It is impossible to talk about the French without mentioning food. To cut a long story short, there are two things we French are supposed to be good at: sex and food. When I mention that I am French (which everybody knows by now anyway), we usually start talking about food. Why food first? Well, because the British don’t like talking about sex when sober. It usually comes after a few pints. But I digress. I could write the script of the conversation in advance: my interlocutors start mentioning the restaurants they have been to lately, and try to get my approval. They want me to admire their exquisite tastes. Alternatively, they list the bottles of wine they have recently bought at an auction, and want me to say that they managed to get a fantastic deal. Most of the time, I don’t know the restaurants they are talking about, and I would never buy super-expensive bottles of wine, because I simply don’t see the point. Most of my British friends have a wine cave in their house. To cut a long story short, we don’t. Nor to we have a sex dungeon, for the record.
Back by popular demand, here is the latest chapter of Carine & Archie’s story. You can read the last chapter here.
I need to prepare my citizenship test.
The UK did not join the European Economic Community (EEC) until 1973. Still today, it is a sore subject. You will not read anything else about the EEC in this guide. No questions on this subject will be asked during the Life in the United Kingdom Test anyway. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to revise this paragraph.
Life In the United Kingdom, (Almost) Official Study Guide
With a heavy heart I manage to get Alexandra and myself to France, in the small city where I come from near Nice. There is a direct British Airways flight, which helps. There is even a quirky Anglican church there, I don’t know why. My ankle feels a lot better. I think that I overreacted a bit. I must be tired. All I needed was a few good nights sleep.
If you have enjoyed Carine and Archie’s story, here is the next chapter…You can read chapter 3 here.
Stiff Upper Lip – December 2011
Life with Archie back at home is easier than I thought. I still get the odd moment of panic: yesterday my closet padlock was open and I thought that I had locked it. I was suspicious all day. Has Archie found what the code was? Did I forget to lock it? Has Graeme broken into the house? I will probably never know. I need to chill out a bit.
Christmas Parties- December 2012
It’s been two months of leaving on my own. I feel divorced without even being married. Christmas party season is now in full swing and every time I reach for a dress in my closet I am wondering whether Graeme has tried it on. Not nice. I am trying to come to terms with what has happened. This means that Archie is still living in a hotel, and I don’t know what the hell to do. I haven’t figured it out yet. Of course, he tried to explain that this is a cultural difference as he went to a very posh boarding school with no girIs. He assured me that the whole incident is nothing to worry about. Graeme has always loved to cross dress, according to Archie. I am still not convinced. This is not a situation I have heard about. I know that men can have mistresses. Sometimes they become gay. That said, I had never ever heard of cross dressing before. Maybe it is a British thing.
When something annoys me, I wait for a while to see if it still bugs me after some time. In this case, it did. What am I talking about? Celia Walden’s article on the seven lessons in the art of being a French woman (published on The Telegraph here). I didn’t understand what we French women had done to deserve this. Maybe it was as simple as having a strong French accent. Or being French-born. Seriously, what is it with this obsession with French women? It seems to me that such an obsession shows a close relationship with psychotic processes, and says more about perceived British shortcomings rather than how we French (if there is such a thing as ‘we French’) truly are. I have been told countless times that I shouldn’t complain because the myths on French women are considered to be positive, but try being taken seriously in a technical job when everybody else holds the belief that you are a glamorous creature who preys on unsuspecting British men at night. A myth, positive or not, remains a falsehood. And for the record, I am so tired at night that I tend to sleep, just like most mothers, come to think of it. Surprising, right? I know, I know.
I have tried countless times to correct false beliefs, but quickly realised that it didn’t work. In fact, things became even worse. I noticed that, when I was trying to give some fact-based evidence to my interlocutors that they were completely wrong about the French, it entrenched their pre-existing positions. Truth be told, it was backfiring on me in a massive way, and I was getting even more personal comments like ‘all French men have a mistress and your husband probably has one, whether you like it or not’ (don’t you love it when people know your life even better than you do?) or ‘French women are such sluts’ (Really? What did I do again?)
Following the success of the first chapter or Carine and Archie’s love story (read it here), I have decided to share with you the second chapter of the novel today. You need to keep in mind that I have submitted this story to various publishers, only to be told that they expected Carine to be nicer (who said French women were perfect?), some wanted me to ‘tone it down’ (a recurrent feedback I have), and everybody wanted more ‘Oooh la la’. In short, I couldn’t get it right. Well, here we are. Tell me what you think, and we will adjust as we go along.
The second chapter is all about Carine and Archie met…Here we go!
Chapter 2: Two years earlier…
Mum is going to marry in London this time. Marriage number four. I am seriously bored of mum’s numerous adventures. As a dutiful daughter, I have come from Paris to London and I am starting to regret it. I am twenty-six now, and I feel far more adult than her.
