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

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