Creches and cleaners

November 28, 2013

images-17Update on the crèche:  It’s great!  Best thing I ever did!  Megan now loves it and so do I.  

Today the teacher said Megan is very happy and she is generally tous rayonnante.  I looked that up on Google Translate and it means Megan is triumphant, radiant, aglow, shiny and beamy.  Wow, that makes me happy.  I am happy when my girl is happy.  In fact, Megan’s happiness makes me want to burst into song right now:

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.  **CLAP CLAP** If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it, clap your hands.  **CLAP CLAP**

In the beginning I felt guilty spending the money on two afternoons at crèche when I could just as well look after Megan at home.  With hindsight, I believe it is the best money I’ve ever spent.  It’s actually not that expensive for the benefits I get.  I work like a maniac while she is gone and I make serious inroads into my cleaning, admin and other chores. Megan cried rivers of tears at first but now she loves the social interaction.  The crèche is abuzz with life and noise and this will be especially good for her during the cold, dreary winter months.

The other day at a playdate, Megan clutched her friend’s hair in her fists and she didn’t respond when I said, ‘Gently Megan!  Be gentle.’  The carers at the crèche call her Mégane (pronounced MareGun).  I then said, ‘Doucement MareGun!  Doucement!’ just as they do at the crèche and Megan released the hair.  Crèche is paying off in more ways than I expected.  But, most special of all, she is tous rayonnante and what more could a mom ask for her child?

Since the crèche is such a hit, I believe it is time to make another investment.  I’ve been marinating in the idea for a while and have done various calculations and cost/benefit analyses in my head.  The time has come.  We’re getting a cleaner!  Whoop whoop!

It is only for 3 hours once a week but it will make a big difference and I’ll have more down time to trawl the internet and voyeur on Facebook (jokes!).

images-790% of my friends have cleaners.  The reason I waited so long is because I don’t have a problem with doing the cleaning myself and sometimes it’s quite rewarding.  I also felt guilty getting a cleaner when I don’t work.  With a baby whining at my ankles, our bigger house and my overactive thyroid, it’s becoming too much for me.

The cleaner is Portuguese and is called Candida.  What an interesting name but I am sure that in Portuguese it means something other than vagina thrush.

When you have a baby in the house, you must embrace mess.  I am ok with the fact that the house constantly looks as if a little tornado has passed through.  In the beginning I wondered why Megan couldn’t just sit calmly on the couch and read her books like a little lady.  She prefers unpacking and flinging and tossing and tearing.  She loves opening cupboards, unpacking the kitchen drawers, digging in the grocery cupboard, unwinding toilet rolls, picking tissues out the box and toppling over her pile of clean nappies.

photo-24I used to clean up a couple of times a day.  I would pack things back in the grocery cupboard and put the Tupperware away where it belongs.  Megan would then goosestep over to the spot I’d cleaned and I was back to the beginning again.

I want Megan to be a normal kid and do what normal kids do.  If I have to step over boxes of pasta, cans of tinned tuna and empty containers all day, that’s fine.  I don’t really mind looking for a Tupperware lid on the floor in either the lounge, kitchen or entrance hall.  So, the mess is not why I need a cleaner.

One thing I can’t bear is filth and so Megan can’t put shoes on the couch or roam around the house while eating.  She can’t wipe her sticky hands on my curtains or windows.  There’s a difference between mess and filth.  Mess comes with having young children but filth is a no-no, no matter what phase of life you’re in.  I don’t like grimey drains or the calcium build up in the shower.  I am repulsed by stains in the toilet and I hate a smelly dustbin or greasy oven.

Candida came round the other day for an interview and I sense that mess will stay and filth will go.  I am so excited about another good investment, one that will make me tous rayonnate indeed.


Recycling bread

November 21, 2013

My brother Gavin was in town last weekend.  On Saturday afternoon I took him on an excursion to the local déchetterie.  A déchetterie is the place at the outskirts of the village where we can drop off our household rubbish and recycling.

The déchetterie is an access-controlled area.  When we registered our arrival at the local commune, I had to buy a swipe card which is used to open the booms at the entrance and also to log my details when weighing our black bags of general household waste.

There are huge bins for ceramics, wood, plastics, aluminum, all other metal, paper, glass, nappies, globes, batteries, vegetable oil, plastic bottles, old clothes, unwanted furniture, food compost, garden waste and cardboard.

If you have any items that do not fall into these categories, such as a snotty tissue, it must be placed in a normal black rubbish bag.  When I am ready to toss the bag, I pop it in a metal drum at the corner of the déchetterie.  I then swipe my card and it registers my details.  The hatch to the drum closes and then weighs the bag.  It costs 85c for every kg of rubbish.  The computer next to the drum then calculates how much I owe and adds it to my account.  I’ve been a bit OCD about the weight of our rubbish but have noticed that, with all the recycling options, it takes a while to fill a bag and also snotty tissues aren’t that heavy at all.

Apparently we will be sent an invoice once a year.  How fancy is that?  I find it endlessly amazing that the Swiss are so obedient about weighing and paying for their rubbish.  Everyone here recycles militantly, as everyone everywhere should do.  My French teacher said that, in France, people would just dump their rubbish on street corners to avoid paying and I suspect that would happen in South Africa, the UK and most other countries too.

Gavin found this system fascinating but there was one recycling bin that tipped him over the edge.  In fact, it gave him such a laugh that we had to go home to fetch the camera.  We drove back and took a photo of this:


This is the bin for old bread.  Gavin was baffled, absolutely gobsmacked that there was a separate bin just for bread.  ‘Do they recycle it and give it to the poor?’  he asked.

