Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Flirting in France

Is flirting,either face to face or using a social network like facebook or sending SMS's by your mobile, being unfaithful? Eva Longoria seems to think so and is divorcing her French husband of 7 years , basketball player Tony Parker, for flirting by SMS with a girl that he had never had any relations with.

In France , where flirting is a national past-time and it's considered rude not to flirt, this is sending shockwaves throughout the country. Flirting is as natural to French men and women as breathing and is, most of the time, tongue in cheek, harmless complimentary chit chat that adds a little skip to your step. Now, I don't know how saucy or x-rated Tony Parkers text messages were, causing Eva to pull the plug, but I'd wager there are quite a few french men deleting messages on their phones and facebook accounts as I type!

In the small village where I live, my baker calls me " la grande belle", my Catalan butcher ( female) calls me " la bella nena" my students in English class ( all over 70) have all proposed to me and flirt outrageously with me non stop.
Nearly every transaction involves a bit of flirtatious french flattery and indeed flirting properly is a skill in France which should be perfected if you expect to get good service / the best table in a restaurant or a discount on a purchase. Flirting in France does not mean you want to jump into her/his knickers, flirting is just fun, lightening up your day.
My fair blue eyed sister is a master of flirting ( she takes after our Mother!) and I can only stand back in admiration as she has the French male eating out of her proferred hand!
Recently, we were organising a tour for a group of 20 people. On telephoning the bus company ,we were told that the bus we had booked weeks in advance was unavailable. Full stop. No amount of wheedling would sway them. "That's it", my sister Suz announced, "this calls for action." She changed from jeans and tee shirt into a smart skirt, killer heels and sprayed herself with some coco chanel. Half an hour later, she returned from the bus depot, triumphant : José, our bus man, not only had found a bus, but, had given it to Suz for half price AND he wanted to come on the tour!!! He regularly emails her now with flirtatious emails.
A bit of harmless and healthy fun? Perhaps. But Eva aint buying it!

Monday, November 22, 2010

One Man's Junk ...

.. Is another man's treasure

The vide grenier ( empty your attic ) epitomises this old saying here in France where every town holds his own 'car boot sale' at least once or twice a year. This weekend, one of the local vide greniers was on in Port Vendres, where my sister lives , so we headed off bright and early on Sunday morning to snag a few bargains.

The whole quay in Port Vendres was jammed with stalls selling everything from antiques, to clothes, old teddy bears, games, jewellery and everything else under the sun as people jostled for bargains and children ran around giddy, testing out prams, bikes and used toys.
The atmosphere was fabulous, a real family day out, with stallholders sharing their impromptu pique-niques (avec du vin of course), punters negotiating good naturedly and everyone enjoying picking up a good bargain. All this against the back drop of the yachts bobbing in the quay, the piercing blue sky and the quaint shop fronts of Port Vendres.
I managed to snaffle a pair of brand new ski boots for my daughter for 50cents, a funky unused retro handbag for a euro and some English books going for a song.
Now, that's what I call retail therapy!!!

Check out for a full list of vide greniers

Friday, November 19, 2010

Merde alors!

Cursing in France is quite accepted in all levels of society. I'm no prude , yet it always makes me squirm when I am doing some business at the bank/insurance company/supermarket/pharmacy/school and the person dealing with me cries out "Merde" or "Putain de merde", usually over something very trivial.
Parents are very lax about their children cursing and it appears to be fine to punctuate every sentence with a french obscenity.
In Ireland, it is not kosher to curse when you are in an environment with kids or older people or in a professional situation and certainly, the teacher in school does not let out a stream of offensives in front of her 4 year olds!!
My 3 year olds first curse word was in French .. when trying to take off her safety belt , she exclaimed 'putain de merde" ( direct translation - shitty whore!). In one way, I was delighted that she hadn't picked up any curse words from me, in English, but on the other, where had she learnt that disgusting phrase?
There is a popular radio station here in France that is called FG Music and every 5 minutes or so , they announce that they are playing F%CKING GOOD music after the F%CKING GOOD news and the F%CKING GOOD weather forecast.
Good to know in France ( in case anyone ever calls you same!!)
Swear words:
Putain : Whore ( can be shortened to pute)
Putain de merde : Bad Whore
Merde : Shit
Con :  C U oN Tuesday ( short for conasse) - Sarko famously was caught saying "casse toi, pauve con!" whilst being jostled around by the public in the lead up to the last gen election
Va te faire foutre : Go F%ck yourself ( often heard in service industries!!!)
Salope : slut
pétasse : bimbo
Foutre : to f%ck , 'Je m'en fou', I don't give a f..

