Thursday, 17 April 2014

Everywhere I Go I Take My Britishness With Me

What is going on? I am spending a couple of days in France and it seems that, well, I am standing out. I have taken (some of) my Britishness with me, and it shows. I feel like an outsider. Not nice.

Let me explain. Whenever I meet someone, I ask (in French) 'How are you?' Or 'How are you doing?' I had two, well, interesting replies today. The first one, from my father, was 'you know how I am'. The second one, from the shopkeeper, was 'it is none of your business'. Right. Sounds like my question was a miss then. Ok, lesson learned.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Switch Off After 6pm, It's The Law!

It is all over the press: there is a new binding agreement -some are even talking of a law, which is not the case just yet-, that says that managers of the technology and consultancy sector should switch off their professional mobile phones and not reply to professional emails after 6pm. As a result, the British press is having a field day with the 'lazy French', who apparently still indulge in lovely '5 to 7' after work. In short, the good old cliches are back with a vengeance.

I personally believe that the situation is far more complicated that it seems. In fact, I am of two minds. The thing is, I never switch off. I am always thinking of my business. That's just the way it is, and I don't want anyone to boss me around about what I should and shouldn't do, thank you very much. I can't help thinking that it is ridiculous to have a 'one size-fits-all' rule like this. What if you work in a global business and have to call your New York office? It might have to happen after 6pm on a regular basis. Wouldn't you answer an urgent call from work? Seriously? Well, nobody will want to invest in France if that's the case, and things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Yes She Can

 Kate Holt/ActionAid; Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos/ActionAid; Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ActionAid.

I live in a privileged world of fantastically-groomed yummy mummies. The topic of the conversation seems to be the bonus of your husband right now. I suppose that it is this time of the year. I remember reading somewhere that the bankers' bonuses were supposed to be capped. I thought that it was going to be a bombshell but frankly it doesn't seem to make the slightest difference. I still hear them talk about private jets, magnificent yachts and holiday homes all around the world. Most of the other mums are spending the Easter break in the Maldives, in Barbados, or in other fantastic locations. As for me, here I am, in London, waiting to become an aunt again, and trying to care, as much as possible, for elderly relatives. Oh, and also trying to file my business accounts -complete and utter nightmare- while keeping the kids busy. Not so yummy mummy, after all. I am simply drained.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Pigs Who Had Coffee Next To Me

It's Monday morning. I am starting the week with a much needed cappuccino. The week has barely commenced but I already know that I will not have a minute to myself. Usually, my morning's coffee is my favourite time of the day. Today, things are slightly different.
Shortly after sitting down two middle-aged guys come to sit at the next table. They are French and talking loudly, as if the coffee shop belonged to them. This is clearly a risky bet: London is the biggest French City outside of France. They don't seem to care...
One of them explains that he is back from Singapore and that he was able to watch a raunchy movie, Adele, on the flight back. He says that it was embarrassing to watch the love scenes while the air hostesses were serving the meals. He copiously comments on their looks. He seems very proud of himself and smiles broadly. He also keeps gushing with pride over his sexual comments. What a sleazy man!

To make matters even worse, both guys seem to be enjoying themselves like mad. I would understand if they were teenagers suffering from an hormone overload, but clearly they have passed this stage. What is wrong with them?

They continue to shout various borderline obscene comments, mainly about female colleagues this time. The size of their breasts seems to be the topic of the conversation.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Easter Break Blues

My Daughter Is Having A Cookie

It is official : the Easter break has started. This basically means that I can't do anything for the next three weeks or so, because my children are on holidays. I can either look after them, which will involve lots of trips to the park, kids movies and lunches at McDonalds, or pay someone else to do it. How do women work in this country again? I don't get it. Unless you can ship your kids to their grandparents, I really don't see how people manage.

