Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Continuing on from yesterday's post, we also had a really interesting discussion about the relationship dynamics in Syrian couples. A lot of the wealthy Syrians left Syria not long after the troubles started and moved to Cairo, and many settled in this very same compound.  As we talked, the conversation turned to match-making - the ladies were really wanting to get the daughter of one friend set up with another Syrian friend of the family.  They made a side comment about how Syrian women are treated like queens, so I asked for more details.  Apparently according to Syrian tradition, the women do not work - they take are of the children and the household - but in exchange, the men have to buy them whatever they want.  So during the woo-ing phase, the men shower the women with all kinds of gifts. Any clothes, or shoes or jewellery - whatever your little heart desires, they have to go out and buy.

And once they are married, it is 100% the man's responsibility to take care of all shopping and purchases.  Even groceries.  But it's all the wife's choice - she sends him with a list of "Buy a kilo of oranges, 5 peppers, etc" and he has to get it on his way home.  Same if she needs any dishes, household items, clothing, etc - it's his duty to provide them.

It got me thinking though about how this could be perceived elsewhere, as many of these Syrian refugees are moving abroad.  Seen from the outside, and without that cultural context, it almost looks like the woman is completely submissive to her husband, forbidden from even leaving her home or having any money or purchasing power.   I tried explaining this to the ladies, and they were completely flabbergasted that anyone could ever think that, repeating again that "Syrian women are queens!"  It reminded me a bit of how I used to find so many things in France ridiculous or stupid - until I took the time to find out the 'why' behind them.  I wish there was a way for us all to remember that there is a often good reason behind most things that seem scary/strange/wrong in other cultures.

On another topic, I used a different hotel this time, and they gave me a list of ten rules for using the pool.  The English was a bit spotty, so I wasn't quite sure I was understanding it right - I thought it said women had to wear burkinis - so I asked for clarification, and it turns out it was actually the opposite.  This particular hotel chain - which was Egyptian - has forbidden burkinis in their establishment.  It was only then too that I noticed none of the women were wearing a veil.

I brought this up too with the ladies, and they said it's a change that's come about in the past two years.  Before, women could wear whatever they want to the beach - a bikini, a one-piece, a burkini and no one cared.  But recently, more and more hotel and private beaches/clubs have started forbidding them, and my dear friends were getting rather frustrated by the whole thing because it was limiting the places they could go and have fun, with no logical reason behind it.   I'm sure most of you have heard how much of a fuss the birkini has made in France over the past 12 months, so it was interesting to see a similar tactic being taken in a Muslim country.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

More on Egypt

I just got back yesteday from another trip to Egypt.  It was probably the most horrendous return itinerary ever - the two options were either leaving Cairo at 1:30am and landing at CDG at 5:30am or leaving at 4:30am and getting here at 9am.  I ended up going with the 1:30am flight because I figured that even if I took the 4:30 flight, I would have to leave the hotel at 1:30 or 2am anyways to head to the airport, so might as just leave earlier and not spend the extra $$ on a hotel. What would you have done?

Besides that, my trip was great.  Things are going well with our first customer there, and I (and my waistline lol) benefited from their extremely generous hospitality.  Friday is the 'jour de repos' in Egypt (and sometimes Saturday too), so Thursday night, many families gather together for a large meal.  And last night was no exception for my customer and his family, just with a random American in tow.

I can't remember if I mentioned in my post about my last trip, but they appear to only really eat two meals - breakfast and then 'Lunch' around 5:30pm.  So one can start getting pretty hangry by the time late afternoon rolls around.  But having already experienced one of their family feasts, I knew it was worth it to hold out, and I was not disappointed.  We showed up to gigantic table full of slow-cooked beef, duck, chicken, hamburger-stuffed pitas, rice pilaf, stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, fried cauliflower, stuffed grape leaves, tomato salad, straight off the grill puff breads, and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  Anytime any room was made on my plate, it was immediately replaced by a few more spoonfuls of beef or rice or whatever, accompanied by gentle admonishments of "Eat, eat".

Then we moved upstairs to the family room for dessert.  There was chocolate, wafers, a million different types of honey-soaked desserts, oranges and bananas from their own groves, nuts and tea.  Around 20 of us, from ages 1 to 70, sat on the biggest sofa I have ever seen and watched TV and chatted. The patriarch of the family wanted to watch an old sitcom from the 70's, and it was really fascinating to see how the women were dressed - very modern, no headscarf, short skirts, etc - similar to if you've ever seen pictures of Iranian women at that same time.  It made for an interesting contrast to what you see today - women dressed in a modern but still mostly conservative way, with about 50% of them wearing the headscarf in the cities, and 100% of women wearing them in the countryside.  It just made me wonder if women watching those shows today are cogniscent of the difference or if they don't even think about it and it's just like watching an old episode of Three's Company or something like that.

