I have had a full-on year. Come to think of it, I have a full-on life. It just never stops. But right now I have taken the whole family to a hamlet in Provence. The Internet connection –when it works- is patchy, which means that I am enjoying a much-needed break.
I love it here. The light is nothing short of spectacular, the colours are perfect, and I am pleased to report that my daughters are finally starting to enjoy Provence. The problem is, well, me.
What am I talking about? Well, I am suffering from a bad case of reverse culture shock. Why? Well, where to start? The driving of my fellow Frenchmen is terrible (simply put, speed limits are never respected. I wonder if they are for the birds?). As for customer service, well, it seems that nobody knows what it is. I asked for a glass of water at a local coffee, and of course it never came. Not to mention that I got told off because the waitress had forgotten half of our order. “No, you didn’t tell me.”, she said. Of course it was my fault. Since when is it allowed to be aggressive towards customers?
Whatever your nationality, some things never change. What am I talking about? Well, my younger daughter is starting secondary school in September, and I feel like my baby isn’t a baby any more. And yes, it hurts. No more trips to the playground. No more dreams of becoming a princess. To make matters even worse, it looks like she wants to go to school by herself. In fact, it looks like she doesn’t need me any more. Or maybe she needs me in a different way. Let’s be honest here: it feels a bit like being made redundant as a mother.
Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself in trying to raise independent girls, and I am pleased with the way they have turned out. I am trying to convince myself that I did a good job here. That said, I sometimes wonder whether I have made the right choices. What if they disagree with the way we brought them up? For instance, they went to British schools, and hopefully they will end up in anglo-saxon universities. What if they would have preferred to settle in France? Being a parent is such a conundrum, right? You are bound do have done some things wrong. What if I was too strict? Did I give them some good boundaries? What sort of example did I set? I tried to give them the childhood I would have liked to have: carefree, full of love and travels. Did they enjoy it? Will they appreciate it, or will they resent it? I have no idea.
Where to start? I didn’t want to write such a post, but hey, here we go. To cut a long story short, I had a fantastic French-inspired dinner on the 13th of July, was about to write about it on Bastille Day but didn’t, and woke up on the 15th of July in a state of shock when I heard about the horrible attack in Nice. Words fail me. I could have been one of the victims: the only reason why I wasn’t in Nice was because my teenage daughter is doing some work experience in London, and we’ll all go to Nice when she is finished, in about ten days or so. In fact, anyone could have been a victim, because going out to see fireworks on display on Bastille Day is as normal as buying your daily bread in my home country. That said, this time, I am angry too: I have yet to understand how a 19-ton truck could end up on the Promenade des Anglais without being stopped. As usual, politicians and representatives are all blaming one another, and this lack of accountability, together with what seems to be gross incompetence on the part of whoever was in charge of security, are pissing me off in equal measure (excuse my French).
So where do we go from here? Well, as an ordinary citizen, I initially felt powerless. But then I realise that maybe, just maybe, it’s the small things that matter, because they give way to the bigger things. What am I talking about? Well, here it is: the things that matter stretch from the apparently anodyne, such as enjoying good food and wine, or feeling the sun on your body on the beach, to the much heavier weighted freedom of speech and democracy.
So yes, I will tell you about my lovely dinner in London, and I urge you to have a glass of Chablis to celebrate life in general and France in particular. Because that’s what life is about, and because that’s what our way of life is about. And yes, these things matter. Actually, maybe we have taken them for granted for far too long?
Well, if you have been living in London over the last week, you will know that things have been pretty rough. Everyday came with its own share of surprise resignations and bad news. But hey, stiff upper lip and all that. Not to mention that if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I removed the BBC news app on my iPhone. Simply put, I didn’t want to know what had gone tits up yet again (excuse my French).
Mind you, at a more personal level things have been quite hectic too. Yesterday evening I was driving back home, and happened to be on Shepherd’s Bush Green, right behind a white van. We were waiting at a red light. The driver suddenly lowered his side window, and threw up abundantly. I was stunned. As soon as the light turned green, he drove away, as if nothing had happened. Wow. I suddenly had a newfound confidence in this country’s resilience. Because it’s all about staying positive, right? I am a glass-half-full sort of person anyway. Come to think of it, that Green always had a weird vibe.
That’s it, we now have the results of the referendum, and as everybody knows the British people have chosen to leave the European Union. I must admit that the result came to a surprise to me. As I have made my opinion on the subject pretty clear (click here in case you have missed it: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12173177/Im-French-but-Ive-lost-my-patience-with-the-EU.-Ill-be-voting-Leave.html), I have been at the receiving end of various not-so-nice comments (can you hear the British understatement here?), and I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for them. So let’s start by making something clear: I am not racist, I certainly don’t feel old (According to the media only old people have voted Leave) and I am well-educated (I have two master degrees, after all). So enough with all the condescending assumptions please.
I can’t help thinking that, had the Remain camp won, we would have been told to accept it and move on (which I would have done). That’s what democracy is about: people vote, and you respect their decision, even if you don’t like it. Because of the unexpected result, some Remainers have been behaving like toddlers who have just been refused a sweet. They are now threatening to throw up a tantrum. It’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and behave in a more responsible way.
