This post is written in collaboration with Qare, a French telemedicine service in London, and is the start of a new series on the differences between the French healthcare and the NHS.
If, like me, you’re used to the French health system, moving to London will be a steep learning curve. First of all, it can be hard to find a French-speaking doctor. This is where Qare also can help: they set up virtual consultations with doctors -in French, and can refer you to a French doctor in London if need be. I wish I had known about this service when we moved. When you are on your own with a sick kid, things can become very stressful and it’s easy to panic (been there, done it). In France, your physician always listens to you. You’re always given a prescription, a routine examination, and taken seriously. Your symptoms will never be minimised, and if your doctor has the slightest doubt, you’ll be referred for a scan, an X-ray or a blood test. Needless to say, things are slightly different this side of the Channel. The weird thing is that, come to think of it, the health budget is similar in France and in the UK (OK, a bit higher in France, but not massively higher), and life expectancy is, again, very close. So why does it feel so different? I have no idea. But this much I know: for me, it was a whole new experience. Here is why. Let me know if I missed anything. And if you are planning to move here, be prepared! Don’t tell me you have not been warned.
Telemedicine is on the rise and can be the response to French expats’ concern. Picture: consultation with Qare
Over here, the first hurdle, after being registered, is to successfully achieve an appointment. What looks easy in theory is a game of patience and resilience. The line is always busy, and the receptionist will do her utmost to encourage you not to get an appointment, because you’re not sick, are you? In France, I have always managed to get an appointment within 48 hours. After many times calling your practice on speed dial and being hung up on a few times, you might be given a slot, usually two or three days after you need it. Don’t believe it’s the last of the hurdles you’ll have to overcome. It’s just the start.
I am exhausted. The children are going back to school tomorrow and frankly, I can’t wait. I was on the verge of calling the school to ask them whether they could take my daughters back a week earlier. Of course they wouldn’t. Silly French me. When I was growing up, we only had a two-week break for Easter. A two-week break with kids is manageable (well, sort of). But what do you do with a three-and-a-half-week break? You become a tired mum bordering on depression.
Believe me, it’s a steep learning curve. First of all, unless you have got childcare on tap with a nice aunt or grandmother nearby, you have to forget about any chances of having an employed job. No, it’s not happening. In order to have a slight chance of being promoted or having responsibilities, you must be ready to delegate the bringing-up of your children to an army of au-pairs and nannies. That’s the way it is. To make matters even worse, you have to work very hard to make it in London.
The afternoon tea is a great British institution. Come to think of it, it’s actually a way of life. I love it, because, for me, it usually is an excuse to have a glass of champagne in the afternoon. What’s not to like? Obviously you are not supposed to say this, but as I happen to be French, well, I’ll say it as it is. And you know me by now.
OK, I hear you, and now I feel guilty (just a bit). Let’s be politically correct for a paragraph : the afternoon tea is a good time to catch up with friends, and I tend to take all my French friends to have one. It usually breaks the ice. It is said that ‘afternoon tea’ was first introduced to England by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the late 19th century to overcome “that sinking feeling” she felt in the late afternoon (wine o’clock -sorry, I did it again). So began a tradition that has endured throughout the centuries. Today, afternoon tea in some London hotels has become an art form, and sometimes you need to book it months in advance.
When friends come over to visit London, they keep asking me what they should do and where they should go. My recommendation is always the same: go to a Marks & Spencer store (preferably a big one, like the one on Oxford street or on High Street Kensington). I realise that this sounds a bit unusual. But I am just being pragmatic here. Because in any M&S shop, you will capture the essence of Britishness in one go.
This is what I have explained in my entry on http://www.eurostar.com/fr-fr/week-end-londres (go to the end of the page, then scroll the different bloggers & you’ll see me)!
So why did I choose M&S?
First of all, there is something about the food there. You will find icons such as Colin the caterpillar and Pepa pig sweets. They will have colours and shapes you didn’t even imagine could be edible. You will also find mint sauce, mince pies and Cadbury chocolates. M&S is a all-in-one. Simply put, it’s a concentrate of Britishness.
It is this time of the year, I suppose. It is getting colder and darker by the minute, and to make matters even worse I am bombarded with emails promising me the best discounts ever. Frankly, I can’t take it anymore. And believe me, I have tried to unsubscribe from all the various newsletters, but it doesn’t seem to work. I am starting to use a service called unroll.me to have a tidier email box. We’ll see if it makes things a bit better. Because right now, I have had enough.
