It’s been an intense week… I’m organising a move out of Monaco for one of my clients, and because the rental market is so ridiculously tight, we still haven’t found a new address to move into. So I’ve been sorting and organising to put contents in storage for the time being.

And I’ve had it all well in hand. Until around 6pm last night when the rug was pulled out from underneath me (not literally, the carpet is actually fine).

I received a text from the agent for the owner, who said that the Syndic (the group responsible for the building itself) has sent an terse email that they understood I would move the contents out on 19 November, the Monaco National Holiday, and that all citizens and residents of Monaco must respect the holiday and that the removal must not happen.

Holy frickin’ Merde!

Yes, I knew that the 19th was a National Holiday… in fact, one of the stricter ones in Monaco. HOWEVER, the moving company is not from Monaco. I am not a Monaco resident. And the police had already approved the parking and moving permit. So how could this happen, and so late in the game!?

Needless to say I was wound up in a tizzy, and couldn’t resolve the issue immediately as both the moving company was closed, and the police office was closed.  So I had to fret about it all night. And I did. So tired now….

Long story short:  The habitually UNHELPFUL concierge at the building complained to the Syndic that I was planning the move for the 19th, and as it was a National Holiday, they would not work. Ok. Well. For one thing, I have no need for the concierge for the move — they are a couple of useless twats who do nothing anyway, and complain about it. Secondly… THEY NEVER WORK ON MONDAYS. So what the hell difference would it make to them if it was a holiday or not???  I cannot comprehend why they would try to rock a boat that would have absolutely no effect on them whatsoever. What is with people???

Seriously, they are the worst concierges ever… they have refused to accept packages for us, and in one shocking instance, my client’s car was being towed, and the concierge just stood outside and watched them hoist it up on the truck…. didn’t even bother to buzz up to the apartment to let us know there was a problem. Instead, we got a call from the parking concierge from up the block, who knows us too, who saw it happening as he drove past, and SAW THE CONCIERGE WATCHING FROM THE SIDELINES. Incroyable.

These people must resent their jobs, and yet they have a cushy job where they are paid, provided with an apartment and parking in Monaco, and have very little to do to earn it.  Give the job to someone who would actually provide a service to the tenants, would you?  The apartment we are vacating will rent for 13,000 Euros per month. For that kind of money, the concierge should at LEAST be willing to accept a fucking FedEx package.

The police have confirmed that we have the authorisation to move, and to park as planned. And so the move starts at 9am on Monday morning.

The Syndic can suck it.

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This is a story of how the term ‘Side Fringe’ does NOT translate literally to French. Also known as ‘the haircut that took a year to grow out’ , ‘It’s my own damn fault’ or ‘Ode to Michel’.

Trust me, it’s HARD to get a good haircut when you can’t communicate clearly. Even harder to argue your point if you’re not happy.

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Most women are pretty loyal to their hairstylist, and I’m no exception. I was with my stylist back in Toronto for at least 10 years, and when I first came to the South of France, I floundered trying to find a new stylist. I ‘let it go’ for the first few months to grow out my pixie cut, and, as a bit of an unexpected bonus, I got to see my natural hair colour for perhaps the first time in over a decade. But that didn’t last, as it was peppered with more grey than I remembered!

Anyway… fast forward a few years, and I found myself settled into a tiny apartment in Vieux Nice, and on a whim I decided to try a small and uber-trendy salon (way too cool for me!), just up my street.  And so I met Michel. He was so cool, he should have an entourage. I swear I felt like a glamourous celebrity every time I left the salon, and people would turn to stare as I flicked my golden locks as I cruised down the street. Okay, probably not… but how could they not admire his handiwork!  I was red-carpet ready!

My relationship with Michel lasted a good many years. When he told me he was leaving the salon, I followed like a lemming. How could I let anyone else touch my hair??? It had taken me years to find him!  I went regularly to his home for my touch ups and cuts, and I couldn’t imagine going to anyone else. I befriended his boyfriend, and his cats.  He even gave me my wedding updo, and my awesome “New Mommy” cut when my son was just born.

But, alas… all good things must come to an end. After more than five years, he told me he’s had enough of being a hairdresser, and he was changing his metier to something more personally rewarding… and the next thing I knew he was doing good work with mentally & physically challenged patients, and I had a silver stripe down the middle of my head. I was proud of him, and resented him all at the same time. Merde.

