Have you heard of Paris Syndrome? Let me explain: it’s a surprising phenomenon whereby Chinese or Japanese tourists arrive in Paris and seem to undergo some sort of mental breakdown. I was told that they experience raised anxiety levels, delusions, irrational feelings of persecution and hostility, hallucinations, or even collapsing. Some tourists had to be sent back to their home country in a medicalised plane. I kid you not. So what went wrong ? Well, the main theory as to what’s happening here is that they have an incredibly romanticised belief in what Paris is like thanks to countless media and film portrayals. Paris is the city of love, everything is beautiful there. All women are polite and look like they come straight from a French New Wave film. I hate to break it to you, but the reality is quite different. To cut a long story short, Paris is mostly a normal city, coupled with some tangible differences in behaviour and manners between Asiatic and Parisian culture. So for instance, our waiters are not always nice. Our drivers might accelerate when you want to cross the street, and don’t expect apologies when you are shoved on the street. This can induce an intense and debilitating form of culture shock. Dear oh dear. It’s hard to see the reality without any filter sometimes. But maybe, just maybe, it is a necessary part of growing up? Just a thought.
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.
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.
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.
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?
What can I say? Maybe French women really are different. I met my friend Alice among the other mums at the school gates. Alice stood out from everyone else because she smiled and understood my English despite my strong French accent. She was chatty. She had a self-effacing sense of humour. I really thought she and I were both the same under the skin, but that illusion was completely dashed when I suggested that she might like to come lingerie shopping with me. She hasn’t talked to me ever since. I think she believes I am some sort of pervert. Once again, I got it completely wrong. I used to go lingerie shopping all the time with my female friends in Paris, and we didn’t think much of it. In fact, it felt completely natural. But here, I quickly understood that you are supposed to hide while purchasing your granny pants (you can read more about M&S granny pants here: http://frenchyummymummy.com/sexy-not-slutty/). Lesson learned. I will buy my lingerie in France from now on. And I will try to hide my Frenchness even more. Maybe I should write a ‘I’m sorry’ card to Alice? What do you think?
Princess Tam Tam Lingerie. One of my favourites French brands.
But I digress. So what did I do again (apart from thinking I could buy some lingerie with a British female friend)? I am running a 50k marathon again on the 9th of September (The Thames Path Challenge). I wasn’t intending to fundraise because I have been working on other things recently, but with lots of friends living in Texas, and my Facebook and Twitter timelines full of distressing pictures, I have set up a page, with any donation going directly to the British Red Cross. You can see my page here: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/team/the-french-yummy-mummy-is-running-for-texas-will-you-help
I suppose it is this time of the year: I keep reading about how we French do everything better: French women are oh so chic, our food is oh so fresh and our parenting is, apparently, second to none.
Really? I must have missed something while I was on holidays. I see no other explanations.
So what makes us French women so chic? I have to break it to you, and you might not like it, but we French women are, well, just human beings, warts and all. For instance, we have digestive issues from time to time (just like everybody else). We are sometimes in a bad mood, or tired (or even both). And we sometimes get it wrong -as in, completely wrong. So what’s so special about us again? I really wonder.
We French love our holidays. Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of holidays scattered throughout the year but July and especially August are the months of les grandes vacances, or literally the “grand vacations”. Most people take at least three weeks off in either July or August. What does it mean?
Well to cut a long story short, most emails I have sent for my French business have come back with an out-of-office reply. It sounds funny, but believe me, it can be very frustrating…
With everyone on holiday, business is almost non-existent in August (except for tourism, of course). So if you are in France and need to get some kind of administrative paperwork done during these months, don’t bother. Just try to relax and go to the beach just like everyone else. Nothing is going to get done until September anyway, you might as well make the most of your down time.
Even in Paris, a short walk around the capital will reveal that things just aren’t the same in August. Of course, lots of stores and restaurants remain open, but Paris looks and feels empty (except for the tourists spots, that is).
It’s going to be time to go back home soon, and I can’t help thinking of the little things in Australia that have made a huge difference during my stay. Because sometimes it’s the little things that matter right? Stuff you don’t expect and that takes you by complete surprise. It made me realise that I take some things for granted, or even normal, when they are anything but. What can I say? I still have a lot to learn! So what am I talking about? Well, here are a few exemples:
- People talk
I know. It’s amazing, right? In London (or in Paris), I have learned to keep myself to myself. Over here, in Sydney, people talk. They are trying to help, they explain things when you queue or when you are a bit lost. They are, well, more helpful. It’s a different pace, and people take more time to speak to each other. Over here, you great the bus driver. I had forgotten what it felt like to be more mindful of others, and it felt good.
2. Healthcare is great
Stuff happens when you travel with children, and unfortunately this year was no exception. My younger daughter became sick on a Sunday morning (of all days!), I was worried and had to get her to a doctor asap. There was an open medical center around the corner, and a GP saw us within 20 minutes. We found an open pharmacy down the road. All is well now. The cost was a fraction (probably a third of) of what I would have had to pay in London for a similar service. My other option, in London, would have been to spend the day at A&E or wait for hours to talk to somebody on NHS direct, and then try to get a prescription, etc. The cost will be reimbursed by our medical insurance. Frankly, the service was even better than France. What am I doing in London again?
3. There are beauty products I didn’t even know existed.
Did you know that bee venom is the latest craze over here? And apparently sheep placenta is full of nutrients and good to make wrinkles disappear. I certainly didn’t know. Goat milk makes your skin and hair smooth and soft, allegedly. Again, I shamefully admit that I had no idea. Where the hell have I been? I might be French, but come to think of it, I am incredibly low-maintenance. It might be time for me to up the ante a bit…But then again, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’ll stick to running and Nivea cream!
I have been in Sydney for 10 days or so now and I have just realised that nobody has asked me the dreaded question:
‘Where are you from?’
Or, even worse, after they hear my strong French accent. ‘Are you from France?’
Do you know what? It’s refreshing. I am glad not to have to justify myself for once. In London, I am always ‘the French one’, and I keep being asked where I am from all the time. I am used to it by now. Sometimes I answer ‘Oh, I come from around the corner’, and then I get something like ‘No, no, where are you REALLY from?’. I promise, I am really from around the corner.
Seriously? Don’t you think it’s a tad offensive to ask someone where they are from?
Over here, in Sydney, nobody cares where I am from. It’s an accepted fact that the society is multi-cultural and yes, come to think of it I find Australians more welcoming.
Maybe one day I’ll be from Sydney