... The things you don't learn at the Alliance Francaise!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vin Primeur

Vive Le Vin!
Tonight a full moon coincides with the fete du vin primeur, probably one of the biggest nights in Perpignan and surrounding towns, as traditionally , the people celebrate the end of the wine harvest. For wine snobs, this event is usually poo pooed as the wine ( too young, too unripe, too un-interesting dahling) has not yet matured, but you can't beat the festival for atmosphere and the "feel good" factor.

Tonight, my two smallies ( aged 5 and 3), Other Half and moi headed down to the village centre, lured by the sounds of a brass band, clinking glasses and the tinkle of laughter.
The village town square was lit up with fairy lights and a large crowd had gathered to sample the first wines of 2010. For the princely sum of 3euros , we were given a wine tasting glass which you could hang around your neck ( a brilliant idea for night clubs!) while we could sample other local produce , including freshly shucked oysters, organic cheeses, a selection of delicious charcuterie, breads, patés, roasted chestnuts ; serious nom nom nom time.

The children ducked, dived and danced in and around the legs of the chatting adults while the brass band belted out old favourites. The mayor even joined us for some sardane dancing.

France ain't perfect, but then , where is? But she does get some things so so right sometimes .. Vive le Vin!

Letter to Sarko

Dear Mr President

Just a little note from me, one of your admirers, to say kikou Nico!! Oh how we danced and cheered when you were voted as President of the Republic on the 6th May 2007.
Your presidential manifesto promised great plans to rejuvenate the economy and to encourage entrepeneurs. In all fairness, chapeaux Mr President , you are doing an okay job, introducing the auto entrepeneur scheme and other reforms and I hope the strikers don't put you off course.
However, as a Gérante ( MD) of a SARL (Limited Company), I'd like to show you an example of the level of bureaucracy we have to suffer. It is time consuming, expensive and a complete waste of government resources.
Today, I presented myself at the Greffe (Company Register) as I needed to change the address of my SARL
In order to do this I need to provide:

Extract of my K-Bis
Proof of identity
2 Proces Verbal of the AGM
3 copies of our statutes
1 example of the journal of legal announces showing the change of address
2 copies of proof of residence
1 pint of blood and two wisdom teeth
(Okay, I'm joking about the blood and teeth!)

I must then make an appointment with the Greffe in Perpignan to meet someone who will inspect my dossier and ensure all is in order ( If they are not on strike) TO.CHANGE.MY.ADDRESS.
The cost : 200,14euros

I'd like to add that the very nice people in Greffe in Perpignan, have also lost all the annual returns for my two companies and even though they have admitted responsibility for this, I still have to incurr the time, money and effort to redo all the returns again.

Mr Le President, vous trouvez ca normale?

Yours Sincerely etc etc

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 things the french do best

The markets
Every little town and village has one and they truly are a pleasure as the whole town convenes on market day. Fresh bread, cheeses, locally grown veggies, wine and all kinds of market produce marry for a real feel good shopping experience .. and excellent value too..

Dog poo
After living here for over 8 years, I have an inbuilt antenna for the stuff and rarely put my foot in it .. tourists beware; it lies here , it lies there, it lies everywhere

Red Tape
Very easy to get tangled up in!

Looking after themselves
Voted by the World Health Association as having the best health care in the world, if you're going to get sick, get sick in France.

Le vin
Well, she has been making the stuff since the 6th century BC .. After two years of conducting wine tours in the Roussillon area, I can vouch for the quality.

Le café culture
Sitting in cafés, looking très chic, smoking and drinking café, watching the world go by, without changing facial expression no matter what happens (god forbid one might get a wrinkle)

The country is brought to near standstill as the government attempts to bring in a few coffers by extending the ridiculously low pension age from 60years to 62years. Socialist parties call on the children to strike at school.

Looking good
Staying thin and wearing appropriate clothing for event or activity, ie a french woman would never ever step outside the house wearing a track suit and sneakers unless going specifically to the gym

The Baguette
No where in the world does bread taste this good

Extra Marital Affairs
Apparently they're all at it and after being propositioned by my hairdresser to partake in some swinging activity, I'm starting to beleive it. My neighbours are installing a hot tub too .. yikes!!!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A laughing stock

France has become the laughing stock of Europe and the world with this new onslaught of general strikes. The majority of people striking are fonctionnaires ( civil servants ) , many of whom, eg teachers, have long holidays and all of whom enjoy a mere 35 hour working week, already.
Now they are striking because the governement is bringing in new legislation to push back the retirement age from 60 to 62years.
To witness lycéens ( kids in high school ) thinking they are oh so cool, striking outside their schools, burning pallets, smoking giving the v sign , shouting and screaming for their rights , when they are not going to retire until for another four decades, is, quite simply, stomach turning.
What kind of an attitude is this to have when the country's, indeed the world's economy is on it's knees. Ok, I can understand to a point a 58year old being angry and taking to the streets with his imminent retirement being delayed by a couple of years, but not 13 year olds burning flags and violence spilling out on the french streets. It's legitimized vandalism and a downright disgrace that a country should be brought to a standstill by these vagabonds.
The latest news is that the unions are calling for a rolling strike , ie the workers will vote every day whether or not to continue the strike on a day to day basis, in an effort to reverse the governments plans.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In France the customer is always ...

