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It is half term for everybody but me. My daughters are on holidays and my husband wisely decided that he was needed in London for another important business meeting, which left me no choice but to take the week off and spend it with the girls. And I have come up with the brilliant idea to go and visit my family in the French Riviera. On my own of course.
This meant -shock horror-, that not only did I have to entertain the girls but I also had to catch up with my family. My 90-year old grandmother was poorly and is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer, and my grandfather is complaining all day long that growing old is difficult, and that it was not what he expected. I do sympathise, but I am not sure that complaining helps. That said, the guilt trip started and I was immediately wondering what more I could do. It must be part of the catching-up process. I was also overly optimistic when I thought I was done with nappies. I wasn’t.
The girls are fine and the younger one had to speak French, which did her some good. My older one has now started a blog (http://secondaryadventures.blogspot.com/)and it is so well-written that it is making me feel like a failure. I am wondering whether I belong to a sandwich generation, here to be squeezed between a busy hubby, bright demanding girls and an ageing family. Oh, and I almost forgot the full-time job.
When does is stop? When can I have a break? I am looking forward to going back to work on Monday. Sisters, any advice?
And despite the weather, I have to admit that I have never felt happier to be back home. In London.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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A friend of mine married a British man. I thought that they were happy until one day, after a couple of glasses of wine, she explained that she was struggling to understand what her husband thinks on a daily basis.
Apparently, after she had fallen from a horse and was injured, he told her:
-” Don’t be silly, you will survive. You are a tough bird”
Despite being a tough bird, she had to lay in bed for a month.
No other words of comfort were said. She was very upset. According to her, he genuinely cares about her, but in his own way. Needless to say, he never tells her that he loves her and, as she is French and still believes in romance, this is the source of great frustration.
How weird! On my way to visit her, I had the exact opposite experience. The British cab driver called me sweetie, honey and love in the space of a few minutes. In France, you have to be pretty close to someone to call her in such a way. Really close. I even began to panic and was of the verge of calling the police service.
Once arrived (sigh of relief), my friend’s husband explained to me that it was completely normal for a total stranger to call you Love, Darling or even pet names and that no harm was meant. Coming from the man who couldn’t hold my friend’s hand, I have to admit that I was surprised.
Is it all about pretending that you don’t care when you do and that you care when you don’t? How does it work exactly ? I haven’t figured it out yet.
I eventually got used to being called all sorts of names by persons I don’t know. I don’t like it but hey, what can you do?
A couple of months later, another cab driver asked me, when he dropped me at my hotel, whether I wanted him to keep me company. I thought that this was another British thing -some sort if hospitality rule, and replied a polite:
-“No thanks!”
I was told that this was not normal.
After all, anything is possible. 

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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You probably don’t know what they are. Well, simply put, they are part of your survival kit if you want to be taken seriously in this country.
It is all about appearing to be making sense when you are, in fact, talking non-sense. Don’t underestimate such a vital skill. Even Shakespeare used oxymorons.  If you want to go with the flow, you will have to learn.
When I moved to this country (Ah. Memories!), here is the sort of things that I would have said:
          Where are the children? It is very quiet in here;
          I don’t speak English very well;
          The proposal was rejected;
          She is divorced but doesn’t want anyone to know;
          I went to the concert on my own;
          I disagree;
          I don’t understand.
Fatal mistakes. Everybody was noticing that I hadn’t been brought up in Britain. Here is what I should have said:
          Where are the kids? What is this deafening silence?
          I am an advanced beginner in English;
          The proposal was rejected in its entirety but it proved to be a successful failure;
          Her divorce is an open secret;
          I was alone in the crowd at the concert;
          Let’s agree to disagree;
          It is as clear as mud.
As you may guess, it was, and still is, a steep learning curve. I am not sure that I will get there eventually. This is because my brain is wired in a different way. A long time ago, I decided to always be brutally honest with myself, even if it was tough and meant that I had to deal with some not-so-nice home truths.
I have to learn to think and speak in a different way. It is hard work. It is all about being positive and wanting to make an impression. But guess what: an unexpected side effect is that I am happier here. I have more fun.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I feel older and none the wiser. Not to mention the fact that I am exhausted. Tough life
The reason: I have had to organise my daughters’ birthday parties (I am very organised: they are born the same day).
When I was younger (no, not that long ago, but I might be in denial), for birthdays we used to share a home-baked cake with a couple of school friends. Well, those days are gone. Peer pressure is strong and, over the last few years, birthday parties I have had to take my daughters to have included:
          Full makeover party;
          Climbing party;
          Renting out a cinema (Yes, a whole cinema);
          Fireworks in west Essex;
          Action Man themed party…
The list is far from being exhaustive. In short, to keep up with the Jones’, you must either:
          Have deep pockets
          Think outside the box
And if you have both, it doesn’t hurt. I am trying hard to keep the budget under control, which basically means that I have to work harder and try to find original parties’ ideas. Also –Shame on me!-, I don’t hesitate to share birthday parties with other classmates. My daughters don’t resent me too much (yet). You also have to prepare party bags & birthday cakes. It is a job. There are party planners in London.
This birthday party pressure must be specific to this country. I am not aware of anything of the same scale elsewhere. Quite the opposite. A British friend of mine living in Paris was going to a Star-wars-themed birthday  party and took the metro to get there, with her son in a Darth Vador costume and her dressed up as princess Leia. People thought that they were barking mad. No-one understood why you would dress up like that for a birthday party. She felt ashamed. No one would have blinked over here.
Where does this pressure to do something extraordinary every year come from? When did everything change? Why didn’t I see it coming? Our little darlings must now feel loved, valued, entertained…And us parents have to work, pay and shut up.
Tough life, as I said. I might be a bit jealous…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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The other day, when I was talking to French friends, they asked me when I was going back to France. They made it sound like:  “The holiday is over; it is time for you to go back where you belong.” They seemed convinced that no meaningful life is possible outside of France. How very French.

