Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Well, you know that I hate labels and stereotypes. And I happen to be French. But hear me out. I have sold various pieces of furniture on eBay because we are moving house (not very far from where we were, but easier for the school run). And as my old curtains don’t fit in the new house, I decided to sell them on eBay. I just didn’t want to chuck them away. I sold them for a fraction of their original price, and I didn’t mind, because I just wanted someone else to enjoy them.

Suffice to say, most of the buyers were absolutely delighted and gave me glowing feedbacks on eBay. Some have even asked me whether I could sell them some more curtains (No, it is all gone by now). All, except one. And guess what: she happens to be French. Why am I not surprised?



Basically, two weeks after having paid a mere £10 for huge satin curtains, she said than one of the curtains had a stain of coffee. This can’t be true because:
1. I can’t see anything on the pics;
2. I had had the curtains professionally cleaned and had even paid £23 for this -I am not a great eBayer, I know-!
And finally: the curtains are worth at least 10 times more. In short, she is blaming me for something that she has probably done, and she is not happy despite having bagged a bargain.

Of course, this is not a big deal. But can someone tell me why some people are NEVER happy? And why are they often French?

I happen to be spending some time in France, and I can confirm that everybody is grumpy. Maybe, after all, it is a French trait. I wonder.  They are not happy because the weather is too cold (believe me, it is far better than in London). The (excellent) food is never good enough, they are suffering from a headache and can’t smile. And so on, and so forth.

As for me, well, I have learned my lesson: next time, I will give everything to the local charity shop and I will enjoy every minute of my brilliant life.

How about you? How do you deal with grumpy people?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Topological Spaces

London is now a French city. I hear people speak French all the time. Most of them are quants. Quants, or quantitative analysts, are maths whizzes. They gained a prestigious degree from French universities and came to London to work in a bank, usually right after graduating. They make more money than in France. They gain some international experience. And the icing on the cake is that they can jump on a train and be back to Paris in a couple of hours. Apparently, one in three quants is French.

They produce one mathematical theory after another. As, helped by the structure guys,  they implement their latest mathematical models, their financial products become more and more complex. I am pretty sure that it must some sort of mind game for them. And I am not surprised that they are French. Education in France is mainly about maths. The emphasis on pure maths is unbelievable, and starts at a young age. I learned about topology at 13. Yes, 13. And no, you don’t want to know about it.


That said, quants usually remain just number crunchers. I have yet to see a Frenchman high up in the banking hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty sure that there are exceptions, but my point is that, given that there are so many French junior analysts, why don’t we have more French at the top?

Maybe it is because the derivative market is declining and there is less need for such skills. Or, maybe, this says something about French education. After a decade in London, I can’t help thinking that most French graduates have a very limited business acumen. We are not taught how to do business when we study. I was led to believe that, if I ever were to set up a business, it had to be in a complicated field such as quantum physics. A bit narrow, don’t you think? It had never occurred to me that a business could be simple and make money. There was some sort of intellectual snobbism when you talked about a “normal” business.

In short, living in London has opened my eyes. My children are in the British system and I don’t have any plans to go back to the French system -frankly, I am not sure that they could cope. OK, they do less maths, but they have more fun & and enjoy their life. After all, it is what matters, right?

 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

For years I have used my French driving license to drive around in London. There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it couldn’t last forever, could it? If I had lost my French driving license, it would have been a nightmare to replace it. I therefore decided to take the plunge and get a British one. It feels a bit like my ‘Frenchness’ is slowly fading away, but hey, what can I do?

In France you usually have to go to the ‘prefecture’ (a town hall for the county) to do such things. You take a ticket, you queue, and you actually speak to someone. Things are completely different over here. You print your application form on the DVLA website, you send a cheque (of course you do) and you wait. As I had to send my original driving license, I have to admit that I was a bit worried. What would happen if they lose it?


But, 10 days later I have received my British driving license. It feels a bit weird. To make matters even worse, my French friend keep asking me what it feels like to drive on the wrong side. My British friends are also asking me exactly the same. This is typical, isn’t it? That’s why French and British can’t understand each other: they drive on each other’s wrong side!

I try to explain that there is no right or wrong side, and they look at me as if I were mad. I say that it is all a question of habit, and you need to be, you know, flexible. But no, they don’t hear me. You have to choose your side, you see. French, or British. Right, or left.

