England Saved Me From a Life of Crime

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That’s right. Moving to England literally saved me from a life of crime(s)… against fashion.

A persistent stereotype about French women is that we are all born with an innate sense of style and that, with the gift of glamour at our fingertips, we just effortlessly tumble into our clothes and make them look, and here’s a cliché if I ever heard one, timeless. What. A. Lot. Of. Crap.

For the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, here’s the reality of growing up an average teenage girl in France in the 90s (I specify the 90s because I have no idea what it’s like right now, having left France over 15 years ago – maybe things have changed, in which case, tell me about it in the comments!):

  • Hardly anyone has a sense of style: the most important thing about growing up in France is to conform, conform, conform. You do this by subscribing to the traditional school uniform. But France doesn’t have uniforms! Oh yes they do, it’s called the ‘jeans and t-shirt’ combo. Most kids don’t veer very far from this template; or they do so at their own peril.
  • Girls don’t wear pretty things: again, jeans and t-shirt. Grey, black and white. With sneakers and probably a scarf. Special occasions, like going out to a club or a party, involves putting a different top to your normal ones but that’s it. I’ve not seen any girl or women in ‘pretty dresses’ unless there was a wedding. So imagine my surprise when I moved to England and went out. Girls in dresses, girls in heels, girls wearing pretty things, shiny things, glittery things, and colours; it was a revelation. I had never thought of it as an option but I certainly liked having the choice.

This said, I have always been particularly challenged and I have committed so many fashion faux-pas that it took emulating a good friend and a few good years on British soil for me to learn what suits me and what doesn’t and mostly, to recognize when something is just hideous. I’m still not particularly stylish because that takes money and it’s never been a priority.

If you don’t believe that I could be so utterly clueless, here’s the proof: when I moved to England, I wore dungarees that my mum had made me. Not even denim dungarees, we’re talking soft cotton and bright colours. I have nothing against homemade clothes because they can certainly be stylish, but then there’s me and my choices. I was 18, and truthfully, it was quite frightful just how uncool I was. Thankfully, there aren’t any pictures. Well, not many anyway. And definitely none of the dungarees.

Also, when I was 15 I liked to wear a suit because it made me look more mature or something. It was a thick peach-coloured double-breasted suit. I swear I do have a picture of it somewhere but I can’t find it right now, otherwise I would share it, because it has to be seen to be believed. I was so confident I looked good in it that I sent a copy in the post to a boy I fancied; I seem to recall he wrote back to ask why I was wearing old people clothes. I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about it, the SHAME.

Age 18 in my homemade trousers and shapeless t-shirt

Age 18 in my homemade trousers and shapeless t-shirt

I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is, apart from maybe to serve as a warning that if you are looking for ideas on how to look stylish like French women, this is not the blog for you. Apart from, less is more. Always.

‘Adultery can save your marriage’ Say What?

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I came across this story about a dating site being sued in France for targeting married people last week. I know these sites exist but to see the thinking behind the idea written out like that, it is so skewed, it made me a bit depressed about the world, and sad for the people who hold these views.

French stereotypes strike again

There is this idea about French married people, that they all have affairs at some point in their life and no one bats an eyelid. It is a stereotype, it is not true. Sure, French politicians occasionally make the headlines about their seedy extramarital activities, and I get the sense that in some milieux, say the bourgeoisie (probably rich, bored, powerful Parisiens – who’s stereotyping now?), it might be a more acceptable thing, but for the average French person? It is not true or normal or acceptable. The article doesn’t exactly help disabuse of this notion, but I did learn something I quite liked, that ‘fidelity’ is written into French law. After all, marriage is a contract that offers legal protection; the vows aren’t just for show, so doesn’t it make sense that they should have some legal weight?

No Deception

There’s this line in the article that goes:

I chose Gleeden precisely because it is for married people. It means that the person you meet knows your situation. There’s no deception. We can talk openly about husbands, wives and children.

