Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 roundup



I hope you all had a great festive season and I wish you all a Happy New Year! We had a great party on Saturday night with Danish, Indian, American and Irish friends, and even ended up singing our own national anthems. Looking back, that was a bit strange, so let's blame the alcohol, shall we? In pure Danish tradition, we jumped from the couch at midnight, and we moved onto the Venezuelan one, sticking wishes on the bottle of Champagne we just drank. We had to write my 5 years old's and well, he wished for penguins in the house, so I don't know about that one coming true. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...


Tomorrow is back to reality so it's time to close the door on 2016 and have a little round up of my blogging year.

My most read post

I wrote "Why is it hard to make Irish friends" back in April, and it has stayed on top of the list since. In a way, I knew many expats would be able to relate, but I didn't expect that much reaction. It was a bit like I said out loud what  everybody thought but didn't have the courage to say. The most interesting part is that I got many positive reactions from Irish people as well, so I guess the post had a very broad appeal.

My least read post

Surprisingly, it's the Irish movie "Brooklyn" review. I honestly didn't think it would fare so badly, considering the subject. This movie, even if it was set in the 50's can still resonate with expats so if you are still on holidays or have nothing to do, give it a try, it's worth it!

The unexpected hit

Sometimes it takes me days or weeks to come up with a good post idea, and writing "7 reasons why I enjoy living in Ireland" was one of those that took a long time to be published. So needless to say I was very pleased with the reception it got!

The one I enjoyed writing the most

That's going to be a bit of a cheat, but I loved experiencing with infographics for "The expat holiday: expectations vs reality". I knew it would be better to show what it's really like with images than words and it really worked.

The most controversial

I've learned a thing or two with that one. First, that I am not the controversial type. Second, that I am not cut to write these type of posts and handle the flood of bad comments. Third, that there are some twisted people out there. The post was "Why are the French rude and judgemental?" (I can't actually share the link because it had been reported to Facebook at the time which means I cannot share it ever again, which is probably a good thing!) and if I had to do it again, I don't know if I would write it. This is my own fault, with a title like that, it was obviously a click bait. I was a stressed for days with this one, thinking about what readers were going to comment. I am not going to put myself through that again. Lesson learned I guess.

My personal favourite

I really enjoyed going back in time to write "Back to the beginning", which is about how I ended up in Ireland 14 years ago. In a way, it made me remember where I come from and what I have achieved since I arrived. Sometimes we tend to focus on the negative and this post made me see that all the problems I had to face at the beginning shaped me into the person I am today.

Honourable mentions

Those are the ones that are in the top 10 most read posts:

My biggest achievement

It's probably when someone called me by my blog name while in the queue waiting to meet the French president. Also that day I met people I didn't know but who had read my blog. Sometimes it's nice to have a little recognition because let's face it, I'm writing for pleasure. I don't make any money out of it (except a few cents a week from Google ads). Of course it would be a lot more rewarding to write for money but I haven't found the magic formula yet.

My biggest disappointment

The Blog awards again! This time I didn't even make the shortlist. It's a bit ironic that the first year I was blogging and didn't have that many readers I made it to the final and now I don't even make the cut! I think I have missed the social media train as well. Some bloggers put so much time and effort to promote their blog it's crazy. I just don't have the time and energy to look into details on how to grow my audience, have my own domain name and all that sort of things. I suck at Twitter and I don't have even have a Pinterest, Instagram or Snapchat account.

Plans for 2017

I have finally written a plan for my book, a structure that I think is the best way to put my experience across. Now I just have to write it. It's fine, I'm not really in a rush, after all, the ideas have been sitting on the computer for 4 or 5 years only...On a more serious note, I really want to get stuck into it this year. I have a lot of material with the blog, so maybe it's time to tie it all up.

That's it, I wish you all a wonderful year, filled with joy, health, happiness and laughter and I hope all your projects and dreams come true.

Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year's eve traditions from around the world



Tomorrow is New Year's eve, and for us, it's always an international celebration. This gave me the idea of looking into how other countries celebrate the passing into another year. Thanks to my friends and the Expats in Dublin Facebook group I have gathered a few New Year's eve traditions, and I have discovered some unusual ones!

France

At midnight, we do the countdown and pop the Champagne, then we are supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, something I have never done (Maybe my parents weren't into mistletoe, I don't know...). We also have fireworks and it is custom on New Year to give a bit of money to children (Les etrennes).

Venezuela

In Venezuela, they drink a bottle of Champagne on which they stick wishes on a piece of paper. Once the bottle is finished, they hide it for the year so their wishes can come true. I think that's a sweet tradition and I might want to do it this year!

Ireland

An old Irish tradition is to bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits. At midnight, everyone goes to the back door with a lump of coal, throw it out to "throw out the old year" and then go to the front door to welcome the new year. Another tradition is to just open the front door to let the New Year in. If you're in Dublin for New Year's eve, you might also want to go to Christchurch and listen to the bells ring at midnight.

Hungary

In Hungary, they eat lentils on New Year's eve for good luck and wealth.

Mauritius

In Mauritius, they throw  firecrackers. A lot of them! I've never witnessed it because I've never been to Mauritius at that time of year, but once, my brother in law and his friends threw firecrackers after their football team won a game, and it was rather noisy!

Denmark

At midnight, Danish people jump from a chair or a couch to "jump into the new year". My Danish neighbour introduced me to that tradition and now we do it every year!

Russia

Russian people usually watch the president's wishes and when the Kremlin rings the bells, they drink champagne and open the window to let the New year in (At -25 degrees, I'm not sure I would cope...)
Another tradition is to write a wish on a piece of paper at the chime of bells on a Kremlin tower, burn it and put ashes in a glass of champagne, then at midnight you should drink it, and the wish is believed to be granted.

