About me

Franglaise MummyHi, I'm Sophie, a francophile Brit, living in London after 12 years on the French Riviera, wife to a Frenchman, mum to two half-English/half-French daughters. A former language teacher, marketing/PR professional and bilingual PA, I now split my time between running my Franglaise childcare business and writing this blog. I write about my life which covers all sorts of parenting and lifestyle shizzle, usually with a Franglaise take.
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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

PostHeaderIcon How I lost 12kg eating the French way

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for the longest time, and in the end if felt like it made more sense over on the food blog that Hubs and I have created – Franglaise Cooking. So if you want to know how you can eat French food and not get fat, head on over there, by clicking here.

Over on our Franglaise Cooking blog: How to eat French food and not get fat

Over on our Franglaise Cooking blog: How to eat French food and not get fat

And here is a rough idea of what I looked like when I moved to France (left), then several months in, and 12kg (nearly 2 stone) lighter (right)!

Before: UK eating habits After: French eating habits & 12kg later

Before: UK eating habits
After: French eating habits & 12kg later

They’re not the best photos and they don’t illustrate the difference as much as I’d like, but it was all I could find as it was in 1998!

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PostHeaderIcon What makes me an expert on France and the French?

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you’ll know that I often write about France and the French, comparing it/them to the UK and the Brits, and various people have asked me what makes me such an expert on the subject, so here goes:

I am bilingual and have a French (and Spanish) degree; I studied French culture, society, history and politics as part of my degree. I lived in France for 7 months as a student, and upon graduating I moved to the French Riviera where I then lived for the next 12 years. I am married to a Frenchman and we raise our half French/half English daughters bilingually and biculturally (in London now but previously in France).

Despite living in Nice and the surrounding area and having some non-French friends I didn’t live the expat life; I generally worked for French companies, alongside mostly French colleagues, or ran my own company in the French system. During my time in France the majority of my friends were French, and I was in a serious relationship with a Frenchman, who spoke little English, for 3 years before meeting Hubs who I only spoke French with for the first 3 years of our relationship. Over the last 15 years I have spent a lot of time with both my ex-boyfriend’s family and my in-laws, with whom I only speak French.

Whilst I was in France I mixed with a very broad cross-section of society, from cleaning ladies to lawyers, from bartenders to high level directors so saw a variety of ways of living, from those living in small studio apartments, scraping by on very little, to those living in mansions with no money worries.

I feel that all of the above allows me to comment on France and the French, and to make comparisons between their country and culture and the UK and the Brits (being British myself and having lived in the UK for 25 years).

Voilà! Now you know everything!

In front of the most French of all women: Marianne, who can be found in all mairies (town halls), on our wedding day in 2003 with the mayor of Cagnes sur mer.

In front of the most French of all women: Marianne, who can be found in all mairies (town halls), on our wedding day in 2003 with the mayor of Cagnes sur mer.

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PostHeaderIcon Is UK schooling really that bad?

In the UK we seem to always be hearing how terrible our schooling is, how the children learn nothing and how we should change EVERYTHING. So I thought I would share some comparisons between schooling in the UK and in France, having recently spent a week with French friends whose daughter, A, is the same age as L (age 7 and in Year 2 (UK)/CP (France)). While they were with us talk turned to schooling, as it became blatantly obvious that despite there being just a month between L and A, there was a world of difference in their reading ability.

Reading has been a key part of L’s schooling, from the basics in Reception class (age 4), which progressed to actual reading in Year 1, and has really taken off this year.  She is now at the stage where she will happily read a 100+ page book  on her own over the space over a few days.

This came as a great surprise to A’s parents, as in French schools children don’t learn to read until CP (our Year 2), when children are 6-7. It was so strange to see our 2 daughters, who are a month apart in age at such different levels of this key part of education. L started with the reading basics in September 2011 and reads pretty much anything now. A started learning to read at school in September 2013 and so is understandably nowhere near this stage yet.

It is important to note that some schools in France teach the basics of reading in Grande Section, the equivalent of Year 1, in the same way that some schools in the UK don’t start with reading until Year 1. It is also interesting to see that by the end of CP (Year 2) the majority of French children know how to read fluently, despite having only started to read at the start of the school year.

Homework was another area where we discovered that France and the UK differ wildly: in general British children in Year 2 will have one or two pieces of fairly light homework per week, in addition to reading most days/every day depending on the school; in France children in CP (Year 2) have homework every day which by all accounts is taken very seriously.