Back to square one… which led me to a quaint salon in my new neighbourhood. And here it started to go terribly wrong. The colour was never right. Too brassy. But anytime I tried to bring it up, I was scoffed as it was the ‘same colour since the beginning’ and it had no red in it. Maybe so, but I look in the mirror, and I see brassy. *sigh*  Okay, pick your battles… at least the ones you can articulate properly!

Let’s not even talk about the day she sent me home with some frizzed out ‘rock ‘n roll styling’, so bizarre that my husband told me I looked like something out a John Hughes movie when I walked in the door… and he never notices anything. Does she not get that I am a 40-something mother of a baby???

Winter came, and I wanted a change. I’d put on a few pounds of ‘new mom’ weight and wasn’t feeling terribly attractive. Hormones had made my skin patchy on my face.  I wanted side-fringe to shake things up, and get me through the season. Side fringe. “Frange sur le côté”.  I was pretty confident with my explanation. Right up until the moment she snipped an additional few centimetres of fringe on either side. Wowza… that is NOT a side fringe. That’s a full on blunt fringe, and I was NOT feeling it. My stomach sank, and I sucked it up and told her it was certainly ‘different’ and that I would give it a try. As if I had a choice. She told me it was very au courant, very trendy. I thought I looked like my mom, who is NONE OF THOSE THINGS.

Since then, I’ve discovered a very important lesson. Ladies, the phrase ‘frange sur le côté’ does NOT EXIST. Side fringe is ‘meche côté’.  Yes, meche is also the translation for highlights. I can forgive myself for being confused. I could forgive my stylist. It was my own damn fault. Kinda sorta.

That stylist has recently left the salon. I stuck with her for 2 years, only because I didn’t want to go through the steps of finding someone else new (and they have an awesome massage chair for when your hair is getting rinsed — I highly recommend every salon do this!). Eventually, she understood me. More or less. No movie star moments… but beyond the fringe that took a year to grow out, no more horrid hair moments.

I just had a rendez-vous with her replacement today. I was all a-jitter, anxious about getting another bad cut… but he did well. I got my “frange a côté”, just the way I wanted it. Next time, the meche. And if I’m lucky, maybe he can sort that brassiness. Baby steps!

But I still miss my Michel. I’d like to feel like a movie star again, even if just for the 5 minute walk home from the salon.

I’ve been hanging around the south of France for about 10 years or so now, and one of the things I do lament, every year, is the lack of Halloween (and fall foliage, *sigh*).

Now that Buddy is nearing three, I thought it would be a great time to teach him a little Canadian Halloween heritage. And bring a bit of my favourite holiday to France, much to my Kiwi hubby’s chagrin. There was a lot of eye-rolling going on in our house this past week!

Now Halloween in France is a pretty dismal thing. There is no trick or treating. There are very few parties or events unless you live in an expat-heavy community (i.e. Monaco, Sophia-Antipolis, Nice) and there is a decided lack of candy in the supermarket aisles!

Don’t get me wrong… the French have been celebrating the ‘dead’ for centuries themselves around this time, just in vastly different ways. We North Americans celebrate it with costume parties, jack o lanterns and candy filled trick-or-treat outings. The French celebrate ‘Toussaints’ (All Saints), by visiting cemeteries and remembering the dead. And attending church.

But I think the North American tradition is starting to take hold a bit more every year. Communities seem to be holding little Halloween parties for kids… and what I’ve noticed (and love) is that the costumes are mostly in the ghoulish realm:  ghosts, skeletons, witches, wizards… I didn’t see a ‘sexy whatever-it-is’ anywhere, or any cartoon cute characters on the kids. The French seem to have embraced the ‘dead’ in Halloween better than the North Americans… although we do have Carnival to look forward to in February where we can all get kitted out in our cartoonish finest and whoop it up for 2 weeks of parades and fancy dress parties.

So our first task was to find a pumpkin to make dude’s first Jack ‘o Lantern. Not as easy as you would think!!!  I did manage to find some okay (smallish) pumpkins in the Carrefour supermarket in Monaco. None were found in any of the local markets.  Pumpkin, in French, is ‘Citrouille’… but not these ones. I kid you not, they were labelled as ‘Gourdes de Halloween’ in the supermarket. A nod to the Americanism of Halloween. AND they were 6 Euros apiece, which is probably close to 10 bucks. For a tiny little pumpkin. Don’t even get me started on how much it costs to buy a cob of corn (if one can be found).

