petite anglaise

October 29, 2004

lost weekend

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 12:38 pm

I am filled with dread.

Next Monday is a public holiday in France, for Toussaint. This should be a Good Thing, as it is one of the only bank holidays which has fallen on a weekday in 2004 (we lose when they fall at weekends, which makes Christmas this year a very bad joke), giving us a longweekend. It is however a Bad Thing because I have consented under duress to spend these three precious days with the Evil In Laws.

In order to get to where they live in the Franche Comté region, we have to endure a two hour train journey. During which Tadpole will not want to remain seated, but instead will run continually up and down the carriage, falling over each time the train tilts and running the risk of having hot coffee poured over her head by a fellow passenger. It is not even worth packing a book or an MP3 player in these situations. At best, I will be made to read ‘Miffy’s bicycle’ over and over again. At worst, I’ll be doing laps of the train a few steps behind Tadpole. So that’s 5 hours of our precious weekend already spent in purgatory before we even arrive at our destination. This is because the In Laws do not like Paris, and so despite the fact that FIL is retired, MIL has twice as much holiday as I do and they own cars, we are expected to go to them, accompanied by car seat and pushchair and all the other paraphernalia which you have to cart around when you have a small child, like . We could conceivably hire a car, but this would mean driving for 4-5 hours. An even less attractive prospect.

The In Laws, misleadingly called belle mère and beau père in French, are nice enough people and we actually got along just fine in the beginning. Things turned sour immediately after the birth of Tadpole. Without dwelling too much on the details, let’s just say that I feel I have served my purpose in producing their grandchild (the Frog is an only child so Tadpole is the focus of all their attention) and I now seem to be very much in the way.

I will be expected to surrender Tadpole as soon as I walk through the door, so that MIL and FIL can play mummies and daddies. If Tadpole does come to give me a hug, god forbid, she will be prised from my arms immediately. MIL will sulk if we dare to take Tadpole out with us when we go shopping for her new coat, or when we pay a visit to some of the Frog’s childhood friends. If we do have plans, she is likely to foil them by taking the Tadpole out for a ‘short walk’, returning only at nightfall. The latest plan is to persuade the Frog and I to sleep in a room they want to refurbish in the garage/cellar, next to the cars and the boiler, so that Tadpole can sleep in the room next to their own and they can pretend we are not there at all.

So, I’ve made a decision. Next time we are blackmailed into visiting them, I shall let Mr Frog (who is, understandably, partially blind to all of the above) take Tadpole there without me. I think, on balance, I’d rather not see Tadpole at all, than spend the whole weekend inwardly raging. I will be able to shop, blog, read, eat curry and go out on the town. And maybe, just maybe, the In Laws will reflect a little on why I chose not to visit.

October 28, 2004

risky business

Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaise @ 11:56 am

I made a flippant remark in my comments box yesterday about this story reported by the BBC. A blogging air hostess known as Queen of the Sky has been fired by the airline who employed her after publishing saucy pictures of herself posing in the cabin wearing her uniform on her blog. And letting her skirt ride up a bit. Given the media attention this has generated, she’ll probably end up in the pages of Playboy, so I’m not too worried about her future employment prospects, but it has got me thinking about the issues involved. And feeling just a little bit paranoid.

The reason I decided to blog as petite anglaise has a lot to do with wanting to prevent people I work with from discovering I am the author of this blog. Even though at the moment most of them wouldn’t have a clue who Belle de Jour is or what the word ‘blog’ means. My family and close friends are in the know, and some even read regularly, but I’d rather my co-workers remained blissfully unaware of the fact that the Frog won’t marry me or that he owns a baaing sheep thong, unless I choose to tell them myself. Similarly, I believe I have a duty to protect the identity of the Frog and Tadpole. It’s only fair. They don’t have any control over what I write and the Frog’s co-workers might conceivably read it one day.

As for my own boss reading this blog? It is my worst fear. He’s an expat in the land of the Frogs, as is his wife, so you never know whether one day their internet surfing might wash them up on these shores. I imagine the main issue my employer would have with my blogging would be to establish whether I post on company time. Mostly I blog at lunctime or in the evening (the time of posting being irrelevant and events not necessarily occurring on the day I say they do), but of course I do surf other people’s blogs and write my own during slack periods at work. Pre petite anglaise I used to openly read the Guardian when my in tray was empty, and the response this elicited from my boss was usually along the lines of ‘oh yes, I read that story too this morning on my palm pilot, what do you think about it?’, but you never know for sure how people will react, do you? So, as a precaution, you won’t find me moaning about my boss here.