I don’t want to choose. Maybe, after all, I am doomed. What would you do?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Today I would like to talk about another myth about French women: apparently, we French women don’t shave our legs. I have heard it countless times and, frankly, I don’t find it amusing any more. In my local salon,  I once bumped  into an intern who was working in our department. I was having a leg wax, if you must know. The next day, when she arrived at work, she shouted that she had seen me in a salon, and said out loud: “- French women do shave, after all”. How embarrassing ! In fact, technically, I didn’t shave: I waxed. It was probably too subtle a difference for her to notice.

Right. Personally, whether or not people wax, shave or thread is of absolutely no concern to me. I don’t care and would never comment on someone’s hairy legs. As long as you are happy the way you are, it is none of my business at all. The only time I noticed something was at a Bikram yoga session. What I saw made lose my balance while doing my Awkward pose. I seemed to be the only one who was kind of horrified at the sight of the hairy legs of the lady next to me. I am not talking about the type of leg hair that was awaiting a fresh wax, but long, unkempt, never-tended-to leg hair like a man’s. Then, I realised that I was silly and ought to spend my energy actually doing yoga rather than looking at the lady’s legs. I looked away and quickly forgot about it.

Maybe British women don’t shave their legs. Major generalisation, yes, but that’s how these things start, right? So why do we have such a reputation? And why do I keep hearing it again and again? Give me a break, and forget about my legs!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

The unthinkable has happened. I have just had a very London moment. I might be more British than I think, after all. Let me explain: I had just caught a black cab back to go home as I was, as usual, running behind schedule.

Once I had told him where to go, the cab driver looked at me and asked:
“- Do you have a preferred way to get there, Love?”
“- No, not particularly. Whatever is easier.”
“-Not a problem, Darling”

And then, five minutes later, it downed on me: he had called me Love and Darling and I hadn’t even noticed. It hadn’t bothered me at all. When this had first happened to me, I was on the verge of calling the emergency services. And now, I don’t notice it any more. What a difference a few years make! Don’t get me wrong: I can’t say that I like it, but I think that I might be suffering from a severe case of selective hearing.


Maybe, after all, I am more British than I think? Where is this coming from? It must have happened gradually, little by little. I used to hate being called Pumpkin, Sweetheart and the likes. Now I can’t hear it any more. What is wrong with me? My hearing seems perfectly alright. This is something deeper. My brain is just skipping the words I don’t want to hear.
When we finally arrived, he said.
“- Goodbye, Sweetheart!”

Well, he can sweetheart me as long as he wants to, I don’t care anymore.
Do you have any idea of what is happening? Have I caught the British bug?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

How do you fight against stereotypes? How do you make the point, as gently as possible, that there is no such thing as “the French”? Let me tell you a little story. I used to be working for this company in London, and I was the only French of the team. I had the occasional comment about French politics and they seemed to struggle to understand my bad accent from time to time, but, all in all, I was pretty happy there. One day, I found a better job elsewhere and resigned. They wanted to buy me a little present on my last day. I insisted that it wasn’t necessary -after all, I was leaving them!-, but my colleagues really wanted to, which I thought was nice. I ended up giving them the name of a charity I support, saying that a small donation would be appreciated. On my last day, we all gathered up, and they insisted on giving me my present. It turned out that they had ignored my wish and bought me an ashtray.

The thing is: I don’t smoke. Never have. Never will. I had worked there for a couple of years, and they hadn’t noticed. This is because, according to them, all French people smoke cigarettes. Well, I don’t.

I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. There was clearly no point in telling them that they had it completely wrong, and I was leaving anyway, so why should I have educated them? I ended up thanking them them profusely. I think that I delivered a pretty good performance. I felt a lot happier to leave the company. They clearly didn’t know me well.

Why did my colleagues assume I was smoking? Where did this come from? I came to the conclusion that it probably said more about them than about me, and it was better to let it slide.

What about you? How do you deal with stereotypes?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

It started with an exchange on Twitter, and it brought back some childhood memories. In France, when I grew up, all bathrooms had a bidet. The bidet was a sign of social status. A modern house had to have a bidet. Preferably with green or orange tiles, actually. Ah, memories…I never understood what a bidet what for. I think that you use it to wash your bottom without having to have a full bath (honestly, what are showers for?). That said, my mum used to wash her feet in it too. Go figure. Frankly, when you think of it, it is all a bit disgusting, isn’t it?
Bidets have always seemed strange to me. My daughters absolutely loved them when they were toddlers, because they thought that it was a loo for kids. Look at the cute loo Mummy! I have had to clean up my grandmother’s bidet countless times. Lovely. That said, maybe the reason why my daughters were so good at potty training is that they could use the bidet? Just a thought.