News flash: I am not going back to France. Of course, I will go for some holidays, or to visit family and friends. But not permanently. In order to explain to them why, I have tried to list the 10 best and worst things (we need to be balanced here) about London.

THE BEST:
1.    The coffee culture. There is nothing like the cappuccinos and lattes here, and my first sip in the morning is probably the best time of the day;
2.    The permanent Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. Guess what: it is completely free!  You can turn up whenever you like. Being French, I was taught about the Impressionists, but never about Turner. What a mistake! Turner is a precursor, a genius. For an exhibition like this in Paris, the queue would be one mile long. I used to go every day when we moved here, until I realised that I was falling for a dead painter. I am trying to go once a month now. I am still in recovery. He is simply great;
3.    The parks. The list is endless, and you can spend a day in London walking in different parks without taking the Tube or a cab. St James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington gardens, Holland Park..;
4.    The fact that I feel thin here (but not in Paris);
5.    The chocolate croissants. Especially when the chocolate is melting inside…;
6.    “Show and tell” at school. My daughters have become very confident and it is a pleasure to listen to them;
7.    The solidarity between Mums. One day, the school was closed because of a major leak. I had had 3 phone calls before 8am to warn me, with babysitting offers. I was amazed. It had never happened in France;
8.    The streets between Smith Square and Westminster school. It feels like travelling back in time. The houses have not changed. You can see the signs showing the entrance of shelters used during WWII on Lord North Street. On Barton Street, the old houses are leaning towards the street and some of the windows are not straight. I feel like I am going to see a carriage with two horses whenever I walk past it;
9.    Jogging along the Embankment;
10.Spooks (The TV series). I think that I am addicted to it.

