petite anglaise

May 2, 2005

insecurities reunited

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:21 pm

I’m going back to university.

Only for a weekend, but I’m so very excited about the prospect of going back that I don’t know how I’m going to contain myself until July.

It will be an informal reunion, bringing together a few modern linguists, ’95 millésime, and anyone else they fancy inviting, and when an email was forwarded to me, I surprised myself with my own enthusiasm. Two hours later I had an alumni number, a room reserved in halls with the rest of the gang, had cajoled my boss into signing my holiday form and booked some flights. Only then did it occur to me to ask Mr Frog if he minded being left alone with Tadpole for three days.

Apparently ten years is about the time when most of us start to hanker after some sort of reunion, so the timing is spot on. The people I am most looking forward to seeing are actually those I have been in semi-regular contact with all along, but I don’t get to spend time with them as often or for as long as I would like, distance and motherhood not permitting. So I can’t wait to reminisce over a few drinks and revisit some of our old haunts. I want to soak up the atmosphere of this place where I spent what I fondly remember as the happiest years of my youth. I want to pretend, just for a couple of days, that I am in my early twenties again. It’s a shame I haven’t hung onto any of my college clothes. It would have been amusing to show up in my blue doc martens with beads strung on the laces. My tastes have evolved a little since my indie, student grant thrift shop days however and many things have been given to the Red Cross (to Mr Frog’s relief).

There will be many other former students present who I literally haven’t see in a decade, since graduation day itself. I’m sure I’ll recognise them all, and they me, but I haven’t the faintest idea who and what they have become.

I will have to perfect a potted resumé of the last ten years. Let me see:

“I taught at the Sorbonne Nouvelle for a couple of years, as a lectrice. Adamant that I wanted to stay on in Paris, but not exactly bitten by the teaching bug, I went back to the UK for a few months and returned armed with a bilingual secretarial diploma (and a London Chamber of Commerce gold medal for best ‘oral’ in the country – which I think is in my underwear drawer somewhere). My glittering PA career has taken me from investment bank to internet startup to luxury goods empire to current position of wicked blog-idleness. I moved in with Mr Frog eight years ago and we have an adorable little Tadpole who will be two years old in June.”

What I will probably do, knowing me, is look shifty and defensive and mutter under my breath that I’m “just a secretary”, brandishing a picture of my daughter as proof that I have done something meaningful with my life. I will have to work on not being visibly overwhelmed with jealousy as I hear about glamorous jobs in the wine trade, in film production or the diplomatic service. Of course, depending on how many drinks I have knocked back in order to steady my nerves, I may just grunt, or content myself with eavesdropping from my vantage point under the table.

I have touched on this subject before. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I do. Most days I enjoy it, actually. My only goal, upon finishing my education, was to live and breathe French. What I would actually do for a living was by the by. But I can’t quite shake off the guilt I feel about not having ‘fulfilled my potential’ in some way. I was always a swotty, straight-A student, fiercely competitive, constantly striving to be top of the class from pre-school to college. My schoolteachers predicted great things and encouraged me to aim high. But at the end of the day, I realised that being top of the class had been my only real goal; it had been an end in itself, not a means to achieve some higher purpose in the long-term.

Most of the time I don’t give this subject a second thought. But the prospect of meeting all these high achievers has reminded me how much I detest reading Friends Reunited. You remember that girl at school who was more interested in boys than actually doing any work? Who barely scraped through her GCSE’s? Who was spotted at L’s 16th birthday party having sex standing up against the front of the house, and then, later again on the swing in the back garden (with a different partner)?

We predicted that in a couple of years she’d be pushing a pram around Bell Farm council estate, hair pulled back into a Croydon face lift.

She’s a bank manager now.


  1. Well you’re top of the blogs and you got featured in a BBC montage. You can stand up tall and straight if you come up against anyone who’s gone into journalism. You’re having an exciting foreign life. You’ve got tadpole. I think these successful career types probably all live in grim little suburbs and wonder what they could’ve done if they’d been courageous like you.

