Wednesday, 19 October 2016

7 reasons why I enjoy living in Ireland

Every time I go home or I talk to someone new, the same question always come back: "Why do like living in Ireland so much?". Well, here are a few reasons why...

Living my life in a foreign language

The reason why I came to Ireland in the first place is because I loved speaking English. And I have to say, if I was to ever go back home, I think what I would miss the most would be not speaking English every day. I've come to a stage where I can speak the slang, use idiomatic expressions, understand Irish references. For me, speaking English has just become natural, I don't think in French and even if I occasionally struggle with pronunciation, I consider myself bilingual. It's just part of my life.


Last year, we invited friends over for my son 7th birthday. From the 10 adults present, there were 7 different nationalities. This is one thing I love about Ireland. You can meet people from all over the world and learn about various cultures very easily. I definitely became a lot more open-minded as a result.

The Irish mentality

Obviously there is good and bad everywhere. Nice people and not-so-nice ones, Irish or not. But in a general way, I just like the Irish "It'll be grand" attitude to life. There is less stress, people are more relaxed and I have learned to put things into perspective. I'm definitely a realistic person, but my French pessimistic side has gone down over the years. I'm a lot more patient too.


I know I had a big rant about school hours a few days ago. Having said that, school rhythms are a lot more adapted to kids than in France (it's just a bit of a hassle for parents). Maybe I'm lucky, but all the teachers I came across were extremely helpful. I also find their way of teaching very positive. They encourage children to work to the best of their abilities. I will always remember when the teacher said to me after I received my eldest's National test results: "Don't compare him to the rest of the class, or even the country's average because of course, you will be disappointed. What you need to know is that, given his abilities (he has autism), he really did the best he could. So you should be proud of him". That's what parents need to hear. Especially special needs parents...

Culture & history

Being from Brittany, I was always attracted to the Celtic connection so it's no surprise I'm a big fan of Irish traditional music, dance, legends and literature... Even before coming to Ireland I watched movies and learned a bit about Irish political history. Don't ask me why I had such an interest, I don't really know. I guess I could relate more to Irish people struggles than the French kings...

The Irish Humour

Dark, dry, sarcastic and self-deprecating, that's how you could define Irish humour. I don't know how the Irish do it, but they have a way with words that I will never have, even if I'm bilingual. I also love the fact they laugh about themselves, whereas French people tend to laugh more at the expense of others. I think the Irish have this ability to laugh about pretty much anything, and that's what gets them through life... Something we could all learn a thing or two about.

The Weather

Nah, I'm just kidding. I can't stand it. And I come from the Brittany, I should be used to rain and wind. The truth is, although it's never too cold, it's never too warm either, and if there's something I learned here, is not to trust the weather forecast.

What about you, what do you like most about your host country?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Rant of the day: School hours

After 5 years of caring for my children (and very well I have to say), my childminder has decided to let me down. The reason? She's exhausted doing the school run. In fairness, she has kids of her own in another school and she minds 3 other kids apart from mine, so I guess she feels like she's spending more time in her car than at home.

But the real problem here is that Irish schools really make parents' life difficult.

In a way, I want to praise the Irish education system. Kids have a good routine, they go to school everyday for 5 or 6 hours, Monday to Friday. In France  there is always a big debate about school hours and days: 4 days or 4 and a half day? If it's the latter, should they have school on Wednesday morning or Saturday morning? The days are longer: 9 until 4:30pm at least in primary school, with before school and after school care within the grounds of the school. I'm sure it's tough for the kids and come Friday, they must be exhausted.

I'm not blaming the education in itself either. So far I've been very happy with my local school, the teacher who is helping my special needs son, and the curriculum. The only thing that would bother me a bit is the over-emphasis on the first communion this year as my son is doing it. But hey, I put him in a state Irish school, so I have to deal with the consequences I suppose (The consequences being the compulsory monthly mass I have to attend...).

What I'm actually fed up about is the fact that the school day ends at a different time depending what class your child is in.  I have one child in Junior infants and the other one in Second class. The youngest finishes at 1:40pm and the eldest at 2:40pm.