At a certain point, all the men moved into one room to smoke shisha, and the ladies who were wearing headscarves took them off, and we turned on some music.  The youngest daughter had been learning how to belly dance off of YouTube, so all of us - from the little girls to the grandma - lined up in a row while she tried to teach us some moves. It was hilarious and touching and one of those really surreal, but extremely human, moments that are a big part of the 'Why' I keep doing what I'm doing.

Afterwards, the (Indonesian) nannies put the kids to bed, and us ladies sat around drinking tea and talking.  They asked all kinds of questions about life as a woman in France and the US - do most women work?  At what age do they get married?  What is childcare like?  Do the kids go to private schools? What happens after you get married?  How do you furnish your home?  Do the men help out?

I should explain too that these women are all college-educated, at Western Universities, typically the American or British University of Cairo.  They have degrees in interior design, pharmaceuticals, history, and marketing. They speak excellent English and are well-traveled.  All of them got married while they were in University.  Most of them have never worked though because they got pregnant immediately after marriage and are stay-at-home moms. The entire family lives in the same guarded, fancy compound, in brand-new and astonishingly beautiful homes that are cared for by maids (who also help out with a lot of the cooking).  They drive shiny new BMWs and SUVs, and have drivers for when they don't feel like driving.  It's certainly a life far-removed from your average Egyptian, but my little peak into their world has been fascinating.

(More tomorrow on my continued discussions with these ladies)


Saturday, February 11, 2017

V-day gfit ideas (or treat yourself)

Last week, I attended a really fun "Love" themed book-signing at La Cuisine Paris showcasing three expat authors.  After a glass or two of vino and a few tasty red velvet pancakes, we all sat down to listen to Lily, Lisa and Craig read a love-related excerpt from their book.

Lily's book, "Je T'aime...Maybe?", is her second book and describes even more of her hilarious dating misadventures in Paris.  Lisa's book, "My Part-time Paris Life" is a memoir of a woman finding herself in Paris after the death of her mother (and dealing with the headaches that come with owning and renovating an apartment here), and Craig's book "Pancakes in Paris" covers the trials and tribulations of opening an expat business in France, and explains in funny detail how Breakfast In America grew to be one of the most famous diners in Paris.

The excerpts of all three books had the crowd laughing out loud, and while I don't think I have many male readers out there, any one of them would make a great Valentine's gift for your loved ones - or even yourself!  I'd always toyed with the idea of writing a book about all of my expat escapades, but it felt like there are so many out there already that what could I say that was new & fresh?  These three have shown me that there are still original takes on the City of Light to be found.

Along similar sexy lines, Heather's Naughty City Guides are also both on sale for Valentine's Day - her Naughty Paris Guide is on sale for $6.99/€5.99 (plus shipping) and the Naughty New York Guide is $4.99/€3.99 (plus shipping). You can send an email to for more purchase information!

Friday, January 27, 2017

J'ai testé pour vous..une école de coiffure

I am leaving tomorrow for a week in the US to attend a trade show (and then my cousin's bachelorette party!), and pretty much every time at the last minute before a trade show, I think "Crap, I should get my hair done".  It's a bit of a cliché, but (most) (foreign) gentlemen do prefer blondes and the blonder my hair is, the more they like me.  I know, I know - it's sexist and not fair and blah blah blah, but as one of the few women in my industry, I've decided I'll take any leg up I can get.

I normally try to get my hair done in the US because I've never really been happy with my haircuts & colors here, but I read a French blog last week talking about all the various hair academies in Paris, and I thought, pourquoi pas?  I used to go to the Aveda Institute all the time in the US and I loved it - and I figured if my hair got messed up here, I could always get it fixed next week.

So I checked out this website, and chose Jean Louis David because 1) I had done a case study on them during my masters program and 2) I thought they were the "specialist of blondes" (but I actually now think it is Jacques Dessange).  It was a bit annoying to make a RDV because you either had to call a numéro payant or show up in person, but I got my appointment set up for this past Tuesday. 