Another thing that both A’s mum and I found surprising was that although French schools have far longer days than UK schools, the amount of schooling across the day is actually the same. After quizzing various friends across both countries I’ve established that most primary school days in the UK run from 8.45/9am until 3/3.30pm with around 1.5-1.75 hours break across the day, making up around 5 hours of schooling. The majority of primary schools in France run from 8.30am until around 4.15/4.45pm with around 2.5-3 hours break (they all seem to have 2 hours for lunch, with some pupils going home to eat), this again gives 5 hours schooling.

Interestingly French primary school children don’t go to school on Wednesdays, whereas I don’t know any UK schools that do anything less than 5 days a week. Many French mums (and some dads) don’t work on a Wednesday and this tends to be the day for children’s extra-curricular activities, so is not necessarily a rest day either.

Another big difference is the school holidays, I am sure many people are familiar with the term “les grandes vacances”, but did you know that France has 3 weeks more school holidays a year than the UK? 13 weeks for British school kids vs 16 weeks for French children.

So that means across the school year UK children have 975 hours of schooling vs 720 hours of schooling in France. Last year Education Secretary Michael Gove gave a speech, talking about lengthening the school day and reducing school holidays, but as we can see British children have a great deal more schooling than France already, and shorter holidays too.

Something that is interesting to bear in mind when comparing the two systems is “who is this best for?”. As a working mum in France and in the UK, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I prefer the French system: when L was at school in France (age 2 and 3/4 – 3 and 3/4) we used to drop her off at 8am (we could have dropped her off at 7.30am) where she had an hour of pre-school club, then after a day’s work we would pick her up at 6.30pm (which was the latest she could stay) where she would have been at after-school club from when her classes ended at 4.30pm. On Wednesdays the school (like most schools) provided a Wednesday club and she did the same hours. So having a school age child and working full-time were fully compatible. Even if your child is only at school for the usual school hours in France, this is around 8.30am – 4.30pm so you have a fair amount of time to get work done.

When we moved to the UK and L started full time school (a whole 2 years later than in France), it was a massive difference and a shock to the system: her school day starts at 9am (there is a breakfast club which opens at 7.45am) and ends at 3.30pm (there is an after school club that ends at 6pm). This means as a parent you have far less time to get to work and do a part-time job/work from home.

So absolutely, without hesitation, as a working parent I prefer the school system in France.

Now, let’s look at it from the point of view of a child: my primary school finished at 3.15pm and I had no homework until Year 6; my secondary school finished at 3.35pm and I had homework every day, but I was home by around 4pm/4.30pm, which gave me a long time to get it done. I remember coming home from school and going out to play when I was at primary school, or having chill out time of an evening when I was at secondary school.

When L finishes school at 3.30pm we either stay and play in the school playground/go to the local park if the weather is good, or come home and play, and talk and relax. She has weekly homework which is usually done at the weekend, or one evening a week, it is always something fun (and educational) and doesn’t take more than half an hour in general. This leaves time for imaginative play, reading, writing, crafting, baking, and generally being a 7 year old. (Not to mention the days when she has activities after school such as swimming or gymnastics etc or playdates with school friends.)

L’s friend, A, only has school 4 days a week but she finishes at 4.45pm and then has homework to do, there is no time for playdates and not really any time for fun, as it’s a race against the time to get the homework done, dinner eaten, have a bath and go to bed. Now I’m no child psychologist or professional, but I was once a child and I have a child, and it seems to me that you have your whole life to work all day 4-5 days a week, with little time to let your hair down, what a shame to start at such a young age.

This is not meant to be a criticism of either country, I think there are pros and cons to both systems. If this were all about me I would rather L went to school in France so I have more time to work, but if I’m doing what I think is best for L then I choose the UK system. Interestingly a British friend whose children have attended state schools in both the UK and France tells me that although they were very happy in France they say they prefer school in the UK.

One thing I do know is that I liked the fact that L started school when she was nearly 3 in France, and I liked the school day that she used to have there, I will miss C not having that in the UK when she is a bit older. L used to have classes 9-11.30am, followed by lunch and a nap, then more classes from around 2pm (or when they woke up from naps) until 4.30pm. I think this is just right for a 3 year old and L absolutely loved going to her French school.