Seriously, what am I supposed to do for three weeks? Three whole weeks!!!
Things got to a head this morning when I eventually realised that school was finishing at 11.30 am. Can someone tell me what the point of going to school is, if you are going to stay there two and a half hours? Why not cancel it altogether? Because as soon as you have dropped your children, you need to pick them up anyway.

I am desperately looking for athletic camps, swimming camps, or anything that would give me a couple of hours of freedom every day. Am I allowed to say that I hate holidays? Because everybody gets to do what they want. Except me.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Vast Temptation To Reshuffle

A Country With So Much Going For It...

In France, what do you do when things get rough? Well, you just reshuffle them a bit. Look at what happened in January when Francois Hollande was caught cheating on his current girlfriend. Well, he reshuffled his love life. He kicked his official girlfriend out, and kept the unofficial one.

Right now, Francois Hollande is reshuffling his cabinet. He kicked his former Prime Minister out, and replaced it with the Interior minister. This is because his political party was inflicted a major blow yesterday, for the local elections (that's when the mayors are elected).
So, what now? Well, I am starting to think that reshuffling is a new French specialty: cheat on your wife: reshuffle your love life! Get defeated in an election: don't go, reshuffle your cabinet! Face some economic difficulties : how about a new organisation (i.e. reshuffle again)?  I can't help thinking that reshuffling is to solving problems what twerking is to dancing: five minutes of fun -at best!-, but not much else. 

Come to think of it, wouldn't it be great if, every time we had a problem, we could reshuffle? Your house is dirty: well, if you reshuffle the furniture a bit, you might forget about it, right? When did reshuffling replace resolving problems?
I am getting more and more concerned for France. I doubt very much that a reshuffle with solve the increasing unemployment and the rise of extremist views. I would love to be proven wrong. In the meantime, I am doing my tax return for my business, and I wish I could reshuffle the numbers to pay less. Well, it is not happening. Talk about double standard!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

News From France

Every morning, I like to spend twenty minutes or so reading French newspapers. It is my way of keeping in touch with what is going on in my home country. Well, things are not going well. This morning, I have read that unemployment has risen again, by 0.9% this time. This means that more than 30 000 people have lost their jobs in February 2014. Approximately 10% of the active population is out of a job. In the meantime, local elections seem to have delivered a massive blow to the actual government.
But, to me, the real question is: will anything change?

Monday, 24 March 2014

French & Frazzled


I hate Monday mornings. Today when I woke up, I would immediately have gone back to sleep if at all possible. But no, of course it wasn’t possible.

“- Mum, what’s wrong with your hair?” asked my little one.

Darling, right now it is the least of my concerns.

I didn’t reply of course.

“- Mummy, why do you look tired?”

Because I have to empty the dishwasher, prepare some breakfast, make sure that the children haven’t forgotten anything, and get the bins ready for collection. Oh, and then I have a double school run this morning: one for swimming practice, and the regular one on top of this. To be honest with you I am shattered before having even started. How about I go on a good old French strike to protest against my inhumane working conditions? But no, not possible again.

I just smiled.

“- Mummy is fine, Darling, just waking up”

Such a big fat lie.

To make matters even worse my scale is a b*** and I wasn’t even able to find two matching socks. And who has hidden my bloody shoes again?

How we make it to the car remains a miracle. But we did. First drop at the swimming pool, then back home. Ten minutes later, it is time for the second school run of the day. Damn it. It just never stops. We make it to school.

“- Has your mum change her hairstyle? How lovely!” That’s one of my daughter’s friends. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Education: Give Me Some Structure

It all started when my 13-year-old daughter was trying to revise chemistry for yet another end-of-year exam. She came to me with a couple of questions on the properties of acids and bases. “Just check your lesson”, came my peremptory reply. Then, I had second thoughts, and asked her to show me her chemistry folder.

‘No wonder she can’t find the responses to her questions: each lesson’s structure is different and there is no theory!”, I told to myself.

