petite anglaise

December 27, 2004

death by stapler

Filed under: french touch, missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:42 pm

Christmas hasn’t happened for me yet.

It matters not how expensive the foie gras, nor how crisp and chilled the champagne. These things do not Christmas make. I am painfully aware of this fact after spending a profoundly unfestive weekend at the In Laws’ place.

The Frog is an only child, and this means that around the dinner table on Christmas Eve(ning), when Christmas dinner traditionally takes place in France, were Mr Frog, his parents and I. Tadpole was sleeping. No festive decorations adorned the table, and dinner was, quite frankly, nothing special. Either MIL is losing her touch, or I am not quite so easily impressed as in days gone by when Mr Frog and I first met. The foie gras lacked gros sel to sprinkle on top, the salmon looked rather forlorn without a marinade, or at the very least a wedge of lemon. Main course was a minuscule caille (guineau fowl) and there were no vegetables, only salad. I don’t think the EVILs are fond of the traditional French yule log dessert, bûche, so there was a rather bland ice cream version.

The FIL proudly uncorked his bottle of Pauillac Grand Cru Classé and proceeded to steer the conversation on a familiar tour of all the usual subjects: why Mr Frog and I need to find time to do some sport, why we need to buy a flat immediately, why we shouldn’t go on a wintersun holiday because skiing holidays are healthier, repeat to fade… Any controversial statement was backed up with ‘I saw it on the telly the other day’. Mention of television made me think wistfully of Eastenders’ double bills and other UK delights I would be missing.

Mr Frog manages to remain unruffled as his father tells us to how to live every aspect of our lives. I on the other hand, emboldened by a few glasses of claret, tend to get quite defensive and irritated. Pray tell how Mr Frog is supposed to find time to go a gym when he works 14 hour days and rarely sees Tadpole and I as it is? How can an armchair traveler who has never taken a plane and rarely left France tell me what to do with my precious holiday time? On the subject of buying an apartment, I do agree with him on the necessity to buy sometime soon, except I’d like an attractive flat in an old building, similar to the one we currently rent, and FIL would like to see us in a functional, characterless 70’s block of flats.

The meal was rounded off nicely with the exchanging of gifts. Mr Frog had virtually nothing to unwrap, as he had not yet made up his mind exactly which bag he wanted me to buy for him (a posh rucksack, not a French manbag, I hasten to add), nor which ski gloves he wanted his mum to buy (to keep his hands warm when traveling to work on his Vespa).

I, on the other hand, was spoiled rotten. I am now the proud owner of a waterproof poncho and an electric stapler.


Okay. I’ll admit that I have been saying to Mr Frog for quite some time that it is impossible to steer a pushchair and hold an umbrella at the same time, meaning that ferrying Tadpole to and from the childminder’s place in inclement weather can be rather a moistening experience. But there are some things which are just too practical and boring to be given as Christmas gifts. Surely? As for the electric stapler (pink, batteries not included), well, words fail me. The last thing I need on my desk at work is something to remind me that MIL is going a bit loopy as retirement beckons. Mr Frog has one too (blue) and is as perplexed about this choice of gift as I.

Perhaps it can be used as a weapon?

Dear Mum,

I may have criticised your Christmas dinners on occasion (I am referring specifically to my comment that it was ‘a glorified Sunday lunch’, whereas French Christmas dinner was more elegant and refined) but I now take it all back. I’d prefer your overcooked meat, roast potatoes and lashings of veggies any day. No matter how much bickering there might be between my sisters and I, no matter how tipsy dad will get, this weekend has brought home to me forcefully that you lot are what Christmas is all about for me.

Can’t wait to see you all tomorrow!


December 17, 2004

blind indifference

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:19 am

If I tell you that prior to reading an article in Libération this morning, I had not realised David Blunkett was actually blind, would you believe me?

I had seen references to guide dogs in other blogs and just assumed that they were figurative. Clearly I will not be re-inventing myself as ‘petite pundit’ any time soon.

What I think this illustrates, apart from my own ignorance, is that after almost a decade of living outside the motherland, I feel increasingly detached from certain aspects of British life. I read the Guardian when I have time, but most articles about UK domestic politics leave me indifferent. I do still vote in UK elections, or rather my mother does on my behalf, but clearly I am not directly affected by laws being passed, so it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to get worked up about British politics.

Ironically, unless I persuade the Frog to marry me (no change on that front) and apply for French nationality, I am unlikely to ever be able to vote in France, where Tadpole will be educated and where I have been paying taxes ever since I got my first ‘proper’ job. As an EU citizen I can (and probably should) vote in European Parliament elections. For what it’s worth. I could theoretically also vote in French municipal elections, and actually do something about Parisian problems like fouling pooches rather than just ranting about them on this blog. But in France to get on the electoral roll for the following year, you have to get yourself down to the town hall with a pile of paperwork, on a weekday, before 31 December. I have never managed to get round to this. Largely because I cannot afford to waste one of my precious days off on a close encounter of the third kind with a French fonctionnaire.

I must confess that I read the article about Blunkett today in the metro because it was entitled ‘Love Affaire’. Nothing like the prospect of a good scandal to hold my attention. As usual, the French journalist marvelled at the fact that English politicians frequently resign over seemingly minor scandals about their personal lives or isolated instances of alleged corruption, which wouldn’t cause anyone on this side of the Channel to bat an eyelid.

“Une pure comédie ‘people’ comme seule la Grande-Bretagne sait en concocter. Un drame personnel qui s’est transformé en affaire d’Etat, au nom de trois ou quatres fautes de conduite qui ne feraient pas une brève en France.”

The journalist goes on to say that in France for a politician to be accused of corruption he would need to have gone on numerous luxury holidays paid in cash and have several fictitious employees on his payroll.