Anyway, *coughs*, he is the best boss I’ve ever had, and it would be difficult to fault him.

October 27, 2004

bad mummy?

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 2:43 pm

When the Frog and I decided the time had come to procreate, it never once occurred to me to give up my job.

First compelling reason: money. Despite the Frog’s executive title, his job in advertising doesn’t pay any better than my secretarial 9-5. One salary will not pay the rent and would certainly not stretch to a mortgage. It was hard enough surviving on state benefits (about € 450 per week) for the five months I was on maternity leave. If I’d extended this (possible in theory up to 3 years) I would have received no financial aid whatsoever, just the right to claim a job from my (very pissed off) employer at equivalent pay once the time was up.

Secondly, in France the number of women who return to work far outnumber those who do not, and childcare is pretty affordable in comparison to the UK. I pay about € 700 a month for a full time childminder, who looks after the Tadpole and two other girls in her own home, but also takes them to the library, to a music appreciation class and a playgroup, as well as to the park every afternoon. If I’d managed to get a place in a state run crèche (which would have required relentless badgering of the directrice de crèche on my part, something I wasn’t motivated enough to do), it would cost even less. It means that continuing to work is financially more attractive than staying at home.

Finally, and most importantly, I was going out of my mind home alone. Everyone I know in Paris works, and during my leave I couldn’t shake off a feeling of guilt that I should be working too – the same feeling I get when I’m off work ‘sick’ with nothing to do but watch daytime television. I had no other stay at home mum friends to speak of, despite the fact that I belong to an expat mums network. It was summertime and everyone was away on holiday, and in any event they tend to live at the other (more affluent) side of Paris, and the pediatrician’s advice (which as I new mum I followed to the letter) was to avoid the hotbed of harmful bacteria that is the Paris metro for the first twelve months or so. The perspective of continuing to spend long days alone with only the tiny, and to be honest at that stage not particularly entertaining, Tadpole for company was terrifying.

It’s now just over a year since I returned to work, and I have to say that despite the loudly voiced reservations of my family in England, it is working really well. Tadpole loves her childminder, and has formed a very strong bond with the other two children she cares for. They greet each other in the mornings with cries of excitement and bisous and it’s a lovely sight to behold. The time we do spend together is really precious and I love the look of delight on her face when I arrive to collect her in the evenings. After which we play. Until Eastenders starts, by which time she must be tucked up in bed.

For my part, I have an adult life by day, filled with grown up conversations that don’t revolve solely around being a mother. And yes, discussing what is happening on Eastenders or 24 ,or whatever else I happen to be watching, and bitching about our bosses is the kind of social contact I do not feel able to live without. I don’t think about Tadpole much during the day, because my life as a mum and my life at work feel very separate, but on the way to pick her up in the evenings I can feel my excitement growing as the metro draws closer to home.

In summary: I’m a working mum out of choice and I’m happy that way.

So, why is it then that I felt so horribly guilty whilst writing this post?

October 26, 2004

no connoisseur

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaise @ 11:24 am

A decade of living in France has sadly taught me little about wine.

The Frog and I tend to drink mostly Bordeaux, which according to Father In Law is the only red worth drinking. However, I haven’t got a clue which years are supposed to have been good years. Or which bottles are supposed to be kept for a while, as opposed to the ones which are suitable for drinking now. I once bought a book about French wine (now gathering dust on my bookshelf) with the intention of starting a cave so that we would always have a plentiful supply on hand. However there is nowhere suitably dark and cool in our apartment. I did put a couple of bottles in our cellar when we moved in, but the fact that I’m scared to go down there on my own (it’s very badly lit, a torch is required and there are several dark corridors where I can all too easily imagine things to be lurking), and that we live on the fifth floor tends to prevent us from uncorking a bottle from the cellar on a whim. It’s less hassle to go the corner shop.

When I have to buy some wine because we have guests, there is much crossing of fingers and I tend to play safe and buy a bottle with (grand) cru classé or cru bourgeois written on it. Or just throw sufficient money at the problem. If it costs over € 15, I consider it should good enough to take around to someone’s house for dinner. If the label proudly boasts that the wine won a médaille d’argent in 1996, I am just confused. Does this mean that what they produced in 2004 is any good? Or are they just trading on their former glory? If I really want to make a good impression, I ask an assistant in the wine shop to recommend something. But this inevitably leads to questions like ‘what will you be eating?’. What am I supposed to do, phone the host and ask?

