The roof is on fire

When you’re in lockdown and can’t go outside, your house becomes your seemingly eternal safe haven. You’re making it comfy and cozy, so you feel secure. But I’ve learned that in quarantine, everyday can bring a surprise. 

Yesterday morning, I woke up and went downstairs to get my breakfast. While my kids were having Honey pops in front of the TV whole-grain pancakes with fruits, I started to smell smoke. I ran through all the rooms downstairs and realized some deep blue smoke was coming from the AC in our living room.  As I yelled for my husband still upstairs, I took the kids to the front door then I stopped abruptly: wait, we CANNOT go outside, we are in quarantine! Yes, I’m so deep into this lifestyle that my mind stopped me from leaving the house during a fire. Stupid, well maybe, but I quickly realized that we have a garden, with a pool and an exit directly on the street at the back of it but also things for the kids to play and stay, so it might be the safest place for the kids. I took them around the pool and kept on screaming for my husband. Suddenly I was in fear that the smoke came from an upstairs fire that might already have knocked him out, so I sent the nanny to check on him while I was watching the kids. He finally heard screaming, got out of the shower and ran over the nanny completely naked. This had to happen. I can see she’s a bit traumatized now. 

Anyway, I quickly realized that it was an AC fire because I just started the AC when the smoke appeared, so I turned it down and called security and maintenance… My hands were shaking, I couldn’t keep calm and when the new security guy told me he couldn’t help, I might have told him to go F… himself. Stress makes me really not diplomatic. Our maintenance’s boss was luckily more helpful. God knows I wasn’t a fan of him when we moved in this compound. This very tall Indian guy who always tells you “yes madam’, but who doesn’t do the job. This guy told me for every job he had to do in our house that he’ll talk to “Sir”, like I’m too stupid to understand how to replace a plug… He’s forgiven for everything now. He sent me an emergency team super-fast with masks and gloves, 2020’s must have. 

I couldn’t see any real flames and I knew it had happened to our neighbors in the past so I didn’t know if I should call the fireman or not. But also, I had NO idea what the fireman number was here in the UAE!!! In my diplomatic spouse training before leaving on posting, I was taught by the Ministry many things, from table setting and wine serving to the correct response to carjacking, gun or knife attack (The classic ambivalence of our jobs). One rule caught my attention because I’m super organized and I knew this was a great idea for me:

When moving in another country, make a piece of paper with the number of the ambulance, police, fireman, your husband and the embassy and ALWAYS have it on you (tattoo can be an option). Because let’s face it, we don’t learn numbers by heart anymore, especially when you change your own every 3-4 years. Also, you might have all your belongings stolen, it’s nice to be able to tell the police or the person on the street who found you, which number to call… Truth is, here in the UAE, they know everything. If something happens to me, police is here within 4 minutes thanks to CCTV camera. With my fingerprint or my eye scan, they know my husband’s number, where he works and probably which road I took the last 2 years, how many times I eat cheesecake and my size of pants (but these two are linked). So why would I bother with writing numbers? FOR THIS KIND OF EMERGENCY. I got too comfortable, my mistake.

Turns out, in case of real emergency I have all the wrong reactions. My father was a part-time fireman, I KNOW what to do in these situations and I did not do ONE thing he taught me. I didn’t take my extinguisher, I didn’t cover my mouth, I couldn’t remember if I should open or close the doors, nothing, just shaking.  But when my husband is there, he’s the one who is super-efficient in real dangerous situations. He’s panicking for small things (he might even have bought some toilet paper rolls too many, don’t tell anyone), but when it comes to the big threats, he’s the calmer of all, super rational yoda-like. So, I usually let him take the lead. This time he did it naked. Like Alan said in The hangover“Pants at a time like this?”.

The maintenance team went on the roof to get rid of the fire, they removed the burned AC unit components and replaced them. By 8:30 am this was all fixed and behind us apart for the burned rubber smell. I felt a year older. The weight of the stress, the kids. My husband asked me what I would save first if this would have really gotten out of hand. He already had a list in his head. I just thought about the kids, nothing else mattered. 

And as any major event in your life when you are an expat, you can’t share this with your family and friends in the homeland. They don’t know, they will never know if you don’t tell them and most important, they can’t help you. They might worry for nothing, so why even bother and tell them? Sometimes I hide stuff like this because there is no point to worry them after all. Indeed, most of them will learn this story by reading these lines (or a google-translate version of them). Hence, I got support from my friends here, a lot of them suggested to break their quarantine to help if needed (maybe because they were looking for an excuse to leave or to have visitors, fair enough). I got support also from my “online friends”. This community of expats living around the world, knowing what it is, sharing the highs and the lows, understanding the feelings. And I talked to my birds, Piou-Piou and Lena, they ALWAYS tweet me. 

After my coffee, I told Agnès to prepare for homeschooling. Her answer was: “Mom, the house was on fire, I think we should have a day off”. Yeah, maybe… we could use a couple of weeks off, but I have to admit I’m VERY pleased we are in quarantine now. We were supposed to be in Australia and our Nanny in the Philippines… Our house would have been empty and probably half burned before someone noticed and called the fireman… They say it all happens for a reason, in this case, maybe for the first time (or actually the second after the cancelation of all diplomatic receptions), I’ll thank you Covid-19 lockdown, for making me stay home. 

