Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

After almost 10 years in this country, I am still struggling to understand the difference between a bank holiday and a public holiday. Everybody has a different interpretation anyway. After asking the question on Twitter (what were we doing before Twitter?), I was told that it is the same thing.

@FrenchYumMummy Now that you are British I’ll let you in on the secret.Bank holiday n public holidays are the same.Don’t tell the furriners
— Tom (@BritagUK) August 14, 2013

See, no difference whatsoever. However, Google seems to disagree. Public holidays are supposed to be religious festivals, like Christmas or Easter, and Bank holidays are, well, the rest. Apparently, the August bank holiday was initially for bank clerks only, hence the term ‘bank’ holiday.

Christmas is a public holiday, and so is Boxing Day.  But shouldn’t Boxing Day be a bank holiday as it is not a religious festival? I don’t get it.
I suspect that some aspects of life over here will always be a mystery to me. That’s the beauty of living in a different country, I suppose. Along with a very British sense of style and a way of conveying messages that sometimes leaves me confused. Very confused.
That said, let’s take it easy for once: Bank holiday or public holiday means that you don’t have to go to work. Who cares about the difference?

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Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /


Despite the fact that I now have dual citizenship (French & British), I am acutely aware that I am not 100% British yet. I get constant reminders of this and sometimes it can all become a bit too much. Here are a few examples:

“- Muriel, the UK can not continue to finance France agricultural politic! The UK needs to get out of the EU!” Blame the French…Well, what can I say, I live in London now and I don’t make the policies, do I?

“ No offence, but I once had a French flatmate who never had a shower! Can you believe it?” My interlocutor is looking at me for some sort of validation. He won’t get it.

“ I love the French: they know how to strike, don’t they?” Well, again, I won’t comment.

“Bloody French: they have increased taxes on secondary homes in France!” The guy is angry with me for some reason. Well, I have to pay the additional taxes too…But because I happen to be French, in his eyes, I am guilty as charged.

“ French women are so sexy. I love French actresses!” Thank you, I am flattered. That said, I have been living in London for a decade now.

What do you do when it all becomes too much? What can you do against stereotypes? The thing is, I am outnumbered. I can’t win and most of the time I don’t think that there is any point in fighting anyway. So here are my tips:

       When under attack, I try to find a Scot to help me. You see, the Scots and the French have been allies for a long, long time. It was called the ‘Auld Alliance’ and some might argue that it is still in place. I can always count on a Scot to defend me in case of need. I wonder whether the Scots and the French are real friends or only want to present a united front against the English. Never mind, as long as it helps me, I will take it.

       Fight back, but make it personal…”Come on: don’t be so bitter because you have been dumped by a French girlfriend. It happens to the best. Get over it!”

       Whether they like it or not, it is highly likely that your interlocutor has some French ancestry. Or a French surname /name. They need to be reminded of this fact: “ Do you know that at least 3 millions of British have French blood? Given your name, I think that you are one of them”

       I have the nuclear option: “I am British now, so don’t ask me?”

That said, whatever I say, I know that I can’t win against stereotypes. But here is one thing I know: nationality is not in our genes. My daughters are far more British than French. Go figure!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