Let me be clear: I don’t want to buy anything. When did Black Friday become such a big thing?
I don’t remember anything about Black Friday when I was growing up. Now it is simply everywhere. Even in France it is gaining momentum.
I was explained that Black Friday is the start of the Christmas season, hence its popularity. But this consumerism craze is getting on my nerves. Seriously, there is only so much that you need, right? I feel like going to a remote place for the next six months or so, and forget about society in general and bulk messaging in particular. I might be becoming asocial. What’s wrong with me?
I have already told you: we French are special. We French are different. Of course we are. That’s why there is such a strong anti-French sentiment. Love it or hate it, we want the world to know that we do things our own way. It’s in our genes. So, what do we do differently? Here are a few examples…
The French cultural exception of course: we have our own singers and movie stars. Of course we accept that most global culture is in English, we just want our own to get funding too. To cut a long story short, the anglo-saxon world considers arts as an industry making profits, whereas we French consider culture as the product of ideas that extend beyond strict commercial value. We are a bunch of idealists.
The food. French gastronomy was added by the UNESCO to its lists of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage”…We French have a very high opinion of our cooking. We explained to the whole world how things should be done. Not to mention that nothing tops up the Michelin guide. In short, don’t you ever try to explain to us what food is about. Especially when the bread this side of the Channel is systematically under cooked. Just saying. And do not dare to mention a straight croissant to me.
My daughter received her GCSE results a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say, there was no need to worry. That said, my biggest surprise came from the fact that she got A* both in English literature and English language. Why? Well, because, as you know, we happen to be French. The thing is, at around 95% in both subjects, she had better grades than her British classmates who want to study English at university. What happened? Why did none of her teachers tell us that she was bright in English? Believe me or not, I had always thought that it was her weak point. Now I wonder what I should believe. How could I get it so wrong? How could the school get it so wrong?
Every time I had to meet her English teachers I had a lecture on the fact that her punctuation was not up to standard. I have asked them to clarify, but never managed to understand what they meant exactly. To be fair, I always felt as if that they were trying to fob me off. I came to the conclusion that she needed to decorate her essays with more semi-colons, and add a few comas here and there. The fact that punctuation rules are slightly different in French obviously didn’t help her to comply with the strict English way, and probably prevented me from understanding what the problem was really about. Frankly, I wonder if there even was a problem in the first place. Well, clearly, I overanalysed the situation once again. I feel like I should have ignored the whole thing (but how can you when this is the feedback you get year after year?).
Whatever your nationality, some things never change. What am I talking about? Well, my younger daughter is starting secondary school in September, and I feel like my baby isn’t a baby any more. And yes, it hurts. No more trips to the playground. No more dreams of becoming a princess. To make matters even worse, it looks like she wants to go to school by herself. In fact, it looks like she doesn’t need me any more. Or maybe she needs me in a different way. Let’s be honest here: it feels a bit like being made redundant as a mother.
Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself in trying to raise independent girls, and I am pleased with the way they have turned out. I am trying to convince myself that I did a good job here. That said, I sometimes wonder whether I have made the right choices. What if they disagree with the way we brought them up? For instance, they went to British schools, and hopefully they will end up in anglo-saxon universities. What if they would have preferred to settle in France? Being a parent is such a conundrum, right? You are bound do have done some things wrong. What if I was too strict? Did I give them some good boundaries? What sort of example did I set? I tried to give them the childhood I would have liked to have: carefree, full of love and travels. Did they enjoy it? Will they appreciate it, or will they resent it? I have no idea.
Well, if you have been living in London over the last week, you will know that things have been pretty rough. Everyday came with its own share of surprise resignations and bad news. But hey, stiff upper lip and all that. Not to mention that if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I removed the BBC news app on my iPhone. Simply put, I didn’t want to know what had gone tits up yet again (excuse my French).
Mind you, at a more personal level things have been quite hectic too. Yesterday evening I was driving back home, and happened to be on Shepherd’s Bush Green, right behind a white van. We were waiting at a red light. The driver suddenly lowered his side window, and threw up abundantly. I was stunned. As soon as the light turned green, he drove away, as if nothing had happened. Wow. I suddenly had a newfound confidence in this country’s resilience. Because it’s all about staying positive, right? I am a glass-half-full sort of person anyway. Come to think of it, that Green always had a weird vibe.
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?