Posts Tagged ‘UK’
6 years ago I was a first time mother to a 5 month old baby girl and living in the south of France. I didn’t have a clue how to even begin weaning, so I looked online and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW), it sounded perfect – no making up tons of purées, and none of this letting my food go cold while I feed the baby.
I embraced it fully with L and even translated Gill Rapley’s report on it for our “nounou” (childminder) to help her understand this crazy Rosbif* and her strange English ways. I was so excited about it but I totally wasn’t ready for the backlash that this decision would receive. I am very lucky in that Hubs was 100% behind me and our nounou accepted this and “fed” L this way without trying to talk me out of it.
However this support was not universal and I had to lie to my paediatrician (in France you see your paediatrician every month when you have a baby) and tell her we were weaning with purées. Wherever we went I got shocked looks, negative comments about my parenting, including one woman who asked me “are you trying to kill her?” when L was happily feeding herself courgette batons at 7 months old! Fortunately I’m pretty bloody-minded and we carried on and I’m so glad I did, from L’s earliest age we’ve shared mealtimes as a family and she understands the importance of meals as a social occasion, and now eats pretty much anything (even though she’s never had a huge appetite and prefers playing to eating!).
With C this time round, it’s 6 years on, we’re living in the UK and no one seems in the slightest bit shocked by BLW, which is a relief after having to fight so hard to do it last time. We’re only on week 1 of C’s weaning but it’s much easier this time round, maybe because I know that it’ll all be fine, maybe because I don’t have to hide the way we’re weaning or be embarrassed or apologetic for it, or maybe because things just tend to be easier second time round. Or maybe it’s simply a case of BLW being more acceptable 6 years on, as I can’t comment on how it was in the UK 6 years ago. Whatever it is I have to say that BLW is the way forwards for this family, and no, I’m not trying to kill my kids!
*We call them Frogs, they call us Rosbifs.
After seeing so many people in my Twitter feed talking about this book (French children don’t throw food) and asking me if what Pamela Druckerman says is true I had to read it myself to see.
In case you don’t read this blog often and want to know if I’m qualified to comment, here’s some quick background on me:
I am a Brit, married to a Frenchman and I have two half British/half French daughters, we spent the first 3.5 years of our eldest daughter’s life in France and have been in the UK for the last nearly 3 years. In total I lived in France for 13 years and I have lived in the UK for 24 years. I should also point out that I never lived as an expat in France; I have a degree in French, I am bilingual, the majority of my friends in France are French and I had a French boyfriend for 3 years before meeting my husband of 10 years (both of which came with a French family that I became part of).
So that out of the way, here are my thoughts/feelings on the book.
Whilst it is a very interesting read and sometimes has valid points, an awful lot of the book has no truth to it with regards to the majority of France and not a tiny minority in Paris.
I read it whilst on holiday in France last summer, and staying with various French friends who have small children. I loved seeing their faces when I read snippets of it to them – they varied from horror to amusement to utter disbelief.
The book has recently come out in France and has been highly criticised as it is so far from the truth. Interestingly it is entitled “Bébé Made in France”; just the English title made my French friends laugh, as they pointed to their own toddlers throwing food on the floor whilst we were talking.
France has a real problem with “Enfants Rois” (King Child) as Druckerman talks about in her book. But she doesn’t really go into detail about this phenomenon which is getting worse and worse. My MiL is a school doctor in the Avignon region and when I told her about this book she burst out laughing as she told me about the nastiness, aggression and lack of general respect that she gets from children as young as 3 years old pretty much every day, as parents are letting them get away with murder.
So what is true and what is false and what differences are there really?
- Children in France throw food. Children in the UK throw food. There are some children in both countries that don’t, but in general this is what small children do.
- Women in France have a lot more pressure on them to go back to being “a woman” very quickly. This includes everything from weight, to general appearance, to having a social life sans bébé to returning to work soon after giving birth. French maternity leave is 16 weeks and most mums return to work within 3-6 months of having a baby.
