Dear friends, it’s been 6 months since my last blog-fession.
Why the radio silence, you ask? There’s no interesting answer other than I’ve been busy testing out this working-mother life here in Paris and navigating a series of challenges that are typical of, let’s face it, living. Here’s what I’ve been up to.
My last blog post was full of wondering and ponderings about work…now I know. I’m busy! Feeling pulled in all directions! Running from A to B to C and watching the washing pile up and the fridge empty itself and my meal planning well, go out the window. How do you working mamas do it? Delegate? Frozen meals? Freak out? Or simply accept said challenge and get on with it?
I’m working as an English language teacher; splitting my time between medical English and business English. I enjoy both, but I have to say it has been SO GOOD talking shop with the med students and gaining some insight into the medical world here in France. Teaching grammar is the hardest part. Before doing my ELT (English Language Teaching) course, I didn’t even know what an irregular verb was. Evidently, learning has made up a big present perfect chunk of my year so far.
The New Year in Europe is not quite the fresh new beginning it is in the the southern hemisphere. One reason is that the school/work year started back in September. People are tired, overworked and fighting le grippe (the flu). It’s hard to feel all shiny and new when January is cold, wet, slippery and sad. But now it’s February and winter’s end is near (and climate change has brought the blossoms early again) so we can whisper, “le printemps va bientôt arriver”. Spring is coming soon.
My dear feisty and wonderful Granny died just before Christmas. She lived a full life and died without pain, for which we are all extremely grateful. But I wasn’t there, and that was hard. Additionally (but not secondarily), my mum has had a serious health scare which we are still in the process of navigating. It was with good reason I went to Melbourne and spent some time with her last month. While the reasons for the trip weren’t the best, I have to say it was SO LOVELY to be “home”. To soak up the company of loved ones and some of that delicious but shoulder-scalding sun. I left the kids in Paris with Chris, so it was just meeeee and I felt freeeeee. I managed to join in on a surprise 40th for one of my BFF’s and while doing so, consume about 100 champagnes in the space of an afternoon. It’s what we do. I think I was compensating for all the parties I’ve missed in the last 3 years, and now it’s as if I never left!
*I’m allowed to say Champagne even though it was Prosecco because duh, Straya.
My French is suffering because not only do I speak English every minute of my personal life, I also get paid small but highly taxable amounts to…… SPEAK ENGLISH. One saving grace has been my gym membership. I’m now very familiar with gym themed imperatives such as “gardez les abdos”, “en bas, en haut, en bas, en haut “ (up, down and so on) and “allez plus loin” (go further, deeper).
I’ve spent more hours than I would ever care to count on administrative tasks associated with being a non-EU resident on a special conditions-laden visa who wants to work. I’ve been navigating the health claims system. The tax system. The foreign ministry. The French public university human resources system (this is the most complicated one of the lot). La Poste. Please France, make it stop.
Les Gilets Jaunes
The yellow-vested folk have made headlines around the world. They march, they yell, they throw stuff, burn stuff. The police/army chase them away with tear gas. They do it every Saturday. The numbers are getting smaller every week and it seems that while there is widespread support for their cause (they can’t get ahead, too many taxes, bills are too high, Macron needs to go etc), I haven’t heard much support for the violence. However, I read a very insightful article by a young French writer Édouard Louis who has been making waves here since his debut novel; an autobiographical story documenting his tough upbringing in the northern suburbs of France. It helped me better understand the situation. That said it will always be very difficult to understand how destroying other people’s property and businesses can ever be justified.
Have we been affected? No, not really. We live in a very socially mixed corner of the 17th district just near the edge of the city. Our street is an unlikely target, and is certainly not on the marching trail. But I know a lot of people who live right in the firing line with cars burning on their streets, cars getting shaken (while they’re in it) and things like that.
On one of the most violent days, Chris was (some would say naively, stupidly) out trying to run errands on the Champs Elysées. He ended up seeing a car explode and ran away (after getting a video of course). I’ve heard many first hand accounts of tear gas getting in kids eyes. One weekend the streets were dead andmany parks and shops were closed. We decided to escape to Normandy for the weekend to get some peace. On the way home we scored a free trip on through pèage (road tolls) thanks to the gilets jaunes. They were clapping and whooping and cheering us through. The armed guards were right behind them, quietly in support of their right to protest (or so it seemed). I do believe that many of them are really in it to fight the good fight, it’s just a shame they haven’t been clear on what they want and what they represent. There is now a lot of infighting too which makes it even less productive. But the banks board up their shop fronts for protection every weekend anyway.
The legal system
Oh, another challenge, one that I’ve dared not mention on here before because it angers me. We have been in a long running legal stoush with the owners of our previous apartment who tricked me into signing a document and then filled it out it with false information and refused to give me a copy. This caused us to lose an unusually large rental deposit (2 months worth of rent is standard for a furnished apartment). They said we destroyed the property. We didn’t.
So we took them to court, and so far, we are sort of “winning” but we will in no way recuperate our costs or the money we lost. It was a case of blindly putting trust in a very untrustworthy system. I tell you, living in a foreign country is not easy sometimes. Sometimes I wonder how hard it must be for the foreigners who don’t get the support we get (as expats). Less money, less connections, less education, bigger culture shock and possibility a traumatic immigration….please people be kind to new arrivals in Australia. The lucky country owes people that much.
The kids are both perfectly fluent in French and equal to their native peers in terms of language. Euan is getting big and tall and I mourn the tiny baby he once was. But I adore watching him grow. He does judo and English; he prefers English. He’s good at doing his work but his behaviour in class often results in a red stamp and a sad face. Ah France. My beautiful boy. I love you and I wish I was better at recording our lives because I want to keep every moment forever. You are perfect. Hazel is doing well in school and growing quickly. She’s my gorgeous little shadow. I’m not sure what I did to deserve her love but thank you universe, I feel like THE CHOSEN ONE. She’s been asking questions that I can’t answer like: how does the printer know when to print? How does music come out of the radio? How do babies get made? How do they get out? How can we see Nana on the phone when she’s in Australia? When can I wear just a dress again instead of coats and gloves and hats? That one my dear, I can answer; C’est bientôt le printemps ma fille.
Challenge number one thousand and one; friends leaving Paris. You know who you are.
So that’s it for me at the moment folks. What have you been up to? What’s your take on Les Gilets Jaunes? How do you juggle work and family? Do you live far from home like me? Let’s talk.