Case 1
After several years of being charged 28cents to send a text from France to Ireland, I was thrilled when new legislation was voted for in April 2009, slashing the prices of texts Europe wide to 13cents. Hurray, I thought, that's my phone bill halved straight away.
My service provider thought differently and despite many visits to the shop and calls to the service centre, I was always treated like an annoying little fool who hadn't a clue what she was talking about.
Frustrated, I changed to another telephone server, let's call them Orangina - they assured me that texts, in line with European law, would be 13cents to anywhere in Europe. Cool!
My first bill arrived and, eye boggling moment, would you beleive it, they were also charging me 28cents a text. I marched to the store with my bill in hand demanding to speak to the salesperson, who of course, was not there.
"Why are my texts not being charged at 13cents to Europe?" I asked politely
" It is nothing to do with us, you must ring head office"
"No, I bought the phone here, YOU sold me the deal, I want an answer from you"
Sigh. Eye roll. Rapid fire discussion with colleague. Sigh. Gallic Shrug. Squints at bill as if it smells...
"Ahhh, but these texts are not to Europe, madame!"
"Mais , oui, they are to Europe, they are to Ireland"
Mocking laugh. Eye roll. Condescending look.
Explanation arriving in simple dumbed down tones ..
"BUT. IRELAND. IS. NOT. IN. EUROPE. MADAME" says my lady as she folds up my bill and turns to another customer
"Cough , splutter, of course Ireland is in Europe, you anorexic tanned bitch"
"Non madame, Ireland is not in Europe"
The conversation continued in this vane for a while. I refused to leave the shop. She eventually agreed to look up wikipedia to see if Ireland was actually in Europe or not but she really really wasn't  convinced.
I'm still waiting for my refund! And I'm still being charged 28 cents a text ..

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In France - the three Rs

Having two small children in France, we are , of course very interested in what the French education system is going to offer our budding little Einsteins. My two are only aged 4 and 2 so my exposure ( which has been very positive)  has been limited so far to La Maternelle, which the kids here attend from age 2 to 6.
They then move on to CP ( Ecole Primaire ) from age 6 to 11 , Collège from age 11 to 15 and finally Lycée to study for their Bac from the age of 15 to 18. In all, the kids will attend 4 different institutions before they go out into the Big Bad World. Complicated? Mais Bien Sur, this is La France!!

It's hard to tell whether the education system is better here in France than it would be in Ireland. When I went to school in éire, it was very academically driven and if you weren't able to regurtitate the works of Shakespeare and nonsense like Peig Sayers, you were destined to become a hair dresser. I believe that the system in éire is now more flexible with a more practical approach and less of an emphasis on academia.

However, in france, the birthplace of great thinkers and philosphers, painters and dreamers, there are certain aspects about the French educational system that worry me - the main one being, conformism :

Everybody in France has the same handwriting - don't you find that weird?
From the age of two, all work done by a child is marked and ranked in the class. As you get older, you are ranked nationally for your work. Fine for the high achievers, but spare a thought for the poor dyslexic child you comes last in France every time....
There is very little sport, arts, music or drama ( unless you go to a specialised school)
Original thought appears to be a mortal sin or certainly a sending to the "coin" offence

That harry Chapin song may well have been written about the french educational system :

Flowers are Red young man and Green leaves are green,
there's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said
There are so many colours in the rainbow
So many colours in the morning sun
So many colours in the flower
And I see everyone

Well the teacher said.. You're sassy
There's ways that things should be
And you'll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me.....

And she said...
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen

Franchement, It's a bit of a worry!!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sister Act

Article as appears in the Herald, Ireland:

Tuesday May 04 2010
Sisters Suzanne and Karen O'Reilly (below) hail from Limerick. Suzanne left Ireland at 17 to au pair in France. Karen, a qualified accountant, followed her over in 2002.
"When I visited Suzanne in 2002 she was just setting up her own company and I jumped at the chance to join her. We ran the very successful property business, Bidsinfrance, for more than six years and then we diversified and set up The French Tour Co. Wine tours are our most popular. It's a fun day out and we visit three or four vineyards and dine with vineyard owners.
"We also run other tours for larger groups: adventure tours, art and history tours, even 'Why French Women Don't Get Fat' tours! About 40pc of our clients are Irish. They are by far the easiest clients, quicker to laugh, spend and enjoy themselves.
Being fluent in French helps, although we have come across some extremely difficult bureaucrats. France does not really follow Europe, so European laws can be flagrantly abused when it suits them. I would advise anyone thinking of moving here to set up a business to get fluent in the lingo"
Karen and Suzanne O'Reilly run the French Tour Co, They are currently writing a book, 'Wake up and Smell the Croissants'. Follow them on their blog