Seriously, what are parents or carers supposed to do during that dead hour? Stay in the car? Spend 20 mns exiting the car park, go home for 20 minutes and go back to school? And I'm not even mentioning the fortune you'd spend on petrol if you do 3 journeys to and from school everyday...

I am complaining, but the truth is, I don't even drop or collect my kids from school (bad mum I know), but I can completely understand why my childminder has given up after one month of a daily struggle.

I know the school has started to have some after school activities, but they all start at 2:40 as well, so what do I do if I want my 1:40 child to attend one of them? Well, suck it up I think and tell him he will have to wait 2 years to be able to go to the Lego club after school... That's actually the reason why my eldest didn't do any afterschool activities the first two years. The childminder couldn't have coped with the amount of travelling. By the way, did I mention the afterschool club only lasts for 45 minutes?

Anyway, I suppose this is all in the interest of the children, which is understandable, and as parents, we are supposed to put their needs and well-being before ours. But surely an over-stressed mother or childminder, going crazy because she spends most of her afternoon being a taxi driver is not going to do them any favours.

In the end, I think the Irish education system is really adapted to the needs of the children (which again is the most important thing), but they obviously didn't think about the parents.

As for us, we found a good after-school creche that will pick them up from school, supervise homework, and offer daily activities. They will even give them 4pm, but I guess I can't have everything!!

If you're an expat parent, what do you think about your host country's education system?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Is the grass greener on the other side?

I've had enough of *insert country here*! The weather is shit, the government is incompetent, there are no jobs, the rents are too high, I can't afford a mortgage, childcare is too expensive, education is getting worse, I hate the mentality, I pay too much taxes, I can't afford healthcare... The list goes on and on.

If you read this and you're French, you might think I'm talking about France. If you're Irish, you'll probably think I'm talking about Ireland.

You know what? No country is perfect! And most of the time, you only realise how lucky you were once you go abroad and discover how things are done somewhere else.

But if you are in a negative state of mind before moving, the chances are every little set back in your new country will irritate you and you might find yourself reacting like many expats I came across: "In my country, we do it this way. It's a lot better." or "I was told I could come to Ireland and find a job in two days without speaking a word of English". Newsflash: You'll never find a job in 2 days without at least being able to have an interview in the native language. Unless you're incredibly lucky (which could happen too, you never know).

My point is, if you think that moving to another country is the solution to all your problems, you're making a big mistake. And if you think that everything will be easy and better in your new country, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee!

Living abroad is going to be different. Sometimes it will be harder than at home, sometimes it will be easier. But you will need to embrace a new culture and way of life. Yes, some things will be worse than in your native country but other things will be better too.

In France, childcare is affordable, food is not expensive, there is a lot more social protection, and more holidays. In Ireland, finding a job is easier once you speak the language. Recruiters hesitate less about hiring someone with little experience, once the motivation is there.  People are relaxed (sometimes too much and it can become frustrating) and generally friendly. There is less social welfare than in France, but believe it or not, Irish people think there is too much of it! (They obviously never lived in France!).

In short, there is good and bad about every country and how you fit in depends a lot on the individual. I love Ireland but not everybody does, for different reasons. Some countries would be crowded if we all loved the same places!!

I think the key to happiness is to appreciate what we have and come to the fact that, no, the grass is not always greener on the other side, it just has a different shade.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The local

My local

As cliché as it may sound, the pub is an important aspect of Irish social culture. Irish people probably don't even realise it, but as a foreigner, every time I step in my local pub, I can't help but think to myself "This is exactly what Ireland is all about...": friends and families getting together, young and old, having a good time in a friendly atmosphere.

So what is it exactly that makes the local so special?