- As most women do go back to work soon after having a baby and as childcare is so affordable (with state help) in France, it means that most French children are raised on average 4-5 full days a week by a “nounou” (childminder) or in a crèche (like a UK nursery).
- French babies on average sleep in their own cot, in their own bedroom as soon as they come home from hospital (aged around 5 days). Co-sleeping is almost unheard of and definitely frowned upon. Some parents have babies in their room with them, but nowhere near as much as in the UK and not for as long.
- French parents shout at their children. At home. In the park. In the supermarket. I have heard the following being yelled at small children in public “tu me fais chier!” (you’re pissing me off!), “tu me gonfles!” (you’re doing my head in!) and “tu continues comme ça et je t’en colle une!” (carry on doing that and I’ll give you a smack/wallop you one!) Not exactly the picture that Druckerman paints in her book.
- Our eldest daughter is 6 going on 16 at the moment, as are most of her school friends in the UK, and the other mums and I are often talking about the attitude we get from them. On a recent holiday to France I had the exact same conversation with a French friend about her 6 year old daughter. It’s the same, people!
- School on the other hand is totally different. School in France is super strict, with children being shouted at regularly and kept in place by fear, with creativity shunned and learning done by rote (French children have to learn poetry and do dictations from a young age). I remember our nounou’s 6 year old daughter being terrified one day as she’d forgotten her ruler and would get in trouble for not having it. Her mum and her plotted that she would drive home and get it, the daughter would sneak to the toilet so the mum could get it to her without the teacher knowing. Wow, great lesson in life to teach kids: lying and deceit.
- School in the UK is more relaxed, creativity is encouraged and all the teachers that L has had so far (3 different ones) have managed to keep their classes of 30 children in line through being nice but firm. I have never heard any of them raise their voices to the children. I was recently on a school trip with L’s class and it’s amazing the respect and control that their teacher was able to command.
- Druckerman talks a lot about British parents being “helicopter” parents, but I have rarely witnessed this. I have seen as much helicopter parenting in France as in the UK and I think it depends on the type of person the parent is, rather than their nationality.
- French parents are more willing to leave their babies/children at a younger age and for a longer time than British parents. As an example I went back to work 4 full days a week in France when L was 3 months old, and when she was 2 years old Hubs and I went to the Dominican Republic for 2 weeks without her, leaving her with her nounou, who she called “Tata” (Auntie) as she was so like a member of the family. I have also just left C with Hubs for the weekend so I could have a girls’ weekend with my friends from uni – she turned 6 months on Sunday. (I am still breastfeeding so simply expressed whilst away and Hubs fed her bottles in my absence.)
- From experience I would say that the French are far more open to smacking (bottoms) than the British. I don’t know anyone in France who this shocks, yet a lot of my British parent friends would never do this and frown upon those who do it.
I don’t mean this to be an attack on either France or the UK. I love both countries, have great French and British friends (most of whom are parents these days), I think that both countries have pros and cons in their parenting styles, hence us raising our children the Franglais way (taking the bits of each culture that work for us). However at the end of the day babies are babies, children are children and some will be livelier/better or worse behaved than others, I’m not sure how much culture has to do with that, I’d say it’s much more down to the child’s and parents’ personalities than anything else.
One final thing to point out, this is based on my experience which is in the southeast of England and the French Riviera and Avignon area of France. Social class also plays a big part but I have friends from quite broad social classes, encompassing cleaners, bar-tenders, secretaries, teachers, computer programmers, lawyers, managers and business-owners.
So all in all I’d say you’re probably doing a good job with your kids, whether you’re British or French or any other nationality. It’s a war zone out there and if you can make it to the end of the day in one piece then you’re doing well. French or British or other – go and celebrate that with a glass of wine! Cheers!
If I can find the time (and energy) I might write my own book one of these days on my personal experiences of the differences in British vs French parenting, if you might be interested in hearing more then sign up for blog updates via RSS or email on the top right hand side of this page.