- Katie Byrne

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Restaurant tips in France

Article as printed in Accents Southwest

I love my food and I love going out to restaurants and am rarely disappointed by what my little adopted corner of France has to offer.
One of France's many draws for the tourist is her renowned culinary delights, but there are a few things the unsuspecting tourist should know about restaurants in France in general and about restaurants in the PO, in particular:

1) Opening hours.
Unlike Spain, it’s laid back, relaxed and laissez faire neighbour, France is strict on timekeeping. Lunch is served between 12h00 and 14h00 and dinner between 19h00 and 22h00. Pile poil. I have often arrived at empty restaurants with a gang of friends at 13h55 to be greeted with “ah, mais la cuisine est fermée madame”and no amount of cajoling or bribery will make them change their minds. It’s frustrating and refreshingly uncapitalistic in some ways … and you get used to it very quickly! Many restaurants are also closed on Mondays.

2) Vegetarians beware
France is not a country that warms to the vegetarian. In fact , in many restaurants , you will be treated as if you have a contagious disease as the waiter scurries into the kitchen to tell the chef that there is one of “those that do not like meat” on the premises. Be prepared to be presented with a plate of boiled veg and a Gallic shrug of the shoulders!

3) Children should be seen and not heard
As a mother with two small children, I am flabbergasted at the obedience and docility of French children. One can be in a restaurant surrounded by hordes of French children dining with their parents and not be aware that they are even there! From a very early age, table manners and etiquette are literally drummed into French children and they are expected to behave properly and will demurely sit through a 4 course meal without budging. Your dog will be more welcome than unruly “normal “ children.

4) Les toilettes!
Since I moved here over 8 years ago, I’ve seen a huge improvement in the quality of the WC department of restaurants. However, you can still expect dirty holes in the ground, particularly in the city centre of Perpignan. Unisex toilets are popular.

5) Russian roulette
Most menus in French restaurants will be, surprisingly enough, in French and there may not be someone to translate or explain. Bring your dictionary or ordering may be like a game of Russian roulette!

Restaurants that buck the trend in the Perpignan area:

1) Best Flexible hours
Le France
A long awaited welcome addition to the Perpignan eating scene, Le France is open all day long serving tapas, pizzas, sandwiches and more. The venue is impressive, built as it is in renovated historical buildings, dating back to the 14th century where it housed the “consulat de mer”
Opening Monday to Saturday 10h00 to 22h00 and Sundays at midday, 12h00 to 14h30
Le France Café, Place de la Loge, 66000 Perpignan, tel : 04 68 51 61 71

Le Napoli
You arrive in Perpignan on a late flight or train and you’re ravenous. Nothing in Perpignan is open, so it looks like heading back to the gaff to rustle up something inane from the cupboard. Think again , because Pizza Napoli is open until 1am every evening. Serving typical pizzeria fare , with good steaks and always a livelu crowd, if the mood takes your fancy, you can always head downstairs to the nightclub! Yeah baby!
Open Monday to Sunday for lunch and from 19h00 to 01h00
Le Napoli, 3, Place de Catalogne, 66000 Perpignan, Telephone: 04 68 35 35 88

2) Best vegetarian restaurant
Peace and Love, Perpignan
As far as I know ( and I stand to be corrected) this is the only dedicated 100% veggie restaurant in the PO. With a laid back feel and 70s décor, the atmosphere is relaxed and student like. The generous and tasty mains start at €6,50 with some interesting lunch specials as well. It’s open for lunch every day except Sunday and for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Peace and Love, 40, rue de la Fusterie 66000 Perpignan, Tél : 06 08 33 67 84

3) Best Kiddies Restaurant
Le Rocher des Pirates
Situated in an ugly industrial zone, this restaurant with pirate theme ticks all the boxes for your children. Waiters dressed as pirates, exploding dinners, volcanic eruptions and a spectacle on Sundays, your child will be engrossed. The menu is attractive for adults as well, with barbequed meat, fish , pizzas and some nice salads.
Le Rocher des Pirates, Rue Georges Melies, 66600 Rivesaltes,Tél : 04 68 57 15 84

