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!