Friday, 29 August 2014

Saying goodbye

As an expat, saying "Goodbye" is part of my every day life. Sadly it doesn't get any easier, and I'm not really good at it.

The first few years of my "Irish life", I had to say "Goodbye" a lot. If you're a foreigner in this country, you will understand straight away. The first parties I went to were "Leaving parties". The first people I met, the first friends I made, all left one after the other. Most of them were foreigners like myself. At the beginning it didn't matter too much. I was there for the experience, I wanted to meet as many people as possible and to be honest, getting to know people from all over the world and discovering new cultures was (and still is) very rewarding. I kept in touch with some friends, and forgot a lot of them as well. Saying "Goodbye" was part of the deal really, and I got used to it. 

I got so used to it that I started to feel more and more detached and I didn't want to work that hard at maintaining a friendship. After all, everybody was going to leave so was there even a point? After about 3 years in Ireland, I realised I was here to stay so I decided to stop getting involved too much with other expats. We had Irish friends anyway, and that's what mattered to me. At least they were going to stay and it was easier to build a more sustainable friendship with locals. Don't get me wrong, I still have foreign friends, but they are long term expats like me. And I know they're here to stay, at least for a while. I have very good friends who lived in Ireland for a few years but went back home and it truly broke my heart to see them go. Saying "Goodbye" to them was hard. Very hard. But life goes on, right? They are still my friends, just like the ones from my home town. We don't see each other often, but when we do, it's like they never left. 

Saying "goodbye" after a holiday home is a bit different. I usually try to make it as quick as possible, like a plaster you pull out in one go, so it doesn't hurt too much. I remember the first time Fabrice went home to Mauritius after 3 years in Ireland. The last evening we spent with his family was so emotional I cried as well (even though I only knew them for 3 weeks...). There was even more crying at the airport. Every time we go there, there's a tears fest when we leave. I know it's because they only see each other every 2 or 3 years. I go home at least once a year, sometimes twice. My sister and my mum come to visit as well so we're not separated for too long. 

But it doesn't make things easier. I'm crap at saying goodbye, even to my best friends. I don't know what to say, except stupid ready-made futilities: "Sure, I'll be back next year", "We keep in touch", "Let me know how you get on", "I'll be grand!", "See you next time"... 
Even when someone leaves at work, and I have to sign a card, I'm so not inspired (which is ironic for someone who writes regularly...).

Today, it was one my colleagues last day. He's going back to his home country after 7 years. And all I could write was : " Best of luck for the future". Lame.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The passport adventure...

As I was reading Vicky's post about how hard it was to get a proper passport picture of her 3-weeks old daughter, it reminded me of our own adventure with Ciaran's passport 6 years ago. Taking the picture was the easy part, obtaining the actual passport was a bit harder.

First of all, I learned that countries have different rules when it comes to citizenship. My kids are automatically entitled to the French citizenship by me. They are also entitled to the Mauritian one by their dad, but we never applied for a passport over there because let's face it, unless they live in Mauritius at some stage, it's not really useful. On top of that, I learned that because they are born outside the country, they can have a Mauritian passport but their own children won't be entitled to Mauritian citizenship (unless they are born in Mauritius or their mother is a Mauritian born there). Crazy isn't it?

So what about Ireland? Well, back in 2005, Irish people voted to change the rules regarding citizenship. Before, every child born in Ireland was entitled to Irish citizenship, but the law changed that. Being foreign nationals, we had to prove that we had lived in Ireland for 3 out of the 4 years previous to the birth of our child so he could claim Irish citizenship. 

In our case, that wasn't a problem because we had been in Ireland for 6 years before I gave birth. Knowing the slowness of the French bureaucracy, and because we had a trip to France planned only 4 weeks after the birth, we decided to get an Irish passport first. We also made the application for the French one, knowing that it would probably not be ready on time.

We went to the Garda station to fill out the application form. As foreign nationals parents, we had to get an extra form filled out. The first part was a declaration signed by both of us, stating that we were residents in the country and the other part had to be completed by a "person of law". We had a choice of who we could ask to sign that form, but the important thing was that he or she had to know us personally. Basically, it had to be someone the State could trust. It included a priest, a teacher, a solicitor, a commissioner for oaths or a peace commissioner. 