I don’t think there is any right or wrong, and often one country may be preferable for one child whilst the other system suits a different child. But one thing is sure, the debate is still raging over UK education, which is a shame as I would say it’s really not that bad at all, and the teachers do a bloody good job.

L reading to herself before bed last night - her love of books has been fuelled by school.

L reading to herself before bed last night – her love of books has been fuelled by school.

Footnote
It is hard to compare French years with years in the UK schooling system as the UK breaks these up by birth dates before 31st August and after 1st September, whereas in France the cut-off is 31st December/1st January. As L was born in December 2006 in France she would be one of the youngest in class CE1, whilst her friend A was born in January 2007 so is in CP, whereas in the UK the two of them would both be in Year 2. Bearing the different cut-off dates in mind I believe these are the class equivalents from the UK to France:

Nursery – Petite section de maternelle (3-4 years)
Reception – Moyenne section de maternelle (4-5 years)
Year 1 – Grande section de maternelle (5-6 years)
Year 2 – CP (6-7 years)
Year 3 – CE1 (7-8 years)
Year 4 – CE2 (8-9 years)
Year 5 – CM1 (9-10 years)
Year 6 – CM2 (10-11 years)
Secondary school
Year 7 – 6ème (11-12 years)
Year 8 – 5ème (12-13 years)
Year 9 – 4ème (13-14 years)
Year 10 – 3ème (14-15 years)
Year 11 – Seconde (15-16 years)
Year 12 – Première (16-17 years)
Year 13 – Terminale (17-18 years)

Confusion is added by the fact school is obligatory in the UK by age 5 (at some point during the Reception year), whereas in France only from CP (Year 2), also in France you can (and often do) repeat a year if your grades aren’t good enough, so Hubs did his baccalaureate (A level equivalent) with a 21 year old.

Disclosure: it is hard to generalise across a whole country, but I have done my research on this. The information above has come from asking numerous friends/acquaintances from different regions and from different social backgrounds across the two countries, as well as reading many forums in both English and French covering both countries and both school systems.

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PostHeaderIcon Christmas cards – yay or nay?

Christmas cards - yay or nay?

Christmas cards – yay or nay?

I was skimming through Facebook earlier today when a discussion on Christmas cards caught my attention, and it got me thinking, in this day and age is there still a place for Christmas cards? How many people actually still send physical paper Christmas cards?

So the gist of the discussion was this: on the one hand, a lovely lady I know was saying she loves writing personal messages, in fountain pen, on the Christmas cards she sends out; on the other hand another lady said she preferred e-cards as they saved time, the environment and could be really nice too. A third person said she’d given up on Christmas cards and so donated the money she used to spend on them to a charity.

What is your take on this? Is it bah humbug to abandon traditional Christmas cards? Is an e-card an acceptable substitute? Do you give money to charity instead of spending it on cards?

I have to say that I gave up on Christmas cards a loooonnnngg time ago, way before e-cards came on the scene. As some of you know, I moved to France in 1998 when I was 22, well the first year I religiously (no pun intended!) brought a whole load of Christmas cards back from the UK, which I then wrote and posted back to the UK. My French boyfriend at the time thought I was absolutely crazy; I had just graduated, so was still in a student frame of mind, and had never really got into a Christmas card sending mentality, so I just thought it was easier to abandon it, and I’ve never looked back since. I just don’t get the whole Christmas card hype, but that’s maybe 12 years of living in France that’s done that for me.

For my French readers who may be wondering what the big deal is – writing Christmas cards is major in the UK, there is even an expression “to cross someone off your Christmas card list” if someone has upset you and you no longer consider them to be a friend! For my readers in the UK who are wondering  what the French do – some people send cards to wish friends, family and corporate contacts “Bonne Année” (happy new year), but in general, and certainly for my generation, the French don’t really have any equivalent of sending Christmas cards these days (Hubs’ parents’ and grandparents’ generations used to send happy new year cards).

So where do I stand on this argument?

Charity – seeing as I don’t send Christmas cards, if you prefer to spend your money on a charity instead of a card and a stamp for me, by all means, go for it!

e-cards – I have only seen one Christmas e-card that I liked which was photos of my sister, brother-in-law and nephew on elves heads (or something festive like that), bopping around a Christmas-decorated house to music, which made me laugh. Most other e-cards I’ve seen have been nothing special.