Which tells me everything I need to know about where my hard earned taxes are going.

November 24, 2004

a nice bit of crumpet

Filed under: miam, missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:35 pm

The 22nd of December 2001 was a black day for English expats in Paris: Marks and Spencer finally closed down their Paris Haussmann and Rivoli branches.

In a last desperate bid to stock up on crumpets, English breakfast tea and mature cheddar I braved the closing day 40%-off-sale hordes. Anarchy reigned. Protestors were making their anger felt by tearing the wrappers off triangle sandwiches in the food hall and scoffing them without paying. The clothes section looked like a jumble sale. Extra security guards had reportedly been taken on for the day to keep the peace.

Once the store closed, I began to fully comprehend what I had lost. Never again when feeling a bit low or homesick could I turn to English comfort foods like toasted teacakes and hot cross buns to munch in front of Eastenders. There were to be no more properly spiced chicken biryani ready meals. Crispy duck with pancakes, plum sauce and a side order of crispy seaweed was a thing of the past. (Parisian Chinese restaurants don’t seem to serve this, my favourite dish, more’s the pity.) Rice pudding, custard, cheddar and stilton were definitively off the menu. I would have to learn to recover from hangovers without the help of a bacon and tomato ketchup sandwich.

When I first moved to Paris, I started off terribly enthusiastic about all things French. Thus I watched the French terrestrial TV channels, read only (terribly serious) French novels, and ate 100% French food. As the months stretched into years and it was clear that France was to be my permanent home I started to crave a bit of English food, English language literature and television programmes. Nowadays I have gone to the opposite extreme and watch exclusively English/American films and TV programmes on cable TV (apart from the odd good French programme on Canal+ like ‘+Clair’ or ’90 minutes’) and order English/American fiction via Amazon. I watch Eastenders religiously every night, even when it is going through a bad patch. I read Heat magazine when I can lay my hands on it (even though I’ve never seen the English version of any of the reality shows they harp on about ad nauseam). In my former life in the UK I wouldn’t have been seen dead reading a gossip mag and I didn’t follow Eastenders. I suppose I clutch at any Englishness I can get my hands on these days.

Don’t get me wrong, my love affair with France is by no means over. I just missed my English side a little bit. Especially during the period where I worked for Franco-French companies and spoke only French all day long. My Englishness is an important part of who I am, and I want to preserve it.

And I feel the best way to cultivate this is by eating crumpets and drinking tea.

November 15, 2004

unhappy shopper

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:44 pm

I did most of my Christmas shopping in the UK this weekend.

This has less to do with the fact that I am arguably the most organised lady in the Northern Hemisphere, and more to do with yuletide hazards such as overshooting airline baggage allowances and dislocating shoulders. I am thoroughly fed up with only being able to buy lightweight, non-breakable presents for my family and then having to cart them across the Channel for our Christmas visit to Yorkshire. This weekend for a four day stay in the UK with Tadpole (but sans Frog) the unwieldy bag weighed in at a healthy 15 kilos. As usual, I only had a couple of changes of underwear, the rest belonging to Tadpole. Steering the pushchair with one hand upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, we then proceeded to do 2 laps around circular terminal 1 (one clockwise lap inside the baggage hall, followed by an anti-clockwise lap outside to reach the taxi ranks) during which I could feel my right shoulder straining to leap out of its socket.

A mound of presents is currently residing (wrapped and labelled, so I don’t forget which is which) at the parental home. But certain aspects of Christmas shopping in the UK made the experience rather less pleasurable than I had hoped.

Firstly, in a trend which seems to be worsening every year, the high street shops have given over the lion’s share of their floorspace to ‘Christmas tat’: arrays of shiny, nasty looking gift boxes, with a pink aisle for the ladies and a black/silver/navy aisle for the gentlemen. You would have to be so uninspired to buy one of these items: everything screams ‘I don’t know you/like you very much/give a toss and I have no imagination.’ But, irritatingly, these offending items were of course occupying the very floorspace where the very thing I was looking for should have been. And was no longer as it has clearly gone into temporary hibernation. Grrr.

In the unlikely event that I did manage to find what I was looking for, I then had trouble paying for it. The UK has finally got around to introducing a chip and pin system, in an attempt to curb credit card fraud. My French (debit) cards all have chips on them (in French such a card is called a carte à puce, as puce means ‘flea’ and ‘dearest’ but also ‘microchip’) and I can’t remember a time since I’ve lived here when this system was not in operation.

But here’s the snag: the UK chip readers don’t read French cards. So inevitably in every shop, the assistant would:

1. try to read the chip with the spanking new card reader
2. get an error message
3. look very puzzled*
4. try again
5. scratch his/her head
6. (optional) ask for another (French) card
before 7. eventually swiping the first card successfully in the old style reader and obtaining my signature.

Explaining that I had encountered the same problem five minutes earlier on a different floor of the very same shop did not speed up the process at all. Instead of proceeding directly to step 7, they just continued to perform the same elaborate ritual. On one instance my card did not function at all and I was obliged to go to the nearest cashpoint and withdraw cash (which of course my French bank will enjoy charging me extra for). In the face of such adversity I had to be very motivated indeed to complete my shopping marathon undeterred. Which is where all the junk food snacks listed in the ‘post’ below came in handy.

The remainder of my Christmas shopping will take place in classy Parisian shops with a backdrop of a bare minimum of tacky Christmas displays and a free gift wrapping service. Vive la France!

Now all I have to do is work out a cunning strategy for transporting all the Christmas presents we will receive in the UK from our extended family (mostly large toys for Tadpole) back to France again. We have a 50 kilo baggage allowance between us and are staying for a week.

Something tells me I will have to make a noble sacrifice and manage without a change of underwear…

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