The English tend to like a bit of Côtes du Rhône (to my FIL’s horror), and pay well over the odds in the UK for bottles which would be relegated to the bottom shelf in any French supermarket. In a gastro-pub in Yorkshire where I recently had a gorgeous meal with my family, the wine, costing about a tenner, turned out to be a vin de table made from ‘a blend of French wines’. The kind of bottle that should have had a screw top and that would be fit only for outdoor consumption by alcoholic clochards in France. Now when in England, I tend to stick to New World wines, because they seem to be far better value for money.

The French, chauvinistic as they can be, do not acknowledge that wine is produced anywhere else in the world but in France. Go into any Nicolas wine shop and have a look around. All the French regions are represented, but you’ll be unlikely to find any Australian, Californian or South African vintages on offer. The only place you might find these would be in a restaurant specialising in food from those countries. I would very much like to perform a ‘pepsi challenge’ type test on the FIL to see whether he can actually tell the difference between an Australian red and a similar French wine. I have my doubts.

Of course, I may be an oenological philistine, but at least I have the excuse of hailing from working-class, ale-swilling Yorkshire stock. The Frog has no such excuse. On a rare occasion where I deigned to cook for some French friends and actually impressed them with my warm goats cheese and pear salad followed by roasted salmon with wild rice (I think they were half expecting boiled meat and baked beans), Frog was dispatched off to get some white wine. As he reached for the corkscrew, our guests caught sight of the label and cried out in horror.

The Frog had bought dessert wine. I don’t think he will ever live that down.

***********************

Chameleon wanted to add the following comment on 20 January 2005 (!), but sadly my anti-spam thingy turns off comments so thoroughly that even I can’t re-activate them again! So here it is:

Perhaps Roland Barthes’ essay Milk and Wine (from the brilliant Mythologies,
originally published in 1957, quotes taken from the 1972 translation) can
shed some light on the phenomenon: “But what is characteristic of France is
that the converting power of wine is never openly presented as an end.
Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in
France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt
as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect
which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of
drinking. The gesture has here a decorative value, and the power of wine is
never separated from its modes of existence”.
And: “(…) an award of good integration is given to whoever is a practicing
wine-drinker: knowing how to drink is a national technique which serves to
qualify the Frenchman, to demonstrate at once his performance, his control
and his sociability. Wine thus gives a foundation for a collective
morality, within which everything is redeemed: true, excesses, misfortunes
and crimes are possible with wine, but never viciousness, treachery or
baseness; the evil it can generate is in the nature of fate and therefore
escapes penalization, it evokes the theatre rather than a basic temperament.
Wine is a part of society because it provides a basis not only for a
morality but also for an environment; it is an ornament in the slightest
ceremonials of French daily life, from the snack (plonk and camembert) to
the feast, from the conversation at the local café to the speech at a formal
dinner. It exalts all climates, of whatever kind: in cold weather, it is
associated with all the images of shade, with all things cool and sparkling.
There is no situation involving some physical constraint (temperature,
hunger, boredom, compulsion, disorientation) which does not give rise to
dreams of wine”.

October 25, 2004

wildlife special: paris

Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaise @ 11:40 am

I sometimes worry that Paris is not the best place for a Tadpole to grow up – polluted air, crotte covered pavements and the lack of a garden being my usual arguments in favour of a move to the countryside. But given the number of wild beasts we spotted together this morning, I’m not so sure she is missing out on too much…

First, when we turned on the light in the bathroom this morning, Tadpole and I disturbed a couple of slinky silverfish who darted without further ado to their diurnal hiding place where the water pipes disappear behind the bath. These shiny little apostrophes are thankfully the only fauna I have observed inside our flat, and I’m not too worried about them, even if they do seem to be resistant to bug spray. They remind me of a record I once owned called Silverfish and Scrambled Eggs, which is the only reason I know what a silverfish looks like.

Upon opening the shutters of the Tadpole’s bedroom, we marvelled at the sight of a common city pigeon in all its glory defecating on the balcony. Tadpole now thinks these birds are called ‘dirty buggers’. Note to self: must really make an effort to rein in my tongue as she now repeats everything I say.

