Archive for February, 2010

My oh my ! Hairdressers are plentiful in France, their salons adorn many a street and just within a 10 minute walk of my home I can think of no less than 7 places where I could go and get my haircut. Where I used to live in the UK I don’t think there was even 7 places in the whole of town…

Yet, rather than going local, I drive 20 minutes to the other side of town to go to the salon which has been styling my hair for the last year. Why do I bother when I haven’t even tried any of the locals? Well, its because I always end up with a hair disaster whenever I venture away from my comfort zone.

I’ll expand with a few examples:

1. One hairdresser misunderstood my mumblings and hacked so far into my hair that I look as if I had rat tails hanging down all over the place. It was supposed to be layered but she took layering to a whole new extreme. It took a year to grow out.
2. Another cut such a heavy fringe that it took 9 months to grow so that I could style it in another way.
3. Another charged me nearly 150 Euros to do some highlights which couldn’t even be seen, my husband didn’t even notice! The cut was on top of that…

The above are just a few examples and of course, never once did I complain or do anything about it! Its not very British to complain directly, its just not in my nature compared to my French counterparts who have no issues in this area. Also, when my French wasn’t as fluent as now, the very thought of having to try and explain why I was unhappy with the cut or colour was enough to put me off. No doubt they could always see the dismay on my face as I was always rushed through checkout and hurried out the door – probably so I didn’t have time to think what I would say!

French women always looked so immaculately coiffed and frequent their hairdresser as often as I frequent the supermarket, its no wonder that I wanted to join them and have great hair!

Lady from Mars AttackA year ago I managed to get the name of a good hairdresser who didn’t charge the earth and the first couple of times I went I was immensely happy. Finally I had great hair which I could style, that was practical and that looked as if I cared! They actually advised me against what I originally wanted as they thought it would be impractical for me and I really valued that advice.

However, yesterday I went and ended up with the hairstyle of the female alien from Mars Attack ! Dare I mention that this is the second time now that a hairdresser has done this to me in France?

I guess I can either hope that they cut it better next time or start the trial and error hunt for a new hairdresser. Why do good things never last?

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Image credit: welshwitch36Imagine the scenario : you’re in a rush and can’t find your keys, your handbag and you nearly leave the house wearing odd shoes. You finally find the other shoe and are now running really late. You step outside the front door and SQUISH :(. You step on a great big dog turd that some b*****d has let their batard (French word for mongrel) dog take a dump on the pavement right smack bang outside YOUR front door! You have to go back in, put the keys down, change shoes and start the process all over again…

Thankfully, this didn’t happen this morning but it has happened before and I cannot even begin to explain how disgusting it is! It could very well have happened again this morning but the smartly dressed Dame walking her pooch was probably scared off by the glare I shot in her direction as I came out the front door. I’ve had plenty of practice with the glare as dogs regularly use the pavement outside of our house as their poubelle (what an appropriate word!) and our dustbins are often used as target practice!

Walking along, I became obsessed with dog pooh and started to count how many turds I had to dodge on the pavement whilst I was walking from point A to point B. Marching along the street, I counted no less than 9 poohs on the short five minute walk! I’ve heard that dog owners are generally healthier than their non-dog owning counterparts but they are certainly not cleaner! Have they not heard of a poop scoop?

How disgusting is it that you can have 9 turds in such a short space? I am also sure that there is sometimes more, as it honestly didn’t seem too bad today compared to other days, its just the front door lady got me started and then I was on a mission.

I did think maybe owners should get their dog to do it in the gutter, then I thought of all the cars parked up and how dreadful it would be to step out of the car straight into a turd!

Next time I see someone letting their dog take a poop in front of my house I think I’m going to scoop the poop and follow them, and then politely dispose of it in front of where they live with a short note.

I’m sure this is worldwide problem but its not something I encountered in the UK and it does seem to be an issue here. For goodness sakes, they have men dressed in orange overalls here which are in charge of washing the streets and the pavements! A simple solution which would make everyone’s life nicer would be to encourage all dog owners to use a poop scoop!

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On Friday I made my first outing in the car since hurting my hand. I needed to pick up some French people from the station for a meeting and it took all my concentration to get to the station and back, dodging the cities traffic, trying to remember my way and most importantly trying to avoid being hit by another car! The whole experience reminded me somewhat of dodgems but I made it there and back in one piece.

Here are five handy tips for driving in France:

1. Stick to the right!
You must drive on the right hand side of the road at all times.

This is easier said than done for a Brit, even if this particular Brit learned to drive and passed her license in France! Even though I did not learn to drive in the UK it is not rare that I can find myself on the wrong side of the road when in France, heading directly towards the fast approaching lights of the car coming head on at me.

