I keep being asked whether the stories that I write are autobiographical. Well, there is no easy answer. Obviously what I write is loosely based on my own experiences, but have things happened exactly the way I have written them? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes no. To make matters even worse, some of it might be –gasp- parody.
Because believe it or not, we French have a sense of humour. Well, sometimes at least. So yes, what I write needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
As some of you are obsessed with number, here is my scientific assessment of the situation: I would say that 50% of what I have written in my manuscript has actually happened to me, one way or another. 30% is slightly exagerated. The rest might be invented. But here is the twist: I will not tell you which is which. Because it would be far too easy, wouldn’t it?
As for Carine and Archie, I thought that the love story between a French woman and her British boyfriend would be the perfect platform to explore the cultural differences between the French and the British, because, just like in a couple, we love each other, but we sometimes don’t understand each other.
As a treat for today, I would like to share with you a chapter that actually has happened to me in real life. I didn’t know it when we moved to London, but the Brits are obsessed with the Napoleonic wars. The thing is, I belong to a generation of French student that never, ever was taught anything about Napoleon. We just skipped it. This much is true…Now read on:
What is it with the Brits and pub quizzes? Why do they love it so much? I have been dragged to a few of them and I must say that well, it looks like fun.
Except that I don’t really get the fun. Maybe I have become an old bore.
For starters, I don’t know the responses to all the historical questions. And to the other ones, if I am completely honest.
Which Hollywood sex symbol has the middle name Tiffany?
You have kept asking me what is going to happen to the romance of the summer, Carine & Archie (see the first chapters here, here and here).
Well, to cut a long story short, I have decided to publish their story around spring time and, in the meantime, I will let you know more about them. I will probably go down the self-publishing route as publishing companies keep asking me to ‘tone it down’ -whatever this means-. I was also told that Carine wasn’t really nice, which came to a surprise to the publisher.
Well no, she is not. She happens to be French. And I hate to break it to you, but nobody is perfect, and we French women are no exception. Sorry, I had to tell you. Are you still listening?
While we are at it, I think that it is time for you to know that French women do get fat. Our children are not that well behaved and no, we don’t smoke to cut our appetite. We are just –gasp- normal. Shocking, right?
I am not saying that there are no cultural differences, but they are tenuous. Even subtle sometimes. And not necessarily what you would expect them to be.
And I keep being asked whether I am Carine. More about this some other time!
I will always remember the day my husband came back home saying that he had had a nice job offer in London. I was faced with a difficult choice: I could follow him and change job, or change husband. I know that it sounds like an easy choice, but, in fact, it wasn’t. My job in Paris was an important part of my identity: I had spent long years studying in very selective universities (‘grandes ecoles’) to get it. To make matters even worse, I had studied German and not English, as a foreign language. It is a French thing: German is supposed to get you into better classes. What I am trying to say is that I could barely ask for directions in English. It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I ended up following my husband, and we all moved to London.
What a stonking start of the week! Thank you for all the messages and nominations. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting such a reaction, but clearly the #BackToUniCampain stroke a chord! The site just crashed…
So here it is: thanks to @Sendit_Now, someone will receive a care package with all the essentials to survive uni! How cool is this?
For some funny reasons, only girls were nominated. No boys this time. And what we have chosen for your precious friends/daughters/sister/nieces/whatever will keep them going for a long, long time. Here is the list:
If you follow this blog, you know that I had my 20-year university Alumni reunion over the weekend. The thing is, I am not too big on reunions. But somehow this time I wanted to catch up with old friends. So off I went to Paris, and despite the late arrival of my Eurostar service I made it on time (just!). I had rented a dress for the occasion (this one here). You see, I wanted to look my best. I was a bit stressed, I am not sure why. Maybe because my own daughter will soon go to university. I also remembered that I had had a good time, albeit sometimes a bit challenging, but I couldn’t really remember why. It was so long ago. Frankly, the whole thing felt a bit surreal. Could 20 years have passed? Damn it. I couldn’t believe it!
