Sigh.

I received my French citizenship (at last) amongst the recent horrific terrorist attacks in France. Many people have been asking about the current ambiance here …..well…life just seems to go on…as do the attacks. Sigh.

Perhaps the craziness surrounding us – all over the globe -has nothing to do with religious, racial or political beliefs. Perhaps much can be explained by the concept of ‘self and other’ (see my last post) and also by the fact that there are desperate individuals in the community who are not fitting-in (or dropping-out of) their networks of friends/families/colleagues and just don’t have the skills to rectify the situation. Skills and abilities such as: calmness; asking for help; empathy and compassion; listening; curiosity; a growth mindset; a respect for self, others and nature; forgiveness;……..  Skills that can (and should) be nurtured at a young age…at home, at *school and in the community. Skills certainly more basic and fundamentally important than reading, writing and arithmetic. Skills that, as individual members of society, we might focus on in our communities. I think back to that much cited quote “Think globally: Act locally”.

Speaking of local, I shift my focus back to summer here in La Vendee. We have been blessed by a visit from our dear friend Nicolas (with whom I spent numerous afternoons on sunny terraces in Grenoble reviewing my new French vocabulary….and drinking coffee).

As the school holidays (all 8 weeks of them) have begun we have taken advantage of seeing friends and some of the sites that La Vendee has to offer including the beaches, salt marshes, coastal pine forests and the child-friendly Chabotterie Logis chateau and the Historial de la Vendee – both which focus especially on the **Vendee War.

I have also been busy delectably degusting the season’s offerings including cherry clafoutis and seafood. I also finally got the chance to taste a local speciality – grilled eel. It was precisely at the moment of it being served that Sebastien casually mentioned that eel really wasn’t that good and indeed it was a ‘muddy’ disappointment.

Now I wish a Happy 80th birthday to my dear dad – who is encouraged to wing himself over here for a plate or two of oysters.

* There are teachers who understand the importance of developing social and emotional intelligence and my children were lucky enough to have had one in Santa Barbara – Juliette http://www.earthandskysb.com/

**I described the pride of the Vendee folk in a previous post (Oct 2015). Here’s a very crude summary of what happened around the time of the revolution once the king’s head had been chopped off: The monarchies surrounding France were worried that their heads would soon be rolling and so declared war on France. The French Revolutionary Army lacked manpower to defend all of the French borders and so conscripted tens of thousands of men to join their cause – but numerous parts of France (La Vendee included) were pro-king and pro-church and refused to join. And so a violent civil war erupted.

Self and Other. Who are you?

 

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…or who speaks broken French.

I was talking to my worldly friend Frank the other day about the frustration of having a ‘foreign’ accent. He – a French man currently living in London – understood what I was talking about, AND feeling. As part of his studies in diplomacy he has come across the concept of ‘self and other’: to know who we are, according to this theory, involves categorizing people into groups…

‘Ideas of similarity and difference are central to the way in which we achieve a sense of identity and social belonging. Identities have some element of exclusivity. Just as when we formally join a club or an organisation, social membership depends upon fulfilling a set of criteria. It just so happens that such criteria are socially-constructed (that is, created by societies and social groups). As such ‘we’ cannot belong to any group unless ‘they’ (other people) do not belong to ‘our’ group.’ Othersociologist.com

So people/societies are driven to construct informal ‘groups’  in order to have a sense of identity. I wonder if individuals could actually have a sense of who they are without this element of exclusion (which is oh so evident among children and adolescents)?

The other day after speaking to a couple of boys I heard them exclaim as I walked away  – *”She’s not French!”…which I suppose is a perfect example of the boys identifying themselves (‘We are French’) by excluding me. Interestingly research indicates that when people experience a drop in self-esteem, they become more likely to express prejudice. (Understandingprejudice.org) .   This fact adds a little more light on the discriminatory behavior certain folk express.

There are laws against discriminating people according to their religious beliefs, sexual preferences, skin color …. and apparently linguistic discrimination is also forbidden by most international laws except – according to Philippe Blancher, Professor of sociolinguistics, and author of the book “Discriminations : combattre la glottophobie” (Published dec 2015) – in many cases in France.

It would appear, according to  Philippe Blancher, that France has a serious problem of ‘glottophobie’. Glottophobie is discrimination based on language : certain people (and interestingly not only the immigrant population but many French citizens themselves!) are treated differently, considered inferior or rejected because of their language (vocabulary, grammar, accent….). He goes so far as to say that there is a minority of people in France using ‘standard’, ‘correct’, ‘well-groomed’ French who silently dominate the majority  using ‘popular’, ‘local’ language.