Isn’t there always deception though? Sure, in one sense, there is no deception between the two people having the affair, but there sure is deception if the partner of the married person doesn’t know about it, which I suspect in most cases they don’t. Take politics. France is big on privacy but I have a bigger issue with people who deceive their partner. I disagree with the French privacy laws that say that the private life of politicians is none of the public’s business. I am interested in how politicians behave in private because it tells me about their character. It’s not about knowing the details of their personal lives for kicks; I am, however, interested in whether they respect the people to whom they have made promises and how they show that respect. If you will deceive in your private life, it doesn’t give me much confidence that you will have any qualms about deceiving the public if it would benefit you. After all, actions speak louder than words. I think this applies to most relationships, not just marriage, because we all desire to be loved for who we are, warts and all, and the basis for most relationships is that you will love them and be faithful to them, regardless of whether you have spoken the official vows or not. This is why I’m not surprised that the website user found most men she met on the site to be ‘sub-optimal’.

In most marriages…

“But let us not be hypocritical. It’s not black and white. In most marriages at some point there is infidelity, but that does not mean the marriages collapse. Sometimes the infidelity is what saves the marriage.”

Isn’t it a sad thought? There are people out there, quite a few of them it appears, who live with this worldview that ‘in most marriages at some point there is infidelity’. This makes me sad, because it doesn’t have to be that way. I suspect that these people didn’t think that way on their wedding day (I hope!) but they might have entered the marriage with rose-tinted glasses full of the passion, romance and excitement of First Love, forgetting that all relationships require work at some point to be long-lasting. When a relationship based on First Love faces difficulties, disenchantment and disappointment can soon appear. It is interesting that the website user interviewed said they were unhappy but ‘would not leave their husband’. I couldn’t help my first thought: ‘how selfish’. I don’t know her circumstances and I’m sure nothing about them is simple or easy. After 6 years of marriage, I know well enough that relationships are hard work at times! A truer saying might be that ‘in most marriages at some point there is the temptation of infidelity.’ We all hit rough patches in our relationships. A great many of us choose to remain faithful, because we all have a decision to make about how we treat each other, and in this our character shows its true colours.

But apparently, many people stay in unhappy marriages for various reasons, not least because the alternative is too fearsome to consider, but also for some because despite their unhappiness, they value their comfort more than their husband or wife. When you are unhappy you may try to rationalise your situation, but thinking that an extramarital affair could actually ‘save your marriage’, call me naive but I can’t see how that works. A healthy relationship is based on trust, honesty and communication. An affair doesn’t save a marriage, it replaces the assumption of a healthy foundation with a flimsy partition, and leaves you hoping your partner won’t notice the difference.

I can’t help but think that when someone has reached the point when they will join a dating website in the hope that it will restore happiness in their life and by extension in their marriage, they must have such a bleak outlook on life. What do you think?

The Stressful Things Of Life

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So much has happened in the last few weeks that I don’t really know where to start. I mentioned it before disappearing into a whirlwind of life-changing events, but we’ve just ticked a couple of boxes of Most Stressful Things You Could Face In Life. I knew from experience that moving house was one of them so I looked online and sure enough, this is what I found:

1. Buying or selling a house.

2. A relationship break-up or divorce.

3. Getting laid off.

4. A death in the family.

5. Getting fired.

6. Being in debt.

7. Starting a new job.

8. Becoming a parent for the first time.

9. Planning a wedding.

10. Going broke or bankrupt.

Number 1 and 7 happened to us in a really short space of time: we moved one week and I started a new job – after a break of nearly four years – the next. The week after we moved I also became a student again and started a qualification in business management, in addition to having to find a childminder for the girls and buying a second car.

I must admit that I surprised myself by not getting stressed by the expected things. The packing was  painful and we lived in boxes for 2 months so by the end I was tired of it but, incredibly enough, not stressed. In the midst of that I went for a couple of interviews and got the job, and it was an odd time but not stressful to me.

What did happen however, was that there was only so much space in my head for the multitude of other decisions I needed to make in the space of two weeks, and I simply couldn’t give each issue the amount of engagement and energy they required. So finding a childminder and a car, these two things got to me. I found myself one Wednesday morning chatting to a friend when the realisation that I needed to sort these things out in the next seven days suddenly overwhelmed me so there I was, crying over stuff I didn’t even know I had been stressed about.

Life has been… exhilarating, busy, challenging, and then some!

