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(Grimaud Castle, France, The sky is the limit)
For those of you who don’t know it (where have you guys been all this time?), last week was offers’ week for secondary schools (i.e. from 11 to 18 years old). In London, finding a secondary school is a very competitive process, and girls need to pass several exams and then interviews before they know where they can go in September. It is a stressful time for mothers & daughters (see my post on the prep here and my daughter’s version of the events here)
Back in October, I went to talk to my daughter’s teachers. I felt like I was back to school when a stern maths teacher with square spectacles made it very clear that my daughter was, as she put it, “borderline” for London’s top schools. She didn’t say “with hard work, she will get there”. No, she delivered the news that my bright, beautiful daughter would be better advised not to present the school she badly wants since she turned 5 – let’s call it Saint Peter in West London.
It is fair to say that I pushed her. Selection in the French system is ruthless, so I knew what to do and how to get ready. I took the bulldozer approach and I analysed all the past papers I could find. I identified all the different types of exercises and am now such an expert on all the 11+ tests that I am seriously considering starting a tutoring business!
I would like to think that I wasn’t as bad as other Mums as she could still go to her after-school clubs (ballet, swimming…) whereas most of her class mates stopped everything. I might be in denial here. To be fair, some of the girls had been tutored since the day they were born. I only gave her a push over the last three months. Again, I might be kidding myself.
We have just received the offers. She got a firm offer from ALL the schools she presented.  Each of them, including St Peter of course. But, best of all, her current school is now offering her an academic scholarship as apparently she did extremely well. How come that Borderline Girl has now become Bright Girl?
Oh, and we haven’t worked together since the exam. Instead of revising, we are now catching up with all the chick flicks we missed…I recommend “The Rebound”, it made me laugh. It is really good to get my life back.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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                                       (L’arbre des possibles, The tree of all possibilities – Muriel 2010)


Today is women’s day. However, we keep hearing, in Great Britain, that we women have never had it so good, that we have a choice (career or children) and that, in short, we shouldn’t complain. Best of all: studies made by women came to such a conclusion. Do we all live in the same planet? I sometimes wonder.
Of course, we have access to services and a quality of life that other sisters can not even dream of (tap water, health services, education…). But come on, we are far from being equal, aren’t we? Who are we kidding here? Did I dream the glass ceiling thing? Where are the girls in boardrooms? In Parliament ?  I believe that we will have achieved some equality when incompetent men and women will be treated the very same way. I once had a male boss who was corrupted. He was promoted (or, should I say, swiftly moved to another job). The female Human Resources director had been sacked just before, apparently because she was incompetent – the two events were not related-.
I will also believe in equality when my husband puts the dirty laundry in the basket, not on top of it.
I am an optimist and I am hopeful that, eventually, we will get there. In the meantime, I am exhausted every day and ranting on my blog is my therapy.


Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

A big thank you to Meg for organising this…Enjoy your visit!
I thought that I should take this opportunity to introduce myself a bit better. Here are some quick facts about me:
1. I speak 4 foreign languages, but all with a French accent (and believe me, you don’t want that);
2. I am a French Mum living in London;
3. I hate the way people (mostly men) look at me when I speak with a French accent;
4. A long time ago, I decided to be brutally honest with myself, even if it means facing some not-so-nice home truths sometimes;
5. Chocolate is my favorite thing;
6. I am passionate about Asia and would love to live there at some point;
7. My daughters are growing up beautifully and despite the fact that I feel 15 in my head I have to accept that I am middle aged now. Tough.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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In order to understand what life is about over here, I had to learn lots of new, sometimes useful words.
For instance, it took me some time to understand that you had freehold and also leasehold properties in this country. I thought at first: who would buy a property for a lease of 20 years -or sometimes even less? Once the lease expires, you are not sure to be able to renew it. Or it will cost you…But, once again, I was wrong: you need to be flexible here, and in any event you have no choice, most properties are leasehold anyway. Leasehold contracts come in all forms and shapes. Some are only for a year, others for 999 years. I am still struggling with what a peppercorn rent is. It has nothing to do with pepper and corn, I am sure of this.
Apparently, it is perfectly normal to buy a leasehold property in London, and to pay huge amounts of legal fees to get the share of freehold (i.e. all or part of the ground your property is built on) later, or to renew it at the end of the lease (which you are not sure to be able to do)… Weird…someone needs to finance the lawyers’ lifestyle-and the freeholder’s (who is usually part of the aristocracy), I suppose.