Finland

Finnish people try to predict how the next year will turn out by melting tin and pouring it into a bucket of cold water. The tin then freezes into a shape and they try to figure out what the shape means. This unusual tradition is called "Molybdomancy".

Peru

Over there, they eat 12 grapes, eat champagne and throw fireworks, but most importantly wear yellow clothes for good luck.

Italy

Italians wear red underwear for good luck, eat cotechino (a type of pork meat), lentils for hope of wealth in the coming year, and they pop a sparkling white wine at midnight.

Austria

At midnight, everyone starts waltzing everywhere in Austria. No matter what age, no matter with whom - they just waltz. It's especially wonderful in big cities like Vienna, when there's fireworks above and thousands of people meet up in front of the cathedral and at midnight everyone starts dancing!

Germany

German people watch a Sketch at 7pm called dinner for one, then dinner and then Bleigießen , which is actually Molybdomancy, the same as in Finland!



Portugal

They also eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the year making a wish for each one and they toast with Champagne or some other sparkling wine.

Spain

The Spanish also eat 12 grapes, one every time the bell rings midnight and if you manage to eat your grapes on time, it means you will have a lucky and prosperous year.

England

Families usually open the door to let the new year in, but the original tradition was to invite in a man with bread, salt and coal. This later changed to having a man be first back across the threshold.

Brazil

In Brazil they have a huge dinner, almost like Christmas dinner, fireworks at midnight with popping a bottle of champagne or any sparkling wine, and most important, for those passing it near the beach, they jump 7 waves on the sea, and for each wave you make a wish for the next year. The majority of people wear white, but some can choose other colors based on its meaning, like yellow for money or red for love.


As you can see, there seem to be as many traditions as countries, and I'm pretty sure there are some regional variations as well. On the other hand it's interesting to see countries from different parts of the world sharing the same traditions like eating grapes or lentils, wearing a special colour or making wishes in a different way.

On that note, I would like to thank all the contributors to this post and wish you all a happy and prosperous new year, no matter how you celebrate it! As for me, I might pick a bit of every tradition to make it a truly international celebration.

Do not hesitate to share more traditions from your home country in the comments!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

My painless visit to the French Consulate



Gone are the days when I knew everyone at the French Embassy. One of my friends used to work there and we spent a good amount of time barbecuing or just chilling out at the gendarme's house on the grounds of the French residence. All the administrative duties were a bit simpler when you knew you would see a familiar face in a bit of an uninviting environment.


I'm not saying the French consulate on Aylesbury road was a horrible place, far from it, but as a French abroad, the last thing you want is to come face to face with a microcosm of French society. Let's be honest here, the French Embassy never really had a good reputation, and I have my fair share of annoying anecdotes, but trust me, they don't all come from the staff.


I'm sure you've all heard stories about unhelpful members of staff, and yes, there were times where I felt I was talking more to a prison officer than a consulate representative. But I have also witnessed bad behaviour from French people, who think they are entitled to everything, that they can bypass you in the queue or just be disrespectful to the staff and other users. And sometimes, it's not even the French. The icing on the cake has to come from a foreign woman who took all of her clothes off inside the consulate when she was refused her visa. I wasn't there but I've been told the story by the guy who was at the counter that day. And trust me, it wasn't pretty!


Anyway, I'm sure you can understand I try to stay away from the consulate as much as I can, unless it's for a few drinks, which sadly is not going to happen any time soon (unless I'm invited for the 14th of July or something...).


Today, however, I had a very positive experience. I was completely stressed out at the idea of going to the consulate to renew my son's passport. Firstly because I had never been to their new place on Fitzwilliam Lane and I am really bad at driving in Dublin. I always get lost and can barely follow GPS directions. The second reason was I was afraid of not having the proper documents (the proof of address only had my name on it and not my husband's), or that the pictures wouldn't be the right size (it happened  before), or that my kids would misbehave, or that I would be late etc etc.


I left very early and bribed treated the kids with a Burger King lunch. I didn't get lost and understood the GPS directions, and was half an hour early. I almost died when I found out the cost of the cark park ( 2.90 euros per hour!!!), but I didn't know how long I was going to be in there for so I forked out 6 euros just to be sure. Of course the youngest wanted to go the toilets, but luckily there was a pub only a few steps away from the consulate, so we took the opportunity to sit down and have a drink. After all, we had half an hour to spare.


At 3pm sharp we were in front of the gate. We were let in and my handbag went through a security scan. I was mortified at the idea of the man there, seeing all the crap that was inside, but he didn't say anything. The waiting area was empty and they had a good selection of toys for the kids to play with, something that was cruelly missing in the old place. I waited no more than 10 minutes before being called in and all I was hoping for at that stage was for my kids to avoid talking about poop and fart, their favourite subject of conversation at home.


The lady was very nice and the process was painless. The pictures were fine (Phew!), the proof of address as well, and the phone call she took in the middle allowed me to take my son to the toilets for the 4th time since we left the house. My son had a very insightful question for her: "Why do you speak French and work in Ireland"?. He never asked me the question! He also tried to charm her by counting to ten in French and was all-around well behaved. My eldest was oblivious to the whole thing, playing on his tablet.

20 minutes later and I was out. Painless I told you! Of course, I realised I picked the right day, between Christmas and New Year, when Dublin traffic would be light and the consulate quiet. The appointment process was probably helpful as well, because there was less waiting than before. Thankfully I'm not the one who will pick up the passport once it's ready, and the next time I will be at the consulate will be for the French elections. At least I know how to get there now!


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!