Thursday, 31 March 2016

The challenges of being an expat parent

Little trip to the beach as a family

I'm trying to organise the summer holidays at the moment. The plan is to drop the kids to my parents in France in early July, they'll stay over for a month and we'll join them for a 2 weeks holidays in August. The price of the flight to take them over is extortionate, more than half the price of the ferry for our August trip. I still don't know how we're going to make it, but at the same time, I want them to see their grandparents, practice their French, and I need some rest as well. So I'll have to find a solution...

This is just one of the challenges expat life brings when you have kids abroad. And there are quite a few others...

No family around to step in

I'm glad my parents are still in good enough health to mind the boys for a month in summer, but the rest of the year is different. We are extremely lucky to have a good childminder and a friend for back-up, but what do you do when the childminder is off and your friend is not available? Take days off work, leave early, arrive late... We had to organise ourselves to minimise childminding costs like working different shifts for example, and we always managed to make it work, but sometimes I just wished my mum was around the corner to help me out. We've also said goodbye to nights out just as a couple or with friends. The last time it happened was one year ago...


When you live abroad and both sets of grand-parents live on different parts of the globe, there is not much choice for a holiday destination. We go to France once a year and to Mauritius every 2 or 3 years (although it has become so expensive with 2 children that we don't know when we'll be able to afford the tropical destination again...). I would feel bad if my parents didn't see the kids for more than a year. They're not getting any younger and I also want my children to know them.
This year, we've decided to treat ourselves so we're going on a short family trip to South west France in May. A place where we don't know anybody and where we'll be able to just chill out without having to schedule family and friends visits. I can't wait.

Adapting to a new education system

I'm still quite new to this as my eldest is only in First class, but the Irish system is a bit different than the French so I had to adapt. For example, I had a hard time understanding why there are no canteens in schools and why the day is so short (9 until 1:40pm would be considered a half-day in French schools!!). What bothers me the most is making sandwiches for my kids everyday. I wish they could eat a hot balanced meal at school, like in France.

The other thing is homework. It might sound a bit stupid, but I learnt everything in French, so explaining maths in English to a 7 years old (when I'm already very bad at maths in French) is hard work. Counting and numbers is the only thing I have to think about in French all the time. I can't make additions or subtractions in English. My brain just doesn't work this way.

Then there's Irish... It's quite funny seeing my kids talking to me in Irish, but I don't understand a word, so they won't get any help from me (unless I start learning the language myself).

English is another issue. I know I'm bilingual, but that doesn't mean I don't mispronounce words sometimes, and I'm afraid of passing bad habits. The good thing is I'm a spelling freak in general, so I can correct my child with written work. But what about the parents who don't have a good English? How are they supposed to help their children?

Bringing children up in 3 different cultures

This is probably the hardest challenge, but the most rewarding in the long term. My children are still a bit young, but it is quite clear that they define themselves as Irish, even if they have a Mauritian dad and a French mum. They know they have family in different countries, they try to speak French (when they want...) but Ireland is their home. However, for us, parents, belonging to Ireland and feeling Irish is something that will never truly happen. We love living here and are very well integrated, but we'll never be Irish (well, my husband is technically Irish now, but you see what I mean!). We speak French to each other, both our original culture are still very present in our home and our social lives.
The challenge here is to make sure our children know where they come from, not by forcing them, but giving them opportunities to learn about their origins in a positive and fun way, like a month long immersion in France or Mauritius...

If you're an expat parent, what was the biggest challenge you had to face?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ze French accent

If you're French, how many times did you hear that comment: "I love the French accent, it's so sexy / lovely / exotic / glamorous / refined / romantic..."?

As crazy as it sounds, one thing I really wanted to get rid of when I moved to Ireland was my French accent. I don't know why, but I always thought that losing my native accent would be the ultimate proof of integration. I thought that if I showed I made the effort to speak like an Irish person, I would be more accepted as one of them. The truth is, my French accent never bothered anyone. In short, people didn't care if I sounded a bit French as long as they understood me.

Yet, I've always been looking for some sort of "validation" and I'm extremely happy when someone cannot pinpoint where I'm from, or if an Irish colleague tells me I sound Irish, which happens sometimes. I shouldn't really care. After all, everybody has an accent. Only in Ireland you can hear tens of them and it's the same in France.

What I don't understand is when I hear someone who has been living in Ireland for 20 years, speaking with a very heavy French accent. I mean, if you have lived amongst Irish people all that time, worked with them, basically lived your life in English, why do you sound like you just arrived yesterday? I realise I sound mean, but I genuinely don't understand how it's possible. It's either a choice or a lack of willingness. I'm not saying those people should have a perfect  accent because that's impossible, even to me, but how is it their accent hasn't improved one bit?

