Thursday, 8 December 2016

Home for Christmas?

At this time of the year, you can see numerous videos of Irish people surprising their family with a visit home. Spending time with your family at Christmas is important in many countries, but particularly in Ireland, probably due to the emigration history of the country. So it's hard not be emotional when you see people meeting their loved ones at the airport on Christmas eve.

Even if I only spent one Christmas in France over the past 14 years, I always check the flights as early as July or August, just to see if we could make it home for Christmas. And every time, the price is extortionate. I mean, even if I had a thousand euros handy, I wouldn't spend it on a Ryanair flight. Add to that a rental car, and the holidays could cost as much as going to the other side of the world. And talking about the other side of the world, we did try to go to Mauritius for Christmas once, but at 4000 euros the ticket, we quickly forgot about it.

We did manage to go to France once, when I was on maternity leave with my second child. We had a good time, but it had been so long since I spent Christmas with my parents, that the spirit didn't feel the same. I have memories of spending Christmas eve with my parents, brother and sister, eating delicious finger food and drinking champagne, watching silly programs on TV and exchanging presents at midnight. When I was a child, we would put the Christmas tree up all together, put our slippers next to the chimney, and have an extended family lunch on Christmas day. Then we would spend days eating chocolates...Ah, memories!

But I had been in Ireland for 9 years already when I went home for Christmas for the first time. Most of my uncles and aunts that would have been present on Christmas day had passed away. My brother came for lunch, but my sister only came in the evening. I was so tired on Christmas eve (a 4 months baby didn't help) I think I went to bed before midnight. Most of my friends spent time with their own family, which is completely understandable, so I didn't really get to see them as much as I would have liked.

I had a nice time and I did spend quality time with my family, but for some reasons, it wasn't as "exceptional" as some summer holidays I spent there. I guess I liked the idea of going home for Christmas, but it didn't live up to my expectations. I was hoping for a Christmas like the ones I had, back when I lived in France, and it just wasn't the same.

"Home" for Christmas? Well, it looks like "home" is in Ireland now, where I've been making new Christmas memories for the past 14 years and where my kids will make some of their own.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Irish Christmas memories

It's the 1st of December and Christmas FM is finally on air, which means it's the official start of the festive season. This is the occasion to share some of my Irish Christmas memories, and I have a few, having spent 14 of the last 15 Christmases in Ireland!

So, in true "Friends episodes titles" style, I share with you some of my best festive season stories...

The first one

The first Christmas I spent in Ireland will of course remain very special. I used to live with this Irish family and the daughter enrolled me to wrap the insane amount of presents she bought for her friends. She also had me writing the list of recipients for said presents, which led to a big laugh because I couldn't spell half of them. I was only in Ireland for a coupIe of months so I had never heard of Siobhan, Caitriona or Niamh at that stage. That first Christmas was also the start of our very own tradition of celebrating with friends who were not going home either, and we have done the same ever since.

The one where our landlord invited himself for dinner

Yes, he was the best landlord in the whole world, and tenants who are currently struggling with their rental house or apartment will definitely be jealous, so I apologise in advance. This guy showed up on Christmas Eve because he had nothing planned and ate dessert with us. He also brought us presents, wine and chocolate. Something he did every single year until we moved out.

The one where it snowed on Christmas day

I can't remember what year it was (2005 maybe?), but one thing I know is that it was completely unexpected. It wasn't that cold so never in a million year we would have thought it would be a white Christmas! Imagine our surprise when we opened the curtains in the morning. It didn't stick that much but we took time to enjoy a nice walk and built a (very small) snowman.

The one with the worst Christmas present ever

If you have a partner, I'm sure you know how difficult it can be to find a great gift. And let's face it, some people are better than others at choosing presents. And some of them are actually useless, even when you write a list. One year, my husband, despite the list I gave him, offered me a plastic shoe rack from Lidl. Apparently, it was to store my enormous shoes collection. Except I only had about 4 pairs. He must have confused me with my sister who is a total shoe addict. Let me tell you I wasn't impressed.

The one where I finished my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at 6pm

A few years ago, my then 4 years old decided he wanted a rocket ship from Santa. But of course, he told me that on the evening of the 23rd of December. Every normal parent would have found an excuse for the lack of rocket ship under the Christmas tree, but not me. So off I went to Smyth toys on Christmas Eve, only to discover they closed at 4pm (in fairness, they were opened almost 24 hours for 3 weeks before Christmas). So I raced to the other side of town to Argos. It was 6pm and the shop was closing. The employees were sending people out, and there I stood, almost crying. Again, completely my fault, who in their right mind would try and buy something on Christmas eve at 6pm? Luckily, a very nice employee saw me in distress and let me buy the beloved rocket ship, just in time for Christmas. It was somehow a very stressful evening, but when I saw the my son's reaction on Christmas morning, I knew it was worth it.

