I might be French but I have brought up British daughters. This stark realisation came yesterday evening when my younger daughter was taking far too much time to go to bed. To speed things up I decided to switch the light off (otherwise she would probably still be reading -or playing-) in her bedroom. That’s when she protested with a loud
What? Did she just say ‘Oi’? I couldn’t believe it. A well-behaved French little girl would have said
‘eh oh, I still need the light’ or
‘Mummy, can you please switch the light on?’
It happened again today. What am I talking about? Well, I received another dick pic on Twitter this morning, as a DM. I deleted it, and blocked the account, as I usually do. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it, but, frankly, it didn’t bother me. I am used to it by now. I still don’t understand what men expect me to do when they send me such pictures. Do they want me to reciprocate(No way!) ? Shall I admire them? What is the point exactly? I don’t understand but hey, we are where we are.
I then opened my email box, and this time found a love declaration (not from the same guy, I think). It’s amazing how people believe that they have a special connection with you when they don’t know you at all. I ignored it. That’s not entirely true: I thought of forwarding it to my agent to see whether we could publish all the love declarations I have received at some point. It could work, couldn’t it?
It happened during a race. As you know, I sometimes run ultra marathons. What can I say? I like to push myself. Anyway, one of the (many) things I love about races is that I don’t have any filtering system when I run. It was the end of yet another long ultra, and I was exhausted. My running watch had died a long time ago, and I had no idea how much longer I needed to run. Which is why, when I saw a fellow runner, I asked him how far from the finishing line we were. He said something like ‘about a mile’.
I was delighted. I was almost there. I had made it. Which is why I blurted out:
” Oh really? I love you for this!”
I have had a full-on year. Come to think of it, I have a full-on life. It just never stops. But right now I have taken the whole family to a hamlet in Provence. The Internet connection –when it works- is patchy, which means that I am enjoying a much-needed break.
I love it here. The light is nothing short of spectacular, the colours are perfect, and I am pleased to report that my daughters are finally starting to enjoy Provence. The problem is, well, me.
What am I talking about? Well, I am suffering from a bad case of reverse culture shock. Why? Well, where to start? The driving of my fellow Frenchmen is terrible (simply put, speed limits are never respected. I wonder if they are for the birds?). As for customer service, well, it seems that nobody knows what it is. I asked for a glass of water at a local coffee, and of course it never came. Not to mention that I got told off because the waitress had forgotten half of our order. “No, you didn’t tell me.”, she said. Of course it was my fault. Since when is it allowed to be aggressive towards customers?
It happened again the other day. What am I talking about? I had another formal dinner, and I wanted to look my best. Why do I still care? Well, I don’t know. It’s mainly for me, I suppose: despite the fact that I am not getting any younger, I still like to look nice. Maybe it’s my French side? And it was also for my husband. I didn’t want people to think that I was letting myself go. I didn’t want to become yet another invisible middle-aged woman. There was only one thing for it: preparation. So I had everything covered. Of course I did.
When you work, have kids, older parents and PTA meetings, the logistics can be daunting. It’s all about planing in advance to make it look effortlessly. The outfit was chosen 10 days before the event. As you know, I don’t buy any more, I rent (https://rentez-vous.com). It’s cheaper, much more fun, and I can change more often, which means that I never have to wear the same dress twice. I borrowed the shoes from a friend (Which was a huge leap of faith because I don’t walk in high heels for more than five minutes). Then, I planned all the eyebrow shaping, waxing, etc…Finally I had to have my hair and make-up done a few hours before the event (because as I have a scientific background, doing my own hair and make up isn’t my strongest point -can you hear the British understatement here?). A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.
In short, I’d like to tell you that it was all easy, but the truth is that it was anything but, and I kept running around like a headless chicken the whole day. Not to mention that I had to go to a school meeting fully made up (but with casual clothes, as I put on the dress at the last minute), which raised a few eyebrows, but hey, I felt I had no choice because the meeting was right before the dinner. Anyway, we got there in the end, and I was extremely pleased with the result. What do you think?
It has just happened again. I didn’t get a position I had applied for. I am feeling, once again, like a complete failure. That said, I must admit that Brits are very polite. At all times and in all circumstances. They will always try to make it easier for you by sugarcoating their responses instead of simply saying ‘No’ or ‘you are not in’. I thought that I should copy you the email I got to prove my point. Here we go:
” Dear Muriel [They like to personnalise things. I am pretty sure that they sent the same letter to everybody, right?]
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you. We received a very large level of response and interest on this project and wanted to ensure that we considered all applications carefully. [Yeah right. It’s been 8 weeks. How were the hols? Did you get away for half-term? What a bunch of lazy lumps!]
Right. It all happened the other morning, when I was starting the school run. As you may know, in England there are roundabouts everywhere. They swear by roundabouts over here. Roundabouts are apparently the solution to all traffic problems, without any exception. Small junction? No problem, let’s put a small roundabout. Big junction? Let’s put a huge one, or even a double or a triple one. There is even a ‘magic roundabout’ in Swindon; it consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth central. I kid you not. They are thinking of listing it, I am told. Something to do with epitomising British values such as spontaneous cooperation. I am joking of course (I told you, even we French sometimes do sarcasm).
But I digress. When I arrived at the small roundabout down the road, I made sure I was driving slowly, controlling the speed of my Chelsea tractor, when a black cab arrived full speed ahead, ignoring that I was actually already on the thing, turning right. He honked furiously, at 7am, and I felt that I had no choice but to stop and let him pass while he was calling me all sorts of names.
What is going on? A few new readers have subscribed to this blog, and they don’t understand what it is all about. They started complaining (of course they did). What am I talking about? Well, here are some of the best comments I received over the last two weeks:
“As you are French, I thought that you were writing about food. I am very surprised that you don’t.” (That’s actually a summary, the actual message would have taken a whole post)
“I read your blog but as you don’t talk about sex I still can’t make out the real cause. After all, you are French! I’m sorry if this hurts!”
“You look like an angel.”
“You are a very sexy lady.”
“Would you please send me dirty messages?” (No I won’t)
“Could you post a recipe of the Kouign-amann?” (Sacrilege! I am not from Brittany!)
In short, you should get the gist of it by now. As a French woman, and just because you happen to be French, you have to be:
- A sex Goddess
- A foodie
I am miffed. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I am always ‘the French one’. My friends and colleagues still consider me to be French. Why? Why such a double standard? I have colleagues who, just like me, are naturalised citizen. They are considered to be British. Sometimes, someone says that they are ‘Indian-born’ or ‘from the continent’, but that’s as far as it goes.
As for me, despite my British passport and the fact that I have been living in London for the best part of 14 years, I am always considered to be French. ‘Ask Muriel’, someone says. ‘Who is she?’ ‘The French one’. But of course. What did I do to deserve to be stigmatised like this?
It is all over the press and is coming from the celebrated actress Kristin Scott Thomas: apparently we French women, unlike our British counterparts, can be attractive without abusing our sexy side. You can read the article here : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3461270/SEBASTIAN-SHAKESPEARE-Fake-tan-short-skirts-Actress-Kristin-Scott-Thomas-blasts-UK-women.html
Is there some truth in such sweeping statements? Obviously the article is written in a slightly provocative way (after all, it was published on the Daily Mail), but I do think that, in my home country, there is a stronger pressure on us women to look good in all circumstances. This is one of the reasons why I find living in London liberating. I will always remember the day when I so one of my neighbours buying her Sunday newspapers at the newsagent around the corner wearing her bathrobe and flip-flops. Shocking. This simply couldn’t have happened in France.