Several of L’s teeth started wobbling way back in early July, so I warned my mum when L went to stay there for a week in late July that she may need to play the tooth fairy role. But then nothing happened. Most of August passed by and still nothing happened so I decided these teeth would take a while to come out. Then on the 20th August we flew to Marseille for a two week holiday in France, we had been on French soil for about 30 minutes before L started furiously wobbling her bottom tooth….whilst sitting on the counter in the Europcar office at Marseille Airport. And yes, you guessed it, tooth number 1 came out there and then.
Our next issue was what to do with regards to the tooth fairy, as she doesn’t exist in France. That’s right, you read that correctly, there is no tooth fairy in France. Instead they have “la petite souris” (the little mouse) who fulfils the same role. But a while back when I was telling L about this she was freaking out at the idea of a mouse crawling into her bed to get her tooth, even if it did leave her money.
So I offered her two alternatives, either we would put the tooth out that night for “la petite souris” or I would look after it – for 2 weeks – and we would leave it out for the tooth fairy when we got back home. Greed got the better of her and “la petite souris” visited her that night, leaving in its wake a 2 Euro coin.
A month and a bit later, we are back in the UK and 4 teeth down, with the other 3 being taken by the tooth fairy via a very cute sign that I got from Cwtch Signs, which saves scrabbling under pillows!
Now she’s realised how much money she can make per tooth (£1 in our house) she’s constantly wobbling the others, who knows what she’ll do once she’s gone through them all!
As a Brit, married to a Frenchman, raising our children first in France and now in the UK in what we call our franglais way, I know that we shock some people with our style of parenting. It is amazing to think that so few miles separate the UK from France but that culturally these two countries are so different.
Before I go on to explain our style of parenting it’s probably good for you to get some background on B and me, and how we were raised, to see where we are coming from.
- B and I were born 6 weeks apart in the mid 1970s: him in the south of France and me in the south of England.
- B’s parents are both doctors (a retired GP and a school doctor); my mum is a (retired) nurse, who trained to be a midwife and set up a local NCT branch in the 1970s, as well as being a breast-feeding counsellor for the NCT, my dad is in IT.
- B is one of twins; I am the middle child of 5 (all from the same, crazy parents!).
- B’s mum went back to work when B and his brother were still very small; my mum stopped work for 15 years to raise us 5 unruly children.
- B’s mum, like most of her generation in France, didn’t breastfeed; my mum breastfed all 5 of us.
- B’s mum weaned B and his brother on pots and purées; my mum weaned us the BLW way before it even had a name, as otherwise nobody would have got fed.
- B and his brother slept in their own bedroom from birth; my siblings and I slept in my parents’ room (but not bed) when we were small babies.
- B and his brother only ever had disposable nappies; my siblings and I only ever had washable nappies.
So that gives you an idea of the parenting style we grew up with, this is the one we developed for ourselves, and that shocks the French in France and the Brits in the UK:
- I breastfed L. This shocked several of my French friends and in particular my MiL who warned me “it’ll ruin your chest”.
- L slept in her own room from day 5 when we came home from hospital. This shocked pretty much every single Brit and Anglo-saxon I know, but was accepted as the norm in France.
- For the first 3 months I did everything on demand and had zero routine. This shocked my French paediatrician and numerous French friends. The only reason we got into a routine at 3 months was because L was going to the childminder’s…
- I went back to work 4 full days a week when L turned 3 months old. This was very early for most of my friends in the UK, but was standard for France.
- We put L in washable nappies from about her first week onwards. This was very uncommon in France and I kept being asked why I was doing something so unhygienic.
- When L was a few months old I started thinking (worrying) about weaning and I came across Baby Led Weaning (BLW) on the internet, I loved the sound of it and this is what we did with L. You can’t imagine the reactions I got in France, “are you trying to kill your baby?” and “she’s got no teeth, she’s going to starve to death” etc. I had to lie to my paediatrician about it, translate Gill Rapley’s report on it into French for our childminder and basically defend this decision every single day. It was very hard and it’s funny to be in the UK now where BLW is just another totally accepted weaning option.
- Whenever we were invited out we took L with us, and when we had parties at our house she generally stayed up and partied with us until the small hours. Fortunately she wakes much later if she goes to bed late which makes this doable. This is not a big deal in France, whereas many of my UK friends are shocked at us letting her stay up late.