We meet in a cafe at lunchtime for a quick catch-up and after a latte I am swiftly brought to a studio in one of the Barbican towers. I thought that I would hang around with Mum but suddenly realise that I do not belong to her inner circle of friends any longer. In fact, I don’t know my own mother. The view over London is stunning. But I am literally surrounded by concrete and I can’t stand it. It is suffocating. The wedding is starting shortly. Maybe I should go back to Paris. After all, I can hail a black cab and jump to St Pancras. I could be back to France in no time. And miss this charade. It is exactly what I am going to do. My bags are still untouched anyway. I have finally made up her mind: I must go. I quickly open the studio door. .
What I haven’t anticipated is that someone is walking down the corridor. I haven’t seen him. My bags bump into him, full frontal shock.
Today I have a guest post written just for you by Paddy Davy, whom I met on Twitter (you can get his updates here). Paddy is a talented chef (just look at the pictures if you need any convincing) who wants to create a brand of traditional rural pubs that offer excellence in food and service. If you want to support his venture, please visit Leclere Taverns. I really think that he is on to something!
To top everything up, Paddy is a Francophile. Of course he is. And he has created a version of bourride with a British twist just for you! I like it so much that I think I will try it on next time I have guests at home. Read on, and enjoy!
I don’t know where I belong any more. What can I say? I am a citizen of the world. We landed yesterday morning from New York, and it was Bastille day. This means that nobody was working in France, but of course in London it was business as usual. Except that we all fell asleep on the sofa at some point.
I always feel a bit homesick on Bastille day. As in, a bit out of sync. There is no reason as to why I do, it’s just the way it is. In fact, it is not even clear what it is we French celebrate on 14th of July: is it the Storming of the Bastille on 14th of July of 1789 or the Fete de la Federation which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790? Nobody knows.
In order to get rid of the blues, I went to Brasserie Zedel to celebrate the 14th of July. They had invited me, and I had never been. To cut a long story short, Brasserie Zedel offers you a 3-course meal on Bastille day if you come wearing a beret and a stripy T-shirt. They do the same in January for the ‘galette des rois’ but you have to wear a crown. I felt a bit too old for this, and went with my LBD. They still invited me. Phew! Fashion faux pas averted.
Today I need a bit of help. I found an old manuscript I wrote a couple of years ago, and I think that it has some potential (I spent most of the night reading it, if you must know). It is a love story between a (far from perfect) French girl, and a (very) British man. Following various Twitter exchanges, I have named him Archie. Here is the first chapter. It is supposed to explore all the cliches…in a funny & sometimes provocative way. Tell me what you think…
Oh, and I came across a great initiative by the talented Arnaud: if you want to brush up your French skills and enjoy good food, check Arnaud’s Language Kitchen. He is starting a supper club on Bastille day in Marylebone, London. Email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further info.
It is lucky. Really lucky. I can leave work early for once. My boring business meeting has been cancelled and I won’t have to go through my bloody PowerPoint presentation on European building regulations. I am looking forward to a nice calm evening at home with my English boyfriend, Archie and my little one, Alexandra.
But first, I need to pick her up at the nursery. Alexandra has settled in well, and she seems happy there. I push the front door. The receptionist, once again, doesn’t recognise me. She sees me most days. How silly can you be? I really wonder sometimes.
“ I am here to pick up my daughter Alexandra”
“ Oh yes, I remember you now. Sorry, you look so… um …young. You French women always look good, even after having kids.”
She sighs heavily.
She checks me out from head to toe. What she probably means is “You look so skinny”. I feel like slapping her right across her fat British face. I am about to say ‘how about cutting down on bacon sandwiches every morning? It might save your stool from breaking under the weight of your bulging bum!’. I just smile and mutter an unconvinced “Thank you”.
Since I started blogging, I have received lots of invitations for various events and openings. Some look interesting, others, well, not so much (and some are way off limits, if you must know). This one caught my eyes. No, it wasn’t about some fancy restaurant launch. It was organised by British Gas, and it was about Women In Engineering. You see, I happen to be an Engineer by background, and I had to study hardcore science subjects such as Quantum Physics to become what I am. I still do the occasional job reviewing technical notes, and I manage my construction projects myself (not as easy as it sounds, there is some water resistance and strength of materials involved). I was curious. Had things changed? Was it any easier to be a women in engineering nowadays? Memories started coming back to me. When I moved to Paris after my baccalaureate to start university, I remember that my bras were stolen from the tumble dryer by a male class mate. I found them a few days later on the class door. Lovely, right? So thoughtful and subtle…We were 3 girls out of 50, if my memory serves me well.
But I digress. So, were things any different this side of the Channel?