I thought that part was a bit strange but, well, I don't make the law and we had to have that form filled out to get the passport. In my stupid mind, I thought the Garda would sign it for us. But when we showed it to the guy at the counter, he said he wasn't qualified to do it. The problem was we needed that passport quickly, so we didn't really have the time to chase a priest or a solicitor. 

"Not a problem!" said the Garda at the station. "I know someone". *Of course you do*

"I'll tell you where to go. Take left as you exit the station and go all the way down the street. Then turn left. Walk straight for  about 50 mtrs and on your left, you'll see a paint shop."

Then he stopped talking.

"OK... The paint shop, and then what?"
"Well, just get in there, the owner is also a peace commissioner, he'll sign the form for you"

We made our way to the paint shop and met the owner, a very nice and helpful man. He signed the form straight away.

"You're supposed to know us personally, what if someone enquires about this?"
"Oh, I'll just tell him that you come here and buy paint regularly!"

This is Ireland at its best, and I just love it.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Channelling my inner French fashionista

Sometimes I feel there is a preconceived idea that all French women are effortlessly stylish and knowledgeable about fashion.

In my case, this couldn't be further from the truth. Contrary to my sister, who is a borderline shopaholic, I don't really like shopping for clothes. And if I have to buy an outfit for a special occasion, I always need someone with me for advice. I'm terrible at knowing if something suits me. My other problem is I usually have such a precise idea of the outfit I want, that I never find exactly what I had in mind and I get frustrated very easily. Yes, I'm pretty much a nightmare when it comes to clothing.

So imagine my surprise when I was invited by Fanny Crown to take part in a fashion blogging contest. They couldn't have picked the worst person participate! But you know what, I'm always up for a challenge. Here's how it works: I had to choose a dress from their massive collection (more than 1500 models!) and explain for which occasion I would wear it and how I would style it. The blogger who comes first wins the chosen dress. That is such a cool prize that I couldn't resist and I have an occasion coming up so the timing couldn't be better. I'm not kidding myself though, I'm probably up against every fashion blogger in the world, so no pressure at all...

Next summer, I will be the bridesmaid for my best friend's wedding. But this won't be an ordinary event. French weddings and Irish are different anyway but this one is the most unusual I will go to. It's a Celtic wedding, the ceremony will take place outdoors and it will be performed by a druid. My friend told me that what is important to her on her special day is to be close to nature. So I wanted to find an outfit that would represent that Celtic vibe, but still be elegant for the occasion.

It only took me 4 hours of browsing the Fannycrown website to finally find the perfect dress! But look at it... The colour is absolutely amazing and I'm usually not fond of green. In this case, the green blends in with the grey and it seems to be changing colour with the light, which would just look fantastic on the day (if it's sunny of course!). I'll definitely be close to nature with all those flowers as well, plus the one I'll have in my hair...

I went Celtic with the jewellery of course and picked simple but gorgeous earrings and matching necklace from St Justin. I used to work for them so I'm not biased at all in saying they have really great Celtic inspired jewellery at affordable prices. The wristband bracelet adds a touch of ethnic vibe to the ensemble.

I know you're wondering about the shoes and why I didn't pick heels. Well, the ceremony is in a field... I'd be too afraid of staying stuck in there or breaking my neck. I also can't walk with high heels. What if it rains? Well then I'm screwed...

I know I will never be able to afford it, but what the hell... This absolutely amazing Celtic design Chanel bag would just be the extra fancy touch.

About the make-up and hair, I know it's mad, but I usually always wear the same colours (brown and gold eye-shadow and brown lipstick), and I style my hair the same way. I'm definitely not your typical French fashion girl. So I'm not going to lie, my face will pretty much look like this (just add the flower in):
Yep, that's me

So that's it, I can't believe I actually manage to write a post entirely about a dress and accessories. Maybe I found my inner French fashion girl after all. OK, not really but it's a good start... 

If you want to treat yourself to a fabulous dress (and you should), the team at Fanny Crown has given us a 15% discount on any purchase. Just use the code NEARLYIRISH14 at checkout. It's valid until 4th of October, so start looking!

