Friday, 11 August 2017

The "holiday"

Will I have time to even see that beach??

For a start, I just want to give an update on my "childcare nightmare" situation. We have finally found a solution and just in time before flying home for the holidays. In the end the kids will take the bus in the morning and they will stay at the creche only for the after school. With the price increase, we're actually going to end up paying the same as last year. Oh, and to do all that, I had to change my work hours. It's in these times that I'm grateful for a flexible boss!

At least we won't have to stress over childcare during our holidays, because let me tell you, a holiday home is absolutely exhausting. We're not there yet but our week is almost already planned minute by minute. OK, not quite, but you get the idea.

I usually put a status update on Facebook to let me friends know were coming and after that, it's first come, first served. I also text the couple of friends who are not on Facebook, but if they're not quick enough, tough!

So far we're booked on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, Monday all day, and Wednesday all day. I still have to arrange to meet two other friends so I hope they won't be looking for the same day because I can't divide myself (and they live more than an hour apart so a joint meeting is out of the question...plus they don't really know each other, which would make the whole thing a bit awkward...)

On top of that you have family. The old auntie you don't really want to see but your parents kind of force you to visit (after all, it could be the last time), the cousins you would love to see but they're all scattered around the area and are impossible to gather at the same time, your sister and brother you want to spend so much time with but just can't, your own parents you want to chat with but get on your nerves after 2 days...And well, your kids you haven't seen for 6 weeks and who will probably make you pay as soon as you arrive.

And then you've got shopping. We only have hand luggage this time, but the years we go home with the car we take at least a half-day just to go to supermarket! We mostly buy wine (typical!) and few things we can't find in Ireland. I also love going to my local market as there are always arts and crafts, and of course food from the region. Plus, I usually get to bump into a cousin or someone I haven't seen in ages...

I usually go clothes shopping as well, even if I hate it. French fashion is just a breath of fresh air compared to the Irish style. Sorry but there are fashion choices here that I just don't get, especially at the moment where I feel like I'm back in the nineties every time I step into a shop. I was a teenager in the nineties, the last thing I want to do is dress like that again!! I just need my fix of "safe" shopping in Camaieu or Cache-Cache.

So yeah, between the friends catch-ups where you try to squeeze in as much news as you can in the space of few hours, the visits to the old uncles and aunties, kids time, parents time, sister time and shopping time, I wonder if I'll actually have time to go to the beach at all!!

Mind you, the weather is supposed to be... well... like a Breton weather, so mild and possibly wet. At least I'll have the wine to forget about it!

What about you, does it stress you out to go on holidays at home?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Another year, another childcare nightmare



And here I thought our childcare problems were over... Last year our childminder let us down but we found a creche who could take the kids before and after school, provide meals and even help with homework. On top of that we were not paying them during school holidays if the kids weren't attending, which was a huge relief especially for summer as they're spending 6 weeks "practicing their French" with my parents.

The kids were happy, we were happy, everything was fine. Except we just got a text from the creche stating they undercharged us last year so this year we would have to pay almost 900 euros a month just for 4 hours a day...And they "forgot" to charge us for breakfast, which comes at 5 euros a day per child. I know the creche has running costs, needs to pay staff, insurance, rent etc, but I doubt breakfast costs this much...It's not like they get a full Irish every morning!!

Anyway, the thought of having to pay more childcare than mortgage is just killing me, and it is expensive because we both work full-time. But today I checked the new scheme the government has put in place to help with childcare costs. And I'm just even more pissed off. It seems great and all for kids under 3 years old (if you're happy with a 20 euros per week discount), but once they start their free preschool year (which is only 3 hours a day!) what do you do? Then I checked what other help was available for older children but we don't qualify for anything because we work... which doesn't make sense at all.

I do feel as parents we are taken hostage by childcare providers, be it childminders or creches. Both childminders we used made us pay when we were taking holidays and it was free when they were taking time off. But they were almost never taking time off. And when they did it was on their terms so I always had to find a solution to manage when it happened. I know part of the problem is we don't have any family around to help, but I'm pretty sure it happens to Irish people as well who don't have parents nearby.  Even last year, it costed less to fly my nephew over from France than to pay for 2 weeks full time in the creche. There's something wrong here...