In my last post I mentioned that some changes to the French language are being adapted, but Mr Blancher states that the idea that the French language be ‘fixed’, ‘frozen’ and ‘perfect’ is still very much commonplace and I’d have to agree.

Well! So much for pursuing my speech therapy career here! Speaking of which, I actually did a 3-day observation-training at a rehabilitation hospital a week ago and simply can’t ever imagine ever having the ‘well-groomed’ standard French that is expected of such a position.

* For those of you wondering if I’ve received my French citizenship yet…the answer is no. But now that I reflect on the procedure for applying for citizenship, I was required to have, at the very minimum, a reasonable level of French which was formally tested. This is an example of what Mr Blancher was talking about in his book on glottophobie in France. I’m pretty sure that no other European country has such a language requirement of it’s immigrants.

 

 

Quoi?! (what?!)

You may, or more probably may not, have heard about the controversial changes to the French language earlier this year. Changes to over 2000 French words were approved to simplify them for school children (and me!). The Académie française is the French council for matters relating to the French Language …and had apparently approved these changes years before.

French linguistic purists were horrified by the removal from many words of one of their favourite accents – the pointy little circumflex hat (ˆ) that sits on top of certain vowels – and allowing the word for onion to be spelled ognon (formally ‘oignon’).

“What makes this subject so controversial is that people are passionate about it. To change spelling touches on their childhood, reminds them of the pain, the effort, the successes needed to learn the rules and triumph. The circumflex accents are a kind of trophy,”The Guardian Feb 5 2016

Most people I’ve asked about the changes have been against and I’m not sure whether that disapproval is rooted in nostalgia, a belief that the changes are dumbing down the language or a conviction that suffering through hours of spelling lessons and dictation (and lots of red pen corrections) is a necessary rite of passage to becoming a worthy French citizen.

Personally, I’m quite happy about the changes:) French, like English, is a living language and so will naturally evolve over time.

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Speaking of which, about a year ago I noticed a change in the Australian-English language. I had heard it but I actually saw it posted all over a major supermarket during my last visit to Australia: “There’s 42 cards” which without contraction would be “There IS 42 cards” rather than the correct form: “There ARE 42 cards”. This incorrect use of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ (‘is’ instead of ‘are’) is now part of the Australian-English living language….It does sound wrong though.

The English language doesn’t have the equivalent of the French Academy. It wouldn’t be possible in any case because there is no longer a ‘standard English’. I have lived in a number of anglophone countries (Australia, England, The United States) I can attest to the fact that English vocabulary and grammar is very ‘fluid’. If only the French language was as fluid, flexible and forgiving about grammar as it is becoming about spelling!

The other side.

My time recently spent on the other side of the world certainly had its fair share of sadness and turmoil (see last post) BUT it did have another side…and I was still able to let some joy, lightness and space into my life (as is my intention):

I am so very grateful for:

The time I spent with my Dad, sister, brother and his lovely girlfriend;

Being reunited and supported by my dear childhood friends;

Reconnecting with my wonderful cousins, uncle, and aunts;

Getting to know my mum and dad’s friends better;

..and hearing from all of these people (above) about how my special mother had touched their lives in so many different ways was truly heart warming.

I was also blessed by:

Remembering how friendly and cool Australians are in general;

Hearing some of my favorite birds singing every day from the comfort of my cosy childhood bed: the magpies, kookaburras, plovers and butcher birds ;

Wandering around Melbourne and enjoying the asian food, the excellent coffee, street art, trams…the general Aussie ambiance;

The good ‘ol Aussie BBQ! Dad has become quite the master chef;

Enjoying the Australian sky (which is somehow different from anywhere else in the world..brighter…bigger!) and the Australian forest/bush including kangaroos, wallabies, lizards, and birds and Climbing Mount Cannibal numerous times – which is a little hill not far from home and which I climb each time I visit;

Taking part (ie:being forced by my sister to take part) in ParkRun (a world-wide weekly free 5km fun run) and re-discovering that I quite like a short run when my knee is not painful and when I can manage to come first in my age-category.

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Melbourne:coffee capital of the world

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Just one of the lovely laneways of Melbourne.

 

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Melbourne:best Asian food outside Asia.

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On top of Mount Cannibal..on top of the world!

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Sister Anne ecstatic about finally getting to a sausage sizzle at the local Bunnings (hardware) store.

And there was also the liberating time (6 weeks!) away from my husband and children…and of course the joy of finding them again  :)

There is always ‘The Other Side’….

My cousin Martin is the Rector of Bondi Anglican Churches (yes that IS on the coast of Sydney…nice right?) and he did a wonderful job as Master of Ceremony at mum’s funeral service.