Monday, 18 August 2014

7 random things I love about Ireland

1. Traffic lights

During my holidays in France, I stopped a bit too close to a traffic light and as a result couldn't see the colour properly. Instinctively, I looked straight ahead to check the one on the other side of the crossroads. But there was none. In France there is no traffic light facing you on the other side. And it's annoying. I hope you understand what I mean, and you don't think I'm crazy ( It may be too late for that...)

2. Cash back

Another brilliant Irish invention. If you pay by card in a shop, and you need some change, you can ask for "cash back". This comes really handy if there's no ATM around and you're stuck for change.

3. Shops opening times

In France there would be uproar, strike and protests (and there have been) if let's say, a shop was to open on Sunday. In my town, shops used to also be closed on Mondays. Yes, Mondays! It's not really the case anymore (thank God!), and the supermarkets were opened that day, but little shops in the village weren't... Here, the local Tesco opens from 8am till 10pm, every day. Some supermarkets are even opened 24hrs a day, and on Sunday. It's very useful when you're at some friends house, your son split his head open at 7pm on a Sunday, and you need skin closure strips... Believe me on that one.

4. Salted butter

Yum Yum. One thing I was immensely happy about when I moved here was the fact that Irish people eat salted butter. Just like in Brittany. I also know the purists are going to scream when they read this, but even though Irish butter is slightly less salted than the Breton one, it's good enough for me. After all, I know I will never get to eat this, so no point moaning:

Salted butter, with salt crystals from Guerande

 By the way, I still wonder why is salted butter used in Ireland, I thought it was a particularity of Brittany. Oh, I could nearly write a whole post on butter! But I don't want to bore you. 

5. Penneys

I said it before, I'll say it again: Penneys is wonderful for cheap clothes. Seriously, my sister wanted a little souvenir from Penneys when I went to France. A scarf and 2 tee-shirts: 10 Euros. Enough said.

6. The sun shows up once a day

Yes it does. And the day after you read this, pay attention, because I know I'm right. It could be early in the morning or late in the evening, but it always comes out at some point during the day. We (yes, I'm including myself in this) always complain about the weather in this country. Too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy and so on. One of my friends, who is from Paris, told me that over there, you can have days without seeing the sun. So we can consider ourselves lucky!

7. McVities digestive caramels

We do have a massive variety of biscuits in France, and I'm normally not too fond of biscuits in Ireland, but those ones are just yummy. Yummy Yummy Yummy!! I nearly bought an over-priced half packet when I was in France. But then I thought it didn't worth it. I can eat them every day here if I want (Except I don't because I'm trying to watch my weight after the "eating and drinking" holiday!)

What are the little things you like about Ireland?

Friday, 15 August 2014

The cultural difference that took the longest to get used to

Irish Breakfast or...
Breton Langoustines?

This is going to sound cliché, but when I moved to Ireland 12 years ago, the hardest thing to adapt to, was the way Irish people eat and drink. 

Gastronomy is a big thing in France. Mealtime is so important that French people take at least an hour to eat lunch (wedding meals can even last 5 or 6 hours!). Meals are also a way of spending time with your family and socialising. As for the drinks, well, it’s not a myth that we do like a good bottle of wine, but we mainly drink while eating and it’s considered a pleasure.During my recent holiday, I spent 2 weeks drinking alcohol and eating my mum’s home cooking. And you know what? I was never drunk to the point of being sick or unable to remember the following day. Apart from being slightly tired in the morning, I never had a hangover. And I believe it's because we were always eating something before or during the “drinking session”... 

I also found hard to accept the fact that in Ireland, people socialise in pubs and not at home. On one hand, it’s nice because you get to go out and meet new people, but as the years went by, I noticed that even though we had Irish friends, we were never invited for dinner. We always met in the pub. We invited Irish friends over for a meal more than once and they were always very happy, but it seems Irish people don’t really do “dinner parties”, and I had to accept that. Don’t get me wrong, we go to Irish friend’s houses but not to eat a proper meal around the table, all together!