Anyway, enough rant for today! We still haven't figured out what we 're going to do comes September. All the other creches I contacted are either too expensive or they don't have a bus service to drop and collect the kids... A childminder would be ideal but the last one dropped us because the school run was unbearable so I don't want the same thing to happen. The kids are going to different schools next year and they finish an hour and half apart (and they won't start at the same time either!), so I don't know if I'd find someone happy to do it. I think we will scrap the before school care and maybe put the kids in the bus to go to school, or I'll have to try and change my hours or I might just give up work (although that's unlikely because I would just go crazy at home!)

I am longing for the day the boys will be able to walk to and from school, but unfortunately that's not going to happen for another 5 years at least!! In the meantime I will just have to suck it up once again and find a solution... Wish me luck!!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The long-term expat


We travelled within Ireland for the first time in 10 years!

How many years after a move abroad can you consider yourself a  long-term expat? Two, five, ten years? There is probably no right answer, but one thing for sure, we all have a few things in common. So let's see if you recognise yourself in the list below...


You've become a pro at booking flights

You know the best time to book tickets, the best airline and the one to avoid at all costs, the connections available to go home and the time of the year they operate. You could almost book a flight eyes closed (because you probably know your passport number by heart anyway). And I bet you're always the one who helps other family members find a good deal to book their flight to come and see you. You might also be the one who guides them through the online check-in...


You have a favourite airport

Well, it's no surprise that Dublin is my favourite. I've always found staff friendly and helpful, which makes a trip a lot easier, especially when you have kids. On the contrary, my least favourite airport is Nantes. I had problems almost every time, from security who took my Breton cake away, to check-in staff who told me they were wouldn't be anyone to help me go down a flight of stairs with my child, hand luggage and buggy (while I was pregnant), because they were not there "for that".

There are more passports than people in your house

There are 8 passports for the four of us, and technically, we could have 2 more (but we never asked for Mauritian passports for the kids, because there's no point really). Before flying out, the same question always pops up: "What passport are you taking this time?"

You always take time difference into consideration when calling someone

Mauritius is 3 hours ahead in summer, 4 hours in winter. France is always one hour ahead. My brother in law is in Australia, which is 7 hours ahead, our friend in Morocco is on the same time zone etc etc. When I arrange a call with my mum or sister I always have to add "French time" to the time they want to call: "Call me at 8pm, French time, OK?". And it's always French time because I am more used to the time difference than they are...

You have a holiday budget

There is always this expectation from family and friends that you are coming home every year. "When are you coming back?", "Why are you only staying one week?", "Why do you come only once a year"?... We do try to go home every year, even if it's just for a week. I want to see my parents as they're not getting any younger, and see friends that cannot come over to Ireland. We also go to Mauritius every 2 or 3 years, and we want to visit other places as well, so our holiday budget is pretty big! Having said that, it is our choice. When other people enjoy going out to fancy restaurants, concerts or buying twenty pair of shoes, we just enjoy going away. So we make it work, it's a question of priorities.

Your friends are also long-term expats or locals

Most of our foreign friends have lived in Ireland as long as we have, sometimes longer. And our local friends, well, they're not moving anytime soon either! When you know you're going to stay in a country for a long time, you  stop making friends with people you know won't stay, or at least you make a "lighter" commitment to "new" people.  For me, it's a way to protect myself. I've always taken friendships very seriously and I need time to get to know someone. I don't always want to invest my time and energy with someone who will only be there for a few months, so I now have a tendency to detach myself from the relationship. I am friendly and always will be, but I don't expect anything on the long-term. Having said that, there are always exceptions, but trust me they are rare.

You haven't travelled in your host country for way too long

The first 4 years I was in Ireland I travelled all around the country. I visited major Irish landmarks and sites, and my little Ford Fiesta brought me everywhere. And then routine took over, my husband was working at the week-end and we just couldn't find the time to travel anymore. At the same time, living and working in Ireland meant I didn't want to also spend my holidays there. It's not a foreign country anymore and if I'm off work, I want to go somewhere else. Until the last bank holiday week-end when we had a great time in West Cork (but knackered after a 6 hours drive!).

You mix languages when you speak

I speak Frenglish most of the time, which is fine with my husband or friends, but when I go to France it gets a bit difficult. At the beginning, some people thought I was doing it on purpose, but now they just laugh at me when I can't find a word! On a separate note, when I was in France last week, someone told me she was surprised I didn't have a foreign accent when I spoke French... That's weird, right? I don't think I can ever lose my French accent in my native language, it's hard enough losing it in English!