- We first left her to go out for the night when she was 5 months old, we drove for an hour to meet up with some friends for a night out. We first left her all night when she was 9 months old as we had been invited to try out a posh hotel in Cannes for the night. When she was 2 years old we left her for two weeks to go off on holiday, just B and me, to the Dominican Republic. Every year we try and leave her for a week to go off on holiday as a couple, to reconnect, and to be simply B and me again, not Mummy and Papa. Now this one shocks the hell out of 90% of my UK friends, but all my French friends do this regularly with their kids.
- When L was 5 years old she flew unaccompanied to Marseille to spend a week with B’s mum in the run-up to Christmas. French parents frequently send their kids across France by plane as the school holidays are so long and everyone works. My UK friends were astounded that I might consider this.
- L started school in France when she was 2 and 3/4. This was 4 days a week, from 9am until 4pm; as B and I worked, she also went to the before school club, the after school club and the Wednesday club (no school in France on Wednesdays) at the same place. So Monday – Friday 8am-6.30pm she was at “school” from the age of not even 3 years old and she loved it! I know many British friends who think this is far too early, but it worked so well for us and for L who excelled there.
- When we moved to the UK, L was 3 and 1/2 so was too young for school. She started full time school when she was 4 and 3/4 and my French friends and family kept asking why she was starting so late.
I am sure if you are French then parts of the above shock you, and if you are British then there are certainly areas you disagree with. But this is what works for us and for L, it’ll be interesting to see if we end up raising baby number 2 the same way too seeing as he/she will be raised in the UK and not France. Watch this space…
I don’t know about you but I’ve always been pretty sceptical about shelling out a small fortune to have a stranger take professional photos of my family and me. When B and I got married, back in 2003, we hired the services of a professional photographer. It was a total and utter disaster; as there were lots of pretty, single, 20-something girls at our wedding (my gorgeous girlfriends) he spent most of his time chasing after them rather than capturing any decent photos. Fortunately a friend of the family is an amateur photographer who took some great, natural photos of our special day.
Ever since then B and I have turned our noses up at using a professional photographer, choosing instead to get friends or family to take photos of the 2 and then 3 of us on special occasions. However this changed when I met and befriended a lovely English lady, called Rebecca Marshall, when we were living in Nice. Rebecca happened to be a professional photographer based in the south of France and we bonded quickly over our love of France, the fact that we were both running our own small business, and that we were in relationships with Frenchmen.
For a long time Rebecca’s actual photos never came up in conversation so I never saw them, and had no idea if she was any good, or just one of the many people on the French Riviera trying to make a living from a vague skill they had.
Then one day B and I decided we’d like to run the risk and get some professional photos done by Rebecca to get framed and give as Christmas presents to L’s French grandparents.
The end results were so amazing that when I decided I wanted to have some professional photos taken to capture this, my last pregnancy there was only one person I wanted to take them. Rebecca is based on the French Riviera, in Vence, which is near Nice, but she also works in the UK from time to time. As we had a holiday planned for the end of August, when I would be 29-30 weeks pregnant we decided this would be the perfect time to get the photos taken.
Rebecca came up with an amazing location, near where she is based in Vence and, as you can see below, captured this precious moment for us in some amazing pictures. I would like to point out that I have been suffering from terrible pregnancy acne and with some make-up and Rebecca’s angles/lighting you can’t really see it. My hair also desperately needed a cut and colour, but again you can’t tell in these pictures. Which just goes to show what a professional can do!
Here is an overview of some of the photos that Rebecca took for us that day:
After the fun we had that day and having seen the photos I have absolutely no regrets about paying the money to capture these precious memories, and I hope that our baby will enjoy looking at these too when he/she is old enough to appreciate them.
Rebecca actually specialises in reportage and portrait photography for press publications, corporate clients and design agencies, however she does do sessions like ours for word of mouth recommendations. So if you are looking for something a bit more special than a standard studio photo shoot, for photos taken in real places that capture the essence of the subjects, then I can highly recommend her.