So, tell me: why is the French kiss French? If appearances are to be believed, right now French kisses are probably from London, because there is a couple French kissing at every corner of every street in London. They are simply everywhere. Some even seem to be competing for the same spot. It must have something to do with the sun. I sincerely hope it does, because all this tongue showing is getting on my nerves. I am almost gald that it is raining today.
In fact, we French don’t even call the French kiss French. We call it to ‘kiss with the tongue’ or ‘rouler une pelle’, which could translate as ‘rolling a spade’. How poetic! In short, the French don’t even believe that French kissing is actually French. So why is it said to be French? Is it because the French are the best kissers? Is it because they invented French kissing?
Well, apparently not. A British friend of mine explain that her French boyfriend started turning his tongue around hers and felt like she was kissing a helicopter. Not nice. I think that she dumped him in the end. I totally understand, because a bad kisser is like a bad coffee, life is too short to tolerate either of them.
French kissing has been around much longer than France has existed, even if apparently it became even more popular at the start of the 20th century. Why would the French take the credit for it then?
What can I say? Life is unfair and this is simply another example of French taking the credit for something that they didn’t invent, just like revolution and Impressionism (I thought that impressionism was French until I visited the permanent Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain, and now I am not so sure).
I suppose that I should be happy with my home country being credited for so many things. Why do I feel slightly cheated then?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Last week, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend of mine. She was at the end of her tether. How come? I asked. Well, she has a French boyfriend, you see. Everything is going well but there is something bothering her: he likes to wander stark naked in their apartment. All the time. She is not very comfortable with this. And the day before, he even went on the balcony -without his clothes on- to water the plants. When she confronted him, he simply didn’t understand what the big deal was. To him, being naked in his own flat is completely natural. And the balcony is part of the flat. Of course it is.
I listened politely and didn’t laugh. She was very worried. This is not good behaviour, you see. Memories started coming back to me. My neighbour, in Saint Tropez, spends the whole summer without any clothes on and we got so used to it that we were having whole conversations with her (we were fully dressed, for the record). I have to admit that I don’t notice her any more. My grandfather, who still has sharp eyes despite nearing 90, pointed out that she has new breast implants, and he doesn’t like them. Something is wrong with the shape, apparently.
I hate to generalise but, in France, being naked is less big of a deal. Young kids routinely go naked on the beach and nobody bats an eyelid. In short, I tried to reassure my friend and explain to her that it didn’t really matter. She was a bit more upbeat in the end. She was convinced that this was nothing more than a cultural difference. A job well done, I thought. I was very proud of myself. Silly old me.
I went to their flat yesterday to bring back a forgotten scarf. I knocked at the door, and was greeted by the said boyfriend. Stark naked of course. I kid you not. Well, I have to admit that I almost had a heart attack. I dropped the scarf on the floor and couldn’t get myself to get it back because that would have made my face even closer to you-know-what. I made my excuses and left as far as I could. I can’t believe that I was so patronising with my American friend. He does indeed take it to a whole new level. This whole nudity thing is a bit too much, even for me. I couldn’t make small talks as if he wasn’t naked. I just couldn’t. It was beyond me, don’t ask me why. Maybe I am getting older.
Or maybe I am more British than I thought. It simply was too much for me. It reminded me of a neighbour who used to put the rubbish out for collection in his underpants (see here). Not nice. I wasn’t expecting to see this. Don’t get me wrong, he is very good-looking and everything, but I can’t handle it. Note to myself: don’t defend French men any more. Ever.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Despite my British passport, everybody thinks that I am French. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. People assume lots of things about me. Such things may come from what they have read or been told. Who knows? I don’t try to understand it any more. In particular, one of the usual prejudgments is that, as I am French, I don’t shower a lot and don’t clean my house very well.

As a result, I have had mums coming to my house to ‘inspect’ it before they would allow their kids to have a first play date with my children –you never know, they might catch something (it is called a French bug, very contagious indeed –be careful ladies). One mum in particular even opened the cupboard under the kitchen sink and looked in amazement at my cleaning products. With kids, I try to disinfect as often as possible, and she was so impressed that she didn’t hear me come back from upstairs. She was still crouching when she asked me whether I was really French. What a bloody cheek!

Yes, my house is clean and I like to do a bit of spring cleaning in March/April. Honestly. That said, such misconceptions make me want to pick my nose, eat my bogies in public and forget what a vacuum cleaner is.  The sneaky mum then went on explaining that she had just come back from a week-end in Paris and couldn’t believe how dirty it was, with rubbish and dog poo everywhere. That’s why she was so intrigued by my lovely cleaning products.
I didn’t know what to say. I shut up. You can’t fight this, can you? And there is no point anyway. I can’t win. You have to choose your battles, right?

As I was angry, I went to the gym for a workout, and bumped into another mum at the sport centre. She was sitting at the café next door when I got out, after my shower. She said ‘You took a long shower, didn’t you?’. I didn’t know that my shower had to be timed but there you go, it looks like I am under close surveillance. I must be careful. I couldn’t help it, I had to answer back. I then said:
“ Did I really? That’s funny, because I don’t really mind body odours. I think that they are very sexy. Don’t you?”
She was stunned. I walked by.