So Buddy and I rolled up our sleeves for the fun and messy task of carving his very first pumpkin. Let me clarify. Buddy scooped what he could with a spoon so he didn’t have to get his hands dirty. I thought boys LOVED to get dirty???  He had carte blanche to get mucked up, and said no. Mon Dieu.

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All the same, less than an hour later we had our first Jack ‘o Lantern, art directed by a toddler. And a container of seeds to be roasted in butter and salt. Truly Canadian!  Jackie O was lit, every night, for the dinner hour. I suppose if I carried tradition over then I could teach him to smash the pumpkin on the road now that Halloween is over and done… but I’m pretty sure our neighbours would all know it was us!  Expats to tend to stick out like a sore thumb sometimes! No anonymity in our hood!

Expat friends invited us out to their house for a Halloween Party, and we braved the horrid weather so Buddy could enjoy his first real Halloween. He wore his cape for all of two minutes before discarding it for the rest of the evening. But the company was great, the kids had a blast, and our roasted pumpkin seeds were a surprise hit (how many times did I have to assure a Brit that YES, you really do eat them!).

I’ve heard tell that the charming town of Valbonne, which has a big expat community, has it’s own special french tradition nowadays…. the kids go through the narrow old town streets calling out whatever the french equivalent is for ‘Trick or Treat’ (we’ve got a year to find out what that is!), and then the residents just toss it out of the windows for the kids to scramble and catch. That’s how door-to-door works in the narrow cobblestone streets of an old village I guess, where most residents are in upper floors!   We’ll have to wait and find out next year, as it was bucketing down rain this year.

Happy Halloween folks.

Well, this has been a sucky 72 hours!

Life proved a point this weekend when our internet went out for 3 days. I tell you, we were crippled. No idea quite how completely reliant and addicted we are to the ‘net! Even Buddy, who shouldn’t give much of a crap, was quite put out when we told him that his digger and dump truck videos were unavailable because YouTube was ‘broken’.

Nevermind the fact that neither of us was able to do a stitch of work over the weekend (which does, admittedly, keep a nice little roof over our head), but we also couldn’t keep up with news, current events, random googling for Jack O Lantern ideas, dinner recipes, and to see how a movie ends before it’s actually started on TV. No Skype calls with family. No emails, just for fun… because I’m totally not paying a small fortune in 3G charges to do that over the iPhone.

Calls to France Telecom on Friday evening were fruitless, and it didn’t really have anything to do with language differences (although I’m sure if they spoke english I could have far more clearly expressed my frustration with them). One office advises us to call another, who via automated response, directed us to another. Ultimately we ended up with a Tuesday appointment without even having been able to speak directly to someone, and we weren’t even sure if that would solve the problem!  A visit to the local shop on Saturday morning was equally fruitless, as they directed us to call the number that we had already called the night before. And so it goes on.

Apparently, it would be working again sometime on Monday. Or maybe Tuesday. And it was. Briefly. And there was much joy and dancing in our house!  But then, as we happily enjoyed our morning coffee over Facebook and Huffington Post today… the internet went out again. Doom!  DOOM!!!

I’m sure that these are simply ‘first world problems’ and in light of the Sandy storm that’s bashing the US, our problems are small. But still… the internet is my drug. I needs it. I haves to have it. It’s my precioussssss.

Update 1 November:  Internet went down again shortly after this post… and wasn’t up and running until the 31st. Five days. No internet. Suuuuuucks.

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Let me start off by saying that buddy is already gifted in the language department (yes, I’m a gloaty mom, but seriously, he talks circles around his other little friends of the same age). I’m not saying he’s a genius… just an advanced chatterbox. Hubs thinks he gets it from me. Wha???

So teaching Buddy french is pretty important for us, and the clock is ticking. Less than a year from now he’ll be starting in french school, Mon Dieu!  They start so young over here!   In France, the kids start school at age 2 or 3 (the cut off date is December 31… if you turn 2 before the end of December, you start school the following September. If you turn 2 after January 1, you start school the following year.)  Fortunately Buddy was a February-baby, so he won’t be starting school until he’s three and a half.

So we’ve got time to ‘franglify’ him!  11 more months, to be precise.

