How to live with yourself as you really are when you can’t escape anywhere

Alternative title provided by Badgerman: ‘when you can’t get your kids off the Switch and the neighbours are building a human pyramid’

NB: I wrote this yesterday in between aimless web-hopping and listening to the girls playing video games with their dad, and now I can’t be bothered to figure out how to rewrite the first sentence, so here goes:

I had to remind myself that today is Tuesday and that we’ve just had Easter weekend; the days are definitely merging into one. I’ve had a look at the calendar and I am on Day 26 of the lockdown which is also how long it’s been since I last physically left the house. To be honest, it has not been as difficult for me as I know it has been for others. I’m not sure what I expected, especially after an emotional first weekend, and I know I have it easier than the majority of people with my house and garden and no person under 5 living in it. So yeah, it’s been ok so far all things considered. So I’ve been thinking about that, about the psychology of being stuck with yourself when there are no distractions like work and other places, and how we are all continuously learning about ourselves and it’s not all rainbows but we have to make do, and also why we really REALLY need to give ourselves a break right now.

Knowing yourself is super important and other really obvious things

We’re all trying to cope with the lockdown as best we can and being stuck is highlighting who we really are as individuals. This is neither good or bad… as long as we are honest with ourselves about the findings. At the end of the day, nobody is perfect and you’re more likely to survive in close quarters with family if you don’t behave as if you are and you don’t expect others to be perfect themselves. I don’t think it helps to pretend that you are coping better – or worse – than you are.

Natural temperament obviously plays a part. I don’t mind not going anywhere and not seeing anyone. Literally. I also know myself well enough to know what would make a bad day worse so I don’t fret as much over what I should or should not do with it. This is not something I knew in my twenties when I was trying to be the best person everyone else wanted me to be.

Now is probably not the time to ‘try harder’ at being someone you’re not

I’m naturally introspective so nothing I’ve discovered about myself so far during this strange time has been completely new. Nonetheless the less savoury parts look even less good in enforced close quarters. I know there are areas of my life where I could do better in a lot of ways however I don’t think now is a particularly good time to work on it, because there is no quick fix for changing habits and patterns. It takes time, and the shortcut we tend to take is to try harder at pretending to be someone we’re not – like new year resolutions, or trying to stop smoking by sheer force of will. It doesn’t work.

Over the last fifteen years I have had to face some of my limitations and I have learnt to accept who I am – and who I am not. I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes wish I were more of something else, but when it comes to a challenge like the one we are facing right now, the aim is to make it as easy as possible for myself as I am and not as I wish I could be. Hopefully it will also make me easier to live with! It is far better to try to find a rhythm that works for you than to think you need to ‘fix yourself’ by being more like other people and then find it only makes you miserable and stressed.

It’s OK to feel things

We’re spending more time on social media at the moment and it’s a challenge when the green goblin of comparison turns up. It is stressful to feel lots of unwelcome feelings on top of everything else. I find my brain exhausting at times and wish it would just give it a rest. Then I remember this: feeling things is normal. Feeling negative things is normal. Feeling the things, good and bad, is also very much involuntary. It is neither healthy nor helpful to pretend you aren’t having these negative emotions. They tell you something about yourself; they may be a reflection of where you are at but you are not your feelings; they do not define you. What you can control is how you act or don’t act in reaction to them. So I give them a wave – hello feelings of inadequacy and jealousy and wishing I had more capacity – and then I let them go. I literally picture myself waving them away like a mosquito. You know that these feelings likely have something to teach you about yourself but right now may not be the best time to be having a big go at them (unless you’re already doing this and your therapist is on Zoom).

What I know about myself and why it helps to face the warts

Now is the time to find non-harming ways of not making a bad situation worse for yourself. It will look different for everyone. I should have been less surprised to realise that some friends’ ways of coping would likely fry my brain if I tried them! My more extroverted friends are packing the day with activities and looking forward to the day when they can see people in person again. I’m mostly longing for quiet.

I miss seeing people in person of course, especially colleagues because argh, working from home every day is a drag, but I could actually go on like this indefinitely. Literally, doing all the same things I’m doing right now only alone and not with the cackling sisters sitting next to me. It appears that my kids Never. Shut. Up. As soon as there’s a lull in the noise levels, they start humming or singing in a made-up language whilst jumping on the sofa or doing hand-stands. I really just want a bit of quiet. This said I am THERE for the banter when they are competitively playing video games. The sass is unreal. ‘I won, like I always do, with a bit of booty shaking’ – verbatim quote – whilst the other one is humming Frozen 2 ‘Into the Unknown’ at maximum goat voice – it’s a thing and you don’t want to hear it. Youngest takes the credit for her sister’s wins at least half the time so the levels of outrage are high and then they try to kill each other ‘I got 60! No you didn’t you poo, you got 16 you diarrhoea chops*!’ All. Day. Long. *actual insult I heard today.