    Comment by Satsuma — May 2, 2005 @ 12:30 pm

  2. I think what you expressed is a very honest analysis of a taken path, and a very subtle expression of mixed feelings and emotions. Et chacun cherche son chat, isn’t it ?

    Comment by stephan — May 2, 2005 @ 1:04 pm

  3. She’s a bank manager, and you, you managed to get what you wanted, live and breath French. You have a bilingual child, to whom you have transmitted the greatest ability of all, being able to enjoy two very different cultures. You succeeded in trapping the best type of man on earth, a lovely French bloke. You are a talented writer, having an impact on hundreds of peoples’ life. At least you have one on mine, between 9:30 and 10:00, when I go round my favorite blogs.

    Comment by Mimile — May 2, 2005 @ 1:19 pm

  4. Did the 20-year anniversary of O-levels in 2001. I’ve never known such an atmosphere of fear mixed with excitement and bitterness. I know school and uni are different, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, but I won’t be going to another one. It was like a dream where you’re in a room with all the people you were at school with, only they’re older. And I found out that there is a reason why I’m still in touch with some and not with others. I think I won some kind of underachievement award. Which was nice. What shocked me about my uni colleagues was how few did anything whatsoever to do with their languages. I think you’ll be quite the celeb!

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — May 2, 2005 @ 1:43 pm

  5. “best ‘oral’ in the country”??


    Oh, you mean *that* sort of oral…

    What’s so good about being a bank manager?

    I know exactly what you mean about Friends Reunited though.

    Some of my contemporaries are diplomats, actresses, TV producers, TV presenters…

    You have done what you set out to do – I’m sure there are plenty of people who are envious of your life in France. (psst, I’m one of them…)

    And the way you’re going, you’ll be a columnist in a glossy magazine or a famous author before long – look how popular your blog is!

    Comment by witho — May 2, 2005 @ 1:44 pm

  6. When you think of yourself and your life, are you happy? Because it seems to me it really is the only thing that matters… Right?

    Comment by Anne — May 2, 2005 @ 2:01 pm

  7. Du calme, my friend! I bet they will all be dead jealous. The former skank (pardon my french) may be a bank manager, but does she stroll through Paris and pick up a fresh baguette on the way home? Please, even I can see the faint green glow to the northwest from here. ;)

    Comment by ViVi — May 2, 2005 @ 2:08 pm

  8. I too am a *lowly* bilingual secretary/PA and I agree that some mentally file us alongside women who are *just* Mums. But these roles are are both big and clever (or so I tell myself), so be proud! Emphasis the living in Paris with sexy Frenchman thing, that sounds pretty glamorous, and of course the best oral in the country, which is bound to interest the blokes… in fact stay with the blokes – much easier to impress – and remember that everyone else will be bigging up their lives too!

    Comment by l'autre — May 2, 2005 @ 2:09 pm

  9. Insecurities, Petite? My God, perhaps you are only human after all! I’m sure you’ll have such fun seeing your old friends again. You can also truthfully claim to be a freelance journalist.

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — May 2, 2005 @ 2:21 pm

  10. It’s all relative. If social recognition truly mattered to you, you’d be a bank manager, I guess. I gave up a “career” teaching university because I was surrounded by miserable people who were making me miserable. Doing so made me realize there are only jobs, no more careers anyway, and I’d rather actually effect change through volunteering and working in non-profits.

    But more importantly–and if the voice of authority matters, I was a professor of English literature–you are a fantastic writer. You simply operate in a different medium. So if you’re feeling insecure, just tell them that!

    Comment by Lisa — May 2, 2005 @ 2:24 pm

  11. Mmm, I don’t think I can be bothered to explain what blogs are to people who are uninitiated..

    Thank you for saying nice things – I wasn’t fishing though. I’m interested to see if everyone else gets all jealous of their peers and how your school/uni reunions have gone, if you had any?