We live in Pimlico and are lucky enough to have bought a freehold property, which is a rare luxury in London. This is because, 150 years ago, Pimlico was were the honest businessmen from Chelsea were coming to drink a few pints and relax in company of women of little virtue.
The freeholder got slightly annoyed to have to sue various madams to get his rent and eventually sold the freehold of his properties, which can be considered to be a radical but effective way to solve the problem.
I like this history of Pimlico. The records of the Stuffed Cat’s house (http://mumugb.blogspot.com/2011/02/stuffed-cats-house.html#links)
do not appear to show any activity of this kind. That being said, they would not advertise it I suppose…Our house was initially rented by room, and former tenant shave included, apparently, a gifted musician, a dress maker, and various engineers.
For some unknown reason, Pimlico remains one of my favorite parts of London. Thanks, Sisters!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I have always liked London. I don’t really know why. Maybe it is because of the energy, the various parks and the narrow, cobbled streets. But I can’t help thinking that it is because London has all the ingredients of an organised chaos.
Take Paris for instance. Someone called Haussmann decided to renovate and reorganise Paris. Old individual houses were destroyed and the main streets were completely renovated, boasting tall, modern buildings and wide avenues.  It was all about order and ensuring consistency of style.
As a result, if you cannot afford to buy a “Hotel Particulier” (i.e. a big, posh house) in the XVIth district, it is virtually impossible to buy a house in Paris.
Things are different in London. Buying a house doesn’t come cheap, but remains possible. Lots of streets still have terraced houses, some Victorian, others Georgian. The capital is made of different layers and hasn’t had to sustain a heavy programme of renovation over the last 250 years. It shows. It makes it more human.
After a few years here, we wanted to put down roots and decided to try to buy our own place. It was quite a journey…Until one day, lured by another nice ad from an estate agency, I visited this home. An old couple had been living in it for a few decades and it was part of a house built in the 1840s. There was a cat on the cupboard, in the lounge. It looked asleep and was breathing. The agent explained to me that it was a stuffed cat that had been kept to keep the new cat company. And to trick the new cat, it was plugged and could breathe.
How weird. I thought that it must be a British thing again and kept my mouth shut. We made an offer. My highflying husband managed to convince the agent that the ad should be removed. It worked and the offer was accepted.
I have now been living in the Stuffed Cat’s house for 4 years. The former owners obviously took both cats (the living and the stuffed ones) with them. We found old newspapers from the 1850s in the attic. We now have our own piece of London.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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It is half term for everybody but me. My daughters are on holidays and my husband wisely decided that he was needed in London for another important business meeting, which left me no choice but to take the week off and spend it with the girls. And I have come up with the brilliant idea to go and visit my family in the French Riviera. On my own of course.
This meant -shock horror-, that not only did I have to entertain the girls but I also had to catch up with my family. My 90-year old grandmother was poorly and is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer, and my grandfather is complaining all day long that growing old is difficult, and that it was not what he expected. I do sympathise, but I am not sure that complaining helps. That said, the guilt trip started and I was immediately wondering what more I could do. It must be part of the catching-up process. I was also overly optimistic when I thought I was done with nappies. I wasn’t.
The girls are fine and the younger one had to speak French, which did her some good. My older one has now started a blog (http://secondaryadventures.blogspot.com/)and it is so well-written that it is making me feel like a failure. I am wondering whether I belong to a sandwich generation, here to be squeezed between a busy hubby, bright demanding girls and an ageing family. Oh, and I almost forgot the full-time job.
When does is stop? When can I have a break? I am looking forward to going back to work on Monday. Sisters, any advice?
And despite the weather, I have to admit that I have never felt happier to be back home. In London.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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A friend of mine married a British man. I thought that they were happy until one day, after a couple of glasses of wine, she explained that she was struggling to understand what her husband thinks on a daily basis.
Apparently, after she had fallen from a horse and was injured, he told her:
-” Don’t be silly, you will survive. You are a tough bird”
Despite being a tough bird, she had to lay in bed for a month.
No other words of comfort were said. She was very upset. According to her, he genuinely cares about her, but in his own way. Needless to say, he never tells her that he loves her and, as she is French and still believes in romance, this is the source of great frustration.