You don't bring presents back home anymore

The first couple of years, every pre-trip organisation included a day in Dublin to buy presents for my parents, brother and sister, aunts and uncles, nephews etc. I would always end up in Carroll's and break the bank to buy t-shirts, Guinness chocolates, shamrock pencils and the likes...Now I go home empty handed. I think my parents have a fair share of Irish memorabilia in the house. The only thing I do if I have time, is to go to Penney's for my sister. I know I'm not helping her addiction, but a little scarf or a top always makes her happy.

What do you think of this list, did you recognize a bit of yourself in it? Anything you want to add?


Friday, 21 July 2017

6 things I forgot about France





I usually go to France once a year, for a holiday in my hometown. I know people and the surroundings so when I go there I am not surprised by anything really.

But lately, I had the opportunity to travel to other parts of France thanks to my job, and I realised there are some little things I forgot about my country…


Military presence in airports

When I landed in Beauvais a few  weeks ago and also in Mulhouse the other day, the first thing I saw at the exit were military people, with full on uniforms and shotguns. I completely understand they were there for safety, but still, when you not used to it, it feels a little bit scary. It reminded me that France was still in a state of emergency and the possibility of a threat was real. Having said that, I did feel completely safe any places I went to after I left the airport. A terrorist attack is really not the first thing on your mind when you are visiting a foreign city. Even in the metro in Paris, I was more worried about getting out at the right stop than the possibility of an attack...

Table service in bars

I spent an evening in Nancy, on the beautiful Place Stanislas. The square was surrounded by bars, all with an outdoor terrace. I sat down and looked out for waiter. He was a bit busy and told me he would be with me within a few minutes. It got me thinking how this French system is complicated. If you want a drink in Ireland, you go to the bar, ask for it and pay straight away.
In France, you just sit down. The waiter comes, takes your order, goes to the bar, gets your drink, has to remember where you sit, gives you the drink, comes back with the bill, takes the money, goes back to the bar, gets the change, comes back to you…
It’s just a waste of time if you ask me!

People speaking French around me

I know it’s kind of a given if I’m in France right? Well, I’m just so used to be surrounded by English speaking people that I often surprise myself by thinking :”Oh, there are some French people here!” when I hear them talking French beside me. And then I remember than I am in fact in France… Please tell me I’m not crazy and I am not the only one experiencing this!!

The beauty of the country

I am ashamed to say I have visited Ireland a lot more than France. Of course I know Brittany because that’s where I’m from, but aside from my home region, I know very little about my home country. I have been to the Southwest twice and Paris a few times. With my job I have now the opportunity to travel a bit more and I really feel like a tourist when I go to France. When you live somewhere, you don’t really see the beauty beside you and I am now seeing my country from an outside perspective. I don’t really have time to do proper visits as I am mainly there for work, but I always take the time to walk around the cities I’m in, admire the architecture, take pictures and have a nice meal. I have been to places I would have never considered before, like Reims or Nancy and I realised France really has beautiful buildings and landscapes. I drove through the Vosges region and the views were really breathtaking. Next time I’m over in France I think I’ll take an extra day off just to visit, it’s really worth it.

Place Stanislas, Nancy
                                              

Paris Opera


The (very) hot weather

Seriously, I think I was going to melt. I am not used to this kind of weather anymore (not that I was used to it in Brittany or Ireland!), and yet I was looking forward to it before flying out. I kind of regretted my enthusiasm when I discovered there was no air-con in my hotel room. The whole time I was there I was just hoping I wouldn’t look too sweaty for my job meeting! The good side of the hot weather was enjoying a cold refreshing cocktail in the evening and not worry about rain!

This one was well deserved!!

French people can actually be nice

Last year I wrote a very controversial post about French people being arrogant (I can’t even post the link because it was reported to Facebook, and I wouldn’t want to re-open this touchy subject anyway). This time I had a completely different experience in France. From the time I booked my rental car to the time I gave it back, I only came across nice, helpful people. The hotel staff, the people I met for work (and I was with competitors so it could have been awkward and less than amicable), the bar I had a drink in, the airport staff, the people in the queue at check-in… Even when I was in Paris a few weeks ago, everybody I met was in a good mood, and I didn’t have high expectations, trust me! I don’t know what happened, but I was so impressed it made me want to make up with French people. That’s a good start, right?

What about you, anything that you find strange, amusing or that you forgot about your home country?

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The joys of having mixed-race children



When you have mixed-race children, it can sometimes lead to awkward and funny situations...

