This country never ceases to amaze me. I was reading the newspapers, and found out that Michael Fallon had resigned as defence secretary. In his letter of resignation, he said:
‘ …I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we required of the Armed Forces…’
I am going to react the French way for once: WTF? Where do they find these people?
When you read this statement, it almost sounds innocuous, right? It is as if he had behaved pretty well, but still not well enough. Poor Darling. It’s almost as if he was the victim. Too much was expected from him. Dear oh dear. Well I, for one, will not shed any tears.
Let me rewind a little bit: do you remember the MP expense scandal? No? Well let me refresh your memory; according to The Daily Telegraph, Fallon claimed for mortgage repayments on his Westminster flat in their entirety. MPs were only allowed to claim for interest charges. Instead of profusely apologising (which was, in my view, the only decent thing to do), what did he do? Well, you couldn’t make it up: he said “Why has no one brought this to my attention before?”. Seriously? Did I miss something here? Don’t you see a pattern of arrogance ? Or is it just me?
So why did he resign? In pure British style, we will probably only ever know a small part of the facts. We are told that ‘Allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been swirling around Westminster since the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal encouraged women to speak out about their experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.’, according to The Guardian.
I might be a French woman, but I hate being late. That said, I am the exception rather than the rule. In my home country, it is generally right to be around 15 minutes late. The reason is that we French people expect it and if you arrive on time then we will still be in the middle of preparing. That’s just the way we are.
But times are changing. I, for one, am pleased with the various hashtags #metoo and #balancetonporc -literally ‘expose your pig’, the French equivalent of #metoo. Frankly, I thought that it was long overdue. Truth be told, I had come to accept that some harassment/bullying was acceptable when you were a woman, or simply when you were perceived to be the weaker party. Just to be clear, I believe that abuse concerns anyone, men and women. It’s not a question of gender; it’s a question of power. What am I talking about exactly? Well, I have lost count of the number of times my choices were judged, my opinions disregarded, my salary lower than my male colleagues, my appearance commented upon, unwanted advice was given, my back/lower back was patted, and so on, and so forth. There were also some more serious things that I will not write about, because it’s my choice not to. When I dared mention something, I was made to feel like I was the one without any sense of humour/morality. After all, it wasn’t that bad, was it? And I was far from being perfect, right? Come on, boys will be boys… In short, once again, put up and shut up.
Do you know what the three secret ingredients of French cuisine are?
Well, here it is: butter, butter and butter.
And guess what: as a result of soaring popularity of the dairy product and pastries abroad, my home country faces a massive butter shortage. Dipping your croissant in your cup of coffee might become the ultimate luxury pretty soon. What happened? How did we get there? Is it the end of the world as we know it?
Well, let me tell you something first: if you are familiar with this blog, you know that I am from Provence. In short, I am more into olive oil than butter. That’s just me. I am told that, if I were from Brittany, I would see things in a different light and become very depressed. But fear not: I am fine. Our olive trees seem to be in good shape, and my father even told me that we would get more olive oil than last year. All is well and we will survive.
When I say that I run ultra marathons, one of the first questions I get is usually along the following lines:
‘But what do you think about when you run for such a long time? Isn’t it boring?’
The truth is that it’s so hard that I don’t think. I just put one foot in front of the other as best as I can, and thinking would be an unwelcome distraction. It’s all about sparing my mental energy.
This weekend, this simple strategy worked again. What happened? I realised a childhood dream: I ran the Canyon De Chelly ultra marathon in Arizona. Running this race was one of the main reasons I started training. I also vividly remember a substitute teacher who taught our class when I was about seven. He was passionate about Native Americans and told us about the Apaches, the Navajo code breakers, Geronimo and the Wounded Knee massacre. It stuck. In fact, I can still remember the tune we learned about life in Arizona.
Fast forward almost 40 years (time flies right?), and here I was, trying to be part of the race a thousand miles away from London, and managing to get in despite the crashing website. It only dawned on me a few weeks later: I was in. Me being me, I immediately started organising the logistics. I was supposed to go with a friend of mine, and possibly our respective husbands. But life happened, and as the start date was approaching it was only me who could go. Frankly, I thought about dropping out. Because, you see, it wasn’t just a race: I actually had to go to Chinley. It was an expedition. The only way was to fly to Phoenix and then rent a car to drive 500 km to the place where the race started. The thing was, I didn’t really like driving and I had never driven in the US. What to do?
I don’t know if it’s my French side, but I hate surprises. I plan like mad. I don’t like the unexpected. Things must be neat, and controlled. Why? Well, because life is already full of surprises, and as a result I like to control what I can. So here it is: I am a control freak.
Maybe I am not that French after all, because I have heard at least a million times that French women are always late, don’t apologise and enjoy the flattery. Well, my British side has clearly taken over then. For instance: I hate being late. I am the sort of person who will text you if I might (and only might) be two minutes late. That’s just me, I suppose. As for waiting, well, I simply can’t stand it. It’s fair to say that Twitter saved my life: I tweet when I wait. That’s how I ended up tweeting all the time, I suppose!
As for not apologising and enjoying the flattery, hmmm…once again, my British side has taken over: I say sorry all the time. yes, even when I am not sorry. The other day I managed to say sorry to a lamp post I had accidentally bumped into (ouch).
Sorry, but today I am going to rant a bit. After all, I am not French for nothing, right?
So here it is: I know I shouldn’t be scared, that life goes on, and so on, and so forth, but I can’t help it, I am scared. Worse: I feel like a sitting duck.