 Her folder was a complete mess: experiments reports, principles and conclusions were following each other in no particular order. There was no apparent logic to it. One day the lesson could start with a few points, and an experiment would corroborate them; another day they would only do an experiment, and the conclusions might -only might- follow. Or they have to draw them on their own. Sometimes she had a printed paper with a few bullet points of explanation. Sometimes there simply wasn’t anything.

In a panic, I then checked her maths and her physics folder. It was exactly the same. Key principles were taught, but there was no real structure to the lessons. To me, it felt a bit like having all the ingredients to cook something, but no reliable written recipe.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Profession: Mumpreneurs

Saira Khan, Jo Tantrum, Dina...and me

This Saturday, thanks to the lovely Dina of KensingtonMums, I got to meet other local Mums. And I loved it. What amazed me is that most of them were Mumpreneurs. Yes, they had it all: a family and a successful business. Some, like Jo Tantum, Saira Khan and Amanda Frolich, were well-known entrepreneurs. Others, like, well, me, were just trying to make things work at best as they could. And I think that this is what I like about London. Had I stayed in France, I would never, ever, have set up my own storage business. Because it simply wouldn't have crossed my mind.
I think that it is the real French paradox: despite a great academic education, I have yet to see more Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen, of course) high up in the commercial, industrial or political hierarchy. Don't get me wrong, I am pretty sure that there are exceptions, but my point is that, given that we have to learn so much about maths, quantum physics, philosophy, latin and the likes, why don't we have more French at the top?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Cheese Or Pudding: Which Should You Serve First?

A dessert worth waiting for...

The controversy started with Mary Berry saying that cheese should come before dessert. Not everybody agreed. The debate continued on Twitter, with BBC Woman's Hours Jane Garvey. 

I had to take part. Basically, as I am French, that's the way I was brought up: cheese before pudding. I therefore agree wholeheartedly with Mary Berry.

Don't get me wrong: we French don't have cheese and dessert at every meal. We only do it when we have guests, or on special occasions (at least at my household). And if I am invited by British friends, I don't make a fuss because they serve cheese after pudding. I just go with the flow.

A wise man, on Twitter, suggested that cheese and dessert should be served at the same time. Well, if you were to do this in my family, whoever would take cheese first would not have any dessert left. They wouldn't be happy: I love to finish my meals with a great-looking pudding. I just love desserts. Always have. Always will. Not to mention that having a wine that goes with cheese AND dessert wouldn't be possible. Just saying. What a conundrum! 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Out Of Place, But 100% Natural

Next Time I Will Wear My Fav T-shirt

Have you ever felt so out of place that you wanted to scream and run away? Well, it has happened to me a few times. I never know exactly when it will be. Usually, it is during very posh and very British dinners. Most men are successful professionals. Most women are from aristocratic backgrounds, with superb manners and, I must admit, not much in common with me (not always, but most of the time).

I remember being invited once to a huge house located in Knightsbridge. It looked like a small building, with at least six floors. My mum wouldnt like it far too many steps. That said, maybe they had a lift?

I was wearing a little black dress from Joseph that I absolutely loved. I felt fine. The host came to me:

 Oh, what a nice dress, I thought that short cuts were not appropriate after 35, but I was clearly wrong. You look absolutely gorgeous.

OMG, the dress is clearly a miss. Damn it. I had just been a victim of a very British tradition: the double-edged compliment. In fact, don't be fooled, it was a bitchy comment.  What to do?

I smiled. I didnt say anything. I thanked her for the compliment, making it look as if I hadn't understood what she meant. Lovely start of the evening. How to escape?

I decided try hard to find a subject that would break the ice. How about children and schools?

- Oh, our kids are all at boarding schools now. But we do have pets. Pets are so much more rewarding than kids anyway…”

I couldn't believe my ears. I hadn't drunk anything: I promise.

Dont get me wrong, I have nothing against pets, and I grew up in a small village, surrounded by cats and dogs. But, to me, the order of priority is:

1: Children

2: Pets