The Power Dress I was wearing…
I bumped into an old classmate on my way to the Parisian restaurant where we were all meeting. I recognised him instantly. It had to be a good start, right? Old university mates kept arriving and I was pleased to recognised most of them They all recognised me of course, because out of less than 400 students we were only 35 girls. I was ashamed not to recognise some faces at all. Most of my old friends were now living in France. I felt a bit, well, different. I clearly had taken a wrong turn (and become British –what a shame). There used to be a guy who looked like a cool surfer. Well, he was still cool, but he had put on weight. Not a surfer any more. Then I saw the guy who was trying to grab my bottom at every possible opportunity, and steal my bras from the laundry to staple them on the class door (Don’t worry, I took matters into my own hands and he never bothered me any more. Suffice to say, I can be quite scary when I want to). I started to feel slightly uncomfortable, but I must admit that I shouldn’t have, because he was absolutely charming. He was now married and had three children, and was great fun to talk to. The old bully had mellowed! Unbelievable!
I keep receiving the same messages from family and friends, and would like to clarify a few things. You know, just to clear the air. Right, where do I start? First of all, we have water and electricity in London. Amazing, right? I know that we don’t have external shutters but I can assure that blinds work just as well.
Now, I know that it will be hard to swallow but the same goes with food. Yes, we have everything we need in London. Yes, there is food, and actually we eat quite well, save for the occasional sandwich of course. And if you are not convinced, just visit the Brixton market. It is a feast for the eyes…and the tastebuds!
I have been living in London for the last twelve years. Twelve years! What can I say? Time flies. I thought that I was British by now. As it turns out, I am not. I remain still very, very French. What happened? Well, the Rugby World Cup. That’s what happened. A friend of mine asked me whom I would be supporting. Without even thinking, I answered “Les Bleus of course!”. It wasn’t a rational response. It just came out.
What? So much for thinking I was fully integrated.
Let’s face it: marathons are so last year, right? And seriously, why should the fun stop at 42 km? When you run somewhere, you just run somewhere, no matter how far it is. You just want to reach your destination, whatever the distance.
The thing is, I didn’t know that ultra running even existed until a few months ago. I grew up in the countryside, and running up and down the hills (especially walking up, and running down in my case) all day long was what you’d do. As it turns out, this activity has a name: it is called ultra-running. I didn’t know. It made me wonder where I had been. Probably working, and bringing up my kids as best as I could. Anyway, we are where we are, no need to dwell on the past.
Granted, I will never be a champion. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t be a fun runner!
So here I am, at the starting line of the Thames Path Challenge in Bishop’s Park, Fulham, wondering whether I will make it in one piece at the finish line, in 50km. Why do I love running? I have no idea, but I believe that it has something to do with the fact that when I run, I can’t think of anything else, I just have to carry on. And for once my priority is, well, me. Just me. Pure bliss!
Everybody thought I was mad. Because I happen to be 42 (almost 43 if you must know), I was told (in no particular order) that I would hurt myself and especially my knees, that I wasn’t ready, that I should run a few marathons before (I didn’t), that I was addicted to running, and so on, and so forth. So here is a newsflash for everybody: I am fine, thank you very much.
Here is the latest instalment…I am still talking about schools (I am still traumatised…). Let me know what you think!
Schools often like parents to help by listening to children reading or supporting other activities. Getting involved in your children’s schools can be a full-time job (unpaid, of course): most schools have a parent-teacher association (PTA). You will be asked to help for fund-raising events such as bake sales and fairs. If you manage to get your child into the school, that is.
Life In the United Kingdom, (Almost) Official Study Guide
March 2012 – She’s got a place!
Work is as busy as ever and I still need to find a good school for Alexandra. It just never stops. As I don’t want my toddler to miss out on a good school I have talked to friends and colleagues about the situation. They all tell me that I am far too naïve and that children need to be prepared for such assessments. How the hell was I supposed to know? Apparently, everybody does it but nobody talks about it.
A friend sent me straight to an acquaintance of hers, who, for a mere £300, prepares Alexandra for the assessment and the interview. She has been coming twice a week for the last three weeks. I am not supposed to tell anyone about this, it is all very hush-hush. The tutor, apparently, did me a favour. She said that she has a long waiting list. This is a business opportunity I need to look into, when I have some time. When you tutor a child, you get paid but the family can’t complain. In fact, the family can’t say anything.