The one where I was sick

The first 12 years I was in Ireland, I worked over the Christmas break. As I was never going home, I didn't mind, and I could save holidays for other times during the year. But when I changed job, I discovered the company was closing for a week at Christmas so I had no choice but to be off. I was actually excited about being on holidays at home, and not having to travel anywhere for once. The excitement rapidly died off though. I had a cold for about 10 days before Christmas, then a severe stomach bug on Christmas Eve. My Christmas meal consisted of a slice of bread, three potatoes and water. I was sick all the way to New Year's eve, and on New Year's day, I finally got better so I decided to step out of the house, and you know what happened? I twisted my ankle! Of course, I was back on my feet and felt much better just in time to go back to work...But yeah, a Christmas I'd rather not remember!

The one with one too many Danish snaps

The joys of an international Christmas... A few years ago, my Danish neighbour had this great idea of bringing Snaps to our traditional Christmas meal. If you don't what it is, it's a very strong ice-cold Danish liqueur shot. The drink proved so popular on the day that all the guests were chanting "Skål!" (Cheers!) and "Glædelig jul"( Merry Christmas). Unfortunately some friends took the Danish Christmas spirit a bit too far and ended up either sleeping in the bathroom or sick in the corridor... And don't get me started on the worst hangover of all times...Having said that, it was one of the best Christmas I've had in Ireland so far, and all the friends who were there on the day agree (and they still want to drink Snaps).

What about you, any Christmas memories you want to share?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Reasons why I'll only ever be "nearly" Irish

Last week I wrote a post explaining the different reasons why my kids are more Irish than I'll ever be. I replied to a few comments on Facebook and wrote that, contrary to my children, I would never be completely Irish. Someone then asked me why, so here's my complex answer to a complex question!

I have lived in Ireland for 14 years. I speak English, have Irish friends, and work with Irish people. I'm interested in Irish culture, history and  traditions and I even get the Irish humour (most of the time!). In order to understand the Irish "mentality" and way of life, I had to be aware of the country's past. I sometimes don't agree with certain attitudes, views or laws, but I understand where they come from. In short, I have adapted to my surroundings, and I feel completely integrated. The only thing I cannot do is vote, but I would have to apply for the Irish citizenship, and to be honest, I am not ready for that (also, it costs a thousand Euros).

Why would I not apply for Irish citizenship?

This is going to sound a bit stupid, but it would feel a bit like cheating. I'm not born here and personally I don't consider myself entirely Irish, so I don't really see the point of acquiring citizenship if I'm not 100% in it. Having said that, the fact that I am French, and therefore European, makes the decision easier in a way. When you're from outside Europe and lived in Ireland for many years, applying for visas, work permits, going through the hoops of Irish administration to legally stay in the country, the logical decision, regardless of how you "feel" about your identity, is to apply for Irish citizenship. That's what my husband did, which means now I don't have to queue for 8 hours at the garda station, and show my face, just to prove we're still married. It just makes our lives easier. Let me just point out that he feels a lot more Irish than I do, maybe because he only goes home every 3 or 4 years and doesn't know anyone from his country here in Ireland.

Why don't I consider myself completely Irish?

I was born and raised in France and came to Ireland when I was 22. Both my parents are French and all my education was done in French. All my childhood memories, and therefore my "formative" years, are about France: Books I read, movies I watched, games I played... I remember how France was in the 80's and 90's, how we lived, who was in power, major events that happened and how it affected me. Even if I know Irish culture and history through places I have visited, accounts from friends, and even my kids' homework, I have not lived it. And I think this is what separates me from my Irish friends.

But then again, I don't think I'm still entirely French either...

In a way, it's only when I go home I realise I have become more Irish than I think. I don't think I would be able to re-adapt to a French workplace for example, to re-learn the formal aspect of things, the hierarchy, the "vous" instead of "tu"... I've become so laid-back and relax in my attitude that I find some French people bitter and unhappy. But maybe this is just how I was before?

A case of double-identity?

To the question "where are you from?", I always joke and say I'm from Bettystown. Of course, the real question "where are you from, originally?" always comes next (my accent gives it away!). Well, I'm French, and proud of it. But I'm also proud to belong and contribute to Irish society. I will never be completely Irish, but I don't want to either. I don't want to forget where I come from and renounce my past. And why should I?

But what do my Irish friends think of that?