I thought about it and it dawned on me that no, they don’t give it to the poor because there aren’t any poor.  Well, there are no people poor enough to stand outside the déchetterie and appreciate stale bread.  I imagine the commune will grind up the bread and use it for animal feed or some sort of compost.

What amazed Gavin the most was that the bin was full and almost overflowing.  ‘Why are the Swiss wasting so much bread?  What is wrong with people?  Can’t they eat a full loaf?’

Alastair and I waste a fair bit of bread too because eating it here is a race against time.  It is preservative-free so it is only good on the day it is bought.  Traditional French loaves have a hard and crispy crust when fresh.  A day or so later, that crust can crack a tooth.  An old baguette becomes a weapon and if someone hits you over the head with one, I reckon it could shatter your skull into hundreds of tiny pieces.

Later I read on the BBC about the hundreds of people left homeless and starving after that awful typhoon in the Philippines.  It is one of life’s great injustices that some have so much and others have so little.  That bread bin at the déchetterie has become my constant reminder of how very very blessed I am.

I want to speak fluent French NOW.

November 12, 2013

When we were in the boardroom at the bank, signing the contracts for our house, the banker asked if I speak French.  ‘Parlez-vous francais?’ he said.

‘Yes of course!’  I replied in French.  Oui, bien sur!  Usually I sheepishly say I speak a little, enough to get by but I’m not great.  In that moment, I thought ‘Julie, have some confidence.  If you can get by in French, then you can speak French so just say YES.’

So, I said I speak French.  And then I pointed to Alastair and said, ‘But she doesn’t.  She’s just a beginner.’

Without fail, whenever I fancy myself and feel I have the hang of it, I say something daft.  This puts my confidence in check and reminds me I have a long way to go before I speak like a native.  My ability to express myself well fluctuates daily based on my mood, my confidence, how tired I am, to whom I am speaking, what we are speaking about and whether we are talking face-to-face or over the phone.  Each day is totally unpredictable.

French is my daily tongue twister.  It is like saying, ‘She sells seashells on the seashore’ over and over.  It demands intense concentration and, even then, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

images-72Last week, when I arranged quotes from various tradesmen, I felt I spoke like a pro.  This week has been a rough one French-wise.  I have so much paperwork to sort out and everything is taking ten times longer because of French.  I am making no inroads into my To-Do List because I’m struggling to get words out.  Sometimes my head feels empty of all substance, like it is full of fluff and marshmallows. I hate the way my tongue lays in my mouth all fat and thick as if I’ve just had an injection at the dentist.

Although I am an introvert, I love chitchat.  I am genuinely interested in people and I love asking questions, to the extent that someone once asked if I was an undercover detective.  I am desperate to have fast, engaging social discussions in French.  I know that would help me integrate better.  I would also love to have my very own French BFF.  I fantasize about us nattering over coffee and croissants or we could go on girlie weekends to Paris and she could be my tour guide.

One of the carers at Megan’s crèche is pregnant.  On Thursday I wanted to ask how things were going, if she is still sick, how far along she is, how she is coping with such a physically active job.  Nothing came out so I just said, ‘Big tummy’ as I mimed a big tummy and then clapped my hands like a seal.

images-73The problem with the area in which I live is that it is not pure French.  There is a diverse group of foreigners and everyone speaks French differently.  For me, French is French and I struggle to decipher and distinguish the accents.  I put myself through weeks of frustration and self-flagellation for not understanding two of Megan’s teachers at crèche.  One day I made some off-hand remark about how lucky they were to have grown up in Switzerland.  ‘Swiss?  Do we really sound Swiss?’ They laughed.  ‘We’re Portuguese!’

I should just chillax and go-with-the-flow. Who cares if I called a big pot a ‘cauldron’?  Meaning changes with the slightest inflection but, so what.  In the big scheme of things, does it matter if I ask for 6 bones or 6 eyes instead of 6 eggs? Our removal company sent me an email saying, ‘Mrs Surycz we wanna doppelcheck your moving date.’  I didn’t hold it against them.  I just chuckled and appreciated their effort to communicate in English.

images-5I know I overcomplicate things.  I don’t need to say ‘instantaneously’ when I can simply say ‘now’. I am so bored hovering around at intermediate B1 level.  Do you have any idea how dull it is constantly reading the likes of Noddy’s Day Out and Max and Lili Go on Holiday?  I bought French novels full of the lust, romance and intrigue that I crave.  I can’t get beyond the first chapter and, in some cases, the first paragraph.  I now have a pile of books that is taller than me and it has become my  tower of material I aspire to understand one day.

My Spanish friend speaks basic English.  One day she told me she wanted to give up.  She bought an English book that someone recommended and she couldn’t understand it.  She said she was obviously too dumb to speak English well.  I asked what she was reading and she replied, ‘Pride and Prejudice.’  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE!  WTF?!?!  English is my mother tongue and even I find the classics heavy-going.  You see, that’s the problem with learning a language.  In our ignorance, it is easy to overcomplicate things and overchallenge ourselves and this dings our already fragile confidence.

Learning French is fun too, don’t get me wrong.  The word for crawling is ‘marche sur 4 pattes’ which means walking on 4 paws.  How cute is that?  Megan walks on her 4 paws.  A wand is la baguette magique.  The magic baguette!  I will never again look at a baguette in the same way.  I still struggle to say ‘doing a poo’.  This is ‘faire un caca’.  When you have a baby, you talk about bowel movements a lot more than you would think.  I find the Afrikaans word ‘kak’ is foul and low class and so saying ‘caca’ feels illicit and naughty and I always whisper it apologetically.

On my despondent days, I ask my French teacher, ‘When do you think I will speak fluently? Christmas 2015? July 2016?’  He always says, ‘Never.’  I will have good days and bad days.  One day, in the future, I will speak fluently and then the next day, I won’t.  That’s how it rolls.