As a nerdy introvert with an inclination towards laziness (studied over many decades) and a cap on my energy levels (because of the introversion) I don’t like to fill the days with lots of people and doing things. There’s not a day that I can’t find a half-hour to read a book. I also get little satisfaction in cleaning and tidying up so you will never find me busy bee-ing around the house at the best of times. In the current circumstances, things take a turn downward towards apathy and ‘one more game/level/page and I’m done’ syndrome. I have to actively make myself do things otherwise a whole day can go by where I have moved from the computer to my book on the sofa and back again and that’s it.

It is going to sound pathetic to people for whom self-motivation and self-discipline come naturally but I do much better with a list or set goal (ideally set by someone other than myself) with a time frame: the magic of deadlines and paychecks is how I get shit done. Now there’s a big black hole of nothing and it is a massive struggle to make myself do stuff so I have to find a hook and look for smallish activities that are fun but not elaborate, easy to set up and with minimal mess. Blogging is perfect as long as I have a topic to write about, and I have rediscovered how much I enjoy drawing and painting, as you might have seen on my Twitter and Instagram. I have a small stash of art supplies that haven’t been touched in years and they have been an absolute godsend. Cooking and baking are also great. I try to get the kids on board but if they don’t then I just do things on my own. Otherwise, I am a really hands-off mum. The girls are mostly left to their own devices and I expect them to entertain themselves, unless they say they are bored and then I give them options to choose from. At the moment, it’s the holidays and they spend a lot of time online or playing games and watching movies but seriously, this is a crisis and forcing the kids into a routine that I then have to fight them over is a hill I am not prepared to die on. They don’t need me more stressed and anxious over an arbitrary thing that I decided. So trial and error is the way forward.

Anyways, that was a lot of words. I am not qualified to give any advice past these observations about my own life and how I process it. Hopefully it will land with some of you. Otherwise, well, it was rather cathartic and it filled nearly a whole day so yay for that!

Things I’ve loved this week

I did a live-tweet of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was fun and confusing and I gave it an 8 on a scale of Joseph & the 70s Carpetcoat to Phantom of the Opera.

I am in love with this lady’s Shayda Campbell‘s watercolour designs, her tutorials are just at the right level for me and I am following them assiduously on her YouTube Channel.


The 4 Stages of Culture Shock: A Franco-British Experience

houses of parliament

If there is one thing that all expats have in common, it is the experience of culture shock. Put two displaced people together and they will soon be commiserating and bonding over some funny story from their first few months in the country. Culture shock is an unavoidable and necessary aspect of moving abroad. Let’s face it, we are talking about a major life change, as significant and stressful as moving house or getting married. It should come as no surprise that it takes time to deal with change, both good and bad, and that this process can on occasion be painful.

When I was day-dreaming this post up late at night, I figured sharing 4 phases every homesick person goes through would be a good idea simply because 4 seemed like a friendly round number. I was therefore gratified to learn I wasn’t just making them up; existing research on the subject shows there are broadly 4 stages of culture shock. How convenient! Here’s how it was for me:

1. ‘OMG I’m in another country, isn’t everything wonderful?’ a.k.a. The Honeymoon stage

Everything was indeed wonderful.

  • I found a job within a month of arrival by just talking to people in shops and handing them my CV (unheard of in France, seriously).
  • All the books were so cheap and I would spend entire afternoons alone with a book and a hefty dictionary.
  • I was strongly encouraged to watch the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice and for the first time, I actually got the jokes.
  • I had lessons at the dinner table on how to pronounce ‘sauce’ (not as easy as you’d think), rough and ploughman, and I learnt the British had many synonyms for ‘cold’. After about three or four months, one person declared I was officially getting there when I described the weather as ‘a bit nippy’. My year-long trip was turning out great!

2. The ‘Everything was so much better at home’ stage, also known as Raging Homesickness, the Crisis

This stage can be made even worse if you are learning a new language. Withdrawal and anxiety doesn’t begin to describe the experience;  think alienation. If you don’t understand half of what people are saying and when you’re at the pub you can’t get a word in edgeways before the conversation moves on, it goes downhill very quickly. Communication is key to feeling accepted; being unable to express yourself beyond the basics can scramble your sense of identity in ways that are difficult to explain. Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of crying involved.