During our walk to the childminder’s house, which involves cutting across the Buttes Chaumont park, we saw a crow (or possibly a raven, either way it was very sinister looking), some blackbirds, more pigeons, along with much greenish grey evidence of their presence, and some sparrows. Several different breeds of dogs out were also out walking their owners, prompting cries of ‘woof woof’ and ‘wee wee’ and ‘caca’ from the Tadpole.

As we neared the lake, brandishing a chunk of rather solid baguette left over from the previous day, we saw all manner of birds, geese and ducks. According to the park’s website these include black headed gulls, moorhens, black swans, green collared (?) ducks and ragtails. All I know is that some of the duck type things we encountered were rather large and not in the least bit shy, so the Tadpole remained in the safety of the pushchair while I attempted to break the bread into pieces and avoid being pecked to death by impatient and aggressive birds. One poor little duck had to keep dunking his head under the water to avoid a (sea?)gull who kept lunging down at him in an attempt to steal the bread from his beak. When we’d had as much excitement as we could handle, we left the park and cut across the front of the town hall to make our way to the childminder’s flat.

A black cat ran across the pavement in front of us as we neared the bakery. I stopped to contemplate buying a sinful pain aux raisins to combat that Monday feeling, but after seeing a cockroach take a leisurely stroll along the glass topped cake counter, I thought better of it. There’s no point eating one if you have to inspect every single sultana.

Finally, after dropping off Tadpole, out of the corner of my eye I saw a mouse streaking across the tracks as the metro approached. And to round things off nicely, I was bitten on the ankle by a pesky metro mosquito.

David Attenborough eat your heart out.

October 22, 2004

make mine a pint

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 12:26 pm

I’ve got that Friday feeling. A British voice inside my head insists that Fridays are for going out after work and letting a couple of beers turn into a full-on night out (with compulsory junk food finale). Saturday nights are for getting on your glad rags and drinking too much again. Sundays should be spent nursing multiple hangovers and indulging in a curative cholestorol fest of English breakfast.

None of the above really work in Paris. First things first, the curative breakfast (because if you have been paying attention, you can’t fail to have noticed that I’m somewhat food-obsessed): what the French call ‘bacon’ is thinly cut round pieces of bacony ham which are not intended for cooking. And you can’t really make a good fry up with lardons (cubes of bacon). So a fry-up as an antidote to alcohol overindulgence is out.

As for Friday drinking with your work colleagues, there appears to be an unwritten rule of social etiquette in this country: thou shalt not mix thy social life with thy work life. I find this is a real pity, because alcohol (even in moderation) can break down so many barriers, and seeing your co-workers socially gives you a chance to get to know them as people. But unless there is an official company pot to celebrate someone’s promotion or give them a send off, it’s pretty hard to get the French involved in any after work drinking. This is one of the reasons why most of my friends tend to be anglo-saxons, with the odd French alcoholic thrown in.

Now for the drinking part. Drinking is done differently in France. Most people don’t go out drinking with the sole aim of getting drunk. You might go to a bar for a couple of drinks and a chat, but as drinks are served at your table, you will drink less whether you like it or not as it’s impossible to get the skinny, aloof and overworked waitresses’ attention. Drinks are prohibitively expensive in bars and restaurants, which doesn’t help matters. You do tend to take your time over 25cl of lager when it has cost you four euros. In any event you are unlikely to spend a whole evening with French people just drinking. It is far more likely that you’ll have an apéro together before a meal, or a drink afterwards.

Turning to the glad rags, most of the bars I frequent(ed) are full of people dressed very casually. Before you don that cheeky little number from Miss Selfridge which shows swathes of bare flesh, note that the sleazy single men propping up the bar will treat you as if you have a ‘desperate to get laid’ sticker on your forehead and you will spend the evening fighting off their unwelcome advances (“tu as des beaux yeux, tu sais..”). Safer to stick with something understated, preferably in black.

Finally, if you are female then you should be aware that drinking to excess is considered very unfeminine in this country. I have, on occasion, mostly in situations where alcohol was flowing freely at a party in someone’s apartment, made something of a spectacle of myself by drinking like an English person and getting what I would describe as ‘moderately lairy’. The Frog promptly marched me off the premises and still refers to such episodes several years later. I’m not saying this is fair or right (it’s blatant sexism and makes my blood boil), but like it or not, that is the way things are here.

So, if I can’t shake this Friday feeling, I’ll have no option but to hop on a Eurostar after work. Anyone fancy a couple of pints?

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