It's where someone is celebrating their 21st or 65th birthday

Where you and your best friend of 20 years have your weekly drink

The place where you had your first date

It's where you can spot the hard-core regulars at the counter, who run to the bookmaker in between two pints

Where a stranger offers you a drink and starts a conversation just because you let them put their jacket on your chair

The place where you know everybody and everybody knows you

It's where old and young share the same table, watching GAA or soccer on a Sunday afternoon

Where the resident singer blast old tunes on Saturday night and everybody end up singing along to "Sweet Caroline", "Dirty Old Town", or "Galway girl"

The place where you know it's the end of the night when the National anthem comes up, and it's time for last orders

It's where the barman gives you time to finish your last ( two or three) drinks

And where you end up in a lock-in, having deep conversations with total strangers...

That's what the local is, and every time I go there, I feel transported at the heart of Irish culture. And I'm proud to be part of it.

Photo credit: Reddan's of Bettystown

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The unwritten rules of GAA

So here I was, with my husband and kids, watching the All-Ireland final Dublin vs. Mayo, in a Meath pub. The majority of customer were wearing their Dublin jerseys, kids included. There was only one guy in a corner, trying to hide, with a Mayo jersey. Poor lad, I felt for him because I always end up in this situation when France is playing against Ireland.

We sat at a table with a few parents from the school. One of the girls' dad was from Mayo, but she was supporting Dublin because she lived there most of her life. Her kids were supporting Dublin as well, because they were born there, despite living in Meath most of their lives.

I've been given numerous explanations over the years about which GAA team you are supposed to support. And it's kind of serious business in Ireland. A lot more than in France where basically you can support any French soccer team and it doesn't really matter where you're from or where you live.

Now here's a little game. Try to guess which team a person is supposed to support.

You're a foreigner, spend you first year in Dublin. Now live in Meath for 10 years.

Answer: Dublin.

Looks like it doesn't matter how long you've lived in a place. The first one is more important than the rest. You've started off in Dublin, now you're a Dubs fan for life.

You're Irish, originally from Mayo. You've moved to Dublin for work and you've been living there for 20 years.

Answer: Mayo.

Again, the first place is the most important. You might even have played GAA as a kid in Mayo before emigrating to the capital. That alone makes you a true Mayo fan.

You're born in Louth. Your mum is from Kerry. Your dad is from Dublin. You've lived in Meath most of your life.

Answer: If you've played GAA in Meath as a kid, you're supposed to be a Meath fan.

You're only born in Louth so it doesn't count. Wherever your parents come from doesn't count either. Occasionally you are allowed to support your parent's team in case yours hasn't made the final. But if both teams play each other you have to remain faithful to yours of course.

You live in Dublin. Both your parents are from Kerry. You've never played GAA as a kid.

Answer: Kerry.

You haven't been involved in the local GAA community so instead, you look up to your parents and share the pride you have for your true origins. Or you can rebel and decide to be a Dubs fan. Whatever rocks your boat. But more than likely you'll be a Kerry fan.

I'm pretty sure there are more complicated situations than the ones above. It always amaze me how Irish people take GAA so seriously, but looking into it, I've realised that this sport gives an actual sense of community to people. As a kid, you're part of a team, a family and this feeling of belonging will follow you all your life.

As for my family, well, we're all Dubs fans. We lived in county Dublin when we arrived, and even though we've lived in Meath for 10 years, our heart will always be with Dublin... Up the Dubs !!

Friday, 16 September 2016

The top 10 foods French people miss in Ireland

I think I'm a bit of an alien when it comes to food. Of course I love French food, we even loaded the car to the max when we came back from holidays. However, I feel like have a split personality when it comes to eating all that food. Let me explain: Everything we brought back is still in the cupboards, waiting to be eaten. When I'm in France, I queue at the boulangerie every day and I'm like an excited kid in a sweet shop at the supermarket. But when I'm in Ireland, I eat whatever I can find in Tesco or Lidl, and sometimes I feel like I'm the only French person not craving for French food in Ireland.

However, discussions on Facebook about French food is a recurring subject and very popular amongst French expats so I posted a poll about the kind of food they miss the most. And here are the not-so-surprising results!

10. Pate

Even though you can find pate in most shops, there is just not the same selection in France than in Ireland. Above is the famous breton brand "Pate Henaff" that all Breton expats (including me) can crave from time to time. Put that on a slice of baguette with a good glass of wine and you're in for a treat...