At the maternity

The morning after my first son was born, the nurse came down to show me how to give him a bath. Everything went well until she took his nappy off. She looked at him, then me, then him again, and then the conversation went a bit like this:

"Is the dad, uh... uh... uh...? ".
I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. "Is the dad what?" I replied.
"Well, is the dad....coloured?"
"Yes, he's black, why? Is there something wrong?"
"No, it makes sense now"
"What makes sense?"
"His testicles"
I burst into laughter. "What??"
"Well, that's why his testicles are a lot darker than the rest of his body"

I hadn't even realised they were, because let's be honest, it was my first baby and to me they just looked normal. Upon closer inspection, they were indeed a lot darker than the rest!!

At the childminder

After a few days, I also realised he had a birth mark on his bottom. So I did what every new mother would do, I googled it. And I found out it was a common birth mark in mixed-race children, a Mongolian spot. Once we knew what it was, we were relieved and didn't think about it until my son started to go to the childminder. I picked him up one day and the childminder was a bit agitated:

"I changed him today, I saw this mark on his back...I thought his jeans had rubbed off on his skin"
"Don't worry, it's just a birth mark!"
"Oh my god, I scrubbed him, trying to take it off!!"

Oops.

At the supermarket

My husband was in a supermarket with one of the kids, and he lost him in an aisle. He  was a bit panicked and started to look for him everywhere. He finally saw him with a security guard so went straight up to him and said it was his son. The guard look at him, looked at the child, and asked  "Are you sure you're the dad?" .Thankfully my son jumped right in his arms, so that was it.

I never get the question "Are you the mum?" because there is less difference between our skin tones than with my husband's. But I can understand why some people would be asking the question...And to be honest, better be safe than sorry.

At school

My kids know how their dad has a different skin colour, but the interesting thing is that they don't refer  to white children as "white". They are "peach", which is funny because it makes a lot more sense when you think about it.
And to be honest, it's only when I look at school pictures that I see the difference between them and the other kids in the class.

On holidays

They tan so easily I'm jealous. I have to use sun cream, after-sun cream, tanning oil and hope I won't get sunburnt. They are just exposed for a couple of hours and they instantly get darker. Life is so unfair.
My son's tan after 2 hours in the sun...
Being mixed-race is part of who my kids are, and they know their parents have a different skin colour, but it doesn't seem to affect them one bit, for the moment anyway. And well, I don't want to go into a "color chart" debate, but their skin tone is quite subtle, you only see a big difference in summer time (as if we had a summer in Ireland, but you get what I mean!). I think it's harder for their dad who had to justify himself (Yes, I am the dad!) more than once...

If you have mixed-race children, any interesting stories you want to share?

Friday, 23 June 2017

Heatwave

The "mini-heatwave" may be over but I never cease to be amazed when I see how crazy the country gets when the sun comes out. I know Ireland doesn't get much heat and I have to get my yearly fix somewhere else, but as soon as the temperatures hit the low 20s, Irish people go a bit overboard...



Beaches are invaded






And some people regularly forget about the tide. Unfortunately, car insurance doesn't cover for drivers' stupidity...





They start sunbathing, with the results we all know


At the beach last week-end, this man was sunbathing with his girlfriend and I swear I just wanted to go up to him and triple the amount of sun cream on his body. The poor man was as white as paper and I knew from the start he would end up like a lobster. And he did.



They undress


Literally, as shown in this video of a naked guy on the canal... More seriously, one ray of sun and Irish people take the tops, shorts and flip-flop out. I was in my cardigan all week at work, and sure the weather was nice, around 22 degrees, but my colleagues kept making fun of me for being wrapped up. It's not hot guys, it's just warm!



They moan


"I'm roasting, it's scorching, I'm melting, Oh lads, I am not aaaable for this heat !!!!"



But they are in a good mood at the same time

Your boss brings ice-cream to the office, the playschool organises a water balloon fight and the primary school takes the kids to the beach. This year they also skipped homework for a couple of days because the teachers wanted the kids to be active outside instead of doing homework! And  for the adults, nothing is more enjoyable than an ice-cold pint of Bulmers in the local pub beer garden...

Unfortunately for Ireland, the weather is back to normal. Maybe it's a good thing for all the sunburnt people out there, but I hope it doesn't last too long and we can enjoy more good weather this summer (I am being VERY optimistic I know!).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Ignorance is bliss



If my memory is still intact, it was 2005. My husband and I were visiting a friend in Kinsale, near Cork. He invited us to his place because he had just moved back from Dublin, and he wanted us to see how beautiful the area was. He was right. The village was like an Irish postcard, with colourful houses and narrow streets, full of pubs, seafood restaurants and a little harbour.