I shouldn’t have said that.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

You all know the old saying ‘less is more’. Basically, it means ‘don’t overdo it’. As in, for instance, don’t put on a gorgeous necklace and fantastic earrings, because it will be too much and could even clash. I used to completely agree with such an attitude. Well, now, I am not so sure. What has changed exactly? Well, lots of things.

For starters, the latest craze in London is the crop top. Basically, just like hot pants, the shorter, the better. Take a normal T-Shirt, cut it just under the breast and there you go, you have a crop top. Crop tops are everywhere, and Crop ! Crop! Crop! seems to be the new motto in London. This made me wonder: why does everything need to be in a lighter, shorter version?

I ordered a salad in a restaurant tonight. It was a bit disappointing because all I had was 4 leaves of endive topped by a spoonful of crab meat. Surely it was, once again, a minimalist version of a normal dish. I ended up ordering a big British cheese board to compensate, and immediately felt better.

Sometimes, you just need more and less is not more. Honestly, don’t you think that this minimalist fashion is, well, a bit boring? Where is the fun in this? Come on, it is perfectly ok to have a maxi dress, is it not? And to have a starter AND a dessert? And if I want to have three necklaces and earrings on top of it, so be it! After all, who cares?

In a professional environment, I was repeatedly told that I should not make my points too strongly, because, you see, you need to suggest and, in a British environment, less is more too. What a load of rubbish! At the end of the day the notes I was reading were so bland that I didn’t know what to think after reading them. Not helpful at all…

This minimalist mindset is starting to get on my nerves. Come on, why can’t we have full-length T-shirts ? Or large portions of food when we are hungry? And if I feel strongly about something, why can’t I tell it as it is?

How do you deal with it? Did you succumb to this minimalist mindset? I sometimes wonder where it will lead us: minuscule T-shirts and non-existent opinions?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Everyday, I am reminded that my daughters are more British than French. Today is no exception. We have to prepare for a dinner and I want the girls to be dressed a little bit more formally. Me being me, I am intending to wear my black dress. You can’t go wrong with a little black dress, can you? I personally like mine, because it is classic, timeless, flatters the figure, and the length is perfect. Here is a picture taken a few months back. Well, for my elder daughter, it was a no brainer: she said that she was going to wear her formal hot pants. I was stunned.

Naively, I thought that hot pants could only be something informal but no, I was wrong, there are hot pants for all sorts of occasions. In British fashion, that is. I have never seen a French woman wear hot pants in a formal setting. You can wear them on the beach during a sunny day but that’s as far as a you would go. And given the fact that I do not have the legs of a young girl, I am not sure that I would risk it. Would you? This is a great fashion schism: hot pants are BIG this side of the channel, but not in France.
So here she is, wearing her formal hot pants. 

In pure French style, I would prefer a black dress but I have no saying in the matter. Come on, she looks better in her dress doesn’t she? 

To tell you the whole truth, she didn’t want to try my black dress on, because ‘Come on, it would be a maxi dress on me!’ Wearing teeny-tiny hot pants is OK, but a normal dress, please no! And she prefers her hot pants anyway. Maybe it is some sort of teenage rebellion, maybe it is a British fashion statement. I will never know.
I had to face my fears. I decided to try her hot pants on. You see, I am no Kate Moss, and I am 40 now, but this is something that I had to try at least once. Well, it is done, and here is the result. It is nothing short of a miracle that I managed to fit into her hot pants.