This type of error is most likely to occur at night, when I’m tired or when I’ve not driven for a while. The most scary experience was when I pulled out onto a country lane late one night after a day of exhausting meetings only to realise that I’d be looking the wrong way before pulling out and there was a gigantic lorry heading straight towards me! I now repeat my mantra every time I get in the car: “drive right, drive right”!

2. Beware of cars on your right!
In France, you need to give way to the right (priorité a droite)… This may be the same for other European countries I don’t know, but its not in Britain. When you’re driving along a road, you have to constantly be looking to the right to make sure that there’s not a car that’s going to whiz out in front of you.

How do you know?
Whilst looking constantly to the right you have to check whether the incoming road has a stop sign or a cedez le passage (give way) sign – you can also check the road markings (if they haven’t faded away): a continuous white line is a stop and a dotted white line is a give way so normally you should be safe – no whizzing cars. If you don’t see any of these then its best to slow right down and check that a car is not going to appear from no-where as they have priority over you and should you hit them its you or your insurance that’ll have to cough up!

There are so many accidents in France due to this rule its ridiculous. A lot of my French friends agree and no-one can tell me why this rule even exists. It just doesn’t make sense.

We have a priorité a droite on our street from the road that comes in just before the Boulangerie and nearly every week there is a crash. How dangerous can that be with everyone that has to cross the road to go and buy their bread? The parking space opposite is often empty as all the locals know that that’s the place that gets hit each time there’s an accident.

I tried to explain the Priorité a Droite rule to my parents when they come over and I managed to terrify my Mum who as passenger, is often in charge of checking for cars coming on the right.

Why don’t the French ditch this rule as it makes driving a complete nightmare – as if its not hard enough already!

3. Follow the car in front…This may not actually be a good idea but I’ve found it to be quite helpful as I find French road signs and junctions can be quite confusing. Complicated junctions often come hand in hand with point one, driving on the right, and I get confused which way round I’m supposed to take a junction. So, quite often I find it safer to follow what’s in front. If I’m unlucky enough not to have a car in front of me then I’m sorry for the car that’s behind me and hope they don’t follow!!!

4. Be assertive!
I live in Lyon. It’s a big city with loads of cars, loads of give ways and when driving here it is not a time to be polite! If you are too polite, then you will never get to go where you’re going as people will cut in front of you all the time. A combination of politeness and assertiveness is definitely necessary, do let one car in and then move forward. I wish a lot of drivers here would use this combinations as here in the city at least, arrogance reigns!

5. Remember, a car is a means of locomotion!
At your risk and perils, do not ever forget that a car is just a means of transport in France. People will generally have total disregard as to whether your paintwork will be damaged due to them slamming their door into your car. If you’re parked, people will nudge forwards and backwards, BANG BANG BANG, until they get either in or out of that ridiculously small space behind you. A bumper is a bumper – it is to be used to bump other cars and for no other purpose!

French roads are generally excellent and the motorway system is second to none even though the shortest trips can sometimes cost a fortune! If you can get over some of the hurdles and understand the system then France is your oyster to be discovered and enjoyed.

Tunnel de La Croix Rousse in Lyon - my most hated place!

DISCLAIMER: The above driving tips are meant as tips only and not as a definitive guide to French driving rules!

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Its been a long time since I’ve worn a pair of tracksuit bottoms at any time other than when I’ve been working out. When I heard that they were “in-trend” this season my thoughts wandered back to when shell suits were all the rage, surely this can’t be fashionable?

According to the fashionistas and all the forward thinking fashion followers, tracksuit bottoms worn with heels are going to be everywhere this year.

In an article about tracksuit bottoms, The Times has stated that the trend is likely to catch on as any trend that is “lazy” is always a hit. They’re thinking Uggs, leggings, skinny jeans – all easy to follow and ideal for the lazy fashion follower. Not to mention the high street can easily copy this look as opposed to fancy tailored looks.

The likes of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain have been wearing them for years, but bewared, that is not how they are to be worn!! Trainers are a definite no-no and your old Adidas pants just won’t do!Vicky Pollard in Little Britain - a definite NON!

So, if you get the right pair of pants and wear them with the right heels and a nice top what’s to loose?

Sure, there’s nothing hard about wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms but will it really catch on in France? I’ve noticed that the French are generally a couple of seasons behind in fashion trends. For example, in 2006 I came to France in leggings and mini skirt, topped off with patent escarpins – perfectly normal for the UK, I didn’t consider it a far flung looks – the shoes were a bit awkward to walk miles in but you know, it was just what everyone was wearing. In France, the Parisians just looked at me as if I’d arrived from another planet not to mention my sister in law who’s just a bit younger than me. Fast forward to 2008 and the shops are full of similar clothes! See, I could have been a fashion consultant for them!!!