Now my french is okay, although rife with grammatical and pronunciation errors, and a kick-ass Canadian accent, eh!  Hubster’s grasp of the french language is kind of pitiful, so needless to say we’re a completely english-speaking household!  And our friends are primarily english speaking, and his little friends are primarily english-speaking. Which is going to give Buddy a bit of a handicap when he starts school.

Sure, I know a fair amount of expats who have moved here, started their anglo kids in a french school, and every single one of them adjusted fine, and quickly surpassed mum and dad. Still… I’m already stressed enough about school starting so young, so I’d like him to feel just that little bit less lost.

We can’t budget for a private tutor or pre-school, so I’m teaching him french myself. I’ve bought some language apps for the iPad (which held his interest for short period), and I’ve tried reading him french books (which just sounds stilted and wrong).  Surprisingly, the easiest and most fun way of doing it has been the good old fashioned game of Eye Spy with my Little Eye. Except everything we spy is in French!  I spy with my eye, something that is rouge!  I spy with my little eye, something that is le soleil!

So while he may not be speaking in french yet, his vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds!!  He tosses his ‘bonjours’ and ‘au revoirs’ around like nothing!  And he loves it. And he’s starting to use the french words mixed in with the english in day-to-day life, which is tres fantastique!

Except that he sends me running for the translation dictionary pretty often. We’re working on the construction vehicles now!  Cranes, dump trucks, diggers!!  So we’re both learning!

So, further to my bedtime shenanigan dilemma from earlier this week, it has escalated into something wholeheartedly more stressful. By Friday evening we counted backwards realising that it had been five full days since any ‘movement’.  That can’t be good.

By Saturday, Buddy was not only fighting a head cold, but an increasing bout of constipation. Stopped up at both ends!

By Saturday evening the poor monkey couldn’t stand upright, couldn’t walk, and was in tears from 7:30 pm until he finally fell asleep in my arms after 10. Worst he’s ever been.  I tried everything I could… pears, pear juice, high fibre foods, warm bath (which he fought tooth and nail), and even a home-made enema (don’t ask). No joy.

He spent the night in my bed, and hubs was sent to the sofa. Don’t feel too badly for hubs, he probably got a better night sleep than I did, as he didn’t have tiny little feet pushing and kicking him all night long!!

This morning was no better, and after repeating all of the tricks from the previous evening, I popped a movie on the iPad, plunked him in a very warm bath, and waited and waited and waited while Nemo kept him entertained. At least he wasn’t crying. I’ll take whatever small victories I can get. At one point he politely asked if he could pee in the bath, and said ‘sure, why not’ because lets face it… the point of the bath was for him to pass an enormously painful poo… I don’t think sitting in his own diluted urine could really be all that much worse. 15 minutes later, with the aid of a little bath oil, RELIEF!!!! For both of us.

He’s all smiles now, and back to his normal self. But it’s late Sunday evening, so it’s been a bit of a wasted weekend. I can’t believe this entire weekend has revolved around poo. Merde… again.

 

 

Buddy is two and a eight months. He’s mostly potty trained (no thanks to hubs, of course).  We’re still doing the pampers at nap time and bedtime… No rush. No pressure.  All in his own time.

What we are working on now, is the ‘number two’ issue. Most of the books and blogs on potty training indicate that since the need to poo is the easiest to identify in your toddler’s behaviour, it’s the starting point to potty training. Not in my house. When Buddy retreats to his bedroom, slams the door, and raises his finger when you try to approach shouting ‘I want that you go away!’… well, you just know what’s coming.  Can’t miss his signs. But good luck getting him anywhere near the toilet.

Last week, Buddy started to embrace the big boy way of doing a poo… but I’m pretty sure I’m getting played now.

His need to sit on the toilet always seems to hit at bedtime (and rarely produces results). And he can sit there FOR-EV-ER!!!  Try to get him into his pampers and into bed for stories, and he whines, “No mama, I need to do a poo,”  and “I need a poo-cuddle” and he’s mastered the art of screwing up his face so it looks like he’s pushing.  Big fat faker. Big, fat, how-did-he-get-so-manipulative faker. #proudmommy

So what’s a mum to do?  I could call bullshit, and wrangle him into his pampers and jammies, but then I’ve got a tantrum to deal with, and a possible setback in the willingness to use the toilet. And you know… once or twice he really was successful.