I showed up and paid my 15€ (7€ for the cut, 8€ for the color), and got sent upstairs. I was fairly quickly assigned a student, and we went through their look book together, and I chose a photo of a women with golden highlights. She in turn showed me something like this:

And I was like "Um, no - that's what my hair looks like now. I am coming in to cover up the regrowth, not make it look like I haven't had highlights in six more months".  She called over the instructor, who said that this was a new style becoming popular in France, and that the student was here to learn it, but that she would do that first and then give me some highlights after.  So I sat there for and let her do here thing, not in any way convinced by what she was doing....and three hours later, she whirled me around and I looked pretty much exactly the same as I had earlier. Minus a few inches of hair. 

At that point, I was like "Do I say something or do I not say something?" I mean on one hand, it wasn't terrible at all and I had only paid 15€, but on the other hand, she was there to learn and it wasn't what I had asked for. In the end, when the instructor came over and asked what I thought, I decided to speak up and be honest and said "It's fine....but it's not at all what I wanted".  I thought she might say "Tough luck", but instead she replied "Sometimes hairstyles need to be washed a few times before you really see how they are - try it out for a few days, and if you don't like it, come back and we'll do it again for free".

So I left, and didn't end up liking it any more, so I made another appointment for today. This time, I ended up getting a personal consultation with the instructor, and she had her chouchou redo my hair, and it is a million times better.  Exactly what I was looking for and the equivalent of what I get in the US.  Unfortunately though her class pet was Spanish and lives in Madrid, so that's a little far to go for a haircut.... Though I guess going to the US is also far too. :D

Would I try it again?  Probably.  I'm never satisfied with hair cuts/colors here no matter how much I pay, so in the end, I figure why pay 200€ when I can pay 15€?   Though I would probably give another school a shot next time for comparison's sake.  Has anyone else tried a hair school here?


Monday, January 16, 2017

A day in the life

Last week, I was out all week traveling in the countryside, visiting customs in and around Cholet.  One of the days, I had just arrived on site and was in the office drinking a cup of coffee with my client and the site manager (side bar - when will I ever learn to like coffee??  It's such a social thing here in France, and refusing a coffee offered by a customer is like saying "No, sorry, I don't want to spend 10 minutes chatting with you", so I always feel obligated to accept and choke it down).   But so there we all were, drinking our dirt water coffee, and all of the sudden we see eight or nine employees leaving the building at break time.  This normally does not happen because everybody wears special clothes inside, so going outside is a bit annoying because it requires getting undressed, changing clothes, etc. 

The site manager opened the window and yelled out "Hey, Jean-Paul, where are you going?" And JP replied back "We're going to see a deer".  The three of us looked at one another like "WTF??" and then I laughed and said "Well let's follow them, I want to see the deer too".

So we all trek outside in a line and Old Jean-Paul starts telling a story about how he was on his way to work that day, and it was really foggy and he couldn't see anything, and all of the sudden "WHAM".  So he pulled over and got out and realized he had hit a deer.  She wasn't moving at all, so "since no one was around to see", he hefted her up and popped her in his trunk and continued on his way to work.  And now five hours later was coming to check on her.

He opened the trunk and we all collectively leaned back a bit in case she jumped out, but nope, there she was, perfectly untouched and frozen in time. Luckily (or I guess unluckily), she had been killed upon impact, so she hadn't sat there suffering all morning, which had been one of my concerns.  His colleagues asked him what he was going to do with her, and he replied "Make steaks and sausages".  And then we all trekked back inside again.

That too is life in France, my friends.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Karma's a b*tch, part II

So when I left off yesterday, it was time to head over to the farm house to visit his dear, sweet dad. He was pretty much the only person in Brittany who welcomed me with open arms, and who was oh, so patient with me as I was learning French. He always had time to sit and talk with me, to offer me a cup of coffee and a palet breton.  I was nervous about seeing him - Fab had mentioned that he only recognized people that he had really liked, and it left me feeling nervous, and wondering if the sentiments I had for him were one-sided.

But when I walked through the door, he light up like a light bulb, with this beautiful, huge smile, and it was honestly one of the most emotional moments I'd had all year.  To see that man, who was so strong and who had worked so hard his entire life lose nearly everything just as he was retiring - was heartbreaking.  And then of course right beside him sat my ex-MIL, who's about as mean as a hornet and who barely worked a day in her life, in perfect health.  Sometimes life really isn't fair.