Let's be clear, if I don't feel Irish, it's not because this is the way I'm perceived by the natives. In fact, a lot of Irish people I know consider me one of them. I think it's because I've always tried to empathise and understand where they were coming from. I've always asked questions about traditions, history and so on. In short, I've always been curious, interested, and  I've never tried to hide my origins (I usually joke about them). In return, I told them about French culture, and I'm sure they were appreciative.

Assimilation vs. Integration

I will never be 100% Irish, and I'm fine with it. There is no way someone who goes to a different country as an adult completely assimilates to another culture. It's just impossible. How can a person completely forget and deny their origins, upbringing, culture, education? There is no doubt one can feel disconnected from their birth country because of the distance, the wide cultural differences or because they don't have family there anymore.
But I don't think we can ask foreigners to forget a part of themselves. Integration is key, learning about the host country customs, traditions, history, mentality is crucial to have that sense of "belonging". But to  ask someone to deny their own origins is just not right.
This reminds me of my cousin, who married a Chinese girl. They've lived in France for more than 20 years, and she took on French citizenship. But in order to do that, she had to give up her Chinese passport (China doesn't accept dual citizenship). I remember my family comforting her at the time, saying "Don't worry, you will always be Chinese!" This woman is completely integrated. She learned French, had a business in France, and she even changed her first name for a more French sounding one. But she is still Chinese at heart.

So what's next?

Maybe one day, if I really want to vote and I have savings, I will apply for the Irish citzenship, but I know I will only ever be "Nearly" Irish. The beauty of multiple backgrounds is that it allows us to be more open-minded, tolerant and adaptable. And in the world we live in, it's a lesson I really want to teach my Irish kids.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

6 reasons why my kids are more Irish than I'll ever be

My kids are finally starting to understand the concept of multiple nationalities. They know they are Irish, French and Mauritian, but because we live in Ireland, it is clear that they feel Irish first. And there are a few things that made me realise they are more Irish than I'll ever be.

They speak Hiberno-English  

I took me a few years to use typical Irish expressions because I had to get used to the way Irish people talked, but for my kids, it's natural. A few months ago, my 5-year old insisted on buying Actimel in Tesco, something I never bought before but that he had tried at the childminder. And when I asked him why, he just said " 'cos it's nice, like!". And when he was in his "I love to clean everything" phase, he told me "Look, I'm after cleaning the bathroom!"(which, if you don't know, is a typical irishism). Soon, he will be saying "grand", "Thanks a million" and "yer man". And that will be the end of it!!

And also Irish

Trying to to get them to speak French is an everyday battle. But surprisingly, they love learning Irish! My 8 years old is reading a book at the moment, and of course I don't understand anything, but he is able to translate for me! My youngest comes home and starts speaking to me in Irish. It's only a few words and expressions as he's only in Junior Infants, but he seems very interested. I wish they would put more effort into speaking French, but at least I know they enjoy learning a different language, which can only be positive.

They have the accent

My youngest speaks like a Dub, even though we live in Meath. I suspect it's because a lot of young kids have parents who are from Dublin but moved to the area a few years ago. He pronounces the "th" like the Irish, and when he said "like" (the Actimel story), it sounded a lot more like "loike"... When I heard that, my first reaction was "Where does that accent come from?!", because it's certainly not from me!!

They love salt & vinegar crisps

There are so many different crisps flavours I wonder how the salt & vinegar became the winner. My husband and I were never brought up with that kind of choice when it came to crisps. I am more of a cheese and onion flavour myself, but my kids, in their true irishness love to snack on salt & vinegar...

They know more about Irish traditions than I do (or at least they will soon)

This one is kind of a given because they learn about them at school: Halloween, St Patrick, St Brigid, Christmas...They sing songs I've never heard of and tell me stories I've never read as a child. Soon they'll be talking about the Late Late toy show and I'm so not prepared for that!!!

They consider themselves Irish

If I ask the question "Where are you from?", their answer is "Ireland". And that says it all really. That's fine because how else could it be? They're born here, they have an Irish passport, they go to the local school, they speak English...I would actually be concerned if they didn't feel Irish!

The good thing is, they tell me they're also French. The Mauritian part hasn't really kicked in, but I suppose it's because we go there so rarely  they can't relate yet. One thing for sure, they are Irish but they are well aware it's only one part of their cultural heritage, and that means we have done a good job so far!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Weird stuff we discovered when buying our apartment

Maybe one day I'll have a house...