You notice every little thing that is different and your first reaction is ‘this is totally useless and stupid, why would you do it this way?’. First you can’t open a bank account because you don’t have a passport. You didn’t need one to get over the border because ‘EU’ but now you have to hide your cash-in-hand job money under your mattress like you’re a freakin’ refugee.

This is even more true when you go to the weekly outdoors market in the town centre and here’s one bloke selling mattresses (outside? Really?), another chap is selling cheap phone covers, and here’s a fishmonger handing out little polystyrene pots full of cold jellied eels or cockles. To eat there and then. Yep, that’s an actual thing. You spend your days comparing your home country to this strange new place and finding it wanting. It has nothing to do with the actual culture though, it’s just your brain and emotions processing change and trying to adapt.

3. The ‘I’m starting to get the hang of this but you’re still stupid’ stage – Adjustment

You’re adjusting! You might even appreciate that some things are much better than in your own country. Like fish and chips and Indian food! Vaguely unbiased press! Decent TV (TOWIE notwithstanding, it really really is decent. The BBC rocks, you have no idea how deprived France is).

You can even have conversations with people: the Essex habit of dropping the end of each word is starting to enter your system so you can understand whole sentences! You have a job you don’t suck at, you’re no longer scared when people speak to you and you have friends. You can laugh at your misfortunes instead of simply drowning in them. Things are looking up.

4. The ‘I could totally pass for a native’ stage – Acceptance

You are bi-cultural, how amazing is that! Also known as total wishful thinking on my part but I once nurtured the fanciful notion that like Charlotte Gray, my English would become so good that I could be taken for a native and be hired by MI6 or whatever the French equivalent is and become a spy in wartime. Except for the fact that I would now prefer to spy for the English so yep, maybe I swung too far the other way. Anyhoo…

This is the stage when you regain your enthusiasm for your new home and may even adopt habits and preferences because of it. You may still moan about the things that you don’t like but you do so as a fully immersed participant, no longer as an outsider.

culture shock diagram

Even with the culture shock and homesickness, living abroad is an amazingly rich experience. I can’t stress enough how wonderful if is to broaden your horizons in this way and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to gain a better understanding of the world and all that is in it.

Now your turn: What’s your culture shock story?

Argumentative Me – personality style or cultural bias?

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W


Someone I looked up to once said about me that I was argumentative, and also “it must be because you’re French. I could tell from the way it was said that this was a complaint about my character. Despite the fact that it was many, many years ago, it has kept cropping up in my mind time and time again, which tells me it was a watershed moment in my life, and it was. It had implications for how I viewed myself from then on. In that moment, a label was assigned to me; in my youth and immaturity, I believed it was negative and true and I let that label define me even as I rebelled against it in my mind.

The comment was made as part of a bigger conversation about the fact that you couldn’t just have a discussion (about faith specifically but it could have been anything) and expect me to be silent if I disagreed. In these early years in England I struggled quite a bit trying to build friendships, so to be told in essence that I was a bit uncomfortable to be around because I wouldn’t settle for the easy answer was very difficult and caused me to question myself. I wondered if it was because I was ‘difficult’ that I had so few friends within my immediate circle, why I didn’t feel that I fitted in with the crowd. Trying to find out who I was, separate from my parents and from just being ‘the French girl’ was hard. Add to this the many hang-ups I was carrying about my less-than-stellar upbringing and the fact that I was still culturally a fish out of water, and you can imagine how my self-esteem was shaken up.

Go forward ten years, and I am very much aware that I am more forward in my opinions than many English people around me. It is seriously quite the recurring theme. ‘Pauline, she’s quite blunt really, but at least you know what she thinks!‘ And yes, I tend to favour directness of speech and I know that it can come across as bluntness on occasion despite having the best of intentions because I don’t bother with all the niceties. I can’t be doing the whole ‘apologizing for having an opinion’ thing before sharing that often happens in British social settings. How very French of me!

Know Thyself

So I am a bit blunt at times, and in some ways it is in my nature to do so, in line with the Thinking part of my personality type, which according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is INTJ. I can’t begin to explain how helpful discovering my personality type has been to me over the years, especially in the area of personal growth. One of the things about being an INTJ is that I tend to place more value on truth and logic than in people’s feelings. I am super aware that it can turn to insensitivity if left unchecked so I have worked at being more flexible but it does occasionally surface without my meaning to. Add to that the fact that one of my biggest anxieties is being misunderstood so I try to go for either directness or waffling to make my meaning as clear as possible (hence the long blog posts…!)

