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?
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!]
Sometimes you have to take a stand. What do I mean? Well, you know, you have to make a decision. Let’s be honest here: I hate it. I love to procrastinate. Come to think of it, it must be my British side. Because let’s face it: there is a growing epidemic in Britain: indecision.
Nobody knows what to do anymore, there is simply too much choice. For instance: do we leave Europe or do we stay in? Do we take the bus or the Tube? Do we make the first move if we like a guy/a girl? And what’s for dinner anyway?
But I digress. I finally received the drafts of the book cover designed by the lovely Vanessa Mendozzi and absolutely loved them. It was amazing to see that she understood what I meant and, frankly, it was love at first sight with the covers. I can’t describe how good it feels to see that your dream is finally taking shape. It’s a bit surreal.
So here are the choices:
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.
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?