This post is written in collaboration with Qare, a French telemedicine service in London, and is the start of a new series on the differences between the French healthcare and the NHS.
If, like me, you’re used to the French health system, moving to London will be a steep learning curve. First of all, it can be hard to find a French-speaking doctor. This is where Qare also can help: they set up virtual consultations with doctors -in French, and can refer you to a French doctor in London if need be. I wish I had known about this service when we moved. When you are on your own with a sick kid, things can become very stressful and it’s easy to panic (been there, done it). In France, your physician always listens to you. You’re always given a prescription, a routine examination, and taken seriously. Your symptoms will never be minimised, and if your doctor has the slightest doubt, you’ll be referred for a scan, an X-ray or a blood test. Needless to say, things are slightly different this side of the Channel. The weird thing is that, come to think of it, the health budget is similar in France and in the UK (OK, a bit higher in France, but not massively higher), and life expectancy is, again, very close. So why does it feel so different? I have no idea. But this much I know: for me, it was a whole new experience. Here is why. Let me know if I missed anything. And if you are planning to move here, be prepared! Don’t tell me you have not been warned.
Telemedicine is on the rise and can be the response to French expats’ concern. Picture: consultation with Qare
Over here, the first hurdle, after being registered, is to successfully achieve an appointment. What looks easy in theory is a game of patience and resilience. The line is always busy, and the receptionist will do her utmost to encourage you not to get an appointment, because you’re not sick, are you? In France, I have always managed to get an appointment within 48 hours. After many times calling your practice on speed dial and being hung up on a few times, you might be given a slot, usually two or three days after you need it. Don’t believe it’s the last of the hurdles you’ll have to overcome. It’s just the start.
I am exhausted. The children are going back to school tomorrow and frankly, I can’t wait. I was on the verge of calling the school to ask them whether they could take my daughters back a week earlier. Of course they wouldn’t. Silly French me. When I was growing up, we only had a two-week break for Easter. A two-week break with kids is manageable (well, sort of). But what do you do with a three-and-a-half-week break? You become a tired mum bordering on depression.
Believe me, it’s a steep learning curve. First of all, unless you have got childcare on tap with a nice aunt or grandmother nearby, you have to forget about any chances of having an employed job. No, it’s not happening. In order to have a slight chance of being promoted or having responsibilities, you must be ready to delegate the bringing-up of your children to an army of au-pairs and nannies. That’s the way it is. To make matters even worse, you have to work very hard to make it in London.
The afternoon tea is a great British institution. Come to think of it, it’s actually a way of life. I love it, because, for me, it usually is an excuse to have a glass of champagne in the afternoon. What’s not to like? Obviously you are not supposed to say this, but as I happen to be French, well, I’ll say it as it is. And you know me by now.
OK, I hear you, and now I feel guilty (just a bit). Let’s be politically correct for a paragraph : the afternoon tea is a good time to catch up with friends, and I tend to take all my French friends to have one. It usually breaks the ice. It is said that ‘afternoon tea’ was first introduced to England by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the late 19th century to overcome “that sinking feeling” she felt in the late afternoon (wine o’clock -sorry, I did it again). So began a tradition that has endured throughout the centuries. Today, afternoon tea in some London hotels has become an art form, and sometimes you need to book it months in advance.
That’s it: the path is clear. Article 50 will be triggered on the 29th of March, and the divorce proceedings between the UK and the European Union will finally begin.
In such cases, the potential for things to turn nasty is high. Let’s face it, it will be long and complex. However, the optimistic in me believes that where there is a political will, you can make anything happen. There will be threats on both sides, but if both parties work in good faith I believe that we should get there in the end. Onwards and upwards, as they say over here.
As you may know, I am lucky: I applied for a British passport as soon as I could, and managed the applications of all the family. Yes, it was an expensive process, but for me it was a priority: I didn’t want my children not to be able to come back to the country where they were brought up. It must be said that we were the exception rather than the rule: most of my European friends didn’t bother applying for a passport when they could have. Some of them had been living here for decades, and I am still struggling to understand why they didn’t become British after all this time. I know that some of you disagree, but if staying in the UK was so important, then surely they should have taken every possible precaution to make sure they would be able to stay. Of course EU citizens came to this country because they were legally allowed to do so. It was their right. To me, it was also a privilege. It felt a bit like being able to stay at friends’ house indefinitely. You have their permission to stay, but after a while, the decent thing to do is to get your own place. As my (French) grandmother used to say: ‘My House, My Rules’. And sometimes, rules changed. Anyway, that’s just me. And don’t get me wrong: I feel for fellow European Citizen who haven’t had as much luck as I did.
It’s pancake day today. Before you ask, in France we call it Mardi gras (literally, Fat Tuesday).
Except that this year I can’t stuff my face.
You don’t want to see me smiling with my teeth…
Well, to cut a long story short, I’ve got braces (I know, so un-French, right?), and I have already lost at least one kg (that’s exactly 2.2 lbs for those of you who don’t do kg) in less than 5 days. And no, apparently I can’t have Invisalign or other things, because of what needs to be corrected. Bummer. My mouth feels dry all the time, and I am in a bad mood. I have gone back to baby food, save for the melted dark Belgian chocolate that they sell in my local supermarket (it’s a life saver, and I need to buy another pot). You’ve got to live a little, right?