Beach Clubs
In the summer months, these clubs situated on the main beaches are ideal for dining with your kids. When your kids get restless, they can play in the sand while you can watch them and the sea view from your vantage point in the dining area. Everybody’s happy.
My pick of the bunch would be Naudo Beach Club, Canet Sud– it’s an upmarket beach club. Their cocktails are excellent and the food is above average. Service can be a bit slow though
Open June to September
Naudo Beach Club, Voie des Flamants Roses, Tel : 0468734744 6oses 4

4) Best Toilets
La Villa du Flot, Perpignan
A superbe restaurant which uses local fresh produce inventively and changes it’s menu weekly, this is a special occasion restaurant situated in a 4star hotel on the outskirts of Perpignan. A open dining room leading on to a leafy terrasse and a sparkling pool, the service is unrushed and the ambience relaxed. The hotel permanently hosts art exhibitions of local artists and the foyer is always decorated with interesting artwork. Their impressive wine vault boasts up to 5000 bottles of wine, with 150 local wines to choose from.
The toilets are very nice too!!!
LA VILLA DUFLOT - Rond-Point Albert Donnezan, Perpignan 66000, Tél 33 (0) 4 68 56 67 67

5) Best restaurant in the world
El Bulli, Roses, Costa Brava, Spain
We are privileged to be living on the very doorstep of the alleged best restaurant in the world. Albeit not in France, but just over the border in Spain, El Bulli is the highly acclaimed eatery standing proudly on the winning podium. It’s not easy to get a seat there, with over a million eager enthusiasts on the waiting list , this restaurant is only open for 6 months of the year – for the other 6 months , they experiment and play with food, trying new techniques and approaches to cooking food that puts this restaurant at the cutting edge of culinary experimentation.
El Bulli, Cala Montjoi . Ap. 30 17480 . Roses, Girona (Spain), tel (34) 972 150 457
Bon Apps tout le monde !

Friday, April 02, 2010

April Fools and other traditions

My kids came home from school yesterday with fish. Not real fish , I hasten to add, but cardboard painted cut out non smelly ones which they stick on to your back when you're not looking. The "poisson d'avril" , on Aprils fools is traditionally when a paper cut out fish will be stuck on to your back and everyone will fall around hysterically. Ok, I've been here eight years and I don't get it either...

Down here in the deep South , Good Friday is celebrated quite oddly as well with the Procession of the Sanch taking place in Perpignan and Collioure. This slow and macabre march through the streets of Perpignan every Good Friday is a step back into medieval history.
The procession, which is a symbol of the passion of Christ, dates back to the mid 15th century , when the penitents would make their way to the gallows, accompanied by their robed executioners. All parties are robed in klu klux klan type outfits in red and black and march to a hypnotic drum beat while some religious chanting is blasted through loud speakers throughout the city. It certainly is a sight to behold but a barrel of laughs it aint ....
And speaking of funny traditions, the caganer must be the funniest religious figurine ever , the original depicts a peasant type man with his pants around his ankles having a good poo poo. There's a religious shop in the centre of Perpignan sellig relics, holy water and bibles .. In the front window , there is a selection of caganers which my two children delight in imitating every time we wander past. Needless to say, it's their favourite shop in town, along with their favourite street, Rue Dr Poo ( they're very civilised really!). This little mooning fella is to be found in all nativity holy scenes - the reason for this cheeky chappy's inclusion is a little unclear but some people argue that he represents equality of all races, creeds and people - when you gotta go , you gotta go, whether you are president or prisoner.. In any case, the little caganer has gained almost cult status in Catalonia with a very loyal following with caricatures made with Sarko, Obama and other famous figure heads.
In 2005, there was public uproar in Barcelona when the authorities unveiled a fab new nativity scene without the popular defecator. Under public pressure , they had to reinstate him the following year.
All jokes aside , the pride the Catalans have in their local tradition , folklore, music and dance is something I really admire - you ask a Catalan person if they are French and they will reply, pounding their chest " Beh non, nous sommes fier d'etre catalan" . You can't knock it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Having a baby in France

The last post reminded me of a funny document I received from my gyno on my first visit to him when discovering I was pregnant. I've dug out the "conseils pour la grossesse" so you can compare with your own doctor. Apart from all the usual advice - here's some unusual ones:

You think for the first time in your life that it is okay to get fat and you can eat what you want?! Ma chérie, we are en france , the answer is non:
  • Replace all sugar with canderel products.
  • Honey, nougat, biscuits, bonbons, chocolate bars, icecream are forbidden
  • You can have a dessert on a Sunday but only a "demi-portion" (half a portion)
  • Fruit ( with sugar ) is not allowed
  • Fruit juices and fizzy drinks are off the menu
  • Do not eat for two.
  • Do not drink for two , although a few glasses of wine is ok.
  • Do not put on more than 10 kilos ( so what happens if you put on more, are you supposed to go on a diet? I asked my doc. The answer ? Oui! )
Never ever wear trousers. You must wear skirts at all times.

