn’t any run: I was in new York! Was Central Park safe? What if I got lost? I squeezed 20$ in my pocket. And what if it was too warm? Or too cold? Would I need my sunglasses? I tried to shut up my inner voices. Come on, let’s jog in central Park today.
I shouldn’t have worried. Our hotel was on 8th Avenue, close to Time Square, and I started running. Jogging in New York was nothing short of incredible. If, like me, you think that the first 10 to 15 minutes of a run are excruciating, then you totally need to go to New York. You run along a block, and then you stop to cross the road. You have no choice but to wait a few seconds to recover, and you can begin to run again. Somehow it made the much-dreaded start of my run a lot easier. It was 6 o’clock and New York was already in full swing, with cohorts of tourists already walking the pavement. The various smells of the city surprised me: there was a smell of warm bins first, quickly followed by a smell of bleach. Yes, bleach. Yellow taxis were waving at me, trying to convince me that I needed a ride. Of course I didn’t. I reached Columbus Circus in no time, and quickly saw that all of New York was already walking, running or cycling in Central Park. I started to run clockwise. The buildings had vanished, I was in a forest. I had gone from urban jungle to a completely different world, full of grass and trees, and everything had happened in the space of a few seconds. It was like science fiction. There were already plenty of runners of all shapes and ages. I quickly learned that, in New York, you don’t look at each other. You don’t greet each other. You just run. You run and let run. And it was impossible to get lost, because there is a dedicated lane for runners. I just had to follow the flow. I was never alone for more than 5 seconds. Oh, and like in my good old home country (France), you ran on the right. Yep, we were not in London any more…
Foreword: this post is sponsored by Return To Glory
If you want to look French, you have to get your make-up right. And, if, like me, you are not very patient, well, it can be a bit of a challenge. That said, fear not, we French women are very good at using a minimalist approach as far as make-up is concerned. It is all about looking fresh and natural, and less is definitively more. For instance, it is either the lips or the eyes. Not both. I told you already. And I rarely spend more than ten minutes on my make-up. My excuse is that I don’t want to overdo it…and I am sticking to it!
That said, if you go for the eyes, then you have no choice but to master the smokey eyes. Nothing looks more French than a good smokey eyes. The beauty of the smokey eyes is that I find it incredibly easy, especially compared to other very defined alternatives. And if the result appears a bit messy, well, it is all part of the dramatic effect that you want to create. What’s not to like?
So, here is how I do it…And it has got me a lot of attention. A bit too much sometimes, if you ask me. I hope it will work for you too. Keep me posted!
Today I need a bit of help. I found an old manuscript I wrote a couple of years ago, and I think that it has some potential (I spent most of the night reading it, if you must know). It is a love story between a (far from perfect) French girl, and a (very) British man. Following various Twitter exchanges, I have named him Archie. Here is the first chapter. It is supposed to explore all the cliches…in a funny & sometimes provocative way. Tell me what you think…
Oh, and I came across a great initiative by the talented Arnaud: if you want to brush up your French skills and enjoy good food, check Arnaud’s Language Kitchen. He is starting a supper club on Bastille day in Marylebone, London. Email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further info.
It is lucky. Really lucky. I can leave work early for once. My boring business meeting has been cancelled and I won’t have to go through my bloody PowerPoint presentation on European building regulations. I am looking forward to a nice calm evening at home with my English boyfriend, Archie and my little one, Alexandra.
But first, I need to pick her up at the nursery. Alexandra has settled in well, and she seems happy there. I push the front door. The receptionist, once again, doesn’t recognise me. She sees me most days. How silly can you be? I really wonder sometimes.
“ I am here to pick up my daughter Alexandra”
“ Oh yes, I remember you now. Sorry, you look so… um …young. You French women always look good, even after having kids.”
She sighs heavily.
She checks me out from head to toe. What she probably means is “You look so skinny”. I feel like slapping her right across her fat British face. I am about to say ‘how about cutting down on bacon sandwiches every morning? It might save your stool from breaking under the weight of your bulging bum!’. I just smile and mutter an unconvinced “Thank you”.
Nowadays it is all about social media. I am often asked how I manage my Twitter/Instagram/Facebook page. Well, let me be honest here: it is a time-consuming task, but I think that I am addicted to it. And it is a real job. The beauty of social media, in my case, is that I can go on my phone during what I call my ‘dead times’. For instance, I might be French but I hate being late. This means that I tend to tweet at the school gates, while waiting for my children, or before a meeting. I tweet when I am queuing at the post office. On the bus. At the supermarket. Everywhere. The real question is, in fact, why I keep doing it. I should get help. In fact, I am considering it. Why?
Well, in no particular order, I have been accused of buying followers (I haven’t. I just follow back), of being too pushy in promoting my blog (so what?), of making spelling mistakes (who doesn’t? And my excuse is that I am French anyway) and of being a fake (really? Let me share a little secret with you: I am not a fake. And I happen to be silicone-free. I am far from being perfect, but there is nothing fake in me. Absolutely nothing). I have been trolled, blocked and reported. I have had love declarations, inappropriate pictures and intimate life stories shared with me. It just never stops.
Since I started blogging, I have received lots of invitations for various events and openings. Some look interesting, others, well, not so much (and some are way off limits, if you must know). This one caught my eyes. No, it wasn’t about some fancy restaurant launch. It was organised by British Gas, and it was about Women In Engineering. You see, I happen to be an Engineer by background, and I had to study hardcore science subjects such as Quantum Physics to become what I am. I still do the occasional job reviewing technical notes, and I manage my construction projects myself (not as easy as it sounds, there is some water resistance and strength of materials involved). I was curious. Had things changed? Was it any easier to be a women in engineering nowadays? Memories started coming back to me. When I moved to Paris after my baccalaureate to start university, I remember that my bras were stolen from the tumble dryer by a male class mate. I found them a few days later on the class door. Lovely, right? So thoughtful and subtle…We were 3 girls out of 50, if my memory serves me well.
But I digress. So, were things any different this side of the Channel?