Rebecca works in the French Riviera/Provence areas of France and also travels for photo shoots to other parts of France, the UK and Europe. She is a freelance photographer and her regular magazine clients include the New York Times and the Financial Times; Ford and Monaco University are some of her corporate clients.
For more information: www.rebecca-marshall.com
Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post. I paid for the photo shoot and for the photos that we received. However Rebecca is a good friend, and we have really appreciated her work which is what prompted me to share our experience.
I am now 32 weeks pregnant and it has been such an interesting journey, comparing my pregnancy in France to my pregnancy here in the UK, so I thought I would share my comparisons of the two pregnancies.
Pregnancy N°1: The French One
When: March – December 2006
Where: St Vallier de Thiey, a village on the French Riviera, inland above Grasse and Cannes
- Permanent nausea 24/7 for the first three months.
- Permanent exhaustion 24/7 for the first three months.
- No real cravings, except wanting red wine whenever I saw a glass.
- Very low blood pressure (signed off work for this twice, in the first and last trimester.)
- Anaemic for most of the pregnancy.
- Stressful pregnancy, counting down each day.
- Horrific cankles (what are cankles?) from about month 4 until the birth.
- Weight gain of 13Kg (about 29lb) from start to finish, and a teeny tiny bump (this is me at nearly 42 weeks – excuse the highly unattractive photo!):
- A baby that I thought moved quite a lot.
- 45 minute commute door to door: driving from our home in the hills above Grasse to the office in the coastal town of Antibes.
- No ante-natal visits with midwives, all done with my gynaecologist/obstetrician.
- Virtually no ante-natal preparation/classes etc.
- Monthly appointments with my gynaecologist/obstetrician, with full weigh-in, blood pressure check and examination “down below”.
- Monthly blood tests in a separate lab for toxoplasmosis (more information about toxoplasmosis).
- Test for diabetes despite not being at risk.
- Scans offered at every monthly check-up if I wanted them, with 3 obligatory ones.
- Strict instructions given from the gynaecologist/obstetrician on what to avoid eating and drinking: no alcohol, no smoking, no raw meats or fish, no cheese made from unpasteurised milk, no foie gras, no shellfish, all meat to be cooked all the way through, all fruit and veg to be washed thoroughly etc.
- No mention of breast-feeding at all.
- An induced and very quick labour with epidural (more about that here) with the end result being a healthy little girl:
Pregnancy N°2: The English One
When: February – November 2012
- Very little nausea, and what I had was very easy to control.
- More tired than usual, but again it was easy to control.
- No real cravings, except wanting to eat lots of fresh fruit and having more of a sweet tooth than usual.
- Normal blood pressure.
- No problem with anaemia.
- A mostly stress-free pregnancy (except for the usual stresses and strains of daily life), with no big rush to get through it. This one has certainly whizzed by a lot faster.
- Cankles only making occasional appearances, when the UK weather is hot and when we were on holiday in sunny climes
- Weight gain of 9kg (about 20lb) so far and a much bigger bump, here I am at just 30 weeks this time round:
- A baby that doesn’t stop dancing. Ever. This is one active baby! I thought that L was a mover and shaker but this one beats her hands down.
- 45 minute commute door to door: a 7 minute walk to the tube station, an 18 minute ride on the Northern Line where I usually get given a seat, then a 7 minute walk the other side.
- All ante-natal visits carried out by different midwives at the local hospital where I will have this baby.
- Refresher NCT classes start tomorrow and I’m also doing hypnobirthing this time round. I’ll have more to report on that later…
- Fewer appointments than with L, I have been weighed once at the very start, my blood pressure is checked each time and to my amazement no one has ever examined me “down below”! This is the biggest shocker after pregnancy in France!!
- No mention of toxoplasmosis at all, except when I asked about it I was told that if I didn’t work on a farm then I shouldn’t worry about it. They did however tell me to wear gloves for gardening and for cleaning cat litter and to wash all fruit and veg thoroughly.
- No mention of a diabetes test.