Traditional Christmas cards – I love getting a Christmas card with a personal message or even a sum-up letter of the year, however I don’t “get” people sending Christmas cards out that say “To XYZ, Merry Christmas, Love XYZ” and nothing more, especially when they are from people I haven’t heard from since Christmas the previous year. I just wonder what the point is….maybe I’m missing something? So if you enjoy sending Christmas cards, go for it! But if you’re fulfilling a chore and are just changing who is in the “to” box each time, is it worth it?

On a final note – if you don’t get a Christmas card, an e-card or a message about a charitable contribution from me, don’t take it personally, as nobody gets this from me. However you may well get an email round-up of what’s happening with our family, as Christmas seems to be a good time to sum up the past year and share our news.

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy it and Merry Christmas one and all!

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PostHeaderIcon Amber for teething: a defence

For those of you who don’t know, the girls and I were recently filmed for a Channel 4 programme called Health Freaks as I was talking about using amber beads to ease the pain of teething for my daughters. If you missed it you can watch the episode here: http://healthfreaks.channel4.com/

Since this aired last night my social media feeds have been going crazy with a mix of reactions; mostly positive with own personal experiences of amber working, but a few sceptical, negative and generally ignorant. So I thought I would take to my little corner of the internet here and set some things straight.

Does amber work to ease the pain of teething in babies?

Unfortunately I can’t give a yes/no answer to this question, but I can give you my experience.

Experience 1:
L was the most chilled baby in the world, never gave us a sleepless night, literally from the get-go. Then at 6 months she started teething and our chilled world came crashing to the ground, suddenly sleepless nights became standard, and nothing was helping. We were in France and she would be fully dosed up on Doliprane (the Calpol equivalent), Advil (the Nurofen equivalent), Camilia (teething homeopathic medicine), we gave her teething rings to gnaw on, chopped up vegetables kept cold in the fridge, but nothing worked. She was a screaming baby about 20 hours out of 24.

I kept being asked whyI wouldn’t put an amber necklace on her, as if I was some kind of wicked mother, out to torture my baby by depriving her of this pain relief. I kept refusing to get one as I justified to myself that I would rather have a teething baby than a strangled baby. Then one day I was told that the amber necklace doesn’t need to be worn around the neck, it can put on a wrist or an ankle, as long as it is against the skin.

So I got one for L and we put it on her wrist. I was totally sceptical, but I was at my wits’ end and was prepared to try almost anything (within reason!). Hubs didn’t believe it for a second but it wasn’t very expensive and we couldn’t see any danger, so we went for it.

Within a week the screaming baby had been replaced by our chilled out baby again. And no, as someone on Twitter stated, it was not because she had finished teething, she wasn’t even 8 months old when we got the amber necklace for her. She then went on to teeth, getting 2-4 teeth at a time, with no discomfort at all. In fact she got 4 molars at once which we barely noticed. Even Hubs who called it witchcraft and wizardry had to admit something was working.

Experience 2:
C started drooling and munching on her fist at around 4 months old, and as I couldn’t handle sleepless nights after having yet another chilled baby (I know how lucky I am!), I put an amber necklace on her at around 5 months old. She now has 8 teeth, and they have all come through with us barely noticing their appearance. C wears her amber necklace under a sock and this summer when it was glorious it was too hot for her to wear socks, so I took them, and the amber necklace off and forgot about it, then a couple of weeks later she was really grizzly, and I couldn’t seem to pull her out of it. I noticed she was displaying quite a few signs of teething so thought I’d put the amber necklace back on and see what happened. A day later the grizzles went and a week later two more teeth popped out.

C sporting her amber necklace under her sock

C sporting her amber necklace under her sock

Interestingly when we were filmed for Health Freaks she was teething, and a couple of days later she got two more teeth, so you can see how she is when she’s in full teething mode!

So whilst this is far from any kind of scientific proof, something about it works for me and numerous friends too. I’d say that about 80% of my friends/acquaintances in France use(d) amber necklaces for teething and found they helped. Up to you to draw your own opinion.

Is it safe?