It was really hot that day, well, by Irish standards anyway! Our friend was working in a pub close to the harbour so we went for a drink, and during his break we all sat down outside on the wall, looking at boats passing by.

As we were soaking up the sun, we started to talk about our life in Ireland. We didn't have any serious commitments at the time, none of us. There was no mortgage, insurance, or kids in the picture. I was still driving my French car in total illegality. My job was easy, without any real responsibility. We didn't have any worries, really. Maybe just paying the rent on time and the phone bill which was always expensive because of the calls back home. We had a cosy appartment, great neighbours and in a village we loved. We were going out regularly and had many friends from a variety of horizons.

We were thinking of going back to France though, but at that point in the conversation, our friend asked the question: "What is it that you like most about living here?". The answer came so naturally that I still remember it to this day (well, maybe not in exact terms, but the general sense is still there!): "What I love about Ireland is that we live here in total ignorance. We have an easy life and with our salary we can live comfortably for our needs. We live in that little bubble and we're not really interested in the economic or political state of the country because it doesn't affect us".

And as we were finishing our drinks, feeling the gentle breeze on our shoulders we all thought the same thing: "This the life!"

Of course, as the years went by, things changed, as they always do. I finally bought an Irish car, we applied for a mortgage and bought an appartment, had kids... And we started following the news and budget announcements more because this time it was affecting us, especially during the recession.

Surprisingly, I  had the same conversation the other day with a friend I hadn't seen for years. I was in Paris for work and we met for a meal. She was nostalgic about her life in Ireland, and if her health was better, she would be thinking of going back. And then she said it. The same thing I said all those years ago. She loved living in Ireland because she was in her bubble of work and friends, of going out and visiting the country. She was oblivious to the political or economical aspects of the country because it didn't affect her.

So maybe that's it. Maybe that's the reason why French people love Ireland so much. Let's face it, only a minority stays for the long-term, but for those who went back to France and long for their experience in Ireland, what is it that you loved about the country? Could it be this sense of freedom, fun and the fact that you were not really affected by anything else other than your little bubble?

I still love Ireland of course, but the innocence stage is long gone. We've been through a lot in the past 10 years or so, but yesterday at the beach, soaking up the sun on what certainly was the hottest day of the year, I thought to myself "This is the life!".

Monday, 1 May 2017

An old friend I used to know



Back in March, I went to Mauritius with my husband and my best friends from France. While we were there, I realised my husband's attitude towards his country had changed. The most noticeable change was that he wasn't speaking the local language anymore. Mauritius' official language is English, but everybody speaks French (confusing I know...), and in private or in social situations like in a shop or the market, people speak creole. 

Every time we were out and about visiting places, he was acting as a guide (as usual!), but every interaction he had with locals was in French. The only time he spoke creole was with his family.  A few days after we came back I asked him about it. He said he didn't feel connected to his country, that he liked it of course, but that he had nothing to do with it anymore. And when we were there, visiting sites, he was like us, just a tourist. 

I found this almost impossible to understand. How could he feel so disconnected to a country where he lived for 22 years, especially his formative years? I replied I couldn't feel that way about France, ever. Even if I loved Ireland, I equally loved France and I would always be French.

But for the past week, I have been thinking about my own relationship with my birth country, and in the wake of the presidential elections back home, I have realised that maybe I am not as connected as I thought. Yes of course I still feel French but it's like I don't recognise my home country anymore.

I go there once a year, I have a great time, catch up with friends and family, eat and drink, generally just enjoy myself for  2 weeks and go back to Ireland with the boot loaded with wine and nothing left in my bank account. 

But I don't live there, I don't know what "real life" is like and what people are facing on a daily basis. All I know is the little bubble of my family and friends in Brittany, and the kind of life I live in Ireland. I do feel disconnected. Weeks before the elections, I knew who would be in the second round of the presidential elections, but I didn't (and probably still don't) realise what it really meant for French people. 

I watch everything from the outside, and I'm going to tell you what I see: A divided country, and angry, unhappy and frustrated citizens (I still hope I'm wrong and it's just the TV feeding me crap, sensationalist stories). 

Has France changed so much in the past 15 years, or have I changed? Probably a bit of both, but to me, at the moment, France feels like an old friend I used to know. Someone I was very close to, but time and distance made us drift apart. Someone I feel I don't have much more in common with anymore. Sure we see each other once a year, laugh and have a great time for a while but there is no more depth to our relationship.

Unless I go back to France for good, I will always feel that way, trying to understand what's going on in my home country with an outsider point of view. And let me tell you, it's not easy.