THE WORST:
1.    Parking in London. It is so complicated that no one understands it. It is all about your resident permit. It can be completely different from one street to the next and I am not sure whether you can park on a yellow line on Saturdays and Sundays. I am told that it depends (on what?). I have given up and have to pay the odd parking ticket from time to time (£60. What a rip-off! And in France it is just €15!!!);
2.    The sandwiches. It is almost impossible to have a lunch that doesn’t involve a sandwich or a salad here;
3.    The price of a decent education. OMG!
4.    London GPs. Especially when you are used to your family doctor in France. Here, they do you a favour when you finally book an appointment and you are on your back foot from the start. Someone will have to explain to me of what use GPs exactly are;
5.    Being called darling, sweetie, honey or love by people you don’t know. Weird and not necessarily nice;
6.    The way people look at me when they hear me speak with a French accent. I can assure you that being French is not an illness. It is not contagious and I don’t understand why apparently it is so sexy. I am here to work, not date;
7.    Porridge: can someone honestly tell me that they like it? Is it just a test that you have to take to become a British citizen? I never understood whether you put salt or sugar in it. That’s how bad it is. I think that it looks like solidified saliva;
8.    The white cream the Brits put in chocolate éclairs. Not nice;
9.    Custard. Not, it is not like Crème Anglaise. It is much worse;
10.Chutney: what is it exactly? If decay had a taste that would be it!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I moved to London seven years ago. In pure French middle-class tradition, my first foreign language was German, which did not really help. Taking German at 11 years old is supposed to put you in better classes. English is taught later…and when that time came it was probably too late for me to speak it properly…
The beauty of the brain is that it can adapt to any situation. I had to brush up my British skills. And I did. Enough to live and work in English, anyway.
But I must not kid myself here. I will never really speak proper English. Speaking or writing English is a subtle art that requires patience, practice and an excellent knowledge of the social rules. Too late for me, I am afraid.
That said, you know that you are on the right track when you realise that the sentence you are reading can mean one thing and its exact opposite at the same time. One day, I was reading about what seemed to be a clear-cut corruption case in one of the leading newspapers.  But the internal investigation had concluded that:
“There [was] no clear evidence of corruption.”
On the face of it, it is a simple sentence. But, as I have learned, simplicity doesn’t always mean clarity. What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that the guy hasn’t done anything wrong? Or does this mean that there is unclear evidence of corruption -in which case he actually has done something wrong.  With my usual esprit de l’escalier, I have finally realised that the Director in charge of the investigation was probably a lazy lump and he didn’t really want to conclude anything. The English language had allowed him to keep all options open.
I was relieved to have eventually found a credible theory on that one –believe me, it took me some time. When I explained it to a friend of mine, he said:
“I don’t disagree”
I was baffled. Technically, if he doesn’t disagree then he agrees. But then, he has chosen not to simply say that he agrees. Why? Probably because, in fact, he doesn’t really agree -see, one thing and its opposite again…I have come to the conclusion that, in fact, he doesn’t really care or he believes that my theory is too far fetched. That being said, I will not ask him to clarify. Too risky. Am already tired of interpreting.
I thanked him for his response (I was told that it is polite to do so) and he told me that we should agree to touch base next week. I panicked.  When I found out that touching base had nothing to do with, actually, touching your base (or anyone else’s) I couldn’t help being relieved! 
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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A growing epidemic is affecting Britain: indecision. No-one knows what to do anymore. A friend of mine, A, doesn’t know what to do with her life. She has been living with the same guy for the last seven years but they don’t know whether to get married or not. She doesn’t know whether to have kids or a career. And when you don’t know here, you do nothing. You just carry on. They call it business as usual over here.
It means that you have to ignore the fact that you don’t know and you pretend that everything is fine. It feels a little bit like there is a pink elephant in the room and no-one is allowed to talk about it. Some people watch their lives passing by because of this disease.
 And don’t even think about mentioning that you sort of feel that there is a problem. It is rude. People will stare at you and look completely surprised. I learned it when, at primary school, I dared to ask what the problem of the little boy with serious behavioural difficulties was. What behavioural difficulties? Well, he was chewing electrical cables. Oh really? It felt as if I was completely mad. That said, a couple of weeks later, I was taken aside by another mum and told (or rather whispered) that he had a mild version of autism. Well, that explain it. Maybe you just have to persevere to find out what is really happening and actually make a decision?
Pretending that everything if fine is an art here. It is all about acting as if you were happy, smiling, in the hope that it will come true eventually. When a rude customer assistant gives you a hard time because he is too lazy to fetch the carrier bags, you must pretend that he is friendly, even if you hesitate to make a formal complaint. No wonder customer service here is appalling.
It is all about not to make a fuss, even if you are boiling inside. If things get really bad, well, you always have the option to say “thanks for that”, but it is only to be used:
1.    With the right tone,
2.    If you are extremely angry,
3.    And if you are still hesitating to make a complaint.
This disease is highly contagious. I know friends who have been renting the same house for more than 20 years because they couldn’t decide whether they should buy it.
I now need to do my grocery shopping for the week. I can’t decide whether to take the car or the Tube. I might be getting the disease too… To be or not to be?… That is the question!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am surrounded by strong-willed women.  Most of the time, I like it. My grandmother, my mum, my nanny (I mean, my daughters’ nanny of course), my female friends and my daughters all have their own (strong) personality. There are fights, sparks, and arguments. It is a high-pace life. It must be my lot in life to be surrounded by alpha females. That said, I have always believed in women’s right to be educated, right to have a career or right to choose to stay at home. I have been brought up thinking that everything was possible, and I actually am grateful for that, even if, in fact, everything is possible but that little bit more difficult for girls.


In the run-up to the 11+ exams, I had to visit a few secondary schools in and around London. First of all, where we live, most secondary schools are single sex. After all, why not?  But then, most schools pride themselves in showing you their Home Economics Labs (in other words, their kitchen) where they teach the girls to cook and run a home. And they boast about it. The feminist in me was outraged and I had to force myself not to make a comment. My husband, who knows me well by now, made me understand that I had to keep quiet. After all, all I had to do was to nod politely, just like the other Mums. But I was asking myself whether they were also teaching the girls to be good wives and it was killing me. Some schools didn’t even show the science lab. I am French, and in France the Holy Grail of education is Science (and maths, actually). I felt that I was travelling back in time. I wanted to run away and escape. How could this country be the first to allow women to vote and still be so conservative?
Don’t get me wrong: knowing how to cook in this country is part of your survival skills if you want to avoid bread that tastes like the plastic it is rolled in. But you learn this at home and I don’t want to pay school fees for it.

