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.
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 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?
- Continue Reading
Whether you live in London or in Paris, some things never change: you live a fast-paced life. This means that you are always rushing around. Always.
I hadn’t realised how fast-paced my life was until a few days ago, when I landed in Australia for some much-needed holidays. To cut a long story short, things are a lot more chilled this side of the world. And although I was a bit surprised at first, now I like it.
In London, we look down on whoever dares to walk too slowly. We expect a quick service when we go to a restaurant. Our grocery shopping is done in less than 10 minutes. We moan when the Tube is a few minutes late. We are always in a hurry, and juggling far too many plates. Of course, I am no exception. I always have something to do, somewhere to be. It never stops.
I have been asked countless times why I didn’t put my children into a French school.
Obviously after so many years in London I have learned (sometimes the hard way) the art of understatement, because my immediate thought after such questions is usually ‘Over My Dead Body’. I answer that the French lycée was oversubscribed and change the conversation.
You see, it took me more than 30 years to escape from France, I am so not going back. I don’t get this idea that French parenting and French schools are somewhat superior. Apparently, we French know how to be more strict, our children behave in a much better manner. But of course. Let’s not sugarcoat it: whoever wrote this clearly hasn’t been brought up in France, and wants to feed parents’ insecurities to make a quick buck. Spending a bit of time in Paris posh districts doesn’t make you a French expert. The reality is, once again, far more complicated.
In France, there is a darker side than meets the eyes. What am I talking about? Well, what still often passes as acceptable in France, such as smacking or insulting your children, would be unacceptable to your average British household. Don’t get me wrong, all French parents aren’t the same. That said, I am convinced that French children are better-behaved because their parents wouldn’t mind exercising some unpleasant means of punishment should they fail to stay silent. It is also pretty common to see parents ignoring their children: for instance, adults and children usually don’t mix during family meals or at the restaurant, and children are routinely left to their own devices.