So it’s 11:30 pm. And he’s finally asleep. No success this evening, unless you consider an extra hour of playtime on the toilet a success (and I’m sure he does)… so I guess we’ll just have to keep on trying. I might just have to slip some dried apricots into his porridge tomorrow morning.

Merde.

Or as the french would say… ‘Ouf!’

Huge relief. Dad’s quad bypass (not triple!!) was successful, and since my last post he’s been released home, and is being cared for by my mum (who is no doubt overjoyed to be playing Florence Nightingale). We’ve had a couple of video skypes since he came home, and she just can’t stop herself from shadowing him, and constantly touching him. We’re just not that kind of family. He must be inwardly cringing… but I guess it’s incentive for him to get moving and get better!!

Buddy is too young to understand the seriousness of what’s been going on… but not too young to pick up on all the anxiety, so I’m glad that we’re ALL on the mend now.  So a little retail therapy (in his favour), and some choice weekend outings (also in his favour) and we’re all fairly close to being back to normal.

Back to the grind tomorrow. August has been a bit of a write off, so I’d better make September profitable, or I’ll never be able to afford to fly home for Christmas!!!

 

 

 

It’s 1 in the morning, and I can’t sleep. The moon is full, and I’ve just gotten off a video Skype with my father, knowing that if all doesn’t go well, it could be the last time I talk to him. That’s the bitch about living so far away… when s*** happens, you just can’t be there.

My husbands family couldn’t come to our wedding. None of the Grandparents could come for the birth of our son. And tomorrow morning at 8am (EST) my father will undergo open-heart triple bypass surgery. And I can’t be there.

Well, I could. I could have have made my excuses to work, and hopped a plane just to make sure that I could see him before (and hopefully after) this horridly invasive procedure, but he didn’t want it. Buddy is two. I have too much going on over here with my own family, and he’d rather that we take the time to visit when he’s healed and can enjoy our company. Of course I understand, I’d probably say the same myself… but there is that nagging thought. What if he’s one of the 3% that don’t make it. What if he doesn’t wake up. The thought brings tears to my eyes, and makes me sneak into my son’s room and give him an extra cuddle. What would I do, and what would I want if it were my and my son instead?  I don’t know.

But one thing I do know, is that I am so grateful for todays technology.  We video skype almost every weekend, to make sure my parents feel a part of my son’s life, and mine. My brother will keep me updated on his Blackberry about the surgery… as he hears updates from the doctors. Technology has enabled our family to be closer, although we’re all farther away.

I imagine the next 18 hours will drag, until I receive some news about the outcome of the surgery. Thankfully my son will do his utmost to distract me from my anxiety.

Thinking of family. Thinking of my dad, and all of the pain he’ll have to endure in his recovery. And I’m worrying about the stress he’ll be feeling, fearing that he won’t see his grandkids grow, and see the kind of parents we’ll be.  Thinking of my mom, who although she is the thorn in my side, the oil to my water… is still suffering the unimaginable fear of losing the thing most important to her. And thinking of my brother, who has big problems of his own, but is putting them aside to support my dad in his hour of need.

If you are contemplating doing as I did… and picking up and starting your own life somewhere far from where your core family is, you should be aware that this day will come.  In March we received the scary phone call that dad had a stroke, was in the hospital, and we didn’t know how permanent the damage was (thankfully, he made a near full recovery from that). It was a helpless feeling.  This week it’s the triple bypass.  Handily the scariest situation that we’ve had to deal with as a family. And one of these days, knock wood it won’t be soon, the call will be even darker. I dread that day more than ever.

Now if anyone has some suggestions about how I can get to sleep, I’d be grateful for it. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, and I don’t think Buddy is going to let me take it off.

 

 

 

Willkomen, Bienvenue, Welcome….

I’ve been running a blog for my son, who is French born, but not French, for the past… well, almost three years.  It’s for friends and family, all of whom are far away, overseas and across the globe. It’s personal, to keep them as much a part of our lives as possible as we settle and grow in our chosen homeland, the south of France.

But aside from the usual ‘we did this, we did that’, photo essays and tales of how adorable our pride-and-joy is, there is a virtual mine of lessons and anecdotes about all facets of being an expat in a foreign country. And so, that is the purpose of this blog. Plus, I have opinions on lots of stuff, and my husband doesn’t always feel like listening.