Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Their sisters' keepers

When I was very young I occasionally wished I had a brother or a sister to share the burden of a stressful home situation, but it was only a passing thought: in my experience, other children were clumsy and destroyed things, and, since I was always tidy and cared a lot about my books, toys, etc., I wasn’t that keen to share with another child. The only other time I thought it might have been nice to have a sibling was when my father died and I could foresee having to make difficult decisions on my own about my mother, should she become ill or incapacitated in the future. Apart from that, I never gave it a thought.

I certainly never missed having a bossy older brother, for instance. We have all read about younger sisters being bullied by their brothers and in certain circumstances beaten up or even killed – so-called honour killings in patriarchal societies. But fraternal abuse can take another, less drastic and obvious, form.

I know of at least two women who, after their mothers’ death, were forced by their older brothers to sell the family home. Neither of them had enough money to buy their brother’s share of the property and they ended up heartbroken (one of them became very ill soon after and never really recovered). In both cases the brothers behaved with a total lack of empathy, with a ruthlessness that surprised and dismayed the women. They refused to negotiate or compromise: those houses, which the women had invested a lot in, emotionally, meant nothing to them – they were just a source of money. I was spared that kind of aggro: I inherited and subsequently sold my parents’ flat; I did it in my own time; I jumped; I wasn’t pushed. No one likes to be pushed.

I had enough problems with controlling parents; I don’t know what I would have done if a brother of mine had tried to assert his authority over me as well.

Slapping all bullying male siblings!

Update (11.06.07): A Kurdish father was found guilty at the Old Bailey today of killing his daughter because she’d fallen in love with a young Iranian man. Helped by his brother, he strangled her with a shoelace, then dumped her body in a suitcase. They had made attempts on her life before and she had been in touch four times with the police. A policewoman whom the girl had told of her fears wrote in her report that she was being ‘melodramatic’. Is there any hope of the British authorities ever being aware of how other communities live and behave?

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Blogger strikes again

It has come to my attention that some people cannot leave comments on this blog or other Blogger blogs: they have to register and re-register and re-re-register every single time and it’s driving them bonkers and they walk away frustrated.

If you are one of the lucky few who have my email address just send me your comment and I will post it for you. If you don’t have it I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do (I’d rather not put my email address on the site) and I will continue to be deprived of your thoughts. Now I’m frustrated!

I have contacted Blogger about the problem, but I’m not holding my breath.


Monday, 7 May 2007

Neither here nor there

I am a French citizen, but I didn’t vote in the presidential election today (to me it’s still today, but I expect you will read this tomorrow so to you it will be yesterday, if you know what I mean).

I’ve been here nigh on 28 years and I doubt I will ever go back to France to live (I occasionally toy with the idea of retiring in Nice, but considering how bad I am at standing in the right queue in the supermarket and picking the right euro coin to pay for purchases whenever I visit France I should probably stay in the UK) so I have no stake in what happens in the country of my birth any longer. All I have left in France are a few friends and since I didn’t know whom any of them wanted for president I couldn’t have helped them achieve their goal by adding my vote to theirs. The only reason I might have had to vote would have been to back one of the candidates’ foreign policy. He won without my support so I don’t feel as if I’ve let the side down.

Voting would have meant traipsing to South Kensington, where the Lycée Français was used as a polling station. South Kensington is where all the French expats congregate and I try to avoid going there as much as I can. The last time I was there was a couple of years ago, when I needed to renew my passport. After collecting that French document from the French Consulate I stopped at the French Institute, where I had a French herbal tea (verbena – my favourite) and a French croissant, while reading a French newspaper, surrounded by French people speaking French and smoking French cigarettes. The atmosphere was nice, but it was fake and I was glad to return to grotty Shepherds Bush and my ‘English’ life.

I wasn’t sent to London by my firm to work in their UK branch or by the French government to look good at official functions; I didn’t come here because I couldn’t cut it in France or because I got married to an Englishman or because I wanted to renovate a dilapidated barn the locals wouldn’t dream of living in. I didn’t settle here so my friends could envy me for living in London or so I could write a book after a few months in the country and pretend to know what makes the Brits tick. I don’t travel to France to have my clothes dry-cleaned there or to consult a French GP when I’m ill (I’m not kidding: I know someone who’s been here over 20 years and who still does that). I don’t pick and choose between what France and the UK have to offer (apart from perfume, maybe). In short, I am not an expat.

I was proofreading a book about living and working in France recently: the author – an American – has lived there for several years and most of what he says in the book is true (I even learned a few things), but some of it was slightly ‘off’ – things to do with what one learns as a child or from listening to the radio and watching television in a country for 20 years; things to do with not having a thorough command of the language (see previous post, although it’s about a different person). He thought he could tell other English-speaking people hankering for the French way of life how the country ‘functioned’, but he doesn't ‘get’ France in very subtle ways and probably never will. Being an expat is a state of mind and I don’t think you can shake it off.

Have you seen how many blogs written by tin-eared and ignorant expats there are out there?


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Of books... maybe

You can’t judge a book by its cover, they say.

Or can you?

There are books, great big tall ones, that are nasty looking and whose content turns out to be as nasty as their covers. They can be deceptive, though: a few chapters may make you question your initial impression. Halfway through a particular book, for instance, you may wonder whether you were mistaken, and, for a moment, you believe it may have a place on your bedside table. Unfortunately, as you carry on reading you discover it supports the indefensible, and, a bit later, there are several particularly offensive quotes that amount to abuse (not just differences of opinion), which the book doesn’t bother to refute, and the true nature of the work is revealed. You persevere with it and give it a second chance and a third one, but, no, you were right. You are aware that other readers find it attractive – poor deluded souls – and are taken in by its ingratiating ways, especially towards the end, but you recognise the sour smell of hypocrisy and you know it would have been better to leave it on its shelf, with all the other uncivil tomes that clutter the cyber bookshop. It’s not even good enough for a charity shop; it deserves to be pulped.

You should have realised anyway that the title of the book referred to something you are allergic to.WinterWheat