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!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

9 tips to improve your English

Let's be honest, the way English is taught in France is kinda crap. The best way to learn a language is to speak it, however, the emphasis is mostly put on grammar and written work. Now, put your hand up if you're still traumatised by the list of irregular verbs you had to learn by heart. I know countless people who hated English at school because it wasn't taught in an interesting way, so they gave up before they had a chance to appreciate the language. Now they're in Ireland (or any other English speaking country), trying to learn again because they've realised that speaking English is almost compulsory when trying to find a job. Even in France. Here are a few (and maybe some unusual) tips to improve your English during your short or long-term stay in Ireland.

1. Ditch the dictionary when you're having a conversation

I know it might sound weird, but there's nothing more frustrating for both interlocutors than being interrupted mid-way through a conversation. If you don't know a word, try to work around it and explain yourself with the vocabulary you have. It might take longer, you might have to use sign language, but in the end, it will make your brain work more and help the words flow easier.

2. If you don't understand, say it (or fake it)

I used to nod and smile when I didn't understand someone (it got me into strange situations but that's another story). And when I started to work with Irish people and couldn't understand them on the phone (bear in mind I was working with truck drivers who had strong Irish accents), I pretended the line was bad so they could repeat their question. Once I got to know them and was more comfortable, I didn't hesitate to tell them when I didn't understand. If you're having a conversation with friends, ask them to repeat. If you're at work and you don't understand the instructions, ASK (you don't want to get fired on your first week, do you?!). Nobody will take it against you, after all, you're here to learn. And if you're tired, don't want to make an effort (it does happen sometimes), just say "Yes", smile and as the Irish say, you'll be grand (most of the time!). And if like me, it lands you into a tricky situation, take it as a lesson.

3. Take up a hobby

I used to do drama in France, so I joined a drama society here. I was the only foreigner so I didn't have a choice but speak English. If you had an activity back home, try to find the same in your new country to practice the language. You'll more than likely meet natives and it will greatly improve your conversational skills. And you'll make friends as well.

4. Have a drink

I'm not joking. When you drink alcohol (always in moderation of course), you become less self-conscious. You won't care about making mistakes and trust me, people you're with, they won't care either. It's a win-win situation (except for the next day hangover).

5. Read the news and watch TV

Watch series and movies in original version with English subtitles for a start. When you're more confident,  watch without subtitles. Try your luck at Irish programs and movies to hear the local accent as well. Read Irish news, it will give you an insight into the country and its people. You'll learn new words and expressions (you are allowed to use your dictionary of course!).

6. Listen

Listen to people at any occasion: when you're queuing at the supermarket till, in the bus, at work, in the street... When you're talking to someone, listen to the way they put their sentences together, what idiomatic language they use. It will help you later in a different context.

7. Make foreign and local friends

Try not to stick to much to your own kind. I know it's good sometimes to speak your own language. You don't have to think and it comes naturally, but keep it to a minimum. If you work with people from your own country (I did it for four years!), live with people from Ireland or other countries. In short, give yourself a chance to improve. Don't spoil it by speaking your native language all day every day and then complain you didn't improve. I might be harsh, but I heard that speech from former colleagues. Their year in Ireland was a waste, language wise.

8. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and accept criticism

I've been here 14 years and I still make mistakes. My accent is not perfect and sometimes I still don't understand everything I'm told. But I'd rather have someone tell me I said something wrong than let me make mistakes for years. And trust me, it happened. But this is the only way to improve.

9. Don't be discouraged

I know, easier said than done, but it will be rewarding in the long term. I used to come home after work and cry because my brain was fried with hearing English all day long. I was frustrated because my oral skills were very good, but I couldn't understand everything I was told. Then it passed, I started to understand my colleagues and the drivers' thick North Dublin accent. And when I struggled with my Donegal or Cork colleagues, my co-workers laughed, saying they couldn't understand them either. Then I started using slang, swear, and use typical Irish expressions. You WILL get better.

Do you have any other tips to help improve your English? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The expat holiday: Expectations vs. Reality

We are back from a two weeks holiday in France where we had a great time. Like every time we go home, we want to make the most of it and this time was no different. The thing is, even though we had the perfect trip in mind (cultural visits for the kids, aperitifs, meals with friends and nights out for us), things didn't go according to plan... I have put on 3 kilos, my liver is need of serious care and we're broke. On the plus side, we enjoyed the company of our friends and family and we loaded the car with an insane amount of wine and food. We might not have any money left until our next pay day, but we won't die of hunger or thirst!

To sum up our holidays, I created an infographic that I'm sure a lot of expats will be able to relate to. Please be indulgent, it's the first time I make something like that and I'm far from being a designer, but I thought it would be easier to show what an expat holiday is really like, rather than write a whole post about it. Let me know what you think!

Friday, 5 August 2016


Hopefully the weather will be as good as that...

The blog is probably going to be quieter for the next two weeks as we're going to Brittany tomorrow for a well deserved holiday. The kids have been there for three weeks already and according to my mum, they still don't speak French. As a matter of fact, my mum is the one who improved her English... Looks like things didn't really go according to plan!

Talking about plan, I'm sure if you're an expat, you know that holidays home are usually  planned with military precision. Friends and family want to see you and sometimes it  can feel like you're being pulled in all directions. Trust me, a holiday home is exhausting.

And  it's not going to be different this time. I haven't been home since July last year, and it was only for a few days, so I have a lot of catching up to do. We also decided it would be a good idea to make the kids discover the region because every time we have been to Brittany with them, the days consisted of going to the beach or meeting friends.

This time we have a lot of activities planned. We're going to take them to the aquarium, go on a boat trip to an island, maybe drive down to the "Broceliande forest", home of the many legends surrounding King Arthur. I want them to know where they're coming from and appreciate the region. I can't say if they'll be interested, but we have to try and who knows, we might be surprised!

Of course, I can't wait to eat delicious seafood, drink wine and just enjoy the company of my best friends and my family. My parents are not getting any younger either so we have to make the most of it while we still have time.

The good thing this year is that we're taking the car, so not only we won't depend on my parents to move around, we'll be able to bring back A LOT of stuff to Ireland. I just hope there will be enough space for all the food and the cheap wine. On second thoughts, there is always space for wine.

There's only two things left to do: packing the suitcase, and enduring a 14 hours ferry journey.

Oh, and pray for warm and sunny weather.