This week marks the 10th anniversary of our property purchase: a cosy 2 bedrooms apartment in a seaside village, 45 minutes from Dublin. I can't believe it's been 10 years already, especially when I see the outstanding amount on our mortgage. Anyway, buying an apartment wasn't always the plan, but unfortunately, it was the only thing we could afford at the time. Initially, I wanted a house, a garden, an attic, and 3 bedrooms. But in 2006, it was almost impossible to buy a house unless you were prepared to queue for hours and buy off the plans (I tried, it didn't work), try to bargain the price of a second-hand house (we also tried, didn't work either) or buy in a dodgy area (we almost did and looking back, I'm glad the sale fell through). We didn't have enough money to buy in our area of choice (Swords and Malahide), so we went further afield and lowered our expectations. We eventually found an affordable apartment in a brand new complex so we didn't think twice and signed straight away. I loved the fact that it was minutes from the sea and on top of that, it was a good size (80 square metres) so we knew we would have enough space when the time would come to extend the family...

But when we moved in, we discovered a few interesting oddities!

The apartment was sold half-furnished

Yes, you're reading that well. The kitchen came with all the appliances: hob, oven,fridge, washing-machine, dryer and dishwasher. But there was no flooring across the whole apartment. We had to buy tiles and wooden floors, and do all the work ourselves. Well, my husband did it, but I was there for moral support.

The walls are not straight

Every time my DIY husband tried to install something on the wall, I was giving out because it didn't look straight. I blamed his poor vision for that, but after closer inspection, we realised that in fact, the problem was the wall, not the shelf or the cabinet he was trying to install. So yes, if you come to our place, don't be surprised if you notice that the towel hanger is not straight. It's not us. It's the builders.

There is a radiator in a cupboard

That was a bit of a shock. What is the use of having a radiator in the cupboard? Well, don't forget we're in Ireland. Usually, there is a hot press in the bathroom. You know, that's where the hot water balloon is, and in general there are a few shelves where you can dry  your towels. In our apartment, there is no hot water balloon in the bathroom because we have a boiler in the living room (another strange thing). So the clever builders/designers/architects thought it would be a great idea to have the "hot press" in the hall. And how do you dry towels? With the radiator of course! Needless to say we never turned it on.

Sockets and switches in weird places

In the bedroom, there are two sockets high on the wall, and I had to think hard for a while about their use. Then I realised it was to plug a TV, in case we wanted one on the bedroom wall.
Then we discovered a lone switch on the living room wall. It didn't switch anything on, and it only took us 6 years to find out it was there in case we wanted to install a gas fireplace.
And last but not least, the only phone socket in the whole apartment was placed on the kitchen wall, near the hob and the oven. I still don't get it.

Apart from all these odd Irish building ideas, we love our apartment. Sure we've been living in an unfinished complex for almost 10 years (Thank you recession and the property developer who went bust), but it has been sold recently so hopefully the block across ours will be finished soon. We are near the sea and just passing by on my way to work makes me happier. We have great neighbours and the area is very quiet. I still want a house though, and I hope some day we'll be able to sell and have a garden. When that happen, I'll make sure to check all the walls first!!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

How I actually enjoyed Halloween this year!

I hope you all had a great Halloween celebration! As for me, I actually enjoyed most of it this year. You see, Halloween only appeared about 20 years ago in France so I never dressed up or went trick or treating as a child because it just didn't exist. But for the past 2 years, I had no choice but celebrate, and it's all because of the children!

They were allowed to dress up last Friday and they even had a Halloween disco party at school. On Saturday, we went to Causey Farm "Hooka Spooka" Halloween event. I have to say, the kids had a blast and so did I. Even though I don't really like dressing up or doing "trick or treat", I enjoy being frightened from time to time. I'm not a big fan of horror movies but I do enjoy vampires and zombies stories (Buffy is my favourite TV show of all time!). We had great fun being chased by a vampire in the corn maze, finding our way through the "Dead and Breakfast" and I even enjoyed the magic show. The decorations were absolutely fantastic and you could see how much time and effort the organisers had put into it. For the adults, they also have the "Farmophobia" event at night, which I'm sure is a lot scarier.

And last night, we went out for trick or treat. We were invited at one of Ciaran's friend from school and as expected, the kids were in complete sugar overload by 8pm. I have to say, I couldn't believe how much sweets they received from the houses we visited. It wasn't just a lollipop or a chocolate bar, they were getting big goody bags of sweets & crisps! Good thing I carried an extra bag! The most sensible neighbours also gave fruit and peanuts, but we know those ones will be the last to be eaten...In the end, the sweet box at home was filled right up to the top with the kids' candies (and it's a big box...).