9. Fruit Syrup

This is nothing compared to the fruit squash available in Irish supermarkets. This one has more consistance and there are a multitude of flavours to choose from. My personal favourite is the grapefruit flavour that you can also add to a glass of rose wine to give it an extra edge.

8. Ricard

I have to say, that's the one I was a bit surprised about, probably because I'm not a Ricard drinker. If you don't know what it is, it tastes a bit like licorice an is served with ice and water. It's mostly a man's aperitif and yes, it's very hard to find in Ireland so I can understand why French people would be missing it a lot.

7. French pastries

If you've been in Ireland for a while, you've probably discovered that finding really good pastries is hard work. Unless you go to bakeries in Dublin and pay an arm and leg, all you will find in typical supermarkets are pastries filled with sub-standard fresh cream and not the usual praline or flavoured custard so typical of French pastries... I tell you, when I go home, I usually put on weight, and those pastries are the main culprits!

6. Coquillettes

French people can be a bit crazy with their habits. Coquillettes is just a type of pasta, but it means so much for us. It's the food our parents cooked when were kids, the only food we probably ate as a student when we didn't know how to cook and would rather spend our money on alcohol...Yeah, it bring back memories and means comfort, so it's no surprise that French people can miss it over here.

5. Foie gras

And after the cheap comfie food, here's the expensive festive one... The one we eat for special occasions, like Christmas. Being from Brittany, I rarely ate it because we were more likely to have oysters, lobster or langoustines for starter, but foie gras is an important part of French culture, so it's no surprise it makes the top ten.

4. Affordable wine

"Affordable" and "wine" are two words that don't go together in Ireland. That's the reason why we brought back at least 30 bottles from France last summer. Drinking wine in Ireland really is a treat at 10 euros a bottle...

3. Good bread

Don't mention Cuisine de France please! Although I have to say, they got a lot better since I came to Ireland. Now, every shop supply baguettes, but they will never equal the ones you can find in France. Or we are just picky and chauvinistic. I think we are.

2. Cheese

To be fair, there's is more than cheddar in Ireland and the country actually offers a great local cheese selection so if you haven't tried them, I urge you to because you'll be surprised. Having said that, it's no surprise that French people crave smelly French cheese...

1. Saucisson

So here's the winner! The king of the aperitif, the master of finger food... Finding proper French saucisson (and affordable) is hard so once again, I understand this is the winner. We actually brought back 4 or 5 packs from France, ready to be eaten when friends come over for the "apero"...

I bet you're hungry now!! Well, I might have the solution for all your cravings. For this post, I've teamed up with "Treat me French" , a new online shop based in Dublin, where you can find a good selection of French products at an affordable price. And the good news is, if you click on the link below and place an order, you will get a free packet of delicious French biscuits (stock permitting) and free shipping as well! So go on, treat yourself French today!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Movie review: A date of Mad Mary

Last week-end I came across a trailer for newly released Irish movie "A date for Mad Mary". I wouldn't have given a second thought until I read it had been shot in Drogheda, the town where I work! The trailer made me laugh and I love Irish cinema in general, so I invited my neighbour and off we went to see it, in Drogheda of course!

To be honest, I thought I was in for a comedy, but the movie is actually deeper and more subtle than a couple of jokes or bad language.

Directed by Darren Thornton, it tells the story of Mary, who has just been released from a short stay in prison (we don't know the reason until much later in the movie), and returns to her hometown of Drogheda. She tries to rekindle her friendship with best friend Charlene, who is getting married and has asked her to be maid of honour.

The only problem? She doesn't have a date. And she only has three weeks to find one. Mary also has a bad reputation as a short-tempered girl that unfortunately hasn't gone away since her stint in prison. Living in a small town where everybody knows her really doesn't help on her path to recovery.

Just when you think you have the movie figured out, the director takes you in another direction and that's the beauty of it. Sometimes the characters are not even likeable. You're rooting for Mary to get her life back together, and then she does something stupid. You understand the stress of bridezilla Charlene, but can be disappointed in her attitude at times.