I’m going to start hunting for the perfect pair of pants now as lazy seems good to me and suits where I am in my life – rapidly approaching 30 and beginning to feel frumpy, yet can’t be too bothered to do anything about it. I’ll probably have to go back to the UK or order them online as I doubt I’ll be able to find any in France as yet, but I wonder what my friendly Frenchies will think of this? No doubt they will all think I’m mad and wonder what on earth I’m wearing, or maybe they’ll remember some of the other trends they saw me in first? Either way, they all think I’m an eccentric English girl so what’s to loose? Its something fashionable I can wear without breaking the bank and can be flattering for my extra kilos. And should I need to run somewhere I can just ditch the heels and go!

How to wear tracksuite bottoms fashionably!

How to wear tracksuite bottoms fashionably!

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At the moment there is a great debate taking place in France concerning the National Identity and what it means to be French.

Apparently the French no longer know what it is to be French, or what being French means and the government wants to bring this to the forefront of peoples mind so to help unite a country which is currently far from united in its traditional values: liberty, equality, fraternity.

This is not meant to be a political posting, I do not follow French politics with enough interest to allow myself to comment the political depths of the debate so everything written is my point of view as a British girl living in France.

France has a high proportion of immigrants notably from Northern Africa many of which are now second or third generation and live in the “banlieues” a name given for the rough, soulless council run, faceless apartment blocks on the fringes of town. These are places that the tourist never visits; where you don’t always feel safe walking in the day yet alone the night when cars are being burned. These banlieues are at the forefront of social unrest as immigrant families have been living here for years and years and have failed to integrate into the community after being kept on the fringe of society due to where they live. It is a vicious circle and the blocks were originally meant as temporary measures for many after the Algerian war and this is one of the problems dear Sarkozy promised to tackle as President.

There has been a lot of racial unrest in France over the years and this has been coming to a head recently as government takes steps to ban the Burqa.

Don’t forget that France has serious race discrimination problem in the pasts: In the second to last elections the National Front extreme right got though to the second tour which was worrying to the say the least!

So, it would seem that the underlying reason for the debate is to help unite people on a racial front and create a national identity that people are proud to adhere to and which units people en masse.

For me, this debate is largely taking place between the politicians and the media as not one French person I know seems to care about it, yet alone really debate the subject, and as the French love a great debate I conclude that their lack of interest in this subject means that’s its not of interest to them.

French actor Gérard Depardieu stated in an interview that he couldn’t care less as to whether he is French or not and didn’t care about the debate. He stated that he was a citizen of the World. Exact words:

« Ils peuvent me la prendre, je m’en fous. Ce débat ne m’intéresse pas. J’en ai rien à foutre d’être français ou pas. Je suis un citoyen du monde. Je ne m’intéresse pas aux questions politiques. Je n’ai jamais voté. Je ne suis que le spectateur de mon époque. »

So what does it mean to be French? I am not French although I’ve lived in France for nearly as long as I lived in the UK and for nearly all of my adult life, so surely I should have an idea on what all this being French means (even if I don’t officially have the nationality)?

According to TNS who analysed internet users contributions 5 main subjects were raised:

1. The debate itself (29% of general discussions)
2. Immigration (27% of general discussions)
3. Respect (19%) : Being French = respecting norms/rules
4. Sharing (16%) : Being French = adhering to values and sharing a common vision
5. Heritage (9%): Being French = sharing the same patrimony

There’s 58 pages of analysis, a whole website dedicated to the debate and a whole media circus surrounding the discussions. But what does it mean? Surely most of the above is applicable to other countries as well? I haven’t found anything in all of their research that truly defines what being French means.

Maybe they should ask the foreigners? They may get a better idea!! My take on what it means to be French (but of course, they won’t ask me because I’m not French and they couldn’t care less what I think):

1. security: possibility to have job security for life if you become a fonctionnaire or excellent employment rights for the common worker.
2. family values: French families have kept family values alive and enjoy sit down dinners at a table rather than in front of the TV
3. respecting each others values: loving a debate about politics and yet still speak to your family afterwards
4. equality: the affordability of restaurants, you don’t have to be loaded to be able to eat decent food.
5. quality: quality of life shared by all those that live in France – access to fresh food in markets, French countryside, culture.

Some other things thrown in for good measure in case they really have problems defining what it is to be French: :
6. either being so socialist that they’re almost communist or so far right that their extreme racists but no political middle ground.
7. having an opinion on everything, even stuff they don’t know about
8. bad drivers
9. don’t know how to queue
10. arrogance
11. looking chic without any effort
12. consuming copious amounts of pastries and chocolates and staying slim!