On the subject of food, I guess I had a hard time adapting to the structure of the day. Here, people have a sandwich for lunch, and then a big dinner. I used to live in an Irish family who would cook huge meals (the only ones I ate in an Irish house !). I still have the memory of a big plate of lasagna and chips, followed by a chocolate cake and whipped cream, all that at 6pm (way too early for me!). That was definitely far away from the soup and salad I would have had in the evening at my mum’s! I put on a lot of weight in the process, but I don't have hard feelings. After all, they were just doing their best to make me feel at home, and succeeded. 

In the end, I think we can safely say I’ve never truly embraced the Irish food and drink culture. I don’t mind drinking in pubs, I can even have a sandwich for lunch, or fish and chips (with salt and vinegar of course!). I love Irish breakfast (apparently only tourists call it that, it's supposed to be just a "fry"... but hey, I'm not completely Irish yet!) I really do enjoy the atmosphere of a traditional pub, but I have kept some sort of French routine. I bring my own food at work and eat the leftovers from the previous dinner. I eat later in the evening. I cook mainly French food (or at least in a French style!), and I enjoy a glass of wine with a meal. 

I think it’s hard to acquire a whole new attitude towards food and drink when you’ve been brought up a different way. But at least I have learned about another culture, tried to understand and accept it. That’s probably the most important thing when you move to a different country.

What about you? What's the cultural difference you had the hardest time adapting to in your host country?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Somewhere on the seaside

Last year I participated in a writing contest and recently thought about the piece I wrote. Someone asked me where I felt "at home" in Ireland and it reminded me of that text (which is not technically about Ireland, but a bit... well, you'll see).

The theme of the contest was "A place that allows you to feel free". So there it goes:

How far do you have to go to find freedom? In my case, I flew more than six thousand miles to my husband’s native country, Mauritius. During three weeks, he made me discover the people, the culture and the magnificent landscapes of this small island. Mauritius is not only a sandy beach as you see in travel brochures. Every place in the country has a history, if you bother looking for it.
One afternoon, we drove down the Chamarelle mountain on the west of the island, and stopped at this very small beach situated between two hotels. It was quite secluded and you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you’re a local. I decided to go for a swim and as I was in the water, I turned around. That’s when I saw it. This gigantic mountain was standing there, looking right down at me. The view was absolutely breathtaking. I suddenly felt very small and I had the strange feeling that this place had a special history. When I came out, I asked my husband and his family to tell me the story of The Morne mountain.

Le Morne

During the French domination, many slaves, mainly from Africa, were brought to Mauritius to work on the fields and on construction sites. They were very badly treated by their masters, were tortured and endured corporal punishment.
The story says that the maroon slaves (the ones who managed to escape), found shelter in the Morne mountain because it wasn’t easily accessible. The dense forest protected them from the hunters sent by their masters to kill or enslave them again. The story also says that after the abolition of slavery, the maroons saw people coming and got scared , thinking they were going to be killed. Instead of taking that risk, they shouted : “Zot pas pou gagne nou vivant”, which means “They won’t get us alive”, and decided to jump from the mountain. They didn’t know those people were coming to tell them about the abolition of slavery and they would rather die than lose their freedom.
Le Morne is a sacred site and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s a symbol of hope and freedom, a symbol of resistance against the oppression, and is a very important place in Mauritius history. It’s an official recognition of the Creole identity and the history of colonialism in the island.
The mauritian slaves had their place of freedom, so where is mine ? Before writing this, I was pretty sure that this particular beach with the view of the Morne mountain was it. But it’s not. As I was thinking about my next words, I suddenly realised that my place of freedom is simply the seaside. It doesn’t matter where it is. It could be in Mauritius, where I love spending time, it could be in Ireland , where I live, or it could be in Brittany, where I’m from. I love the sea and couldn’t live without it. I love walking down the beach in my small Irish village when the wind blows in my face and clears my thoughts. I love storms and watching the waves crash on the rocks in Brittany. It reminds me that we are so small in this immensely big ocean. I also love the serenity of the Mauritian lagoon, especially in the morning, when the beach is empty and all I can hear are the little wavelets coming up and down the shore. I don’t need to go to the sea everyday, I just have to know it’s there, accessible if I want to.
We are all slaves of something: our job, our responsibilities, our emotions, our smartphone… But when I look at the ocean, I forget everything. It calms me down, it gives me strength, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry. It makes me feel at peace with myself.
We say “water is life”, I say “The sea is where I feel alive”.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Irish honesty

If you went through Dublin airport recently you may have noticed the above "Plane water" display in the hallway between security and "The loop" shopping area.

