Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Collect moments, not things

Chamarelle waterfall, Mauritius

My sister is a shoe addict, and a clothes addict, and probably a nail varnish addict too. When she comes to visit, she always drags me to Penneys but the problem is, I just hate shopping. I only buy clothes if I need something specific to wear for an occasion or if I just come across a bargain by chance.

The thing is, I just don't see the point of having 20 pairs of shoes or a hundred clothes I will never wear. I don't care about the latest smartphone or a new flat screen. In short, I don't like spending money on things that won't last.

Material things eventually wear off but some memories can stay with you for ever.

I still remember the day I landed in Ireland, the first pub I went to, the first people I met. I remember the trip I took to the Cliffs of Moher, the crazy B&B owner in Kilkenny, the amazing seafood I ate in Kinsale. I remember my first Irish breakfast, the trip to Mauritius we took with our friends, or the Christmas dinner my host family cooked for my parents.

Before the digital camera and social media era, all my photographs were stored in big albums. Now they're all in my computer or my phone but sometimes I just take time to look at them randomly and it makes me realise everything I have accomplished throughout the years.

I'm not saying objects can't have the same effect. After all, I kept some of my kids newborn clothes, and I still have some of the books I read when I was a child, but they have a sentimental value. Of course, some things (even clothes!) can bring back memories, but the actual events and the people you shared experiences with: those are the things that will stay with you no matter what.

When you look back on your life, what will you remember? All the things you had or all the people you met and places you went to?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A French holiday


For the first time in at least 10 years, we're going on a "real" holiday. OK, it's more like a short week away because it's only for 5 days, but still, it's in a place where we don't know anybody, and far away from any family.

We're going to the south west of France, near Biarritz, and I'm very excited. We'll be staying in a house with a couple of Irish friends and we have planned to drink wine everyday a great deal of activities for us and the kids. I've already been online trying to find things to do in the area like surf lessons, museums, beaches, boat trips... There's even a train that goes up the mountain and I know the boys will love it.

But why am I so excited to go to France? I mean, I shouldn't be so happy to visit my own country like if it was an exotic destination! When I was younger, all I wanted to do was go abroad, discover other countries, landscapes, and I have to say, I have travelled a lot more within Ireland than France.

Now that I have been here 13 years, it has become my home and I'm less eager to go on holidays in other parts of Ireland. I'm in the same situation as when I was 20 years old. I want to go abroad, visit other places and see something different.

The weird thing is that going on holidays to France fills me with the same excitement than the first time I went to Spain, Scotland or Mauritius. I feel like I'm going abroad, even if it's my native country.

I know there will be no language barrier asking for directions or buying a baguette in a boulangerie. But I will probably act like an Irish person, marvelling at the price of the wine (and regretting to only have a hand luggage!), discovering Basque country culture, food, drink and traditions. And in true Irish style, I might even moan about the hot temperature, but I won't go as far as looking for an Irish pub (although you never know...)

Maybe France really has become a foreign country and I should take more time to discover it because the diversity in landscapes, climates, architecture and regional cultures is just exceptional.

We often overlook what's just next to us, and for many years I didn't see the point of travelling within France. Maybe living abroad has made me see my native country under a different perspective.  And I can't wait to uncover what a French holiday has to offer!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Why is it hard to make Irish friends ?

The first advice any foreigner is given when moving to Ireland is "Don't stick with your own, make Irish friends". I always say that to newcomers in this country, but the truth is, it's not as easy as it sounds.

A reader left the following comment on the blog recently and I think it sums up perfectly my feeling about the Irish and friendship:

"In France people may come across as being cold when you first meet them but as you get to know them, they tend to become close friends and you will talk about pretty deep things. Whereas, on the whole Irish people are more like "mangos", sweet and warm on the outside but you won't get very personal with them in the long run."

Comparing Irish people to mangos, now that's an analogy I never heard before!

I have thought about this subject for a long time, but didn't really know how to approach it without appearing negative or too critical. I've talked to many people about it, and came to the conclusion that having Irish friends is possible, but it's hard work. The reason is mainly cultural and this is why I don't want to sound too harsh, because at the end of the day, any friendship takes work, and learning about cultural differences is part of the whole "living abroad" journey.

First of all, every expat instinct is to find people in the same situation. People who will understand and sympathise with them. People who are having the same experience so they can share their doubts, fears, joy and all the emotions they're going through. I think this is one of the reason why expats tend to have more foreign friends, because they can relate to each other. On top of that, many of them work in a multicultural environment so their first colleagues are foreigners and the easy option is to stick with them.

The other issue is French people (I can't talk for every nationality) socialise very differently than the Irish. We usually invite people for dinner. Eating and drinking together in one's home is the main component of a French friendship whereas Irish people socialise outside. They meet their friends in the pub and that's as far as it goes (unless you're young and your nights out involve massive house parties). So if you haven't been invited for dinner in an Irish house, don't take it personally.

Another thing is that family is much more important here in Ireland, and I sometimes felt it was actually *more* important than friends. Irish people (the ones I know anyway) tend to go out to the pub with their grown-up kids, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and so on. That doesn't really happen in France, not in my family anyway.

Maybe it's hard to become friends with Irish people because they already have their social circle, friends they know since secondary school, university or work. I mean, they don't really need "new" friends, whereas, when foreigners comes, it's the first thing they're on the look out for!! And it can be hard coming into a group of friends already formed. On the other hand, when the Irish see a whole bunch of Spanish or French people together, who don't speak the same language, I can understand they'd be afraid to approach them.

The Irish on the whole are very welcoming. I have met great people over the years and I can call some of them friends, but it took a long time and effort. Having said that, it was worth it.

To finish this off, I'll share something I've learned. If you want to be friends with an Irish person, and they tell you "Oh, we should go for coffee sometimes", you'd better agree on a date, time and place straight away or else you'll never hear from them again!

At the end of the day, we all have to make an effort and adapt to each other's culture . So basically, go to the pub to socialise with the Irish, and in return make them eat a delicious home-cooked meal with a nice bottle of wine. I'm sure they'll love it. I know my Irish friends do :-)