- 2 scans at 12 and 20 weeks, plus an additional scan planned for 36 weeks to check the size of the baby as L was so tiny.
- A vague mention made of what to eat/avoid eating etc. Although during the first midwife appointment we did discuss alcohol and smoking.
- Breast-feeding talked about and the advantages clearly explained during a recent midwife appointment, despite me stating that I’m a huge advocate and that I breastfed L for 1 year and exclusively for 6 months, and that I fully intended to do it again.
- Hopefully a natural birth this time in a midwife-led suite in the local hospital, which I promise to report back on.
It is hard to say how much of the differences are because it is a second pregnancy, so the medical staff and B and I are more relaxed about the whole thing. Also for my pregnancy with L I had previously had a miscarriage so I’m sure that added a lot of stress as I wondered about my ability to carry a baby to term.
The biggest shocks for me are the fact that no one mentions anything about toxoplasmosis here, which is HUGE in France, both at check-ups/blood tests and when talking to other mums (I was always getting asked, “Tu as eu la toxo?” whenever discussing pregnancy with other women). The other thing that still amazes me is that no one has ever asked to look between my legs! Now I’m not a huge fan of a stranger poking and prodding about down there, but after that being such a regular occurrence at every single check-up for 9 months it France, it still astounds me that not one single person has looked down there yet! According to my UK mum friends this is common and you’ll only get looked at “down there” if you are overdue and need a sweep.
Fortunately I realised fairly quickly that no one was interested in what was going on in my knickers after my first check-up so I’ve stopped getting naked now for my appointments!
How did your pregnancies compare? Was it a boy/girl thing? A country comparison? An age comparison? I’d love to hear if you had any surprises with later pregnancies.
When we first moved back to the UK from France we were staying with my parents who live quite close to Windsor, so I suggested to B that we take L to Legoland for the day. Fortunately we didn’t actually mention it to L because when I went online to look at prices I was shocked to see that it would cost us around £100 just to get in, we would then need to add travel costs, parking costs, lunch etc. We decided then and there that Legoland would just have to be a one-off very exceptional treat for a birthday in the future.
Shortly after, we moved to London, got jobs, got settled and started looking around for activities to do with L. I am delighted to say that in London you are so totally spoilt for choice when it comes to children’s activities, for all seasons and all budgets, but that will have to wait for another post another day. Because the one thing that I did discover through one of my local Twitter followers, and that has changed our family social life, is the Merlin Annual Pass.
Merlin Entertainment Group is the company behind many of the top attractions in London and the surrounding areas. What I found out is that if you go to one of these just for the day you can expect to pay around £100 (for our family of 3), however if you get the annual pass you can go an unlimited number of times* making it incredibly cost-effective.
So where can you visit with your pass?
Chessington World of Adventures, as we did yesterday to make the most of our lovely late summer’s day.
Legoland in Windsor.
Madame Tussaud’s in London.
The London Eye.
The Sea Life London Aquarium.
It also gets you in to the London Dungeon (which we did one weekend when we were child-free), Thorpe Park and for those wanting to go further afield there is also Alton Towers and more.
Like all these types of annual pass it is only economical if you are going to use it regularly, which we do. The current online price for a family of 3 is £315.90, however renewals are cheaper and we paid just £256 for the 3 of us for our second year. The added bonus for us is that Baby n°2 gets in free until he/she is 3 years old.
We used our pass 12 times in the first year, which worked out as £26 the day out. So far this second year we have used it once a month, and at the lower rate of £256 that means just £21 for a fab day out for the whole family. We tend to go to the same attractions as they are closest to us, but I find you can go time and again. For example I took L on the London Eye just the two of us one day when B was busy, then B and I went on it one evening after work at dusk before going out for dinner which was very romantic; we have been to Legoland 3 times now but still have at least a quarter of the park that we haven’t covered and we haven’t tried out Thorpe Park yet.
I don’t work for Merlin or have anything to do with them and they haven’t provided anything for me for free, but we use this so often and the whole family loves these days out that I just wanted to share. I’m so glad it was shared with me.
