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

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

My Lovely Daughter

There is a defining moment in every mother’s life. It happened to me this week, when I was wandering in Paris with my teenage daughter, making the most of a short break. She was getting a lot of attention, and it made me feel even more invisible. This is yet more evidence that I have passed my sell-by date. Life is tough. I wanted to shout at passers-by that she is only 13 and, basically, just a kid, but it didn’t seem to bother them. What a bunch of perverts! She was offered a seat on a busy train, and politely declined. The young man insisted. Men were holding doors for her, and smiling stupidly at every possible opportunity. To be fair, it didn’t seem to bother her and it looked like she didn’t even notice their pathetic efforts. It must have driven them crazy. Good girl!
I thought that they would be discouraged when they would see her mouth full of lovely blue braces stuck on her teeth (by the way, they are costing a fortune) but, again, they didn’t seem to care.
Don’t get me wrong, she is beautiful and I am a proud mum but, come on, French men need to be restrained !
I also had a couple of guys asking me out, just like that, on the street. I had completely forgotten that French men were so warm-blooded. In fact, I am not sure that I remember how to deal with such attitudes. I had completely forgotten about them. The thing is, I don’t believe in stereotypes and I hate to generalise. That said, I had to admit that I was surprised (and not necessarily in a good way) by all the attention we had.
What is going on? It simply didn’t feel right. Are French men more sexist than their British counterparts? I really wonder. How come I didn’t really notice when I was living in Paris? Maybe we have become more British than we thought.
 So, where does this leave us? Well, I don’t know. That’s not entirely true. The last couple of days in Paris made me realise that we don’t belong there any more. What a difference a few years make!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

I have to break it out to you: in France, we don’t celebrate Boxing day. We simply don’t have it. Tough but true. It is common practice to go back to work on the 26th of December. Usually, you celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and you have a big lunch on the 25th. That’s it, celebrations are over. See, contrary to popular beliefs, the French are sometimes working when the Anglo-Saxon world just stops for a massive shopping spree! I thought that I should clarify this point. Somehow it makes me feel better. It might have something to do with the fact that I used to be told all the time that ‘we French’ never work.

When we first moved to London, I didn’t understand why you don’t have to go to work on the 26th of December. It took me a while to get it. That said, there is a Tube strike in London today and I won’t venture anywhere near a shop today. Not a chance.

Boxing Day is just a bonus for us. London is empty and it is a good time to catch up with family and just take it easy. I might even go for a lovely jog outside it it doesn’t start to rain again. I might be British now but I can’t really run in the rain. What are treadmills for anyway?

I hope that you are all having  a lovely time, and that you don’t have to work today!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Nice Airport, 22nd of December 2012
Unbelievable. You may remember it, but the post that started it all (and can be found here), was about a British mum, at the school gate, who inadvertently showed her bottom and acted as if nothing had happened. At the time (ah, memories!), I thought that it was a very British thing to do. Well, it turns out that I was wrong. Completely wrong.
You see, the picture at the top of this post was taken yesterday, at the airport in Nice (you will be pleased to know that I have made it back. YAY!). The lady was playing with her pet. She stayed like that at least 15 minutes, perfectly happy with showing the top half of her bottom while she was cooing at her puppy. I can assure you that she was French.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought that French women were known for their class and restraint but she might be the exception that proves the rule. I am baffled. I still don’t know what to say. What was she thinking?

My daughters found the whole situation incredibly funny and kept shouting  ‘Look, Mum, look!’. The lady in question was completely oblivious to the noise. In the end, I took the first possible excuse to sit elsewhere while we were waiting for our (delayed, as always) flight.

But it wasn’t the end of our adventures. As I was on my own with the girls, a French guy with a red tracksuit came next to us. He started talking to me, assuming that I was single. Or divorced. Or, in any event, available. He ended up asking me out, in front of the girls. I couldn’t believe it. I turned his various offers down (what was he thinking?). In no particular order, he asked me out for a dinner, a glass of wine and/or a coffee. Why do I always attract weirdos (and dogs, for some reason)? I saw that passport control was finally opened and fled the scene with my little ones as fast as I could. I told the girls -in English, of course-, to hurry up.

We finally boarded the plane and I thought that I could finally relax. Well, not quite yet. At passport control, in London this time, the officer checked our passport and told me that he would happily go to Nice with me next time (wink wink). I couldn’t believe -If I complain, is he allowed to do a body search?- so I just smiled. I told the girls -In French this time-to hurry up and we quickly made our goodbyes. After all, I should be flattered, and I am sure that it was meant it a jokey way. You know, male jokes. I might not get this type of comments in a few years. Or maybe I will. Who knows?

In short, I couldn’t see any noticeable differences between French and English yesterday. That’s probably what globalisation does for you. Or is it that some attitudes transcend nationalities? I wonder. What do you think?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

I am spending a few days in France to visit family. The thing is, I come from a small village and, basically, there is no choice: I have to rent a car to get there. This means that I have to drive my little ones in a country that’s supposed to be mine but that I don’t recognise any more.