What particularly annoys me is when I hear European expats of all walks of life complaining about the referendum results. Some of them have been living here for decades, and I am struggling to understand why they didn’t become British after all this time. They could have had a saying in the matter, but somehow they chose not to. So why complain now? Maybe we’ve had it too good for too long, and we took things for granted. It seems to me that our society is suffering from a severe case of over-inflated sense of entitlement. After all, being able to live in a foreign country is a privilege, not a right.
With the referendum tomorrow, and in my case the article in the Daily Mail (see here in case you have missed it: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3649689/What-French-women-REALLY-think-us.html) emotions seem to be running at an all-time high.
What is going on? Where has the legendary ‘stiff upper lip’ gone? Why has everybody taken up such entrenched positions?
Whatever the result of the referendum, I will still bring my children to school on Friday. I will continue to do my grocery shopping, and to go to work. Life will go on, one way or the other. Am I also allowed to say that it’s OK (and actually quite healthy) to disagree? In short, I think that it is time to put things into perspective, try a little kindness, and move on…
It happened again the other day. What am I talking about? I had another formal dinner, and I wanted to look my best. Why do I still care? Well, I don’t know. It’s mainly for me, I suppose: despite the fact that I am not getting any younger, I still like to look nice. Maybe it’s my French side? And it was also for my husband. I didn’t want people to think that I was letting myself go. I didn’t want to become yet another invisible middle-aged woman. There was only one thing for it: preparation. So I had everything covered. Of course I did.
When you work, have kids, older parents and PTA meetings, the logistics can be daunting. It’s all about planing in advance to make it look effortlessly. The outfit was chosen 10 days before the event. As you know, I don’t buy any more, I rent (https://rentez-vous.com). It’s cheaper, much more fun, and I can change more often, which means that I never have to wear the same dress twice. I borrowed the shoes from a friend (Which was a huge leap of faith because I don’t walk in high heels for more than five minutes). Then, I planned all the eyebrow shaping, waxing, etc…Finally I had to have my hair and make-up done a few hours before the event (because as I have a scientific background, doing my own hair and make up isn’t my strongest point -can you hear the British understatement here?). A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.
In short, I’d like to tell you that it was all easy, but the truth is that it was anything but, and I kept running around like a headless chicken the whole day. Not to mention that I had to go to a school meeting fully made up (but with casual clothes, as I put on the dress at the last minute), which raised a few eyebrows, but hey, I felt I had no choice because the meeting was right before the dinner. Anyway, we got there in the end, and I was extremely pleased with the result. What do you think?
It has just happened again. I didn’t get a position I had applied for. I am feeling, once again, like a complete failure. That said, I must admit that Brits are very polite. At all times and in all circumstances. They will always try to make it easier for you by sugarcoating their responses instead of simply saying ‘No’ or ‘you are not in’. I thought that I should copy you the email I got to prove my point. Here we go:
” Dear Muriel [They like to personnalise things. I am pretty sure that they sent the same letter to everybody, right?]
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you. We received a very large level of response and interest on this project and wanted to ensure that we considered all applications carefully. [Yeah right. It’s been 8 weeks. How were the hols? Did you get away for half-term? What a bunch of lazy lumps!]
It was bound to happen. So it did. What am I talking about? Well, both my passports (the French & the British) had to be renewed. Don’t ask. It was all about some silly visa problems. On the bright side, I was going to do everything at once, and be done for the next 5 years. Well, at least that was the theory…
There was no two ways about it: I had to start. Renewing a passport doesn’t come cheap. If you must know, it costs £72.50 for the British passport. But on the bright side, I could do everything online. So I did. And I sent all the supporting documents by tracked mail, just to be on the safe side. I had almost forgotten about the whole thing when someone rang the bell and delivered me my brand new British passport. The whole process had taken less than 10 days. I was delighted.
I got your attention, right? Good, that’s what I wanted. Today, I wanted to talk to you about periods. Yep, you read this right. Nowadays we talk about gender, equality, races, but let’s face it, we barely talk about periods. Why is such a simple fact of life so misunderstood? Why is it still such a taboo? If men had periods too, I am pretty sure that we would hear about it all the time! So why are we still so embarrassed? What is wrong with us?
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told “You are a bit cranky, you must have your period (wink wink!)’. The truth is that, most of the time, I don’t have my period. It is just me. If I were a man, my colleagues would say that I am firm, or that I know what I want. But no, I have to have my period, right? When confronted, my male colleagues always say that they think it is a thoughtful comment (yeah right…). Some things never change.
Some women are told that they can’t go anywhere near kitchen ustensiles when on their periods. Or that they shouldn’t use salt. Seriously? What’s next? That we can’t sneeze when we have our periods? I shouldn’t complain, because things have drastically improved. A quick research showed that, not so long ago, it was believed that period blood killed crops and rusted iron, that menstrual blood both cured and caused leprosy, and that burnt toad could cure your heavy flow (not very animal friendly, right?).
That said, in Europe, we are the lucky ones. Jessica Holland from the charity ActionAid summarises it pretty well here: “Around the world, many girls often face prejudice, shame and discrimination simply because they have their periods. These taboos can have a long-lasting impact on a girl’s life and her body, often impacting her ability to go to school and gain an education.” What does it mean? Well, simply put, some girls miss school every month simply because they have their periods. And no school means no education, leaving girls without any ways to escape from poverty.