The movie is also well served by supporting actresses like Mary's grand-mother with a few priceless one-liners. Mary's mum is also brilliant as the cougar, trying to give her daughter dating tips, and Sharlene's other bridesmaid who resent Mary for being the maid of honour.

I don't want to spoil the movie too much, but all I can say is that it's a story about self-discovery and the dynamics of friendship. You swear you're going to be best friends forever, then life gets in the way, people change and drift apart. But it's not all negative. Sometimes the end of a relationship means the beginning of a new one...

All of that is done in pure Irish style. The first half is more light-hearted with laughing out loud lines and situations, and the second half is more subtle, more emotional. And if you live in or around Drogheda, you're in for a treat with familiar views of the town.

One thing for sure, this movie won't leave you indifferent.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Exchanging my driver's licence

Goodbye French licence!

If you have a car and had to renew your insurance recently, you were probably shocked when you discovered by how much your premium had increased. According to the industry, higher claims payout in the past few years are to blame for the increase. Well, I'm not in the insurance business, but having to pay twice the price as last year without any claim for the past 5 years is kind of taking the piss, don't you think?

Anyway, after my initial state of shock, I decided to get a quote with different insurers and brokers. The cheapest price I got was 850 euros (last year was 400). Then I realised maybe my French driver's licence was a problem. I never thought about it before because insurance was always affordable, and let's be honest, possessing a foreign licence allowed me to avoid penalty points (not that I was reckless or anything, but it did help me a couple of times for speeding fines).

When I did simulations online with an Irish licence, the price dropped every time, and by a few hundred euros! In the end, the best quote I managed to get was for 540 euros. Being an honest person, I told the insurance I was in the process of changing my licence and asked if that was a problem. I was told it was OK, that I just would have to provide a copy of the receipt from the NDLS centre and a copy of my new licence when I would receive it. I also pointed out the process could take between 6 weeks and 3 months, and it wasn't a problem either.

If you own an EU licence, you can just exchange it but for some other countries, you might have to re-take your driving test. To exchange your licence you need to book an appointment with your nearest NDLS centre and bring in some documents: the online application form, your current licence, a proof of address (correspondance from your current insurance is accepted), your PPS number and your passport. Oh, and of course it will cost you 55 euros (it's Ireland after all!). All the details can be found here. If you are a married woman like me and your maiden name is still on your old licence, I advise you to bring in your marriage certificate to prove that your name has changed. In my case, I didn't know so I showed my ID with the two names on it and they accepted. However, my maiden and married name now appear on my Irish licence.

They take your photograph and signature at the centre, and they also keep your original licence. Some people might find this distressing. You see, a French licence is valid for life, so many people can get attached to their old pink licence and how they looked when they were 18. That's not the case for me. I was more than happy to get rid of that ugly picture of me as a teenager!

The date on your new licence is the same as your old, so you're not starting back from scratch, which is a relief because I've been driving for the past 16 years and as a matter of fact, longer in Ireland than in France. The difference with a French licence is that the Irish one is valid for ten years only, so it will have to be renewed when it expires.

After my visit to the NDLS centre, the waiting game started. I got worried when I didn't receive my new insurance disc. I rang the broker and they said the receipt from NDLS wasn't enough in the end, and that if they didn't get my new licence straight away they would cancel my insurance! After getting a bit angry and explaining they were at fault for telling me it would be OK, they gave me 3 weeks extra to provide my new licence.

I rang the NDLS centre and I swear, I have never spoken to kinder customer service agents. They were helpful, understanding and informed me my licence had been dispatched so I should get it in the post within a few days. They also advised they could send an official email that would serve as a proof for the insurance. I received my licence the following day so it took 4 weeks in total.

So that's it, I am now a proud owner of an Irish licence and won't be able to avoid penalty points anymore.

It took me 14 years to change my licence and I am now thinking about how much money I could have saved if I did it earlier. So I only have one piece of advice: change your foreign licence, it's worth it!