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?
I feel old and none the wiser. I caught up with some younger friends a couple of days go and, in case you didn’t know it, there was a problem with the dating app Tinder last week. Some of them lost all their matches. Apparently it’s a big deal.
Seriously? Is this how you meet people today? You swipe right or left and, eventually, you will manage to get a booty call. Or even a real relationship. It has already happened, I am told.
A colleague of mine (of a similar age than me. OK, maybe a bit younger) explained to the group that he had met his now-wife in his local pub.
“Down the pub?”
My younger colleagues sounded amazed. Who knew that you could still meet people IRL (In Real Life!)? Not them, apparently. The whole concept seemed completely alien to them. It made them laugh. Down the pub? No way!
I felt like I was coming straight from prehistoric times. When did we become so afraid to, well, meet up? Have we become scared of being disappointed? Are we too shy? What is going on?
The thing is, the longer you stay in a a virtual relationship, the more you’ll build castles in Spain. Seriously, at some point you have to face the music and actually MEET UP, warts and all, right? And in my view, the sooner is probably the better.
I am coming back from a few days in France and must admit that I was surprised to see that most people there looked grumpy, despite the fantastic weather and the dirt-cheap croissants (90 cents if you must know. It’s about £1.65 in the independent coffee shop around the corner of my house in London). What about the legendary ‘joie de vivre’? Where did it go?
I have no idea. During a business meeting, I made a cardinal mistake: I smiled at a client. For the record, it was a polite smile, nothing too fancy or informal, I promised. The guy didn’t seem impressed at all:
” Why are you smiling? Did I say something funny?” he asked
” No, not at all.” I tried hard to sound stern. I am not sure I sounded very convincing but I tried, I promise.
I kid you not, I almost had to apologise for smiling. I had to put on a grumpy look, which I thought was incredibly funny, except that I couldn’t show it. What a conundrum!
She caught me off guard. I vaguely knew her, and we ended up having a quick coffee together after the school run. I thought it was a nice thing to do, because we kept bumping into each other at the school gate. That’s when she told me:
” I pride myself on never having used a babysitter or a cleaner. Ever. And I have three kids”
Wow. Did I sense a judgy vibe here? Yes, probably. Hmmm…
I couldn’t believe it. You see, some things never change: whatever nationality you are, you will always be judged as a mother. It just never stops. And, frankly, it sucks.
I didn’t know what to answer. I ended up cutting the conversation short, and leaving shortly afterwards. You see, I have no time for such arguments. The thing is, I am probably one of the worst housekeepers you have ever met, and without the help of various babysitters and cleaners I would have died of exhaustion by now. Not to mention that someone has yet to explain to me how to be in two different places at the same time. Simply put, I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t had help, and I never get enough of it.
This year, for some reason, I can’t get into the mood for Valentine’s day. I have had enough of pink hearts, romantic gestures, and sweet love declarations. Can we move on please? Come to think of it, it’s all so incredibly boring once you stop being a teenager. I might be French, but maybe I have finally turned into a responsible adult after all. Miracles do happen.
Why am I becoming so cynical? Well, you can buy one red rose (just one), at my local supermarket, for £5. You can also buy lovely chocolates for a tenner. They come all wrapped up in red, which apparently double the price. In short, you can be romantic, but it will cost you. It feels a bit like a charade. Because you can’t buy love, right? So why would you? I don’t get it.
A sweet Valentine’s day doesn’t mean a lasting love story. Right now, lots of friends are divorcing, despite some of them being used to flying off first-class to Thailand just for a romantic weekend. This year, some of them are spending the day on their own, wondering how their are going to make ends meet, while their divorce lawyers are working on their financial settlement -or what will remain of it after the legal fees. And what about the single ones? The elderly? The sick ones? The depressed ones? Who will bring love to them?
Life is full of challenges, right? I thought as much. Right now, I find it hard to run in the cold. You see, I don’t do cold. Maybe I am not as British as I thought.
So what is cold for me? Well, anything below 10 degrees Celsius (that’s 50 Fahrenheit, if you must now) is cold for me. What can I say? Growing up in Provence must have left some marks.
The things is, I have some pretty important races lined up, and I totally need to train. If I could, I would move somewhere warm in a jiffy. Because right now, in London, it is really cold -as in, between 0 and 5 Celsius (and for the record that’s less than 41F). In short, it is freezing, and I can’t stand it.
I don’t think I am a wimp. Well, at least I hope I am not. But hear me out: when I go outside for a run, I literally feel my muscles tightening. Everything becomes hard, and I can’t move my legs. Warming-up takes at least 40 minutes in the bloody cold, by which time I usually give up and have a lovely cappuccino somewhere. After all, life is to be enjoyed.
So what to do?