In short, I don’t like it. I can’t chew, I have a metallic taste in my mouth all the time, and I feel like I can’t run any more (That’s my excuse anyway). To make matters even worse, I need to make pancakes (well, the French version of it) for the whole family, but I am not sure to be able to have some. Damn it. I am seriously considering going on pancake strike. That would be French, wouldn’t it? There is nothing like a good old strike.
As most of you already know, “Pardon my French” or “Excuse my French” is a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising swear words as words from the French language. The phrase is usually used in an attempt to excuse the speaker of profanity, swear words and the likes in the presence of those offended by it, under the pretense of the words being part of a foreign language (French, of course!)
As I happen to be French (what can I say?Nobody is perfect, right?), whenever somebody says ‘Excuse my French’, he/she usually laughs and takes even more pleasure in using the phrase.
Been there. Done it. Don’t find it funny any more. Yawn.
When friends come over to visit London, they keep asking me what they should do and where they should go. My recommendation is always the same: go to a Marks & Spencer store (preferably a big one, like the one on Oxford street or on High Street Kensington). I realise that this sounds a bit unusual. But I am just being pragmatic here. Because in any M&S shop, you will capture the essence of Britishness in one go.
This is what I have explained in my entry on http://www.eurostar.com/fr-fr/week-end-londres (go to the end of the page, then scroll the different bloggers & you’ll see me)!
So why did I choose M&S?
First of all, there is something about the food there. You will find icons such as Colin the caterpillar and Pepa pig sweets. They will have colours and shapes you didn’t even imagine could be edible. You will also find mint sauce, mince pies and Cadbury chocolates. M&S is a all-in-one. Simply put, it’s a concentrate of Britishness.
It’s starting again. The French general election is looming, and I keep receiving emails from far too many candidates essentially saying ‘Vote for me!’
The truth is, I don’t read them any more. It’s like deja-vu all over again. Frankly, I can’t be bothered. I still read French newspapers, but it seems to me that, over the last years, France has remained stuck in its old way, and things are not going to change any time soon.
New ideas seem to emerge, like the basic income (which, as I understand it, means that everybody would receive an unconditional sum of money), and I feel like France, once again, hasn’t changed. It’s all nice and well to give money away, but who is going to finance it? France already has one of the highest tax rates in the world! This would cost c. 25% of France GDP, or over 550 Billions Euros. Where would they come from? The already hard-pressed taxpayers and businesses? Seriously? And what about the culture of entitlement that we are going to perpetuate if this is implemented? Who is going to do the hard work, such as collecting the bins, caring about the elderly, cleaning, stacking the shelves…if it’s easier to sit on the sofa and wait for a guaranteed paycheck? As much as the idea can appeal from a theoretical point of view, I find it completely unrealistic.
It’s this time of the year: tame new year’s resolutions are popping all over the Internet, and I can’t take it any more. Seriously, enough is enough. I am sick and tired of do-gooders advocating (in no particular order) clean eating, virtual kindness and hashtag solidarity. I am a French woman, and I want to be a badass. And I won’t apologise for being who I am. So what will I do this year? Well, I will try to be…myself, warts and all. Because that’s more than enough, right? So what does it mean?
I will not do any detox
Seriously, does anyone believe in detox any more? And what’s wrong with a glass of wine from time to time? Why do we have to detox from all the things we like? Life is to be enjoyed, me thinks.
I will have my cake and eat it.
I love baking anyway. And it’s all about quality over quantity, right? What can be better than a homemade cake? I have read somewhere that clean eating is a dirty word now anyway.
Don’t mess with me.
I am tired of being nice. Seriously, what is it with us women always trying to do ‘the right thing’ and suck it up? I have been told far too many times to grit my teeth and smile politely when someone says or does something stupendously rude, and I can’t do it any more. Furthermore, my choices may be unconventional, but I won’t apologise for them. And don’t you dare judge me. Not happy? Go get your own life and screw your judgement.
because life isn’t a fairytale…
2016 is finally over. What a year!
Now bring it on, 2017! I am happy to report that I am spending the first days of the year in Australia, and I love it. Despite the very high temperatures, things are very chilled over here. I find it incredibly relaxing. I just wanted to share with you my initial findings on life down under. Let me know if I forgot anything. And this much I know: it will be hard to go back to London. I have read somewhere that it was cold and foggy, and I am not looking forward to it at all…
- First of all, nobody, and I mean really nobody, has asked me where I was from. In the same vein, nobody has commented on my French accent. In London, I am asked where I am from on a daily basis. In fact, I think that it has become some sort of national obsession. Over here, nobody cares. The only questions I get are ‘How are you?’ and ‘Where did you buy your bodyboard?’. Period;
- Australians are a lot fitter that their British counterparts. In England, I often get the gym all to myself. Well, over here, the gym is always full, even at 5am. Having young little ones is not an excuse to skip a workout, and I have seen mums who bring their toddlers, put them in a pram in the corner of the fitness center, and exercise as if there were no tomorrow. Wow!
- Australians talk to each other. This really came to a revelation, and at first it made me feel uncomfortable because in England you tend to keep yourself to yourself. And if you have to, you start your sentences with ‘Excuse-me,…’. Well, things are clearly different in Oz . Simply put, you don’t have to apologise to talk to somebody. People greet me on the street all the time, and this morning, a fellow jogger even wished me a happy new year. Unbelievable. I tried to smile and say something nice, but I must admit that after years of being looked down upon when I open my mouth to say something, I felt a bit rusted. What can I say? I have become British;
- Everyday, I am in awe of Australia’s outstanding beauty. Seriously, what more do you need when you wake up and see this?
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