When I tried to express my concern to other Mums, the response I got was along the following lines: “but why would you want your daughter to study maths or science?” “What is the point, for a girl, to study hard?”. The best one was “You don’t want your daughter to outshine her husband, do you?”  I thought about it long and hard and came to the conclusion that, here, it is rude for a girl to be bright. You need to have a pretty face, be polite, be able to sustain a decent and interesting conversation. Oh, and I forgot: under any circumstances, stay skinny and keep your sunglasses. In short, shut up and be gorgeous.

For such Mums, the secondary school is just some sort of finishing school where you can meet the right people and learn to manage how to run a household. Well, I have decided that I will be rude and that my daughter will go where she can keep being strong-willed.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Stop all the clocks! Nisha is in town. I am normally a very discreet person. I only wear make-up when absolutely necessary. But Nisha is my (only)celebrity friend and she is in town. My whole world is upside down. She makes me discover new beauty products that I didn’t know existed. She knows all the names of the fashion designers just by looking at the clothes. That’s shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone as she is the person behind the Nisha JamVwal brand. She is an editor in chief, an architect, a model… and, more importantly, a friend of mine.
We met at her hotel and went straight to Harrods for a shopping fix. It turned into a whole expedition. With her larger-than-life personality, she managed to get a ton of tester products. How does she do it?
We ended up having a bouillabaisse at Harrods seafood bar. I was keen to make her try my favourite dish, the flavour of the special occasions of my childhood (marinated soup of fish and seafood). She loved it. We laughed a lot.
Seeing Nisha in the street of London is a treat. Actually, it is like a thermal shock of cultures: the Indian warmths meets the British coldness…So much fun…But do expect some surprises. She brightened my day (and it was a tough day, not least because we had a leak in the house and cannot use the upstairs toilet. Nightmare). Thanks, Nisha!!!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /


My daughter has just finished her last interview for London top secondary schools. In this country, this is called the 11+. Going to a secondary school is a selective process and only the best get their first choice of school. The selection is ruthless and my daughter had to deal with a lot of pressure. All of this is already well documented and all of it is true ( the reality is in fact much, much worse). Having being educated in the French system, I am kind of used to this.


What is less talked about is how it affects mums …I wish I had taken some meditation classes to keep my cool. I basically survived on Daylesford organic brownies and 5k runs. I do not recommend it, despite the fact that I managed to lose some weight during the process (not a lot. Damn it)

First of all, forget about any kind of social life from September of year 6. Just write it off. Cancel any work engagement. Then, find a good tutor or be prepared to tutor your daughter yourself. Do not believe anything you are told by the school, all the girls are tutored and must be prepared unless you still believe in fairytales -and at the end of the process you won’t any more. Prince charming will not come. Some mums learned it the hard way-.  Some girls even started having a tutor at nursery (on top of the school fees, of course). Really. That said, do not kid yourself: the 11+ can not be outsourced, you will have to get your hands dirty. Do not count on your husband, he will be on business trips at all the crucial times and there is no point in complaining, they all do it and you don’t want to start divorce proceedings during this process anyway.

Then, information is key. You have to pump the other mums for information and-shock horror-, discover that sometimes you will be interviewed too. My advice: preparation, preparation, preparation. You have to attend with your husband and present a united front. It was tough for a friend of mine whose hubby ran away with her best friend. But, for the sake of her darling daughter, she did it. That’s what it takes. I think that there might be a business opportunity for pretend-husbands here. Oh, and the power stripes are mandatory for him, he must look like a banker (see (http://mumugb.blogspot.com/2011/01/empire-stripes-back_16.html#links).  Then, you have to understand that most Sloane Square mums look similar:
– skinny
– blonde. Blonde highlights are acceptable, hair extensions are a real bonus
– loads of foundation on  the face (do not even think of visiting a school without make-up). Botox is recommended
– designer clothes. For some unknown reason, most of the mums look  like they are going to go horse riding (please do not bring the whip or leave it in the Chelsea Tractor), and they accessorise the look with a Prada bag. I have tried to look around to see the horses but couldn’t find any.

I am ticking none of the above boxes. I have bought some fancy boots but the girls are laughing their heads off when I am wearing them. With a mum like me, my daughter does not stand a chance. I would be taken for the French au-pair, which would not boost my self confidence. My only choice was to hire an actress or to choose schools with no interviews for me. I chose the latter ( but just in case I had a skinny friend lined up to represent me).

Finally, be prepared for anything. My daughter was asked about what was happening in Tunisia. She acted as if it was perfectly normal for a 10-year old to analyse Tunisa’s political situation and explained that Ben Ali’s wife stole a ton and a half of gold. In short: do not let anything bother you. Maybe, after all, she could tutor me now.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London