Monday, March 29, 2010

Having a baby in France

The last post reminded me of a funny document I received from my gyno on my first visit to him when discovering I was pregnant. I've dug out the "conseils pour la grossesse" so you can compare with your own doctor. Apart from all the usual advice - here's some unusual ones:

You think for the first time in your life that it is okay to get fat and you can eat what you want?! Ma chérie, we are en france , the answer is non:
  • Replace all sugar with canderel products.
  • Honey, nougat, biscuits, bonbons, chocolate bars, icecream are forbidden
  • You can have a dessert on a Sunday but only a "demi-portion" (half a portion)
  • Fruit ( with sugar ) is not allowed
  • Fruit juices and fizzy drinks are off the menu
  • Do not eat for two.
  • Do not drink for two , although a few glasses of wine is ok.
  • Do not put on more than 10 kilos ( so what happens if you put on more, are you supposed to go on a diet? I asked my doc. The answer ? Oui! )
Never ever wear trousers. You must wear skirts at all times.

Do not change sexual partners during your pregnancy ("Do people have sex when they're pregnant?!" I wondered). This rule applies to the father also!
(A free test is allowed for the father to ensure he does not have any infectious diseases as picked up from other partners!)

Do not wear knickers

If you feel hungry, replace food with sex ( with the father of the child , see above). This will help you not to put on too much weight. Not surprisingly, pregnancy in France is called "La Grossesse" : The Fatness!!!

So , as you can see, my gyno , along with everyone else in France is obsessed with weight and sex!

As we say very often here in France, you just could not make it up!

112 candles

"112 bougies pour Marcelle la doyenne régionale
C'est bien entourée que Marcelle Narbonne a fêté hier ses 112 printemps à la maison de retraite d'Argelès où elle réside. Témoin de l'histoire, elle est aussi l'une des doyennes de notre pays."

The oldest lady in the department of the Pyrenees Orientales was 112 on Friday last. Born in 1898, Marcelle Narbonne's life has straddled three centuries. Married once, she has never had any children - Her lifetime has seen 19 French presidents come and go, she was a girl of 14 when the Titanic sank and can remember a life before electricity in her house, before radio, television, fridges and all mod cons. She can still walk unaided and lives in a nursing home in Argeles sur Mer.

People are living longer these days ; In 1950, there were 200 people over the age of 100 in the world. Today there are 20,000 who have blown out 100 candles or more .. France boasts the largest proportion of centurions per head of population in Europe. The reason for this is that France has the best medical system in the world ( according to the World Health Organisation ) and the increasing number of specialised retirement homes keeping the ole dears alive..

After having two babies in the medical system here in France, I can vouch for the excellency of the service. While recuperating at the clinique, I kept referring to the hospital as the hotel, because that's what it felt like .. and a nice hotel at that! There was a bed for my partner to stay in the same room with me and help out with new babe, the restaurant would do the rounds every morning with the menus so you could choose your meals from a wide choice of tasty dishes ( rabbit in mustard sauce with gratin dauphinois for example!) and the staff and treatment were second to none.

So whereas France can be a difficult country to do business in ( more on that later ), where taxes are high and the bureaucracy, overwhelming, I do think that France, and in particular , the South of France where we live with it's mild winters and warm summers, is the best country to plan your retirement in.

Alors, here's to sipping some fab cotes de roussillon wine, nibbling on fresh baguette and local cheeses ( with our own teeth) and tripping the light fantastic on our 100th birthday!

Bravo Marcelle (agus Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

To kiss or not to kiss ...

... that is the question!

French kissing ( of the cheek pecking variety) can be a complicated procedure. First of all, there's the question of who does one kiss and who does one shake hands with .. to do the wrong thing can be either very rude or very forward, although French people do make allowances for les irlandais if we slip up on the kissing etiquette.