* There are some restrictions depending on what type of pass you go for. The above prices refer to the standard annual pass for a family of 3 which has some date limitations, for example it doesn’t work for a lot of attractions in August.
I don’t know why but finding a name for a baby boy seems to be infinitely harder than finding names for a baby girl. Before those who know me get excited and start thinking we’ve given in and found out the sex of our bump, sorry to disappoint you but we are still in the dark. As with L we don’t know the sex, and as with L, we’re struggling to find boys’ names that we’re both happy with.
It doesn’t seem to be just us either; my sister gave birth to my nephew 2.5 weeks ago and they are yet to name him (fortunately for them they live in New Zealand where you have 3 months to name your baby, as against 3 days in France!) I also have a work colleague who took several weeks to name her baby boy.
After living in France for 12 years where you have just 3 days to name your baby or the state names him/her for you, I still feel that I need to go into labour with a girl’s name and a boy’s name all set to go. As I mentioned previously we had chosen our two names and we were both happy with these and ready to go….then I got chatting to my sister after my nephew’s birth and I started worrying about whether our choice of a French name would work/be pronounceable in the UK.
To be on the safe side I presented two of my London mummy friends with a shortlist of boys’ and girls’ names and asked them to pronounce them. Oh dear. There went our boy’s name. With the likelihood that it’ll be pronounced wrongly and in a way that I really dislike too we’ve had to delete it from our list. The issue here is that it was the only boy’s name B and I could both agree on.
On the up side we seem to be ok on the girl’s name front. On the down side we’re back to square one with boys’ names; unable to agree on one name that we both like.
So if you’re bored, how about you help us out with any suggestions and pop them in the comments below? Here are our criteria:
- We’re looking for a French name as our surname is French.
- It can’t be too long as our surname is long with 3 syllables.
- We’re trying to avoid names starting with L, B or S as those letters start our names.
- Our surname starts with an L and the letter B is quite dominant.
My Facebook and Twitter timelines are awash with photos of children going back to school today on both sides of the channel. As today is my first “free” day of maternity leave it seemed like a good time to return to my blog and to compare “la rentrée” (the return to school) in France with what back to school means in the UK.
We have just returned to London after 2 weeks on the French Riviera, catching up with old friends and enjoying some down time as a family of 3 before the baby arrives. Whilst we were there literally everyone was talking about “La Rentrée”. In France it’s a really big deal and even has its own name – la rentrée literally means to return or re-enter.
La rentrée tends to strike fear in parents’ hearts as it comes hand in hand with the dreaded list of “fournitures scolaires” to be bought, this is the list of all the stationery and equipment that parents need to provide their children with. French parents don’t need to worry about uniforms as these do not exist at state schools, however they do need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy brand new pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, sports equipment and so on from a very specific list that is usually only sent out days before la rentrée.
French schools do not provide pupils with any of the basics, so they all need to be bought each year. Unfortunately the specific list tends to change each year, so the fountain pen from last year will no longer be any good this year, and will need to be replaced with a new one, the same goes for the pencil-case, the ruler etc. So the last week of August sees harassed mums rushing round the aisles of hypermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc, clutching their lists and desperately trying to find all these items.
Fortunately we left France before L got to a stage where she needed lots of equipment so I was saved this.
This is L’s first ever rentrée, aged 2 and 3/4 into the “petite section” of “maternelle”, basically the first year of nursery school.
So how does this differ from “back to school” in the UK?
I personally find that British parents are more relaxed about the return to school (unless their child is starting a new school which is often daunting no matter what country). Maybe this is due to the fact the British children have only been off for 6 weeks as against 2 – 2 and 1/2 months in France. Maybe it is because they just have to check that uniforms still fit and can buy more from a variety of places if they don’t. There is less stress over getting specific equipment which must conform to “la liste”. I certainly feel much more relaxed in my back to school preparations here which helps when you’re 7 months pregnant!