He chose this reading from Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

imagesAnd of course the Chinese yin and yang also symbolizes the balancing of the universe’s opposing yet complementary forces.

Yes, fortunately, there is always ‘The Other Side’….

Since my return to France and with the beginning of spring I’ve Enjoyed some time spent with new and ‘old’ friends: Christelle and Jerome and kids at an amusement park ‘Futuroscope’, Anthony and Oanh and their kids (friends from Grenoble who now live in Paris), Coraline and Thomas and their son Victor (who was one of our daughter’s good friends in Shanghai……they returned to France from China at the same time we did) and a weekend in Brittany with a local couple and their kids (the son is another close friend of our daughters).

 

Losing your mum is weeping for the first time without her there to comfort you.

“When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters” Marilynne Robinson

Nothing at all has taken it’s ordinary course this past month.

In my last post I mentioned that I would be travelling home (to Australia) to spend time with my parents and friends. Four days before my arrival my mother fell whilst working in her beloved garden and broke her hip. She never regained full consciousness following the ensuing operation. The day I arrived and visited her she was in the Intensive Care Unit. This was not at all how I had envisaged my much anticipated visit to see mum who was doing so well following her last chemotherapy treatment. Mum opened her eyes when she heard my voice, smiled, and when I said “I love you” she managed to mouth it back to me.

She was shortly transferred to an orthopedic ward where her neurological symptoms were ‘treated’ with numerous drugs. After 3 weeks of status quo, and with possession of mums very own *end-of-life plan, she was transferred to a palliative care unit in a lovely country hospital where she passed away quietly 10 days later, holding my dad’s hand.

There had been moments where mum was somewhat alert and could hear what we were saying and she even occasionally managed to say some words and sentences very clearly. It was comforting to know that she heard what friends and family wanted her to hear before she departed – including a very moving personal choir concert performed by a group of close friends.

During the month following the operation I stayed with my Dad and sister (supported by wonderful family and friends and my amazing husband who was back in France looking after the kids for much longer than he had anticipated) as we wove our way through numerous emotions: shock, disbelief, guilt, doubt, frustration, hope, anger, helplessness, fear, confusion, indecision, tension,  empathy, love, loss, deep sadness, and physical and emotional fatigue.

I can’t begin to imagine how, but mum maintained her sense of humour, kindness, and patience right to the very end. The extent of her amazing qualities were truly appreciated at the service that was held to celebrate her life at the beginning of April where soooo many people came together to remember her. She always thought of others, was curious, gracious, authentic, cheery, cheeky, generous and she accepted everyone for who they were. The number of people who came up to me to share how my mum had touched their lives was remarkable and very moving.

My mum really was an amazing example of unconditional love. I never felt judged by her, advice was only given if requested, and there was always an attentive ear whenever I needed one. I am really going to miss her.

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My sister suggested that we ask ourselves “What would Hazel do?” when faced with daily challenges and I know that I will be doing this in a more conscious manner in the future.

*End of life plans or ‘Living Wills’ are the best way to ensure that towards the end of one’s life their wishes are respected. We were fortunate to be able to discuss mum’s plan with the nurse that had written it with her back in October in order to remove uncertainties. I would highly recommend that every adult write their plans and to do so in enough detail so as to not allow for ambiguity.

Parenting over here.

ob_ff8aed_image-rencontre-parents-profsBack in February 2015 I reflected on the American ‘Good job!’ versus the Chinese ‘You’re garbarge’ parenting.

Recently two children that had been invited to our daughter’s party were only permitted -by their parents – to attend half of the celebrations …as a form of punishment. That made me think that perhaps it is time for me to reflect on French parenting – especially now that I’ve been living here as a parent for a little while. (I’ve already written a little on the French education system in a previous post entitled ‘What we’ve been up to’ in October 2015).

Actually, French parenting style was very much in the news following Pamela Druckerman’s book release in 2012: Bringing up bebe – One American Woman Discovers The Wisdom of French Parenting. It recounts her experiences raising a child in Paris, where she found French kids to be way more well behaved, polite, autonomous, and willing to eat ‘adult’ food than their American counterparts.

The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids.

How that translates into daily French life is …..well….the parents often seem kind of …..strict and bossy. Kids are instructed on what to wear (so that everything matches of course) and to not get their clothes dirty, are expected to sit at the dinner table for interminable meals, their toys are rarely seen in the living room (they are confined to the bedroom), questioning adults is not encouraged and I’ve heard public comments such as these on more than one occasion towards children: ‘tu me fatigues'(you’re wearing me out), ‘arretes de pleurer’ (stop crying for goodness sake), ‘qu’est-que tu me fais?’ (what are you doing to me?) ‘tu es nul’ (you’re usesless) ‘tu es chiant’ (you’re a pain in the arse) and punishments are handed out …such as my earlier example of not permitting a child to attend a birthday party ….which I incidentally find particularly harsh as it punishes the other children involved who were not implicated in the ‘crime’.