Do not change sexual partners during your pregnancy ("Do people have sex when they're pregnant?!" I wondered). This rule applies to the father also!
(A free test is allowed for the father to ensure he does not have any infectious diseases as picked up from other partners!)

Do not wear knickers

If you feel hungry, replace food with sex ( with the father of the child , see above). This will help you not to put on too much weight. Not surprisingly, pregnancy in France is called "La Grossesse" : The Fatness!!!

So , as you can see, my gyno , along with everyone else in France is obsessed with weight and sex!

As we say very often here in France, you just could not make it up!

112 candles

"112 bougies pour Marcelle la doyenne régionale
C'est bien entourée que Marcelle Narbonne a fêté hier ses 112 printemps à la maison de retraite d'Argelès où elle réside. Témoin de l'histoire, elle est aussi l'une des doyennes de notre pays."

The oldest lady in the department of the Pyrenees Orientales was 112 on Friday last. Born in 1898, Marcelle Narbonne's life has straddled three centuries. Married once, she has never had any children - Her lifetime has seen 19 French presidents come and go, she was a girl of 14 when the Titanic sank and can remember a life before electricity in her house, before radio, television, fridges and all mod cons. She can still walk unaided and lives in a nursing home in Argeles sur Mer.

People are living longer these days ; In 1950, there were 200 people over the age of 100 in the world. Today there are 20,000 who have blown out 100 candles or more .. France boasts the largest proportion of centurions per head of population in Europe. The reason for this is that France has the best medical system in the world ( according to the World Health Organisation ) and the increasing number of specialised retirement homes keeping the ole dears alive..

After having two babies in the medical system here in France, I can vouch for the excellency of the service. While recuperating at the clinique, I kept referring to the hospital as the hotel, because that's what it felt like .. and a nice hotel at that! There was a bed for my partner to stay in the same room with me and help out with new babe, the restaurant would do the rounds every morning with the menus so you could choose your meals from a wide choice of tasty dishes ( rabbit in mustard sauce with gratin dauphinois for example!) and the staff and treatment were second to none.

So whereas France can be a difficult country to do business in ( more on that later ), where taxes are high and the bureaucracy, overwhelming, I do think that France, and in particular , the South of France where we live with it's mild winters and warm summers, is the best country to plan your retirement in.

Alors, here's to sipping some fab cotes de roussillon wine, nibbling on fresh baguette and local cheeses ( with our own teeth) and tripping the light fantastic on our 100th birthday!

Bravo Marcelle (agus Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

To kiss or not to kiss ...

... that is the question!

French kissing ( of the cheek pecking variety) can be a complicated procedure. First of all, there's the question of who does one kiss and who does one shake hands with .. to do the wrong thing can be either very rude or very forward, although French people do make allowances for les irlandais if we slip up on the kissing etiquette.

The rules:
  1. You kiss good friends twice on each cheek. The number of times varies from place to place in France. In the North of France , for example, you may be kissed up to four times!
  2. You kiss good friends of friends when you are introduced.
  3. Generally you do not make contact with your lips and other persons cheek, but you do not air kiss either
  4. At a soirée with a mixed group, of people you have and have not met before, you kiss everyone
  5. Men NEVER kiss men, unless they are blood relations - they shake hands
  6. It is very rude to kiss someone you don't know and very rude not to kiss someone you do know
  7. You only kiss on the first time you meet a person on that day and if a soirée ,perhaps when leaving as well ..
  8. One might start a meeting with a handshake and end the social event with a kiss if you have got on particularly well
 Confused yet? You should be!

But the main thing I suppose is not to take it too seriously , to go with the flow and to be consistent. If you kiss one person once , you must continue to kiss them or they will assume you are shunning them. The french just instinctively know when and when not to kiss and which cheek to plump for first ( I often end up headbutting my recipient kissers!), so take your cue from the masters of the kiss. They learn this at a very early age - it's cute to see all the kids greeting each other at school with the obligatory two pecks.

So, when in France, lay off the garlic, floss those teeth and pucker up! C'est l'heure to kiss some frogs!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Fattist Nation

I was appalled after giving birth to my first born at the reaction of my french friends ... Without fail, the first question I was asked was, not did I have a boy or a girl, not did everything go fine, not how was the labour and how is the little darling? Mais non, it was "how many kilos have you put on" or " what are you going to do to lose the FAT?" and this while I lay in the hospital bed struggling with the joys of breastfeeding!!!