Now, this is the big question. I can’t guarantee its safety for you, but I can tell you what risk assessment I did before using it:

  • I would NEVER use it as a necklace and I don’t condone this. The strangulation risk is too high and babies are more likely to fiddle with it here.
  • I put C’s necklace on her ankle (wrapped round twice) and worn under a sock, this way she is not really aware of it and leaves it alone.
  • Only get amber necklaces/bracelets/anklets where each bead is knotted on individually. This means that should it break only one bead will come off, so any risk is minimised.
  • What happens if a bead comes off? Well, considering the size of the beads I’m not too worried – judging by the contents of C’s nappies she swallows blueberries and sweetcorn that are far larger than the amber beads. I am also a paediatric first aider and C’s primary carer, so I know what to do in a choking situation should the worst happen.
Make sure each bead is knotted on individually

Make sure each bead is knotted on individually

Compare the size of the beads next to a blueberry, sweetcorn and pea

Choking risk? C swallows blueberries, sweetcorn and peas whole, which are far bigger.

Is the amber itself safe?

This is a tough one. If the amber is rubbing against the skin and sending something into the baby’s skin/blood, how safe is that? My answer is – I don’t know. But equally I don’t know how harmful a lot of the things I give my children are; how harmful is giving them Calpol, Nurofen, vaccinations, certain readymade baby foods? L wore hers for nearly 2 years, she is nearly 7 now and I can’t say I’ve noticed any side effects. Again I decided that the risk was minimal and I was happy to use this on my daughters.

I can’t tell you what to do, and I certainly wouldn’t want to either. But it works for me. I’ve weighed up the pros and cons and I think the risks are worth taking, I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) wrap my kids up in cotton wool.

Over to you now – do your own research, decide what’s best for you and go for it. Your life, your babies, you decide.

They also make for a great distraction on the changing table!

They also make for a great distraction on the changing table!

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PostHeaderIcon Franglaise Mummy coming to your screens

A while back I talked about being filmed for a Channel 4 documentary on home remedies where I would be talking about my experiences with amber beads for teething. Well the time has come for that programme to air! The first snippet is now online and can be viewed here.

The show starts on Monday 21st October and I’m in the first episode with L and C. It’s on Channel 4 at 8.30pm and is called Health Freaks. So if you want to see what I have to say about amber necklaces and teething, or you want to see what I sound like/what the three of us really look like (outside of just photos on this blog) then tune in.

Disclaimer: If I look like an idiot then it’s all down to poor editing ;-)

Here I am, with L & C, talking to the GPs on the show

Here I am, with L & C, talking to the GPs on the show

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PostHeaderIcon Why are the Brits so anal about suppositories?

This post may affect those with a sensitive disposition as it is about bums, and putting things up them. And no, not in a kinky way. People often ask me about the differences between France and the UK, and whilst the countries are not the same there’s not necessarily a lot that makes separates them. However, when it comes to medicine, and more precisely, suppositories, then they’re a world away.

I first lived in France from October 1996 to February 1997, I was at Nice university as part of my degree in French and Spanish, and towards the second part of my stay I had my first French boyfriend. I noticed huge differences along with lots of little ones, in comparison to my English boyfriends (why do so many French men insist on wearing jumpers over their shoulders?!?). But the biggest shocker was when I was in his apartment one day, and I saw on the table, bold as brass, a packet of suppositories. I was 20, and I was shocked! Was he some kind of sexual deviant?

Fast forward 10 years to 2006 when I had moved to France, married a (different) Frenchman, become mum to a half French half English baby girl, and this Brit no longer batted an eyelid at putting things in bums! When L was born we were taught by the French hospital to take her temperature daily (!) after the bath, using a rectal thermometer. Calpol doesn’t exist in France, instead they give paracetamol under the name “Doliprane” which comes either as a syrup, given via a syringe based on weight rather than age, or as suppositories.

Doliprane suppository for a 3-8kg baby (my finger next to it for scale)

Doliprane suppository for a 3-8kg baby (my finger next to it for scale)

And, I have a confession to make. I LOVE suppositories (for babies). They’re not messy syrups. They are lightweight and take no space, so are easy to carry around in a changing bag, or to take on nights or weekends away. They’re easy to administer during a nappy change. They’re incredibly quick to take effect. Better still, if your child has a high temperature, yet is throwing up, you pop in a suppository, the temperature comes down and there’s no issue of them vomiting it back. How on earth can you do this in the UK where you can’t get suppositories for babies?

I once mentioned at work in the UK that I gave my daughter suppositories when she was ill, and my colleagues (who are parents) were aghast. I’ve only needed to give C paracetamol in the UK a handful of times, but each time it’s been a suppository, so when I had to give Calpol to the baby I childmind the other day it was a real eye-opener.