Bidets are French and were invented in the XVIIth century. Some say that this is because bidets are popular in countries where people don’t like to wash. The French have hence invented something that would allow them not to take a bath for several days (see here to read that the good old clichés are still true). How practical!
I haven’t seen bidets in this country. Mind you, I have seen a lot of other things, such as dirty carpet in the bathroom, but no bidets. I am told that bidets are making a come back. Really? Where are they?
In France, the older generation swears by its bidet. I have asked my bidet-loving family why they love it so much. Apparently, it is more hygienic. And you make savings on toilet paper (yeuuuurk!). As I have yet to find how to use a bidet properly, I asked around and was even given a step by step guide of proper bidet use by an old aunt who kindly wanted to help. As you are very lucky today, I am sharing it with you.
1.     Undress (Obviously);
2.     Ride the bidet, as if you would ride a pony. Actually, the word ‘bidet’ means ‘pony in French’;
3.     Adjust temperature and pression. Beware: you don’t want to burn yourself down there;
4.     Wipe, wash, rinse (preferably in this order). Apparently, it feels quite nice (still according to my aunt. What a perv!);
5.     Dry, etc…and voila!
What can I say? I think that I will stick to my daily shower. What about you?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

If you haven’t done it already you have to look at this table. It explains what the British really mean when they use certain expressions. It was forwarded to me by my blogging friend Joy.


WHAT THE BRITISH SAY
WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN
WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say
I disagree and do not want to discuss it further
He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect
You are an idiot
He is listening to me
That’s not bad
That’s good
That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal
You are insane
He thinks I have courage
Quite good
A bit disappointing
Quite good
I would suggest
Do it or be prepared to justify yourself
Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way
The primary purpose of our discussion is
That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that
I am annoyed that
It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting
That is clearly nonsense
They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind
I’ve forgotten it already
They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault
It’s your fault
Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner
It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite
I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree
I don’t agree at all
He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments
Please rewrite completely
He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options
I don’t like your idea
They have not yet decided

For the full article in The Telegraph you can click here.



That said, if you believe that with this table you are saved, and that understanding the British will be a doddle, well, think again. Understanding what the British mean is a lifelong job. After 10 years I am far from being there yet.

Here are a few pointers. Feel free to add some more in the comments.

       The art of understatement

Whatever you do, understate, understate, understate. Never admit to the whole truth, it would be a sign of weakness. And if what you are trying to say is too, well, direct, you just need to divert the attention of your interlocutor.

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY
WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN 
WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND 
I am a bit lost 
I am completely lost 
We will get there soon 
There was a bit of a blooper 
It is a total mess 
There was a bit of a blooper 
I sort of say I would 
Yes I will
I am not so sure he will do it
You look well 
You have put on weight
You look well 
She is a bright girl
She looks like the back of a bus
She is intelligent
I had a bit of luck and got promoted
I worked like a dog and finally got my promotion
I have had a promotion without really working for it. How unfair!

       Never say No

It is rude to say no over here. You need to listen carefully to determine whether what you are hearing is a no. Really carefully.

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY
WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN
WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
Question: Would you like a bit more pasta?
I don’t mind
Certainly not  
Yes please 
Maybe later 
Get lost
I need to ask again
Of course I will come
What a nuisance. I will do my utmost best to give it a miss.
He will come 
Not yet
 No
Soon
I will try again
I can’t be bothered
He is trying his best.

       Some things never change.

That said, British men will be men and some things just transcend languages. However, don’t forget that in most of continental Europe, we don’t have a ‘date’ system.

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY
WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN
WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
(Guy speaking) I would like to know you more
I want to sleep with you
How lovely! 
(Girl speaking) I would like to know you more
I think I am falling for you
She wants to sleep with me. 
Don’t worry, it is not a date 
It is totally a date.
What is a date? 
Can I get you home?
 I want to spend the night with you
I want to spend the night with you
I will call you back (Guy)
Not interested
(Girl) It went so well!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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