Good luck to L’s French friends who have left nursery school and are starting French primary school today in CP class (“Cours Préparatoire”), this is one year later than in the UK as the Reception class equivalent in France is in the nursery school and “big school” starts in the equivalent of Year 1. As for L she skipped off to Year 1 this morning without so much as a backward glance.
Today is B’s and my 9th wedding anniversary. On the 2nd August 2003 we said “I do” and “oui” in a civil ceremony at the “hôtel de ville” in Cagnes sur mer (near Nice) first of all, and then at an English church in Cannes, before heading inland to Vence to party under the stars until gone 4am. Here we are in our youthful glory:
It was the most amazing day of my life and I think I’m right in saying neither of us would change a thing about it, and every year we celebrate the fact that we’re still crazily in love with each other despite the for worses and thanks to the for betters.
Our first wedding anniversaries were modest affairs, what with it all being new to us and they were fairly shambolic, as it wasn’t clear who was supposed to be organising the celebration. Presents and cards were a bit hit and miss (the French don’t really do cards and it used to drive me loopy that B never got me a card….he’s since realised that a quick trip to a card shop is a relatively painless way to make me happy!)
After several years of up and down wedding anniversary celebrations we hit upon an idea that has worked for us ever since, and that numerous friends have copied too in order to have a successful wedding anniversary. It’s fairly simple, and some of you may already do this – we take it in turns to organise a surprise celebration. So every year you are either organising the surprise or being surprised, both of which are great fun.
We have been to see top London musicals, stayed at lovely hotels, supped at fab restaurants and just generally had some lovely one-on-one time together.
Our rules are simple (you might want to change these slightly depending on your situation):
- The celebration itself is paid for from our joint account and we tend to fix an approximate budget for this at the start of the year when we work out our finances for the year.
- We set a budget for presents (something usually quite modest – this year it was £40 each) and this comes from our personal bank accounts.
- We usually aim to do a daytime thing, an evening thing and stay away in a hotel overnight to avoid being faced with dealing with a child the next morning.
(We have to say a HUGE thanks to my parents who have dealt with L for us many a time on our anniversary weekend so we can make like newly-weds again!)
Here are some things we’ve done in the past to celebrate:
2012 – Organiser: B (last weekend)
Daytime: Camden Market for mooching around, lunch outside and a spot of shopping. (He had planned a trip down the river from central London to Greenwich until I pointed out that during the Olympics this was probably best avoided.)
Evening: A burlesque show called Wam Bam at the Café de Paris in the West End. I’m not sure that B realised exactly what was in store for us, but it was all good fun, although we did refrain from buying any nipple tassles.
Night: L was staying at my parents’ and for the first time in around 3 years we had the house to ourselves so decided to come home rather than go to a hotel.
2011 – Organiser: me
Daytime: The London Dungeons (in my defence I gave B a selection of places to choose from and this is what he went for!)
Evening: The final Harry Potter at the cinema in Leicester Square. Not quite a West End musical but we are both huge fans.
Night: A cheap deal on a hotel near Marble Arch.
Next day: As we were free the whole of the next day too and the weather was gorgeous we had a glorious picnic in Hyde Park, dozing, reading and chatting.
2010 – Organiser: B
Daytime: Strolling around Kensington Gardens.
Evening: Les Misérables in the West End.
Night: A lovely hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens.
We have been able to participate in such great anniversary weekends since we moved to the UK and got decent jobs with good salaries, however when we were living in France and running our own business it was a different story, so we had to make do with a more basic version. One year we really had no money to be able to celebrate at all, we only had the evening and we hadn’t been out for weeks, so we had a toned down celebration.
We bought some lovely food from the deli counter at Carrefour, a nice bottle of wine and we went and sat on the beach in Nice and had a romantic beach picnic. After which we went to the cinema to see….the latest Harry Potter – in English (this is a big deal when living in France and all films are subtitled!).
This cost us next to nothing and as we hadn’t had any social life it felt amazing.
When you are busy, tired and skint it’s easy to overlook your anniversary and not do much for it, but making the effort to be together as a couple and celebrate saying I do is well worth putting time and effort into. And I officially give you the right to use our little system. Happy wedding anniversary!