We moved into our brand new house three weeks ago today, and it’s been momentous and exhausting. I am still in disbelief that it is a real thing that happened and I catch myself at times ‘so we actually live here?‘, as we had no immediate plans to move before mid-December when it all started. As to the move itself, it went very well but I am SO GLAD it is behind us now. I have had enough of living in boxes and I look forward to never doing it again. Unfortunately I can already tell this is going to continue for a while yet, as this past month confirmed that Badgerman and I both have the tendency to keep things, we’re basically beginner-level hoarders. The house is gorgeous, with loads of light and very well finished (one friend came to visit and left suffering from ‘banister envy’ as she put it). To be honest, it’s hard for me to get my head around just what an amazing turn of events this is. I’ve rented my whole life and house prices being what they are in the South East, it looked unlikely that we would be able to afford anything this spacious so I couldn’t be more grateful (even though we do only own a bit of it).

Then there’s the new job, and a completely new routine for the whole family. I was most anxious for the girls rather than for me, hence the meltdown over finding suitable childcare for them at short-notice – how could I think to move them from the only house they ever knew AND disappear into working life the next week? It turns out that the ‘children are resilient’ saying is true of my own; both girls seem to have adapted to their new circumstances with relative ease.

I don’t like being so busy that I don’t have the head-space to write or think about writing, but between adjusting, unpacking and studying (just, WHAT), it is where I am at the moment. I am aware that I am still in ‘emergency mode’ and that I need to find a new routine for myself so that I don’t just play catch-up with my life but am able to carve space for relaxing and blogging. I’ll let you know when I figure it out!

 

Five Minute Friday: Keep

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I’m back this week to take part in Five Minute Friday, where you follow a prompt and write for five minutes flat. I did it long-hand and cheated a bit by giving myself 10 minutes. I think it’s fair!

 

Ever since we decided to buy a house last December, I’ve been trying to work out how to trim down our possessions, what to sell, what to give away, what to keep. I was… optimistic in my ability to make efficient decisions.

I’m not exactly a hoarder but I am not a tidy person and I like to keep hold of stuff. It’s a lethal combination. I like physical books and Badgerman likes physical music, specifically CDs. Between the two of us we are a removal company’s worst nightmare. I still have diaries from when I was a teenager, literary horrors full of emotional outbursts which I have no intention of reading again, but physical reminders nonetheless of the person I used to be. A part of me wants to hold on to that.

I tell myself that I might some day need this bit of string or that old candle holder and I store it (badly) until that day comes. And of course, for the most part, the day never comes and in the meantime, clutter accumulates, until you want to move out and dear lord do you feel inadequate then!

Sometimes I wonder ‘what would I take with me in the event of a fire‘? The answer should never be belongings, unless your passport happens to be by the front door, but it’s a good question, isn’t it? Would I feel like I lost myself if it all went up in flames? I am not my possessions and I do not want them to own me, yet as I ponder what to do with them all, I can see how much they do in fact have more of a hold on me than I would like.

Grappling with Charlie

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I’ve sat on the news of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo for the last week, unable to untangle a multitude of conflicting thoughts and feelings. That anyone can commit this sort of violence unflinchingly is not something you can easily get your head around, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can excuse such a barbaric act.

I knew I should say something, as a French national and as an expat but I’ve struggled to know how to express myself with honesty. However, I think it needs to be done, and so here is my attempt.

As the events unfolded, I initially felt quite remote from them, and that in itself was a strange experience. It could have been going on in the US or Japan or elsewhere in Europe, for all the emotion I felt, that is, not very much at all. Horror yes, and sadness, and ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, but I wasn’t more shocked or horrified than I would be about any other terrible world event. I felt numb. I didn’t expect it, and honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I guess it marks a turn in my sense of belonging maybe, the fact that I can see things happen in France and no longer identify enough that it is happening to ‘my people’. So there was that.

The supermarket attacks affected me a lot more. I was reminded of the 2005 attacks on the London Underground. At the time I was commuting into London every day, so I knew, like everyone else, that there was a risk attached, but what could we do? We still had to go to work. There was some anxiety of course, but then everything was so normal so people just got on with it, with life as usual. The situation in France has been quite different. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in Paris during those three days of terror. Nowhere was safe; the attacks weren’t attached to any specific location or job type or people group; there was senseless killing of civilians just because, in as pedestrian and commonplace a location as a supermarket. It’s a wonder anyone ventured out of their homes, and that got to me more than anything else.