Since he couldn't talk, I sat there talking about what I'd been up to for nearly the past ten years. One of Fab's aunt's was also there, which was a bit awkward, but we made do.  And his handicapped step-brother was also present, and provided for some much need levity by interrupting me and asking very loudly "Why you wearin' a ring?  You married?"

Up to that point, I had been kind of circling around the topic of C, saying "nous", but making no specific references to him.  But I couldn't really avoid it after that, so I gave him the glowing description he so wholly deserves, and they all said they were happy for me. I couldn't really be sure if they were sincere or not since the alcohol had been flowing quite freely, although not for me since I still had some driving ahead of me.

Not long after, the night nurse came to take care of his besoins and put him to bed, so I had to say my goodbyes.  The evil ex-MIL asked him to try to say my name, and my initial thought was "Man, you are cruel" as we'd just been talking about how unsuccessful his speech therapy had been, but then to everyone's surprise, he said my name!  Everyone else then went around the table trying to get him to say their names, but he wasn't having it.  So I leaned down to give him the bise goodbye, and I whispered in his ear that I had thought about him often over the years, that I was extremely grateful for everything he had done for me during my early days in France, and that I was hopeful for him.  He couldn't say anything but Oui back in response, but he put his hand on mine and we both had a little mist in our eyes as I said my final goodbye.

As I drove away, I felt both sadness at seeing him like that and the closure that I needed from seeing Fab.  I don't wish him any ill will, but even if I'm so much better off now, I wouldn't be human if I didn't admit I got some satisfaction from seeing the end of the relationship that broke up our own.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 + some gossip

Well, the New Year has come and gone. After thinking we wouldn't really have any plans, we ended up throwing together a last-minute NYE party for nearly 20 people.  It was a great time, even if I was slightly cranky that all of the smog was blocking our view of the Eiffel Tower at midnight.

I've been thinking about it these past few days, and I don't really have any solid resolutions for 2017.  With the exception of the US political situation, 2016 was a pretty good year for us, and I will be perfectly satisfied if 2017 continues along the same path.

And in today's episode of karma is a b*tch, before I left for the US, I made a short trip to Bretagne for work.  Fab, my ex - as longtime readers will remember - had contacted me after the US elections results were announced to basically ask WTF.  We started chatting a bit, and I asked if he was going to get in trouble for talking to me, and he was quiet for a second before very sheepishly admitting that he had gotten divorced this past summer.  My first thought was "Ha, serves you right!", and my second though, which I voiced, was "That is sad for your daughter".

In even sadder news, he also mentioned that his father, a dear man with whom I was very close, had had a stroke. He is unfortunately mostly handicapped now, and needs a nurse to come three times a day to take of his daily needs. He also can't speak really say anything besides Oui or Non.  So I'd had him on my mind for quite some time when this Bretagne trip came up, and I decided to ask if I could stop by the farm to see him.

It was pretty surreal to be driving through the winding country roads that used to be my home.  When I pulled up to the farm, Fab came out to great me, and brought me to his 'house', aka a very sad-looking trailer behind the main farmhouse.  My face must have shown my surprise because he said "Alright, you get five minutes of laughter and then you have to move on".  It was pretty obvious that he too was aware of the irony of the situation.

He explained that was living there because he had lost a lot of money in the divorce due to the fact that he had brought his wife into the family business, something myself and everyone else in his family had strongly advised him against, and so he had no choice but to live there.  He also lost his organic certification after an inspector discovered they had been trying to cheat by using non-organic feed (as a side note, this is one of the reasons I don't often buy organic in France - in my experience, most of the farmers are doing it purely for the extra money it brings in, not because of their convictions - which means they cut corners and make substitutes wherever they can). 

I felt pretty gratified actually that he was able to acknowledge that I had been his moral compass, and he admitted that there is some truth to the saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and that he had unfortunately been too weak to push back on all of her suggestions. We had a long chat, and he apologized very sincerely for what he had done, and said it had weighed on him every day for the past nine years. 

I was also surprised with how much he remembered of our life together.  He asked very specific questions about several of my family members and co-workers, not to mention names of places we had been, etc, many of which I had long forgotten about. Although I guess I have a horrible memory in general, and can barely remember what I blogged about last year, so I shouldn't use myself for comparison lol.  It was very obvious though that he missed speaking English, contact with other foreigners and our regular trips to the US.

But this is getting a bit long, and I haven't even gotten to the best part yet, so I think I'll continue on with the rest tomorrow!

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