    Comment by petite — May 2, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  12. At my 10th reunion I was very concerned about my resume of accomplishments.

    At my 20th reunion I was very concerned about my accomplishments and those of my children.

    What mattered, you may find yourself asking?

    Oh my God! Did you see L? She was such a skank in high school and now she’s the size of a house. Did you hear about C? He married the art teacher! Wait, there she is! What do we call her now?

    And the guys will be all like, check out Petite! I had such a crush on her, but I was totally not in her league.

    You’ll be fine. :)

    Comment by Bob — May 2, 2005 @ 2:52 pm

  13. I went to my 10-year high school reunion five years ago and–yuk! It was like being back in high school again, except without the few people I was actually friends with. There was almost no one there I wanted to see, or who wanted to see me.

    I know what you mean about doing well in school as an end in itself. I always thought that since I got good grades, I must be smart. Finally I realized that what I was, was good at school. Being good at life is a completely different thing, and not always related.

    Sorry this is not as upbeat as other responses but I had a rough weekend. I just started reading your blog last week and expect to continue as long as you keep writing it. Best wishes to you, Tadpole, and Mr. F.

    Comment by Karen — May 2, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

  14. First off, in my job, if I have to make contact with a company or an embassy or whatever, it is total utter and complete waste of my time to speak to the person whose fancy job title and corner office says they are in charge. It is the PA or the secretary (regardless of title) who knows everything, does everything, makes final decisions on how things will be done around here and so on.

    Second, although school is a fairly recent open wound, I empathise wholeheartedly with your friends reunited aversion. I posted to it saying I was at uni in America, and the headmaster’s son, who was a wanker at school and is, it seems, a wanker still, posted a very snarky reply about being sorry I didn’t get into a “real university”. I fight every day against the prejudice that people who leave Britain to go to university in America were too thick for a British uni.

    The bilan? Never let other people stop you being proud of who you are. Especially if they’re wankers.

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — May 2, 2005 @ 3:14 pm

  15. Just tell them the truth. You’re a very successful writer.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — May 2, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

  16. you are so clever!!!!
    i can see you going off to your reunion with all these wonderful compliments in your head,or printed!!lol
    and you can rightly say that you are adored and ‘read’ by hundreds!!
    p.s what is a croydon facelift hairstyle like?
    Mary 9cube

    Comment by mary — May 2, 2005 @ 3:46 pm

  17. it’s when your hair is pulled back into a really tight pony tail

    Comment by petite — May 2, 2005 @ 3:54 pm

  18. I have never been to a reunion (yet) and I dread it in all the ways you mention. But even more so because I can’t be bothered trying to re-mould everybody else’s idea of success for me.

    I too did the being good at school for school’s sake. I went to a good university. I ended up doing a PhD (the doing is not quite done). Everybody else seems to have these grand plans for my intellectual flowering. But I can see myself very happily settled in the middle of nowhere in France, with my froggy legs and eventual tadpoles. I would never give up work, but I imagine my work will wildly miss other people’s “success” mark. At the end of the day, nothing can be more successful than being happy…and I have too many “high-achieving” friends who are leaving that one until later.

    Comment by pixiek — May 2, 2005 @ 4:28 pm

  19. I still hang out with the same people, how sad is that ? ;)

    More seriously the 10 year reunion was fun,in a slightly pathetic way…

    It’s always about the grass being greener on the other side,being a manager is sort of boring anyway (la preuve je commente au boulot)

    and you know what Kundera says about having kids ? “procreer, c’est l’acte artistique de création par excellence”


    Comment by stephan — May 2, 2005 @ 5:16 pm

  20. I’ll be off to my 25th university reunion next month, along with several millionaires and presidents of large corporations. I haven’t worked full-time in 20 years, and don’t even have a (paying) job now. I figure it’s MY life–they don’t have to like it.