Well, driving in France is nothing short of a challenge. It looks like there is a different set of rules over here. People at the wheel become some sort of monsters who will stop at nothing to make your life a living hell while you drive.

For instance, speed limits must not be respected. Speed limits are, in fact, a minimal speed. Unless there is a police van or a radar, of course. I tend to be very disciplined and I was driving at exactly 90km per hour (the speed limit). Well, everybody was overtaking me. Everybody, even lorries and motorcycles. Unbelievable. Maybe I ended up in the middle of a race without knowing it.

If you don’t have any visibility, it is not a problem, you can overtake. I find this behaviour incredibly dangerous, especially on small country roads, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Have I missed something?

If you believe that the driver in front of you is too slow, you stay as close to him/her as possible. Lovely. Maybe it is supposed to be funny. I need to buy a ‘keep your distance’ sticker. I am not sure that it will work but you never know, it might be worth a try, I suppose.

Traffic lights are just a Christmas decoration at night. Stopping at a red light in the middle of the night is considered to be rude because you are hindering the fluidity of the traffic. Of course. How come I hadn’t thought of this?

No car is too old to be driven, preferably fast. I see old cars from my childhood everywhere…Some look like a pot of yogurt and I thought that they might disintegrate on the motorway. But they didn’t. Mind you, they almost flew.

In short, every time I have to drive somewhere over here, I am freaking out. You do have the odd angry driver in London, but it is the exception rather than the rule…well, it is the other way around over here.

I really hope that I will make it back to London in one piece, as I am honestly appalled with such road rage.

That said, apparently I shouldn’t complain. I am told that it is even worse in Italy. Life is full of challenges I suppose. Maybe I should buy an old tank?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Just go with the flow, in Rabaul, PNG

The problem with growing older is that I become less and less tolerant with silly comments and patronising people. I just can’t stand them, and it is getting worse.
I am not talking about the little white lies we all have to make in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feeling. No, I am talking about all the silly things that I have to listen to or endure everyday. Is there such a thing as a carapace to protect yourself from stupidity, prejudgments and incompetence?

It can happen anywhere. Today, it happened at the post office. I had organised to have a parcel delivered there and had received a message that it had finally arrived. After a long queue, the guy told me that parcels usually take 2 or 3 additional days to be delivered, despite the confirmation message. Basically, he didn’t want to get his bottom off his chair to check whether it had arrived. I had to plead, explain and charm to get him to give me my parcel, which eventually happened but took more time than expected. The parcel had of course arrived.

Sometimes, it comes from a friend or someone close, and it is not nice to be taken for a fool by someone you are supposed to trust. I especially dislike it when so-called friends try to impress me with sweeping statements about ‘the French’, such as ‘all French women smoke’. Unfortunately, it happens.

The thing is, I don’t like confrontation. I don’t want to score points with silly people, French or English. What is the point of telling them that they should know better, they haven’t done a good job or are not behaving well? There is none. Why would I want to educate them? It is not my responsibility and I simply don’t want to spend time and energy on someone who wouldn’t understand anyway.

The French way to deal with such behaviour is to give a lecture or shout. It is all about naming and shaming. I don’t really like it. The British way is subtler. You try to charm and thank profusely (and even a little bit too much). It is all about over killing the whole thing with politeness. You complain afterwards. I like it more.

Sometimes, the best way is to do nothing. I can’t fight every possible battle. I remember queuing at a post office in Brazil to get some important work-related documents. The lady in front of me started talking about her whole life. I am sure that she didn’t mean any harm. It lasted more than half an hour. There was nothing to do, really. So I waited up.

What about you? Do you speak up or do you wait up?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Before I start, if you could write a review of my blog here I would love you forever. Sorry to ask you to work, everyone!

I was looking at French newspapers over the weekend when it downed on me: most French politicians and, more generally, most French citizen share a similar trait. What is it? No, it is not the clothes. You could argue that, for politicians, it is the background : most of them are graduates of the famous ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration), which basically allows them to lead France without having to make a single penny running a business. And, if you must ask, France does have a school for judges. Honestly. But I digress.
We French work under the unwritten assumption that we are different. The usual rules of common sense do not apply to us. Let me explain: apparently, we French are one of the worst countries in terms of fluency in English. Quizzed about this fact, a fellow Frenchman answered back with another question (a classic trick) ‘ how well do other countries speak French’. It is typical, isn’t it? We are the centre of the universe, hence the others should speak French. Of course. How come I hadn’t thought of this?
What is your first reaction when someone tells you ‘well, but this is different’? It usually drives me mad. Being different is too often an excuse not to have achieved something or not to follow the rules. France needs to reduce its debt. 56% of the GDP is spent on public spending (vs 48,5% in this country or even c. 39% in the USA) but massive cuts won’t happen any time soon because we are different. How we will reduce our deficit remains a mystery to me.
Being French has everything to do with being an exception. It is in our genes, and we will always be reluctant to follow the rules. Mind you, such a skill can be an asset when you need to persevere. But, more often than not, it is a hindrance: we just don’t want to change!
I keep being asked when I will move back to France. The sad fact if the matter is that I don’t think that I ever will. I might be French, but I am different.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Joan Of Arc by Rosetti, kissing her sword

I need to come clean about something. After more than 8 years now, I still haven’t cracked the right way to say hello in London.
Usually, I say “Hi” or “Hey” and it does the trick. But the responses may vary. It can be ‘Good day mate!’, ‘Are you alright?’ or ‘How do you do?’. Sometimes, I even get the silent look and I feel like a total failure. Sigh.