The rules:
  1. You kiss good friends twice on each cheek. The number of times varies from place to place in France. In the North of France , for example, you may be kissed up to four times!
  2. You kiss good friends of friends when you are introduced.
  3. Generally you do not make contact with your lips and other persons cheek, but you do not air kiss either
  4. At a soirée with a mixed group, of people you have and have not met before, you kiss everyone
  5. Men NEVER kiss men, unless they are blood relations - they shake hands
  6. It is very rude to kiss someone you don't know and very rude not to kiss someone you do know
  7. You only kiss on the first time you meet a person on that day and if a soirée ,perhaps when leaving as well ..
  8. One might start a meeting with a handshake and end the social event with a kiss if you have got on particularly well
 Confused yet? You should be!

But the main thing I suppose is not to take it too seriously , to go with the flow and to be consistent. If you kiss one person once , you must continue to kiss them or they will assume you are shunning them. The french just instinctively know when and when not to kiss and which cheek to plump for first ( I often end up headbutting my recipient kissers!), so take your cue from the masters of the kiss. They learn this at a very early age - it's cute to see all the kids greeting each other at school with the obligatory two pecks.

So, when in France, lay off the garlic, floss those teeth and pucker up! C'est l'heure to kiss some frogs!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Fattist Nation

I was appalled after giving birth to my first born at the reaction of my french friends ... Without fail, the first question I was asked was, not did I have a boy or a girl, not did everything go fine, not how was the labour and how is the little darling? Mais non, it was "how many kilos have you put on" or " what are you going to do to lose the FAT?" and this while I lay in the hospital bed struggling with the joys of breastfeeding!!!

I discovered that this obsession with weight begins at a very early stage when I took my precious first born little girl for her second check up with the doc. "This child needs to go on a diet, she has put on too much weight since the last rendezvous"  I was sternly reprimanded ...She was 6 weeks old.  Luckily my Mom was around to talk sense into me and she poo pooed the doctors advice. For the record, neither I nor my child are overweight!

Learning hard lessons fast, I discovered that French people are very hung up on appearances .. one does not go out without hair and makeup perfect and immaculate clothing. Tracksuits are for running and excerising in and not for wearing on a day off. Sloppy dressing is not acceptable. You make the effort or you will be a) ridiculed or b) ignored.

The ubiquitous "pharmacie", the busiest business in every small town is crammed with all types of slimming aids and agents . "Les produits minceurs" are to the forefront of every shopfront at the moment as les francais prepare for stripping off for the summer. Whether these slimming aids work or not, is dubious, but the french do seem to be remarkably thin compared to their Irish and UK counterparts. So , how do they do it?

Many a book has been written about how french women remain as svelte as they do, yakking on about eating foods in season and never taking the stairs and such baloney , but the truth is that many of the young french I know, take slimming pills ( otherwise known as laxatives), drink coffee and smoke incessantly (to kill the hunger pangs) and paradoxically, excercise their butts off , literally.

But, are the french fattist? Would you be discriminated against if you were "fat" in France? There was uproar recently when Air France announced that obese people had to pay 75% extra for the cost of an additional seat. While the nation became embroiled in an obese discrimination debate, in Perpignan most peoples reaction was could they claim a discount if they were really skinny!?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Would you vote for this man?

The French local elections were on over the weekend ( the french host two elections - the first one is to narrow the selection down to 2 candidates and the "deuxieme tour" then takes place a week later when everyone votes again for their preferred candidate.)

The guy who has obtained the bulk of the votes here in the Languedoc Roussillon is the controversial Georges Freche. Dear Georges has made some serious gaffes in his high profile political career. He is currently the president of the Languedoc Roussillon and depsite recent scandals , he obtained over 34% of the vote on Sunday, ahead of Sarkos's man, Raymond Couderc, who managed to win only 20% of the vote.
Would you vote for this guy?

1. Earlier on this year, Georges Freche declared than Laurent Fabius (former jewish prime minister) doesn't have a very catholic face ( he was kicked out of the Socialist party for this comment)

2. Referring to the Pyrenees Orientales , George stated that "I have always been elected by a majority of "cons" ( french for fools)"

3.He is also quoted as saying : "Dans cette équipe (de France), il y a neuf blacks sur onze. La normalité serait qu’il y en ait trois ou quatre. Ce serait le reflet de la société. Mais là, s’il y en a autant, c’est parce que les blancs sont nuls. J’ai honte pour ce pays. Bientôt, il y aura onze blacks. Quand je vois certaines équipes de foot, ça me fait de la peine. ”
Loose translation  : There are too many blacks on the french soccer team, nine out of eleven is too many.However, the whites are crap too. I'm ashamed of my country, soon we will have 11 blacks on the team.