I discovered that this obsession with weight begins at a very early stage when I took my precious first born little girl for her second check up with the doc. "This child needs to go on a diet, she has put on too much weight since the last rendezvous"  I was sternly reprimanded ...She was 6 weeks old.  Luckily my Mom was around to talk sense into me and she poo pooed the doctors advice. For the record, neither I nor my child are overweight!

Learning hard lessons fast, I discovered that French people are very hung up on appearances .. one does not go out without hair and makeup perfect and immaculate clothing. Tracksuits are for running and excerising in and not for wearing on a day off. Sloppy dressing is not acceptable. You make the effort or you will be a) ridiculed or b) ignored.

The ubiquitous "pharmacie", the busiest business in every small town is crammed with all types of slimming aids and agents . "Les produits minceurs" are to the forefront of every shopfront at the moment as les francais prepare for stripping off for the summer. Whether these slimming aids work or not, is dubious, but the french do seem to be remarkably thin compared to their Irish and UK counterparts. So , how do they do it?

Many a book has been written about how french women remain as svelte as they do, yakking on about eating foods in season and never taking the stairs and such baloney , but the truth is that many of the young french I know, take slimming pills ( otherwise known as laxatives), drink coffee and smoke incessantly (to kill the hunger pangs) and paradoxically, excercise their butts off , literally.

But, are the french fattist? Would you be discriminated against if you were "fat" in France? There was uproar recently when Air France announced that obese people had to pay 75% extra for the cost of an additional seat. While the nation became embroiled in an obese discrimination debate, in Perpignan most peoples reaction was could they claim a discount if they were really skinny!?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Would you vote for this man?

The French local elections were on over the weekend ( the french host two elections - the first one is to narrow the selection down to 2 candidates and the "deuxieme tour" then takes place a week later when everyone votes again for their preferred candidate.)

The guy who has obtained the bulk of the votes here in the Languedoc Roussillon is the controversial Georges Freche. Dear Georges has made some serious gaffes in his high profile political career. He is currently the president of the Languedoc Roussillon and depsite recent scandals , he obtained over 34% of the vote on Sunday, ahead of Sarkos's man, Raymond Couderc, who managed to win only 20% of the vote.
Would you vote for this guy?

1. Earlier on this year, Georges Freche declared than Laurent Fabius (former jewish prime minister) doesn't have a very catholic face ( he was kicked out of the Socialist party for this comment)

2. Referring to the Pyrenees Orientales , George stated that "I have always been elected by a majority of "cons" ( french for fools)"

3.He is also quoted as saying : "Dans cette équipe (de France), il y a neuf blacks sur onze. La normalité serait qu’il y en ait trois ou quatre. Ce serait le reflet de la société. Mais là, s’il y en a autant, c’est parce que les blancs sont nuls. J’ai honte pour ce pays. Bientôt, il y aura onze blacks. Quand je vois certaines équipes de foot, ça me fait de la peine. ”
Loose translation  : There are too many blacks on the french soccer team, nine out of eleven is too many.However, the whites are crap too. I'm ashamed of my country, soon we will have 11 blacks on the team.

4. He once referred to two ex-"Harkis" – Algerians who fought on the French side in the colonial civil war – as lesser humans

5. He is Labelled as the Socialist "Le Pen"

6. Georges Freche thinks it is a great idea to change the name from Languedoc Roussillon to Septimanie ( sounds like a contagious disease to me ). He spent 15million euros in a drive to do just this before his campaign floundered due to outrage from the locals.

7. Another political faux pas : " Je dis que l'incapacité de notre pays, depuis quarante ans, à intégrer convenablement les millions de citoyens nés, sur notre sol, de parents d'origine étrangère, constitue […] la plus grande menace intérieure pour notre avenir. »"
Loose translation : For the past 40 years, foreigners are wrecking the country and are the greatest menace for the future of France

8. Je devrais me présenter aux élections municipales à Toulouse. Dans cette ville, quand j'étais étudiant, j'ai baisé 40% des Toulousaines.
Loose translation : "When I was a student in Toulouse , I f$cked over 40% of Toulousains"

9.Georges Freche has set up "maisons de languedoc" all over the world in places like London, China and New York situated in the best addresses. The idea is that these "maisons" promote the region and the products of the Languedoc Roussillon to a greater audience. The one in New York alone, costs over 600,000 a year to run and gets less than 20 visitors daily.

10. The president has also spent 3.6million euros on a study to bring a pleasure port to Lez , in his favourite department. These waterways are in a Unesco protected zone and if tampered with , would upset the whole eco system of the Canal du Midi.

So, to summarise he is racist towards the blacks, the whites, the harkis, french born to foreigners, those who vote for him, he's ashamed of France....a great ambassador! what a ticket!

As the yanks would say, go figure!
We await to see what happens next Sunday at the deuxieme tour.....