I didn't pay attention at first, but after a second look, I realised it was completely unattended. There was just a big box in the middle, where you could insert your money.

My first thought was: "Wow, they really are counting on people's honesty with this... Who is going to buy a bottle of water when you can just take it for free and no one will know?"

Then I saw two persons taking a bottle, and put money in the box.

I decided to get one for myself. After all, I needed one for the flight (No way I was buying the overpriced Ryanair water). After seeing other people actually pay for it, I came to the conclusion that I should pay too. I'm not a thief, and it was only one Euro (As a matter of fact, the same bottles were more expensive in the other airport shops).

After I paid, I turned around and saw at least ten people behind me, looking a bit puzzled by the whole thing, just the way I felt a few minutes before. And they ALL started to open their purse to buy a bottle.

Here are a few thoughts about this experience:

There is hope in this world.
There are still honest people.
Dublin airport really trust its passengers
They probably make money even if some people don't pay, or they wouldn't do it.
People are afraid someone will see them stealing ?
It might be some sort of positive crowd psychology effect: Everyone is paying, so I'll do it too...

I've never seen that anywhere else, and certainly not in France. I doubt that it would work, especially in big airports like Charles De Gaulle. 

What about you, would you have paid ?

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Irish connection

We're finally back. All of us, at last. 

On the way over, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. The plane was late, French passport control officials inefficient and I really thought I was going to miss my connecting train. Of course, one of the French passengers started to yell at the "gendarmes" saying the service was crap. And of course, they replied they didn't have enough staff to do the job. French administration in all its glory...

As I was waiting for the shuttle bus to the train station, I met a girl who was also coming from Dublin and going to the same town as me. She was from a village nearby my home town, was my age, also lived in Ireland for 12 years, and was married to a South African man. Talk about a coincidence!

The week-end was short but I managed to meet with a few friends and my  family.

My best friend told me she went to Sinead O'Connor's concert in Quimper the week before  and it was absolutely brilliant. I think she's coming to Dublin soon, so that might be an idea for a night out... 

My sister is also going to experience her share of Irish music soon, as she's going to see The Pogues at a festival in a small Breton town. She and her friends were wondering if Shane McGowan had his front teeth replaced... I can't tell, so I'm counting on her to let me know.

On an another musical subject, the Irish president Michael D.Higgins was in Lorient for the "Festival Interceltique". Each year, a country is honoured, and this year it was Ireland. Numerous Irish artists were present and I would have loved to attend, but unfortunately my stay was too short to be able to travel to Lorient. 

On Saturday evening, one of my cousins showed up at the house unexpectedly. Life is funny sometimes. Last May, I was gutted to miss my cousin's reunion and in the space of a month, I have met almost all of them at random. This time, one of them came to tell my parents he was going to Ireland for a week and wanted to pay us a visit. He didn't even know I was in France for the week-end...

During the conversation, he told me he came to Ireland for the first time in the eighties. He was hitch-hiking for 6 weeks and loved every minute of it. He was surprised to see farmers in their field, taking time out of their working day to talk to him and show him around. One of them even took a day off just to go fishing. He remembered the warmth and kindness of the people and wanted to show all that to his son, so he's coming back. Obviously Ireland has changed, but I think Irish people are still very friendly and can go out of their way to help someone or just talk to a tourist. That's what I love about this country.

The way back went a lot better than expected. I just learned I'm not allowed a buggy for a child who is over two years old. I will have to read Ryanair's rule book once more. Or is just Nantes airport staff pissing me off on purpose again? Anyway, they let me take the buggy free of charge -hooray!-

In the end, I had a great week-end in Brittany and strangely, full of Irish connections...