I should explain that by ‘bluntness’, I don’t mean the social awareness bypass sufferers who must-say-what-they-think whether or not it is the right context. Sharing an ‘honest opinion’ doesn’t give people license to express every thought, even if it might be The Truth. There’s a time and a place, and people’s feelings to be considered, so no, I am not going out here and there, shooting arrows of personal opinion about people and situations, even in the rare moments that I might be right about them. I don’t believe in ‘if I care about you, I must tell you the truth always. It’s for your own good’. That’s not the way to go about your relationships if you still want to have friends at the end of it! You have to earn the right to speak truth into people’s lives, and pointing out flaws is not being a friend, it’s being an insensitive jerk, and if it comes across that way, let me apologize straight away because it is never EVER intentional.

Is it ’cause I is French?

The other thing that was said was that “of course you’re argumentative, you’re French“. And I can’t get away from the fact that this accusation is deeply insulting and also just a bit racist. It implies that French people are just naturally difficult, and they can’t be nice and easy-going like us English people. In calling me argumentative, the person was pointing out something in me they considered to be flawed. The problem is that the best way for this perceived flaw to be corrected would be if I would only learn to behave more, well, British. Thanks, but no thanks, because there is actually nothing wrong with me.

Now I don’t doubt that culturally, the French and British are miles apart in many ways. The French are, fundamentally, more Mediterranean in their emotive expression, as well as placing high value in reason and the intellect in general, and it is reflected in their love of a good debate. See two French people discussing an issue they are passionate about, and they will quite likely express their emotions externally, with, like, gestures, and loud(er) noises. Yeah, I know, how ridiculous…

I’ll admit to having enjoyed playing devil’s advocate a time or two to liven up a discussion by throwing a new angle in that I don’t even agree with. Generally though, I just like a good debate for its sake, not because I am looking for an argument; it is just part of the culture I was born in. You don’t spend 8 hours a week debating philosophy in high school without developing this trait.

In Conclusion, beware of labels

One thing of which I am certain, is that one should be careful what words they use when describing people. Labels are rarely helpful, especially negative ones. There are differences between character flaws, personality traits and culturally prescribed behaviours, and it’s not as simple as black and white and people being unkind on purpose. If a problem has to be addressed, in a work environment and especially when talking to kids, one should be careful to confront the bad behaviour and not dig into a person’s identity. People should not be defined by labels, even when their behaviours need to be addressed head-on.

Accusing people of being quarrelsome is not nice, especially when it is false. I’m going to start looking for new words to describe this aspect of my identity. Controversial maybe, open to questions and discussion certainly but not argumentative. I just like to question. I am completely happy to live with a fair amount of doubt in my life about faith and the other big questions, and I am not afraid to pitch in with the ‘but what about…?’ that people don’t like to talk about. And so I will continue on, annoying people with my deep questions and candid manner, asking questions and investigating ideas, being neither French nor British and living in the discomfort even though I really don’t like it that much.

French Parents Don’t Give in – A Book Review

French children don't throw food

A couple of years ago, when the book ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food‘ was published, I reviewed the accompanying Wall Street Journal article by the author Pamela Druckerman. I didn’t disagree with everything but I had a number of ‘issues’ and I had a bit of a rant. It turned out to be one of my most popular entries on the blog.

Unbeknown to me, she released a follow-up last year called ‘Bébé Day By Day‘ in the US and ‘French Parents Don’t Give In‘ in the UK, and when I stumbled upon it at the library last week, I just couldn’t resist and had to check it out.

And would you believe it, I actually quite liked it. It’s a quick read, with one entry per page and covering 10 aspects of parenting: pregnancy, babyhood, sleep, food, learning, patience, the cadre i.e parenting philosophy, motherhood, couple relationship and authority. I share some thoughts below on the entries I found most helpful, and the ones that set my teeth on edge.