4. He once referred to two ex-"Harkis" – Algerians who fought on the French side in the colonial civil war – as lesser humans

5. He is Labelled as the Socialist "Le Pen"

6. Georges Freche thinks it is a great idea to change the name from Languedoc Roussillon to Septimanie ( sounds like a contagious disease to me ). He spent 15million euros in a drive to do just this before his campaign floundered due to outrage from the locals.

7. Another political faux pas : " Je dis que l'incapacité de notre pays, depuis quarante ans, à intégrer convenablement les millions de citoyens nés, sur notre sol, de parents d'origine étrangère, constitue […] la plus grande menace intérieure pour notre avenir. »"
Loose translation : For the past 40 years, foreigners are wrecking the country and are the greatest menace for the future of France

8. Je devrais me présenter aux élections municipales à Toulouse. Dans cette ville, quand j'étais étudiant, j'ai baisé 40% des Toulousaines.
Loose translation : "When I was a student in Toulouse , I f$cked over 40% of Toulousains"

9.Georges Freche has set up "maisons de languedoc" all over the world in places like London, China and New York situated in the best addresses. The idea is that these "maisons" promote the region and the products of the Languedoc Roussillon to a greater audience. The one in New York alone, costs over 600,000 a year to run and gets less than 20 visitors daily.

10. The president has also spent 3.6million euros on a study to bring a pleasure port to Lez , in his favourite department. These waterways are in a Unesco protected zone and if tampered with , would upset the whole eco system of the Canal du Midi.

So, to summarise he is racist towards the blacks, the whites, the harkis, french born to foreigners, those who vote for him, he's ashamed of France....a great ambassador! what a ticket!

As the yanks would say, go figure!
We await to see what happens next Sunday at the deuxieme tour.....

Update 21/03/2010 : Georges Freche has been elected with over 54% of the vote ...

Monday, March 08, 2010

French Affairs

There's a scandal on the street in our quiet little corner of french suburbia - our neighbour, Chantal has been cought red handed having an affair with a co-worker. Chantal and Pierre have been married for over 25 years and are the vertiable pillars of society. Worst of all, Chantal and Pierre and new lover all work together in the Town Hall and the gendarmes have been called in to keep the peace as lives have been threatened!! Yikes!

So , are the French all having secret affairs hither thither or do they just appear to be swashbuckingly sexy? I must say that French men are the most flirtatious I have ever met. A French man will greet you for the first time  with "enchanté" ( enchanted to met you!) and looking you directly in the eye, will compliment you in his deliciously sexy voice. Cue me going weak at the knees! They will openly check you out and shower you with flattery on your new hairstyle/ loss of weight/ new boots while Irish hubby remains completely oblivious!

Compared to the Irish scene, the French do seem to be more "up" for it, it's almost an inbred sensibility : male and female alike, they can be quite predatory and intimidating when you are used to the Irish shy boys. I find it difficult to distinguish whether they are flirting or just being, well, friendly, especially with all that kissing going on!

A grandfather I used to work with has several "cinq à septs" , ladies he would meet between 5 and 7 for a bit of hows yer father. We knew never to ring him during these hours as his mobile would be off!! He's been "happily " married for over 40 years and everybody knows about his philandering, apart from the glamourous wife, I suppose.

It seems like there are no age barriers to this flirting game : playing tennis recently, I was approached by an old geezer of about 80 - he was the ex president of the club and he wanted to know would I like to play with him  ( Silly me, I thought he meant tennis). For about three weeks after that, he continually rang me until I dropped unsubtle hints about being busy with the Kids, the Hubby etc. He's really miffed now and won't even salute me in the club!!!

It is quite flattering on one hand and when I go back to éire , I feel completely invisible as the lads in the pub stare at the tv or their pints and daren't make eye contact .. there's a happy medium there somewhere I think?!

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