Seriously, Calpol? I’m supposed to attempt to pour your syrupy medicine onto a spoon, and get a poorly baby, with a high temperature, to swallow it? What a bloody nightmare! So this is my Friday’s rant for the week. Why do Brits have such an issue with suppositories? They are valid medicine, why are they so hard to get in the UK? I even use them myself sometimes – there’s a fantastic sore throat cure that comes in suppository form in France that works ridiculously quickly. Why wouldn’t you, if it’s going to make you better, faster?

Oh well, until things change in the UK I’ll be stocking up in French pharmacies for the foreseeable.

I am linking up with Mummy Barrow’s Ranty Friday for this post. Click on the badge below to see what others are ranting about today, or join in with your own rant.

MummyBarrow

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PostHeaderIcon To sterilise or not, that is the question

Should you sterilise this?

Should you sterilise this?

I’ve heard lots of mums talking about sterilising in various online places recently which has prompted this blog post. I had my eldest daughter, L, when we were living in France and when I talked about sterilising there I was met with two schools of thought:

School of thought 1
You must sterilise to protect your baby from the nasties that are everywhere, especially on baby bottles.

School of thought 2
Sterilising means that babies don’t develop their own immunity against the nasties that are everywhere, therefore you shouldn’t sterilise.

Now I would love to say that I sat down and weighed up the pros and cons of the two arguments, researched them, analysed them and so forth before making my decision. But that would be a big, fat lie. I’m all about making my life easier wherever possible (although I can’t be that lazy, as I use cloth nappies which I wash myself), so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. If the medical professionals couldn’t decide which was best then I was going for the easy option. No sterilising.

That’s right. I did not sterilise one single thing of L’s, and C has just turned 10 months and has had nothing sterilised either. However, most baby bottles get washed in the dishwasher at around 50 or 60° so my thinking is that should kill a whole host of nasties.

I don’t preach this to others, I just state what I did (or rather didn’t do), as each to his/her own and all that.

What result did this not sterilising have in my children?

L had breast milk exclusively for 6 months, but from 3 months onwards half her feeds came in a bottle as she was at a childminder’s, from 6-12 months she was on about 50-50 breast milk/formula.

C had 80% breast milk/20% formula for her first 6 months. Then for the last 4 months she’s been more or less 70% breast milk/30% formula.

Both children have grown up around a dog and at least one cat, and a house that is not overly sterilised.

L had one minor cold when she was 9 months old (we were living in the south of France though!) and was ill for the first time, with a 24 hour gastric bug, when she was nearly a year old. In general now (aged nearly 7) she seems to be a lot less ill than a lot of her friends.

C has had a couple of minor colds and a minor viral rash just recently, but other than that is mostly well. I’ve had to give her Calpol a couple of times in the last 10 months, but I’d say on the whole she’s a pretty healthy baby.

L was exposed to other children from aged 3 months (including school age children), C was exposed to other children from the age of 2 days when she came on the school run with me (and L’s friends do love to smother her in kisses and strokes with their oh so clean hands!).

Is the lack of sterilisation linked to their general health? Or is that down to breastfeeding? Or some other unknown factor?

Do/did you sterilise your baby’s bottles? Their toys? Do you think I’m an unfit mother because I don’t/didn’t? I’d also be interested to know whether any French mums reading this sterilised their baby’s bottles, as I think all my British mum friends did.

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PostHeaderIcon Is the French education system better than the British one?

I recently read a very interesting blog post by Stressy Mummy which talked about testing and ranking school children, and on separating children into sets, and it got me thinking about the differences between the French and the British education systems for secondary schooling.

In the UK children are generally separated into different sets per subject depending on ability in that area, which is usually based on tests or exams taken.

In France there is no such separation – you stay with your class through every subject, no matter what level you, or the others in your class, are. So what happens to those who are not as able? Simple. If you don’t get the “average” grade – in French schools everything is marked out of 20, so they call the average 10/20 – then they have to repeat the year (redoubler).

Now that wouldn’t too bad if they were given extra help second time round, or if it were acknowledged where they went wrong the first time round, but all that happens is they repeat the exact same curriculum for a second year running, but with a different set of classmates, who are a year younger than them. I personally couldn’t think of anything worse.

Another thing to bear in mind is that this average is across all subjects, so they might have got 19/20 in English, but 1/20 in Maths which then drags their overall average down. Hubs and I have long debates over the two systems, and whilst, as a bright child, he faired well in the French system, I think it would have been a disaster for me, and I did pretty well in school over here.