Like other European states, France criminalizes violence against children, but it also allows parents the right to discipline their children at a low level. France is the only country in Europe where spanking is still legal, and, according to surveys in France, it is still commonplace (ahaparenting.com)

And very unlike the Americans who praise everything a child does (whether it’s truly warranted or not) with a loud ‘good job’ and ‘aawwwesome’ the French (generally speaking) are not often heard saying ‘that was really good’ but rather expressions such as ‘pas mal’ (‘not bad’) or ‘tu peux faire mieux’ (‘you could do better’)

To sum it up in a nutshell – and grossly generalizing –  I get the feeling that the goal of parenting here is to bring-up a well-behaved child who listens to their teacher and does their homework, who is polite, patient and obedient.

But after reading this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-truth-about-french-parenting-and-i-would-know/254521/  I would have to agree that I don’t think I actually want obedient children, because those are the kind of kids that are more vulnerable to peer pressure. I hope to aim to put an emphasis on kids who are able to think for themselves, who question everything (or almost everything!), and who follow their interests/hearts.

It is interesting to note that there does appear to be a bit of a backlash to the traditional style of parenting with more information appearing around topics such as ‘positive parenting’.

To finish, it is comforting to read what Steve Petersen had to say about children and their upbringing: “development really wants to happen. It takes very impoverished environments to interfere with development … [just] don’t raise your child in a closet, starve them, or hit them on the head with a frying pan“….. so there is nothing to worry about. Carry on!

And speaking of parents…I’ll be visiting mine in Australia in a couple of weeks…I’m looking forward to it mum’n’dad.

 

Bread and Butter….and another French tradition.

PH2009092204118It’s almost impossible to find a sub-standard bakery these days anywhere in France. The quality of French bread is remarkably good and tradition plays a great part in that but there have been a a number of modern tweaks since my first taste of an authentic French baguette.

Over the last 15 years it has become easier to find bread made from something other than white wheat flour. And individuals claiming gluten intolerance has also become more common – as it has in many parts of the world – presumably due to the type of wheat being used (GMO’s)?, the favoring of wheat varieties with higher gluten content?, the use of pesticides and preservatives?, the shorter rising time for the dough with questionable leavening agents …? Fortunately for me I can still enjoy a baguette now and then…’everything in moderation’ after all – at least that’s what my mum has always said.

Just an aside comment: all restaurants in France automatically serve a complementary jug of water and a basket of fresh bread to customers before the meal is served … which is a nice ‘French touch’.

Just recently I saw that some creative bakeries had found a way to satisfy people’s craving for the crusty end of the baguette (which often goes ‘missing’ between the bakery and home):

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…….and that is baguettes ‘a 4 pattes’ (baguettes with four ‘feet’ or ends) and even 6 ‘feet’!

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Baguette vending machine.

And then I have seen some baguette vending machines in front of bakeries to help solve that pesky problem of bakeries (and all shops for that matter) closing between 12:30-14:00….just when you want them.

And what to eat with the baguettes? Salted butter of course! (with whole salt crystals that scrape on the knife as it is spread on to the crustiness). Especially in this region where high-quality natural salt is produced.

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Galette des Rois

But right now French folk are eating Galette des Rois: It is a kind of cake made of puff pastry which most often filled with frangipane cream plus a ‘feve’ (a bean or porcelain figurine) which is hidden in the cake. The one who finds the feve is given a paper crown and is the king (roi) or queen for the day. The tradition celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem on the 6th January (the Ephiphany)…but one can buy the galettes from bakeries and patisserie shops during a month-long period.

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The village of St Emilion – and Frank and family – just before dusk.

After eating numerous festive meals, I didn’t actually manage even a mouthful of  Galette des Rois. Indeed, for over a week we ate and drank far too much (every single day) with family and friends , which included time with an old friend – Frank – with whom we spent the New Year’s Eve in a beautiful village called Saint Emilion in the heart of the Bordeaux wine region.

Christmas time would have to be the most difficult time of the year to not be with close family and childhood friends – I tend to feel home-sick and slightly pressured into following traditions that are not my own….added to that is the knowledge that it is summer-time in Australia!

But it is a new year now and the days are slowly getting longer again. Bonne Annee everyone.