We also had the opportunity to taste the traditional Halloween "Barmbrack" cake. The concept is a bit like our own Epiphany cake where you hide a little figurine. In the irish version, a ring is hidden and whoever finds it is supposed to get married during the year. The kids tried some of the traditional games like apple bobbing (you have to grab an apple with your mouth in a basin filled with water), snap apple ( they are tied, suspended to the ceiling and you have to attempt eating them without using your hands) and the flour game, which is a bit like Jenga, except with flour (don't ask!). There were firecrackers involved as well and we even saw some fireworks.

My little Spiderman trying the apple bobbing

For the first time since I'm here, I feel like I've experienced a true, traditional Irish Halloween celebration. Of course it was all about the sweets for the kids, but we were in an Irish house, we did it their way and it just made it a bit more special.

Maybe next year I'll have the courage to dress up!!

What about you, do you celebrate Halloween?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Christmas overload

In Dunnes Stores yesterday...But I suspect it's been there for weeks!

Last year, I published a post mid-November, asking whether it was too early to talk about Christmas. I don't know what you think, but I have the feeling that the festive season has started even earlier this year.

It's subtle though. There are no decorations on the streets yet and no Christmas songs on the radio either, but shops are already selling Christmas trees, and believe it or not, Lidl has been selling chocolates and Christmas pudding since mid-September.

Yesterday, I was in Dunnes Stores and was baffled to see Christmas decorations, trees and related accessories for sale already. On the other hand, the Halloween section was confined to a small shelf and half an aisle near the check-out. It's not even Halloween yet!!!!

I just feel shops are shovelling the whole Christmas thing down our throats and trying to make us buy stuff we don't even need right now. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a store where there were already Advent calendars for sale. Nothing weird about that, considering what's going on, but the strange thing is that I saw a mum with her kids buying some. Does she expect them to wait until the 1st of December to eat them? Is she going to hide the chocolates until the date? My guess is that they've already been eaten by now.

Call me old fashioned, but I think tradition is still important.  What's the point of an Advent calendar if you eat everything before the Advent has started. Just buy regular chocolates! It's not a big deal in itself, but I feel this is all the paradox about Christmas. It has become so commercial and the run-up to it is so long that the magic, and ultimately the meaning, are getting lost. And the thought of my kids asking to put the tree up next week is freaking me out.

To be fair, it's not just about Christmas. On the 1st of July there were already "Back to School" stuff in Tesco, and on the 1st of September we were ready for Halloween. Thankfully Easter eggs won't be on sale before at least the 1st of February because January is the "Get back in shape" month. Hey, you have to lose all that weight gained by eating 20 Advent calendars on the run-up to Christmas!

Do you think Christmas starts to early?

Friday, 21 October 2016

Oh God I'm losing my French!!

I already knew my oral French was becoming a bit rusty at times, like not remembering certain words or mixing both languages, but I didn't expect my writing to be affected that much.

Today, I had to write a professional e-mail in French, and although it was about six lines long, it took me more than half an hour to figure out how to make sense in my native language. I occasionally write business e-mails in French to existing customers or business partners, but I know them personally, so the tone doesn't have to be too formal. This time, it was to someone completely new and whom I only spoke once on the phone. Well, I definitely struggled!

When you start learning a new language, your first instinct is to translate everything in your head. You think about a sentence, then translate it into the foreign language. The result is that most of the time, what you say or write doesn't sound native. Well, that's what happened to me today, but in reverse. For some reason, I was thinking in English while writing in French, so the way I was writing didn't sound proper French at all!

Then I had a problem about the opening and the ending. In English, a simple "Hello", "Hi" or a formal "Dear Mr X" would fit the bill, but in French, it's a bit more complicated. I thought of writing "Bonjour Monsieur X", but when I looked it up online, I learned this wasn't the way of addressing an unknown person, especially if that person has a higher rank than yourself (a CEO for example)... Bloody French hierarchy rules!! In the end, I had to go with "Cher Monsieur X." I know this is the exact translation of "Dear Mr." but in French, it just sounds a lot more formal, and not really "natural".

The ending was something else altogether. In English, you can finish off with "Kind regards" or "Looking forward to hearing from you" which is simple and goes straight to the point. But the French have this way of ending with big words and expressions that could be longer than the actual e-mail! I wanted to say I was looking forward to his reply, but it sounded very abrupt in French and if I had to add something else, it would have been once again over-the-top formal. So I ended with "I am looking forward to your reply and I wish you a good week-end", which sounds a bit silly in English to be honest.

All that made me realise the English language is so straightforward compared to French. You get right to the point, no messing around. The French like to put the form along with the substance, so I can understand how hard it can be to learn how to write in French. Not only you have to know the words, but you have to understand all the subtleties that go with them.

All I hope now is that I get an answer to that e-mail because I have put a lot of effort in it!!