French mothers eat sushi (sometimes): people have this idea that nothing will keep a French person away from their food and drink, even pregnancy. But that’s not actually true. French women are as aware of the risks of catching Listeria and Toxoplasmosis as British women are (and drinking and smoking are big no-nos). More so even, I’d say, as they get regularly tested for toxoplasmosis throughout their pregnancy, whereas it’s all left to chance in the UK. So similar food restriction recommendations are in place, with the knowledge that contamination is rare so sushi, and prawns and the like, need not be treated as if they were radioactive. This is good news considering the number of times I forgot that I ought not to have pepperoni on my pizza…

Epidurals aren’t evil: no they’re not, but Ms Druckerman forgets to mention something very important here. In France, pregnancy and birth are in the main highly medicalised processes. Think about the difference between the UK and US versions of One Born Every Minute. In the UK, you see lots of women giving birth and walking through the pain with just gas and air. In the US version, everyone has an epidural. It’s the same in France. Most women are monitored to within an inch of their life. Unless you are intent on a natural birth and you go out of your way to find a local birthing centre (which is by no means guaranteed) and fight tooth and nail for the kind of birth you want, it will be expected that you will just have a heavily medicalised hospital birth. So of course epidurals aren’t evil. But they are the norm in France, and doctors are gods among men so this is a bit misleading.


Formula isn’t poison: breast is best but formula isn’t evil and most people who’ve had it are healthy, blah blah blah. How many times have I heard this. I hate this rhetoric so, so much and it’s especially ironic when you think that breastfeeding isn’t the norm in France at all. And you know what, I agree. Formula isn’t poison, and there should absolutely be no guilt attached to whichever way you choose to feed your baby. But using highly emotive words like ‘poison’ is not helpful to anyone on either side of the fence on this issue and it causes a great deal of damage to the conversation. Misinformation about breastfeeding really annoys me, especially when we are talking about health, because whilst it is absolutely true that formula is the next best thing after breast milk, it is also as ‘like breast milk’ as the moon is close to the earth, close enough I guess but also thousands of miles away. And breast is best is not a good argument, breast is not best, it is normal. Rant over, I am moving on.


Argh, argh argh, there is so much to dislike about this chapter! The myth of the baby who sleeps through at 3 months, ‘tell baby it’s bedtime. Explain that the whole family needs rest.’ AAAAARRRGH!

I do like the idea of practicing ‘La Pause’ however i.e not rushing to pick up the baby as soon as it stirs. Sometimes picking them up is the thing that wakes them up.


Unsurprisingly, I liked everything in that chapter, probably because most of the suggestions already feature in our house. One did stand out to me, about giving just one snack a day in the afternoon. In the UK, you tend to have a snack time in the morning as well, and I find myself offering food to Little Girl far more often than that. I wonder if it is possible to cut back by keeping a routine of an early lunch around 11.30 am and a restorative snack around 4 pm. In typical French fashion, my girls don’t often eat a separate dinner to us adults in the evening, and they certainly do not eat it at 5 pm (which is still afternoon as far as I’m concerned). We eat between 6.30 pm and 7.15 pm and so a decent snack can go a long way.

Learning, Patience, The Cadre, Motherhood and Authority

All five sections were full of interesting and positive suggestions: not becoming a praise addict; teaching children not to interrupt; slowing down response time so they will learn patience;  learning to cope with frustration as a crucial life skill; explaining the reason behind the rule (also known as treating your children like the intelligent people they most likely are); not becoming a ‘taxi-parent’. All great stuff, but very common-sense and it made me wonder what sort of culture the author is addressing. Not the one I am a part of it seems, but one where overbearing helicopter parents say yes to all of their children’s demands.

Your Relationship (Adult time)

Your baby doesn’t replace your partner: this is SO TRUE. I remember reading a thread on a parenting forum where the question asked was who do you love the most in your house, your children or your partner. The overwhelming majority said their children were their whole world and if one had to give, it would have to be their partner. I was astonished. I don’t understand this at all. I think it is especially important to take care of your relationship with your partner and to carve out time for it. My children are absolutely not my priority all of the time, and this does not mean that they are neglected in any way. When your children grow up and leave, what then? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with a stranger? I don’t love my children in the same way that I love my husband, and I don’t see why I can’t have both.

Fathers are a separate species: now, this one led to an actual ‘WTF, Pamela Druckerman?’ moment from me. The whole entry is so condescending to men and implies that parenting haplessness is to be expected from them. I don’t even have the words to say how much I think this is a lot of bull. Well, I do, but I’ve already written too much so we are going to Let It Go. For now.


On the whole, this is nevertheless a little book I can recommend to parents. It is a flawed but entertaining read. ‘French parenting’ is still really NOT a thing in my opinion and the book (probably both books but I still haven’t read the first) should not be read as you would an expert parenting book. Ms Druckerman is open about the backlash she got after the first book was released in her introduction and she admits it herself, she is not a parenting expert but a journalist, and these are her observations as a parent. Also, there are recipes at the end of the book, of the type that Parisian nurseries offer to their charges. Read and be amazed.