Thursday, 29 September 2016

Areu, areu

"Areu" is one of the few words that I learned through doing crosswords in French. I've been attempting for years to learn to do mots fléchés, which are more or less the equivalent of a quick (non-cryptic) crossword, although I believe the most accurate translation is actually "arrow words". In that time I have progressed from Level 1 to almost being able to do Level 2. (I was delighted when I learned that there was also a Level 1-2 category because it made me feel that I had made more progress!) As it turns out, doing synonym crosswords is a fairly useless way of learning vocabulary because you encounter the words entirely out of context and, if you cheat by looking at the answers often enough, you can learn that two words are synonyms of each other without actually knowing what either of them means.

Anyway, it turns out that even learning the word areu from the crosswords was a bit pointless, because my daughter probably says it to me a few hundred times every day. The best English translation of it is probably "goo-goo, ga-ga", but that is nothing like as onomatopoeic as the French word for that cooing noise that babies make when they're happy.

Unless, I've been wondering, it's particularly French babies who make the sound in this way. Perhaps it's being surrounded by all those rolling rrrs that makes them exercise their vocal cords like this.

I suspect probably not, but I do like my theory and I haven't spent enough time with other babies of this age to have any evidence to the contrary. Any thoughts?

Monday, 26 September 2016

My Experiences of Breastfeeding

When I was still in the early stages of pregnancy, I remember having an intense conversation with Understanding Frenchman one night about the fact that I wanted to breastfeed our baby and how worried I was that in France that might be a difficult thing to do. Among my family and friends it in the UK it is very much the norm, and when I was still living there, it was, as it is now, very much promoted as the healthiest option for mother and baby. In France, on the other hand, I could not recall ever having seen a woman breastfeeding. In addition the internet had led me to believe that I was living in a nation of bottle-feeders where the top priority for women was getting back to work fast and keeping their assets in shape for their husbands (or lovers, or whoever). And we all know that the internet is always right. Right?

Well, not really.

As I mentioned before, I gave birth in a "hôpital ami des bébés", so I was, as expected, well-supported there. To be honest, though, one of the most important aspects of the support was the fact that I was still in hospital on the third night when my milk came in and feeding really hurt, as is the norm in France. I was able to buzz for a friendly nurse who assured me that the pain was to be expected and would pass. (This is one of the many medical situations when all the information you receive beforehand talks about "some discomfort" when what they actually mean is that it can be agony.) Had I been already at home, which in the UK I probably would have been, it would have been a long wait until the next day to get expert advice.

Like many new mothers, I was also nervous about feeding in public. In both the British and French media, you can find stories about women who have been told not to feed their babies somewhere and it's caused a huge furore. When I read forums with people's everyday experiences however, most of the French mothers only had positive experiences to share. An interesting difference, I thought, was that the British websites were more militant about promoting right to breastfeed openly and anywhere, the French forums were more likely to contain tips about how to be discreet if you wanted to. While I don't think the militants are wrong, I found it easier to think about feeding my baby as something personal that I could just get on with in the way I felt comfortable than to consider it as a political act. Anyway, in my actual experience over the past three months, once I got over the initial awkwardness, it has been absolutely fine and I've never registered any sort of judgement other than smiles.

My experiences among family and friends have also been different to what I expected. It turns out that many French women, including a lot of our friends, do breast feed their babies, just not for very long, as there is a culture of going back to work quite early here. As a result you're less likely to see nursing in action, but that doesn't mean it's not encouraged. In UFM's family, most of the children were bottle fed, so I initially felt quite shy around them and tried to find quite corners every time the baby got hungry. That didn't last very long, however, as we kept ending up at random people's houses at unpredictable moments, and a hungry screaming baby is definitely more difficult to deal with than hitching up a t-shirt, so in the end I just went for it and nobody batted an eyelid. (The one exception was UFM's little nephews, aged 5 and 6, who were both fascinated by the process and insisted on coming to watch!)

Sadly, I've also learned along the way that in the UK, despite the promotion of breastfeeding to the point where many women experience it as pressure, the support once the baby is born is not necessarily all that wonderful and, despite the fact that maternity leave tends to be longer than in France, many mothers give up early on despite wanting to continue, so my vision of how things would have been over there was also somewhat rose-tinted in the beginning. The grass is not necessarily greener, and all that. I've also realised that the choice between breast and bottle is not always as straightforward as it is often presented to be, and that people make their decisions for any number of (valid) reasons, so I hope that nobody reading this post feels there is any judgement implied.

As a result, I feel very grateful for the mostly positive experiences I've had so far, both practically and socially. And perhaps the one good thing to come out of the infamous burkini affair is that the prime minister himself has provided the perfect riposte for when anyone ever criticises mothers for getting their breasts out in public (even if his art history turned out to be incorrect). If Marianne can freely show her naked bosom to feed the people of La République, then so can we all!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Au revoir, Paris

It was early on Sunday afternoon. I had spent the morning planting window boxes for our balcony and Understanding Frenchman had been trying to repair a wardrobe and organising things in the cellar. At about half past one he reappeared and asked if he should go and buy bread for lunch.

"Is the bakery still open?" I replied. He looked at me with an expression of dawning realisation: we were not in Paris any more.

We moved almost two weeks ago and the bits of the flat we're actually living in (as opposed to the part that will need to be redecorated following the flood in July) are pretty much sorted now. Water damage aside, the flat is great and I think we're going to be very happy here. Nevertheless, despite all my moaning about Paris over the past three years, I couldn't help feeling a little pincement au coeur as we left.

I think what I'll miss is not so much the city as a whole, but our quartier. UFM and I lived together for the first time, got married and had a baby in our little corner of the 12th arondissement. We chatted to the baker, the greengrocer and the pharmacist, who all knew who we were and would ask how the baby was getting on. Our local boulangerie sold the best baguette I've ever tasted, and knew that we liked it bien cuite. When we wanted lots of fruit and vegetables, we walked down the Promenade Plantée to the Marché d'Aligre to buy them at one or two euros per kilo. My friends and I knew a selection of friendly bars where we could meet for an apéritif. We could go almost anywhere using public transport options that were practically on our doorstep. And when we wanted to escape from the city, the Bois de Vincennes was a pretty good retreat.

However, it turned out that even in the suburbs you can buy bread until 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, so we didn't go hungry. And there are compensations for becoming banlieusards. I still get a little burst of exhilaration when I step out onto the balcony in the morning and breathe in fresh air rather than exhaust fumes from the péripherique. (Did I mention  that we have a balcony? Actually, believe it or not, we have three - two little narrow ones and a bigger one where we can fit chairs and sit and watch the sunset. Yes, we are totally spoilt!) It's nice having a bit more space: we can now open our bedroom door fully and don't trip over a carrycot as soon as we step into the room. And no doubt we'll get to know people around here quickly too - nothing stimulates chit-chat with strangers quite as much as carrying a small baby!