I went to a very so-so primary school where I was in the top few of my year, I then went to an ex-grammar secondary school where the children came from far better primary schools and I suddenly dropped down. I was average across several subjects, poor in maths and sciences and only excelled in French.

At the end of the first year we were put in sets for English and Maths – I went into the top set for English and the bottom set for Maths. I was devastated and embarrassed about being put in the bottom set for Maths until the second year rolled round; in this class I could ask questions, things were explained to me and I started to improve (something that hadn’t happened in the first year when all abilities were mixed up). When it came to exams at the end of the second year I did so well that I got moved into set 2 out of 5 sets for maths. As for the sciences I was in set 3 out of 5 sets, and again I was in a group of those with a similar ability, and again I progressed.

My strengths were English and languages, and I found myself in set 1 for English, French and German, meaning I was pushed to the maximum of my ability. This set separation worked out brilliantly for me as I went on to get 2 As at GCSE (for French and German), 3 Bs including a B in Maths, and 4 Cs including in the sciences. I am convinced that had I not been put in classes with pupils of my level I would have got far lower grades at GCSE.

I also believe that had I been in the French system I would have had to repeat at least one year, which must mess with your head, seeing all your friends moving on and knowing you’ll never be with them in class again, instead finding yourself in a class with those a year younger than you.

It is such a regular thing in France to repeat a year that recently we skyped my MiL, L’s French gran, and we told her that we had L’s end of Year 1 report and she’d done really well. To which my MiL replied, “so is she going into Year 2 then?”!! Can you imagine repeating a year, aged 6, based on your ability?!?

This obviously gets worse the further you go through school as the work gets harder; Hubs talks about doing his “Bac” (A level equivalent) with 19, 20 and even 21 year olds, some of whom were attempting it for the 3rd time! Talk about demoralising.

So, whilst I don’t think testing children in order to rank them in the top or bottom 10% countrywide is a good thing, I do think that ranking them per subject, per school, so they can be put in classes of similarly abled children is an excellent idea.

If only schools and the government could enforce decent hairstyles and school uniforms on children too:

Me circa 1991, aged 15. Looking good!

Me circa 1991, aged 15. Looking good!

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PostHeaderIcon I accidentally moved to France

In 1998 I bought a return ticket to Nice, France – leaving London on the 1st July 1998 and returning to the UK on the 10th September 1998. I’d just finished my university finals and my aim was to have a summer of partying on the French Riviera with two friends (a fellow Brit and a Danish/American) I’d met there the previous summer. I fully intended to move back to the UK afterwards to become a grown up, i.e. get a real job, save money, get a mortgage etc.

Then I got to Nice and my days went something like this:

6pm – 3am: Work as a waitress in a bar/restaurant in the old town of Nice
3 – 7am: Go out to a late club with other bar workers, and party until the sun comes up.
7am – 1pm: Sleep (pass out)
1 – 5pm: Go to the beach with my fellow bar worker friends.
5 – 6pm: Go home, get showered and go to work.

Repeat. 6 days a week. On the 7th day I’d get a day off which would mean I could stay at the beach longer, go out for dinner and then go drinking while I waited for my friends to finish their work and join me at the late club.

We worked hard, but we partied hard too and lazed on the beach during the day. It was heaven for a 22 year old. Within a week my two friends and I decided to postpone our departure “for a bit”. I used my return flight in the September to collect my winter clothes from the UK, and headed back to Nice with a cheshire cat grin on my face. Who wanted to go back to rainy England when you could have sunshine, blue skies, warmth and the beach?

That “for a bit” became “a year or so” and then we stopped putting a date on it….. I finally moved back to the UK on 19th July 2010, 12 years later, with a French husband, a 3 and a half year old daughter, a French dog and a French cat. My British friend then moved back to England in 2011, and my Danish/American friend is still there. So much for going there just for the summer.

Funnily enough after I moved out there my mum confessed that she always knew I would live there, and an ex-boyfriend once told me that I would only be happy with a Frenchman. Well I have the French husband now, even if I am living back in rainy Blighty now.

So why on earth did I move back to England? I’ll save that story for another day and another post…

The three of us, Nice old town, July 1998

The three of us, Nice old town, July 1998

This post is dedicated to the two lovely ladies in the photo above. What an amazing 12 years it was girls :-) Miss you xxx

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