One of my friend actually confessed he kept his strong French accent because it was giving him an edge, a difference, so we all have different motives I suppose.

The weird thing is when I hear a foreigner speaking French with an accent, it doesn't bother me at all. I just want to praise them for their command of the French language and it doesn't matter if they can't pronounce the "R" sound, as long as I understand them!

I actually find it quite endearing and it just made me realise I probably shouldn't care so much about how other French people speak.

I initially wanted to write this post because I really didn't get why some French people persist in speaking English with their native accent, but now that I have finished my "rant", I realise this is a non-debate. People should be able to speak the way they want (and can), as long as they  make themselves understood.

What's your opinion? Do you think the accent is important when speaking a foreign language?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Paddy's day memories

A Cead Mile Failte in Dublin Airport

Believe it or not but my first St Patrick's day celebration wasn't in Ireland. I must have been around 16 or 17 and my village organised a Paddy's day ceili so I went along with friends. There was Guinness, salt & vinegar crisps (I don't remember if they were Tayto's though...) and we even learned  Irish set dancing.

A few years later, I landed in Ireland and 17th of March was of course the day I was looking forward to the most. Except I got a job in a call centre, working in the French operation, so I was off on French bank holidays, but not on Irish ones. And for the first 4 years, I never got to see the parade or even celebrate.

Then there were the years I wasn't even in Ireland on Paddy's day. Once I was on a plane going on holidays, another time I was on the other side of the world in Mauritius (not that I would ever complain about that!).

I think we spent most of the day in a bar next to the beach

Then finally, after 10 years in Ireland, I managed to make it to Dublin with my sister and her friends.

Just a piece of advice if you're going to the parade in Dublin tomorrow: Arrive EARLY if you want to see something without having to climb on a fence, O'Connell statue or a friend...

I actually couldn't find any pictures of the parade itself. I don't remember what happened (and no, drink wasn't involved yet at that time of the day), but I suspect I didn't have a great view so there was no point...

Another reason might be I was a bit disappointed with the show itself. You see, in Ireland, Paddy's day parade is a celebration of the community. In smaller towns,  local groups (scouts, karate, dancing...) would walk alongside firemen, coast guards, even tractors... You might have a few music bands as well. And no parade would be complete without a local personality acting as the "Grand Marshall".

I was brought up in a region where we celebrate our Celtic heritage, where people parade in traditional costumes, play breton music and demonstrate dances. I guess I was just a bit disappointed by the lack of "traditional" Irish culture on St Patrick's day.

This doesn't mean I didn't have fun the day I went to Dublin. We took the compulsory picture with the Garda, we went to the pub and celebrated Ireland's national day with pride.

One thing for sure, being in Dublin on St Patrick's day is something everyone should do once in their life because well, it's just great craic!!

Happy Paddy's day !


Thursday, 10 March 2016

What if?

It would have been harder to blog without that as well...

I've always wondered what my blog would have looked like if I had started it as soon as I moved to Ireland. This is completely hypothetical  of course, for the simple reason that blogs didn't exist in 2002.

I could have seen myself writing about how I found a job in Ireland and quit after a week, how my then boss was completely crazy, and how inefficient recruitment agencies were. There would have been stories about how I landed a new job after a 6 weeks frantic search. I would have written about the stress of being unemployed, money running out but the desire to stay in Ireland.

I would have talked about my lovely host family, about the time I went to the Cliffs of Moher, how I woke up in an empty bus, or how disappointed I was about the Guinness factory visit.

I would have shared my disbelief in public transport or road signs and the many times I got lost in Dublin. I would have share my utter pleasure at going to the first Tesco Extra in the neighbourhood and almost feel like I was in a proper French supermarket.

I would have written about looking for an apartment, how my landlord was the best in the world or the day my Polish neighbour installed a satellite dish the size of County Dublin on the outside wall. I mean, we had to move our own dish to get a signal again...

I would have written about my French neighbour, the friends I made, the ones I lost, my colleagues, my call-centre crazy stories, my wild house parties... I would have told the story of the week-end I spent 16 hours driving just to see my best friend in West Cork, my hen party in Temple bar, the dozen leaving parties I attended...

In fact, I would have written about all the little discoveries I made over the first few weeks, months and years. All the little struggles I overcame and all the moments that made my experience unique at that time. Things that have now become the norm and are not novelty anymore.

I'm pretty sure there would have been a lot more funny stories. But Ireland is my life now. Things that I thought were strange or funny 13 years ago don't even register in my head now.

I sometimes find hard to write about cultural differences because I don't feel the differences as much now than I did back then and I almost get the reverse culture shock when I go to my parents on holiday.

Although I'll always be French (and Breton, let's not forget that), a big part of me has become Irish.

And as the years go by, the Irish part is taking more and more space.