How weird! On my way to visit her, I had the exact opposite experience. The British cab driver called me sweetie, honey and love in the space of a few minutes. In France, you have to be pretty close to someone to call her in such a way. Really close. I even began to panic and was of the verge of calling the police service.
Once arrived (sigh of relief), my friend’s husband explained to me that it was completely normal for a total stranger to call you Love, Darling or even pet names and that no harm was meant. Coming from the man who couldn’t hold my friend’s hand, I have to admit that I was surprised.
Is it all about pretending that you don’t care when you do and that you care when you don’t? How does it work exactly ? I haven’t figured it out yet.
I eventually got used to being called all sorts of names by persons I don’t know. I don’t like it but hey, what can you do?
A couple of months later, another cab driver asked me, when he dropped me at my hotel, whether I wanted him to keep me company. I thought that this was another British thing -some sort if hospitality rule, and replied a polite:
-“No thanks!”
I was told that this was not normal.
After all, anything is possible. 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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You probably don’t know what they are. Well, simply put, they are part of your survival kit if you want to be taken seriously in this country.
It is all about appearing to be making sense when you are, in fact, talking non-sense. Don’t underestimate such a vital skill. Even Shakespeare used oxymorons.  If you want to go with the flow, you will have to learn.
When I moved to this country (Ah. Memories!), here is the sort of things that I would have said:
          Where are the children? It is very quiet in here;
          I don’t speak English very well;
          The proposal was rejected;
          She is divorced but doesn’t want anyone to know;
          I went to the concert on my own;
          I disagree;
          I don’t understand.
Fatal mistakes. Everybody was noticing that I hadn’t been brought up in Britain. Here is what I should have said:
          Where are the kids? What is this deafening silence?
          I am an advanced beginner in English;
          The proposal was rejected in its entirety but it proved to be a successful failure;
          Her divorce is an open secret;
          I was alone in the crowd at the concert;
          Let’s agree to disagree;
          It is as clear as mud.
As you may guess, it was, and still is, a steep learning curve. I am not sure that I will get there eventually. This is because my brain is wired in a different way. A long time ago, I decided to always be brutally honest with myself, even if it was tough and meant that I had to deal with some not-so-nice home truths.
I have to learn to think and speak in a different way. It is hard work. It is all about being positive and wanting to make an impression. But guess what: an unexpected side effect is that I am happier here. I have more fun.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I feel older and none the wiser. Not to mention the fact that I am exhausted. Tough life
The reason: I have had to organise my daughters’ birthday parties (I am very organised: they are born the same day).
When I was younger (no, not that long ago, but I might be in denial), for birthdays we used to share a home-baked cake with a couple of school friends. Well, those days are gone. Peer pressure is strong and, over the last few years, birthday parties I have had to take my daughters to have included:
          Full makeover party;
          Climbing party;
          Renting out a cinema (Yes, a whole cinema);
          Fireworks in west Essex;
          Action Man themed party…
The list is far from being exhaustive. In short, to keep up with the Jones’, you must either:
          Have deep pockets
          Think outside the box
And if you have both, it doesn’t hurt. I am trying hard to keep the budget under control, which basically means that I have to work harder and try to find original parties’ ideas. Also –Shame on me!-, I don’t hesitate to share birthday parties with other classmates. My daughters don’t resent me too much (yet). You also have to prepare party bags & birthday cakes. It is a job. There are party planners in London.
This birthday party pressure must be specific to this country. I am not aware of anything of the same scale elsewhere. Quite the opposite. A British friend of mine living in Paris was going to a Star-wars-themed birthday  party and took the metro to get there, with her son in a Darth Vador costume and her dressed up as princess Leia. People thought that they were barking mad. No-one understood why you would dress up like that for a birthday party. She felt ashamed. No one would have blinked over here.
Where does this pressure to do something extraordinary every year come from? When did everything change? Why didn’t I see it coming? Our little darlings must now feel loved, valued, entertained…And us parents have to work, pay and shut up.
Tough life, as I said. I might be a bit jealous…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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The other day, when I was talking to French friends, they asked me when I was going back to France. They made it sound like:  “The holiday is over; it is time for you to go back where you belong.” They seemed convinced that no meaningful life is possible outside of France. How very French.