#JesuisCharlie?

It wasn’t long after #jesuisCharlie went viral that criticism of the paper and the hashtag appeared on the web. I thought it was too soon to take jabs at either regardless of whether any of the assertions were correct, with the situation barely settled and people’s emotions still so heightened. It was uncomfortable to find things to agree with; I should not have to consider these issues yet, was my thought.

My gut reaction, when #jesuisCharlie first appeared on my Tumblr page, was to reblog it immediately, which I did. Because no one should die for expressing an opinion, however offensive it may be. Ever. And so, #jesuischarlie, in support of the victims and their right to express their opinion free from the fear of reprisal.

This aside, my discomfort is real. Let me be clear, I do not condone what happened at all. I do not excuse it either. Let’s have none of that ‘they had it coming, they knew fanatics were on to them’. But what are we to make of the content of the Charlie Hebdo (CH) magazine? I was already aware of them, hence my discomfort. Their purpose, as a publication, is to criticise the powers-that-be through satire, and often through offense. Yet as we know, to get on with your fellow-man in the reality of daily life, you don’t go out of your way to cause offense. There is a fine line between your right to express your opinion free from retribution, and the natural consequence that you will end up being part of a small world indeed, with no friends aside from those who agree with you. In the real world, deliberately causing offense just because you can is not ok. With regards to the content of CH, people have accused the magazine of hitting ‘downward’ with their satire, and their supporters have argued that on the contrary, CH’s main nemesis was the far-right political party Front National and all that they stand for. True as it may be, it’s not immediately obvious in many of their work. It is my impression that in the process of pointing the finger at a religion, policy or government figure (and everyone was fair-game), there was a lot of collateral damage. It certainly looks like the magazine often portrayed the victims derogatorily to make the joke stick, and that seems rather wrong to me.

Criticism of Charlie Hebdo as a paper is not the same as supporting terror acts but in the wake of the attack, lines get blurred, accusations get thrown around, and I was so uncomfortable even just thinking about this, let alone expressing it. Is it still too soon? I don’t know. The CH cartoonists and their colleagues didn’t deserve what happened to them. Fanatics will jump at any excuse to commit the violence that boils within them, and they were sadly provided with one. I suspect someone else would have been the target if not CH, it was only a matter of time.

What disturbs me in the worldwide endorsement of #jesuischarlie is not that it shows support for free speech and for the victims and their families. And it sure expressed a willingness to stand united in the face of terrorism. I applaud that. But I am skeptical that aside from the big gesture, it will mark a change in people’s every day life. I am skeptical that a similar sentiment would have risen if the victims of the terrorist attack had been Westboro Baptist Church or UKIP. I don’t think we would have seen #IamUKIP or #Iam Westboro trend on Twitter. I doubt people would have taken to the streets in support of the victims. Maybe I am too cynical.

There is a history of casual racism alive and well in France that will not be easily shifted with unity marches. Franglaise Mummy wrote a post on what it feels like to live in France at the moment, which I would encourage you to read. The people at the other end of it are mostly Muslims and poor people of colour who live in the French HLM ghettos. The way people talk about them is similar to the way people in England view the travellers’ community. You don’t have to be a Daily Mail reader to have a negative opinion of them, you’re vaguely ashamed of it but it’s there and it is a common view.

My personal experience, which I now feel I will have to speak about in my next post to highlight the point, is that unless people take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for giving dignity, respect, friendship and love to the marginalized that cross their lives, or get out of their way to do so by doing practical things to help them feel more integrated and supported, talk of unity is, if not empty, certainly anemic. Lasting change has to be personal. We cannot and should not wait for the government to initiate the change. If we are in earnest about wanting to stand united, we need to be willing to take a risk and engage with the differences we so wish to protect at a personal level.

I don’t know that this post does the topic justice at all. France is in a complex situation and it is a clumsy attempt in the circumstances to try to make sense of it, especially when my own thoughts and emotions are in a state of flux on the matter. I hope it is clear that I don’t mean to offend the memory of the victims and the genuine horror of the situation by voicing some criticism.