Well, that’s a tick in the box. That said, as I am French, I will stick to my black dress. And she will stick to her hot pants. She is British, you see.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Is France stuck in the past? I am starting to wonder. Whenever I meet a French acquaintance, he or she asks me which university (‘grande ecole’) I have been to. Sometimes I even have to speak about my grades at the French baccalaureat. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems talking about this, but come on, it was a long time ago. I know that I still feel 15 in my head, but can we please move on? It is as if something you have achieved (or not) 20 years ago was the defining moment of an entire life. Give me a break.
But such an attitude is very deeply entrenched in the French mentality. I remember a French ‘friend’ who was really crossed because another friend, who had attended a slightly less selective university had had a promotion and not him. Shocking. He was ballistic. You need to respect the established order. The French universities’ league table is set in stone and one of the pillars of French society. Simply put, some schools can set you for life. That’s just the way it is and I am not sure that I like such a mindset. Not having anything to prove any more means that you can become an arrogant twit without having to suffer from any consequence of your behaviour. Lovely.
It is funny how people like to talk about something they understand and relate to. I was wondering whether the British were the same. I have never felt such an urge to know which schools I have attended over here, but maybe that’s because I am not British born. Things seem to be a bit more relaxed in London and -let’s say it- I feel less judged for my choices.
So tell me, are we really defined by our academic education? Come on, there has got to be something more than which schools you attended. Do you think because I attended the Daisies nursery my whole life will be ruined? Am I condemned to a life of lies and petty crimes?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Catching up with some friends over the week-end, I had the surprise of my life when one of them started staring at my torn denim pants, sighed, and said: ‘you are always dressed so stylishly’.
Just to clarify, I was wearing some dirty old pants that happened to be on top of my pile of clothes when I woke up far too early because for some reason my younger daughter always wakes up at 6 am and wants everybody to wake up at the same time.
I couldn’t believe it.  Then, I realised that it is all about perception. If you can’t fight clichés, then just embrace them and make the most of them! In fact, if can look stylish, it is living proof that everybody can look French –and therefore stylish. So fear not, dear reader, I have compiled a list that will make you look French in no time at all. Here it is:
     1.  Pretend that you have French relatives. Be convincing. Actually, convince yourself that you have French relatives. You can’t speak French because you were not brought up there, but you do have French roots. Of course you do.

     2. Whatever you wear, wear it with pride. Even if it is your dirty old denim pants, make it look like it is the latest Prada creation. I can promise you that it works.

     3. Buy a lovely French red beret in a shop (there are plenty around) and wear it all the time. Enjoy the looks of envy on the street!

     4. Do not hesitate to steal stuff from your teenage daughter wardrobe.  It is payback time: she didn’t think that she could get away with  all the mood swings, did she?

     5. A little bit of hair (moustache, armpits…) is OK. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about looking like a gorilla here. For some reason, only French women can get away with not being perfectly groomed all the time. What can I say, it is not fair, I know, but that’s just the way it is. It is all about looking as if you were not trying. And this no hair dictatorship is really annoying, don’t you think? Bushy brows are sexy anyway.

     6. The magic recipe for a French blow dry is as follows: wash your hair in the evening, dry it a little bit and go to bed. The next morning, you will look like a sensual goddess (90% of the time, I admit. But hey, on the bright side, you will have made HUGE savings!)

     7.  Less is more: the simpler, the better. Please avoid all flowery fabrics. Please. I beg of you.

     8. Don’t hide behind your clothes. Skinny? Overweight? Honestly, who cares? Just show that you are a confident woman. Ooze sensuality. Yes, you can do it! Look, I managed to look stylish despite waking up at 6 am on a Sunday and being in a bad mood. You have no excuses whatsoever. Absolutely none.

     9. Smile.  At least it will make you look happy.

     10. High heels are a pain but hey do help. Sad but true.
So, please try it out and tell me how it went…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

I often complain complain about the cultural differences between France and Britain. That said, some words transcend cultural boundaries. Here is an example : a ‘spring clean’ or ‘nettoyage de printemps’ has exactly the same meaning on both sides of the channel. There you have it: for once French and British agree wholeheartedly.
The weird thing is that I am in a ‘spring clean’ sort of mood. I don’t know what went into me, but, a few days ago, I woke up with a sudden urge to declutter my house. Time to tidy up, time to clean, time to get rid of old, unwanted stuff. As I am in such a mood once in a blue moon, I thought that I should make the most of it. And here I am, getting rid of old CDs and DVDs, giving old children clothes to various charities and trying desperately to find a place that would recycle my old printers (all three of them -I hadn’t realised that I had kept my printers since I was a student). Believe it or not, I couldn’t find anything around where I live.
Who knew we had so much stuff? I feel like I could open a shop for children’s clothes. And what should I do with my old sky boxes? I took it to Google and discovered that there are all sort of sites to get rid of what I have. But it takes a lot of time. And preparation. And I am not sure that I am good at it. I will get there, eventually!
I don’t know where this year’s spring clean is going to take me. That said, clearly, it is the start of a new phase!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London