    Comment by Bluegrass Mama — May 2, 2005 @ 7:26 pm

  21. I’ve not been to any reunions, because I have other things to do, like wash my hair. My classmates were hardly any fun, or very original, for that matter. The skank L, yeah, she IS wandering around with a pram. And you’re living in France.

    You won’t end up hanging out with the people you don’t know, you seem too smart for that. Enjoy the friends you still communicate with and laugh. That’s all that’s worth anything, anyway.


    Comment by Estelle — May 2, 2005 @ 8:05 pm

  22. Sometimes when I read in the alumni newsletter about all my classmates from my “grande ecole de commerce”, their job titles or the kind of money they make, I can’t help thinking I’ve wasted the energy I spent on classe preparatoire and the money my parents spent to fund a part of that. Not to mention my promising 4 years as a consultant in a big firm in Paris.
    But on other days, I think how lucky I am to look at the Auckland harbour on my 15 min trip to work, about being able to work in an English environment (it’s always been something I wanted to do), how fun is my underpaid job in TV. I wouldn’t change back for my 70 hour a week highly paid consulting job I had in Paris, getting systematically deppressed at the La Defense Towers sight…
    Each person has to find its own way and it’s the little things we do every day that make us happy, not some bloody perception of our status in society or the money on our bank account.

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — May 3, 2005 @ 5:44 am

  23. Reunions are not my cup of tea. It’s interesting though what you say about high achievers! Those who were the ‘swotty, straight-A students’ in school often turn out to be, what some may perceive as, ‘underachievers’. Horrible word that! There was a study done some years ago in India that came to this very conclusion. I wonder why this should be the case. Any ideas?

    Comment by Omykiss — May 3, 2005 @ 5:58 am

  24. An international job of any kind trumps any job located in your own country. I’m sure of that.

    Comment by Sarah — May 3, 2005 @ 6:44 am

  25. In answer to Omykiss I think perhaps the intelligence they show at school allows them to have the sense to turn away from jobs they might do for the sake of status. Or maybe academic intelligence just isn’t life intelligence.

    Comment by Satsuma — May 3, 2005 @ 10:01 am

  26. I agree with Maurine. Social “achievements” are so overrated to me. What matters is finding out who you are and want to be, building your own personality, regardless of what people think. If impressing other people with their high responsability and overly paid jobs floats their boats, all for the better, but it won’t in any case make them better persons.

    I remember that,while I studied in my “grande école d’ingénieurs”, there were guys who would suck major ass but would find out sneaky ways to eventually gettheir diplomas. These guys now have very good jobs, but that just means they’re cunning and know how to talk to people into getting what they want. In no way, this means to me these are great executives. They’re impostors. Like many many other executives.

    This is how it is in France, the biggest part of executives (I’m not talking about high executives though) are people who thought it was vital to them to get such a job and fought and found a way to get it.

    You don’t have to be like that! Remember that there’s only one thing who will continue throughout your life and it’s who you are inside. If you’re happy with it, then whatever happens, whatever job you have, whatevr friends you have, you’ll be proud of who you are.
    (dude, I wonder if I could post a comment longer than your post itself)

    Comment by shellorz — May 3, 2005 @ 12:18 pm

  27. it has been done, shellorz!

    When Chameleon gets started, she can blow my posts away altogether.

    Comment by petite — May 3, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

  28. oh!
    just read your answa to my vital hairstyle question and realised that today i am ‘sporting’ a croydon facelift!!i thought that i looked chic!!!does it count if one is very well dressed and not blond? and that the pony is worn slightly to the left? i’m really worried that all the expat/petite anglaise readers whom i cross or have crossed in paris or elsewhere, have and will snigger!!
    but i was born in sutton not croydon!! sniff sniff!!

    Comment by mary — May 3, 2005 @ 1:01 pm

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