Update 21/03/2010 : Georges Freche has been elected with over 54% of the vote ...

Monday, March 08, 2010

French Affairs

There's a scandal on the street in our quiet little corner of french suburbia - our neighbour, Chantal has been cought red handed having an affair with a co-worker. Chantal and Pierre have been married for over 25 years and are the vertiable pillars of society. Worst of all, Chantal and Pierre and new lover all work together in the Town Hall and the gendarmes have been called in to keep the peace as lives have been threatened!! Yikes!

So , are the French all having secret affairs hither thither or do they just appear to be swashbuckingly sexy? I must say that French men are the most flirtatious I have ever met. A French man will greet you for the first time  with "enchanté" ( enchanted to met you!) and looking you directly in the eye, will compliment you in his deliciously sexy voice. Cue me going weak at the knees! They will openly check you out and shower you with flattery on your new hairstyle/ loss of weight/ new boots while Irish hubby remains completely oblivious!

Compared to the Irish scene, the French do seem to be more "up" for it, it's almost an inbred sensibility : male and female alike, they can be quite predatory and intimidating when you are used to the Irish shy boys. I find it difficult to distinguish whether they are flirting or just being, well, friendly, especially with all that kissing going on!

A grandfather I used to work with has several "cinq à septs" , ladies he would meet between 5 and 7 for a bit of hows yer father. We knew never to ring him during these hours as his mobile would be off!! He's been "happily " married for over 40 years and everybody knows about his philandering, apart from the glamourous wife, I suppose.

It seems like there are no age barriers to this flirting game : playing tennis recently, I was approached by an old geezer of about 80 - he was the ex president of the club and he wanted to know would I like to play with him  ( Silly me, I thought he meant tennis). For about three weeks after that, he continually rang me until I dropped unsubtle hints about being busy with the Kids, the Hubby etc. He's really miffed now and won't even salute me in the club!!!

It is quite flattering on one hand and when I go back to éire , I feel completely invisible as the lads in the pub stare at the tv or their pints and daren't make eye contact .. there's a happy medium there somewhere I think?!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Honestly, you look .... AWFUL!

There's nothing quite like brutal honesty of the french , except perhaps a slap in the face or a kick in the nether regions!

Arriving in France 8 years ago, to join my sister in her fledgling new property business , I was prepared to perhaps struggle with the language and to find the new job a challenge ..

What I wasn't prepared for was the brutal honesty of the French - My sister Suzanne took me around to all the agencies she worked with and I was introduced to one and all. "Beh, oui, elle est grande , eh? Oh la la, she is like an asparagus!" " Vous avez les memes parents?" were common comments .. Ok, I'm touching on 6 foot and Suzanne closer to 5 foot , but that didn't excuse new colleagues bursting into laughter on entering their premises!!!

When we bought our house and proudly showed our french friends around , they quickly pointed out all the negative aspects .. "Oh lala , you'll have to change the tiles here, they are so passé ma chérie" ... " Well, that bathroom needs to be ripped out for sure" " Surely you will not be keeping the crazy paving on the terrasse?" etc etc... as we grimaced and led them through to the kitchen ( very ugly) for some appertifs ( we must give you some recipes ma petite...) our house was verbally ripped to shreds!

The French are the first to tell you that you've put on weight ( my beautician, just after I'd given birth to second child), that your ears stick out ( dentist), that you haven't a clue how to cook/bake/sew/bring up your children as well as they can, and of course that you cannot speak french properly ...

So when you do get a compliment from the French , lap it up and savour it , turn it around and examine it from every angle .. because a) you may not get another one and b) you can be sure they are not lying!

Honesty , the best policy? Perhaps yes, but a little tactfulness goes a long way. You're looking great by the way, have you lost weight recently?!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

France, the Seductress

France seduced me. More specifically the Pyrenees Orientales pulled out all the stops eight years ago, when I left sodden Ireland to arrive in the sun drenched South of France for a weekend skiing.
It was the clear blue skies in January, dining al fresco in tee shirts with the backdrop of the snow capped Pyrenees, the food, the wine, the beautiful cobblestoned villages ... I lapped up the attentions of my sensual suitor and fell hook, line and sinker.

After an unforgettable weekend, I shoe horned myself out of the department and hurried back to Ireland, gave up my pensionable accountancy job, packed my bags and said au revoir to life as I knew it.

Eight years and two children later, I don't regret a minute of the rollercoaster ride I've experienced since falling for France, life sure has been anything but boring.

But , this isn't another blog about how wonderful life is in France, le vie est belle , tra la la la la .. I'm telling it like it is .. the highs , the lows and the in betweens ..
Time to wake up and Smell the Croissants!

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