I walk or run all the time. I take the Tube, the bus and the train. My kids do too. I used to feel reasonably safe in London, but not any more. In fact, I feel like an easy target. I have read everywhere that terrorism remains a negligible risk, that I am more likely to be struck by lightning than to be the victim of a terrorist attack, and that we are probably just more aware of terrorism, which is why we feel the hurt and the pain more. But still, I am scared. Truth be told, the recent attacks in the UK and in France haven’t helped. As for what just happened in Las Vegas, I don’t think that I have fully processed it yet. It’s just too much.
Instead of explaining to me about probabilities and other rational arguments, hear this: on 7th of July 2005 I was on the tube. I was just coming back from maternity leave. I had to be evacuated. I was lucky: I wasn’t on the train that was bombed, but it was a close call. What do probabilities mean when you are in the middle of an attack? I’ll tell you at once: it means nothing. I just felt lucky to be alive and see my baby at the end of the day.
It’s all over the French press, and to a lesser extent the anglo-saxon press. Our French President Emmanuel Macron wants French expats to come back to France. Yep, you read this right. Whether he actually means what he said remains to be seen.
He had already mentioned something similar back in February, so no surprise here. More recently, he made an appearance in front of hundreds of French citizens who have made a new home for themselves in the US, and proudly told them France was now the “land of conquest”. He wanted expats to go back to our home country to “innovate, seek, and teach”. Yeah right. Why am I not convinced?
I started to think long and hard about the opportunity to go back to France, and came to the conclusion that no, it’s not for me. First of all, to me Macron’s statement is simply an opportunistic move, capitalising on the Trump and Brexit effects, nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, his efforts to revamp France’s image are laudable, but I am afraid it’s far too late for me. Becoming an expat is a deeply personal choice, and I think that after four or five years you turn a corner. Coming back becomes more difficult, if not impossible, especially when you have kids. And it’s all nice and well to want expats to come back, but what’s in it for them? Unemployment and jealousy ? Thanks, but I’ll pass on this one. To cut a long story short, I would find it really challenging to come back. Here is why:
There is a darker side to London than meets the eye. What am I talking about? Well, here it is: the pattern of anti-female bias across my adoptive city is, in my view and despite many well-meaning speeches and initiatives, disturbingly insidious and still going strong.
Look: I’m baking! I am such a good girl, right?
Obviously, there is an unwritten rule forbidding any self-respecting female saying that we live in a sexist world because it makes you at best a difficult women, a feminist, or even worse, a feminazi. Enough is enough. The proportion of female senior executives remains ridiculously low, and the same can be said for management boards and for non-executives. As for excuses, well, I have heard them all before: ‘There is nothing stopping women from getting these jobs. Why do they complain all the time?’ Well, darling, first try juggling a household and childcare with a career involving responsibilities and long hours. Add into the equation, in my case, a husband who travels all the time. Maybe then you’ll understand what I am talking about. That said, you probably won’t, because apparently the right way to deal with these things is to brush them under the carpet. Dear oh dear, what are you on about? The wife/mother/girlfriend in the family is the glue that holds everything together, right? She is there to put up or shut up. Preferably shut up. Calm down, dear.
As you may have noticed, I am a nomad at heart. This year, I am going to realise a long standing dream of mine: I am going to run in the Navajo Nation. It will be my very own Arizona dream come true. What can I say? I might be French, but I am also a citizen of the world!
When I was a child, I loved learning about Native Americans. For instance, we were taught about Geronimo, and I was imagining arid plains and wild horses. What would it be like to hunt buffalos and other animals? Every day, if I were living there, we would pick fruits and seeds. We would not be interested in settling down in a permanent community, we would just travel and enjoy life!
Now that I am going to experience it, it feels a bit like going back in time, and I can’t wait.
What will I do there? Well, I will run an ultra marathon of course. Which one? One of the most beautiful and exclusive ones: the Canyon de Chelley Ultra (http://www.canyondechellyultra.com). I am a bit worried, because we are going to start running in sand, cross streams, and then apparently there will be a ‘technical climb’ to go on top of the Canyon -and then we do it all over again on the way back. As I train in London, I think that I might find the conditions a bit challenging. Let’s just say that it’s going to be an interesting race (did you hear the British understatement ?).
This expression, as I am sure you know, is borrowed from French. Literally, it means ‘Long live the difference!’. In truth, we French don’t use it that much (if at all). In fact, once again, I think of ‘Vive la difference’ as a British idiom, even if the words are French. What can I say? Life is incredibly complicated.
Let’s go back to the definition, shall we? ‘Vive la difference!’ is an expression of approval of difference, especially between the sexes. When I hear it reminds me to appreciate the uniqueness of everyone and everything. Of course variety is great!! Embrace it. Don’t be afraid of it.
Well, that’s the theory, right? The reality is, indeed, different (pun intended!). Why is is so hard to be different, even if it’s just a little bit? I really wonder. But let’s face it, it’s bloody hard.
For instance, what is it with this obsession with the French First lady, Brigitte Macron? I read yet another article on how her dress was matching her husband’s. Seriously? What can I say? Unlike in France, women in the UK seem to become invisible after a certain age. We French still value mature women, and have timeless icons such as Catherine Deneuve (73 years old), but the British have difficulties in accepting an older French lady. Maybe it is her sense of style? It is more likely her Frenchness, and, let’s face it, there isn’t much she can do about it. She is not going to apologise for who she is anyway. Can’t we just leave her alone?