So who knows what being French actually means? Hopefully France will move forward and will resolve some of its issues allowing future generations to live united and without unrest.

Oh yeah, and this debate that was launched in November has now been ever so quietly dropped as it wasn’t good for Sarkozy’s image… My my… looks as if it was a big waste of time. I’ll just send them my thoughts then!

To finish on a lighter note, the French have had great inventors inventing things such as hot air balloon, the battery, the electric iron, the sewing machine… the latest being ROLLERMAN – check him out!!!

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I’ve just read an article on CNN that France has been voted as being the best place in the world to live according to International Living magazine.

I wonder how they can vote an entire country as being the best place to live? Yes, the article highlights some of the advantages of living in France such as the excellent healthcare system, the skiing and the beaches, the food and the wine and lots of paid holiday for workers, but surely that is not the be all and end all?

How about high unemployment, high taxes and social security charges, the fact the French have one of the highest levels of consumption of anti-depressants (sorry, can’t write in English today, its all coming out Frenchiefied!) and bureaucracy?

I have a love hate relationship with France. I do love living here but would I not love living in another country as well? I can’t say that the reasons I love living here are because its France. I could ski, eat cheese and drink wine in Switzerland and yet benefit from lower taxes at the same time. So why France?

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Ben & Jerr's Ice Cream

Ideal solution for reducing pain after surgery

My hand is still hurting from the surgery last Monday. Yesterday the Nurse suggested that I apply cold to my hand to help the pain and reduce the swelling. He advised putting ice cubes in a bag and holding them for 10 minutes.

I decided that holding a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream in my hand would have the same effect and that I’d actually enjoy it at the same time!

I explained this to my Mum (who called at the same time as the ice cream eating) and she said it was the best excuse she’d ever heard for eating ice cream!

The diet will have to start again tomorrow…

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Having spent a lot of time with various French friends and family over the past few weekends, I have noticed that their table manners are all quite similar and very different to mine!

Maybe its my British upbringing and what goes on in France is totally normal but it just seems so strange to me.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but it would appear that the French don’t apply what I consider as hygiene common sense to some produce. For example bread. Go into any French supermarket or bakery and you will see bread being sold without any plastic covering or paper protection. Environmentally friendly yes, but not hygienic IMHO.

Its as if there is some belief that the bread is immune to any germs or other dirt it may carry. Maybe it has some type of invisible protection like the new Cif cream spray I’ve just seen advertised on TV? You only have to look at how many baguettes people handle in the supermarket before settling for one… Think of all those germs that transfer onto the crust… ukk!

Then, once bought, you often see people holding their baguette under their arm (not in rhe summer I hope as you may get the onion effect…) or put it on the seat in their car (you know, the one where the dog sits!). Sometimes you’ll even see them at the pharmacy or Doctors.

I’m not a maniac but I am sensitive to basic hygiene, and what has really made me smile is some of the people who I have watched carry out the above won’t eat the skin on boiled new potatoes for fear of germs (not even chemicals, germs!). So it doesn’t really make sense does it?

Now, on to breakfast. Most of the French I have observed do not use a plate for breakfast. This really annoys me as it means crumbs get absolutely everywhere including on the floor!

We were 5 for breakfast the other day so I laid out 5 plates as well as all the traditional stuff; butter, pain au chocolat, bread, jam etc. My friend looked at me with curiosity and asked what the plates were for. Hubby who happens to share my point of view (at least when I am with him), told her that she’ll see. I think she was expecting us to drink our coffee off of them or something really bizarre, as when we put our food on them she seemed surprised! Basic hygiene obviously doesn’t apply at the breakfast table either…

After eating breakfast all five of us on plates our friends were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t need to Hoover around the table afterwards. The plates were then slipped in the dishwasher and we were able to start the day. Possibly three converts?

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ok, so this is in English but its still a rubber stamp!Today I had a true sense of belonging as I let loose with my rubber stamp all over envelopes, invoices and letters.

For the first time since having a French company (or a company anywhere for that matter) I have a rubber stamp.

Whenever anything is official in France it has a rubber stamp. Invoices need to be stamped and when you sign a contract you must stamp it with the “cachet” of the company. Never until today had I used a rubber stamp, so the feeling of finality and importance that the stamp created as it hit the paper was a new experience for me.

No wonder anyone with a little authority in France is so keen on their rubber stamps! I can now understand why the bureaucrats get so carried away with the need to stamp everything. Stamp, stamp, stamp! I practised my stamping to get the degree of ink just perfect and stamped everything in sight! I’ll be fed up of it tomorrow but today I actually feel French!!!

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Found this link and thought it may be helpful to some of you at some point:

Getting Free Legal Advice in France.

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