In short, I never get it right. However, that’s not the worst part. My real greeting nightmare is: when do you kiss?  In France, we are all serial smoochers. Depending on the region, you have to do 2, 3 or even 4 pecks on the cheeks. Here, I simply don’t know. Apparently, the rule seems to be one light kiss on the cheek for your female friends only. Don’t ask me what you do with the boys, I have no idea whatsoever. None. I have seen some do air kisses, hugs, or just handshakes. I think that there must be a hidden addendum on the Magna Carta explaining whom you can kiss. Mental note to self: I need to call the British Museum to ask them.

So what do you do over here? I sometimes wish I were a stuck-up British man who would only do handshakes. Some of my male colleagues told me that they had never kissed anyone (to say hello, obviously. Mind you, they didn’t elaborate so it is open to all interpretations). I couldn’t believe it. I have tried to kiss male friends (in a friendly way, if you must know) only to be greeted with a clumsy handshake and a funny look. OK, lesson learned.

Actually, not quite.  It took me a bit more to learn my lesson and to NEVER kiss a British guy without prior warning, explanation and a business case (all three conditions are mandatory). I hadn’t moved for a very long time to London and I made the mistake of kissing British friend/colleague to say hello. The guy slightly turned his head and I almost kissed the corner of his lips. I was very embarrassed indeed and had to apologise to make it clear that I didn’t fancy him (at all, actually). And then he said “The pleasure was all mine”.

I couldn’t believe it. Well, I don’t like British kisses but you have got to love the British sense of humour, right?

What about you? How do you deal with the kissing conundrum?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

We had a few quiet months but right now it is coming back with a vengeance: I keep reading articles about ‘the French’ and how extramarital affairs are not that big a deal on the continent. It is not making my life any easier.
Some British men still blush when I talk to them, because of my accent. I don’t know what they are thinking. Maybe that I am hitting on them? That I ooze sensuality? That I fancy them? Next time, I will pretend that I am German. Or Swiss. Most middle-aged British men are not listening to what I say for the first five minutes (sometimes even longer). Then, usually, I get a comment like ‘you look very French’. I retaliate ‘you sound very British’. Or I just smile. Most of the time, I give up and try to work with women. Much easier. I used to find the whole thing flattering. Now, I am just tired of it.
Give me a break. Being French and a woman is a double whammy: you have got to fight against the sexist clichés AND the stereotypes against the French. You need a good dose of patience and it is important to keep things into perspective: it is a cultural thing, nothing personal. I have learned to ignore the winks and the smiles after an allusion to the behaviour of DSK and the likes.
In London, they make it sound like the French have invented extramarital affairs. All the articles usually paint an idyllic picture of open marriages and glorify women who swallow their pride while their husbands have a roving eye. Apparently, being unfaithful is not that big a deal in France.
What a load of rubbish!
Come on, the aristocracy in this country has had affairs for ages (just look at the Royal Family!), and it doesn’t have much to do with the French, does it? They did it all by themselves. Affairs are not the privilege of the French. Over here, there are plenty of website for married people who want to cheat on their partner. Such sites might exist in France but apparently it is not as big a business as over here.
I sometimes wonder whether such articles are written by frustrated journalists who would like to have the opportunity to stray but are too afraid to do so. Admiring the French for their perceived promiscuity is an easy way to forget their own frustrations.
What would we do without stereotypes? I once was offered an ashtray despite the fact that I don’t smoke. As I am French, people assume I smoke. Well, I don’t. I gave the ashtray to my then British boss, who was a smoker. Maybe I should have kept it to throw it against the wall when I get a silly and inappropriate question about whether my husband has a mistress -because, apparently, all French men do. Instead, I play it cool. I say ‘oh yeah, the three of us had lunch on Sunday, it was great. Actually, she is waiting for me in the car right now, she is giving me a lift to the spa. Must go’. Or I take the moral high ground: you don’t cheat on a woman like me!
And here is why I feel angry this morning: while I was writing this post during my morning coffee, a British guy wearing the mandatory stripey suit came to me and asked me whether I knew him from somewhere. I didn’t –I can’t even have my coffee without anyone bothering me, can you believe it? He even wrote his number on a napkin. I won’t post it (I hesitated). Great, on top of everything else, I need to change coffee shop.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London