News flash: I am not going back to France. Of course, I will go for some holidays, or to visit family and friends. But not permanently. In order to explain to them why, I have tried to list the 10 best and worst things (we need to be balanced here) about London.

THE BEST:
1.    The coffee culture. There is nothing like the cappuccinos and lattes here, and my first sip in the morning is probably the best time of the day;
2.    The permanent Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. Guess what: it is completely free!  You can turn up whenever you like. Being French, I was taught about the Impressionists, but never about Turner. What a mistake! Turner is a precursor, a genius. For an exhibition like this in Paris, the queue would be one mile long. I used to go every day when we moved here, until I realised that I was falling for a dead painter. I am trying to go once a month now. I am still in recovery. He is simply great;
3.    The parks. The list is endless, and you can spend a day in London walking in different parks without taking the Tube or a cab. St James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington gardens, Holland Park..;
4.    The fact that I feel thin here (but not in Paris);
5.    The chocolate croissants. Especially when the chocolate is melting inside…;
6.    “Show and tell” at school. My daughters have become very confident and it is a pleasure to listen to them;
7.    The solidarity between Mums. One day, the school was closed because of a major leak. I had had 3 phone calls before 8am to warn me, with babysitting offers. I was amazed. It had never happened in France;
8.    The streets between Smith Square and Westminster school. It feels like travelling back in time. The houses have not changed. You can see the signs showing the entrance of shelters used during WWII on Lord North Street. On Barton Street, the old houses are leaning towards the street and some of the windows are not straight. I feel like I am going to see a carriage with two horses whenever I walk past it;
9.    Jogging along the Embankment;
10.Spooks (The TV series). I think that I am addicted to it.

THE WORST:
1.    Parking in London. It is so complicated that no one understands it. It is all about your resident permit. It can be completely different from one street to the next and I am not sure whether you can park on a yellow line on Saturdays and Sundays. I am told that it depends (on what?). I have given up and have to pay the odd parking ticket from time to time (£60. What a rip-off! And in France it is just €15!!!);
2.    The sandwiches. It is almost impossible to have a lunch that doesn’t involve a sandwich or a salad here;
3.    The price of a decent education. OMG!
4.    London GPs. Especially when you are used to your family doctor in France. Here, they do you a favour when you finally book an appointment and you are on your back foot from the start. Someone will have to explain to me of what use GPs exactly are;
5.    Being called darling, sweetie, honey or love by people you don’t know. Weird and not necessarily nice;
6.    The way people look at me when they hear me speak with a French accent. I can assure you that being French is not an illness. It is not contagious and I don’t understand why apparently it is so sexy. I am here to work, not date;
7.    Porridge: can someone honestly tell me that they like it? Is it just a test that you have to take to become a British citizen? I never understood whether you put salt or sugar in it. That’s how bad it is. I think that it looks like solidified saliva;
8.    The white cream the Brits put in chocolate éclairs. Not nice;
9.    Custard. Not, it is not like Crème Anglaise. It is much worse;
10.Chutney: what is it exactly? If decay had a taste that would be it!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London