Journal of one month in lockdown

I never had a writer’s block. But I have to admit it’s harder to write these days… This situation is so heavy, I find it hard to laugh about anything or to step back and look what we are living, but let’s try it anyway. I thought it could be fun to share a piece of my life as a diplomatic spouse, mom of 2 under 5 in lockdown in the UAE. 

This Saturday will mark the one month anniversary since my daughter has been for the last time to school. And they’ve just announced she won’t go back until September, so 1 month down; 5 more to go. WOOP WOOP! She and her brother haven’t left the house for 4 weeks. One day at a time psychologists say. Cheers!

My husband is… well, where is he? Busy seems a small word. Imagine the amount of work for 30h per day and you’ll be close. It’s impossible to do it all even if he’s dam good at it. Belgium has small budgets and they are only 3 diplomats here, imagine the workload. Hence, he brings a lot of stress back to the house and this doesn’t disappear with hand sanitizer. He still has to go to the embassy located in a gloomy tower in the city center and he has to monitor a lot of very stressful information. It’s not exactly a fun period at Embassies. He also has to deal with the people… those Belgians blocked here after the closing of borders, those people who often decided to go on holiday abroad against all advice given and that now are crying (or mostly yelling) for help. On top of it, he’s a man, you know… the kind of human who is afraid of any sort of flu, especially man flu. The kind of human who really thinks he is dying from a stomachache. Don’t laugh, I’ve driven him to the ER once, in the middle of the night because he was having (according to him) a heart attack and was dying (at 27 years old). I drove as fast as I have ever had, faster than an ambulance. Turns out, after 4 hours of waiting on an ER bench in my nightgown (no time to change, I told you, he said he was DYING), he only had stomach burns. Meanwhile, my brand new car was smacked on the ER parking. We were together for 5 months, I learned a new side of him that I think many men have. I cried a bit, for my car. So now, you can imagine what is going through his mind when there is a pandemic outside and he starts coughing (after a dust storm…).

So slowly, to occupy my mind and fill the void, I became all the jobs we miss during this lockdown. 

Week1

I became a hairdresser. I ordered all the instruments and cut my husband’s hair. Great success! I apparently missed my vocation (which was my initial choice of career, but my parent refused). Everybody told him he had a better haircut than ever. I cut my son’s hair with less success… this little guy can’t stay still. It’s ok, we won’t take any family pictures soon anyway.

Week 2

I missed my morning cappuccino outside so much that I became a barista. I ordered a special machine for the milk, some special coffees and syrups. I succeeded in making the perfect caramel cappuccino but I still can’t do a proper heart or a tulip on top of it. I tried to do a 3D foam milk panda but according to my daughter it looks like a bat, and it’s not a good time to eat bats. 

Week 3

I missed going to the restaurant so much that I started to cook and bake. I ordered all the different kitchen appliances missing in my life, all those things that I would NEVER buy in ordinary times because they take a lot of space… I will definitely not be able to put them in my belgian micro-kitchen, whatever, who knows if we will ever see Belgium again anyway? So, I cooked world food and daily dessert. We did some themed days “Chinese” “Greek” “Mexican” “Arabic” “Belgian”, at least our stomachs travelled a lot. 

Week 4

Oh, wait, what’s that fat on my side? After a hour (read a day or more) of depression, I ordered a treadmill. Yes, I know, I order a lot but by the look of amazon’s stock level, I am NOT the only one 😉 I also joined this group of chicks working out everyday and posting videos of it… I watched, fat is still there, I kept on baking. 

And of course, from day 1, on top of being a nursery teacher for my son Jack, I became a KG teacher for my almost 5 year old daughter. Me, the least patient mother of them all, ended up doing 3h a day of teaching (luckily the French program isn’t heavy for now). I’m lucky I have only one child of school age and she’s only 5, I still can understand the material (except Arabic, I dropped that, sorry but inshAllah). But still, I immediately understood what the teacher told me a couple of months ago (even if at that time I made fun of her). She told me: “Agnes is a perfectionist; she is afraid of failure.” So, yes, even if she’s 5, every new thing is a fight and a negotiation to get her to try and take the risk of not doing it perfectly (Wonder where she got it from…). At the beginning I didn’t have the right fighting techniques. One day I was so pissed that my husband said “I’ll do it tomorrow” and he did, with his computer and his phone on the side. As a result my daughter came and asked me “Mom, what does it mean to be stuck in transit? Does this mean dad is taking care of people who can’t poop?” From that day I decided I’ll be the only teacher in the house. I sharpened my techniques and took some liberties with the school program. Songs for example, they have to learn one song per week, why does it have to be a boring fish song? I know hundreds of French classics (that I like better than this stupid fish swimming). From now on, she’s learning Patrick Bruel, Jacques Brel and Annie Cordy (“Chaud ka kao” or “tata yoyo”, you have to google it, it’s Belgian surrealism). I don’t care, She’s never going back to that teacher anyway! And you know what’s the best part of it??? I don’t have to buy the teacher a end of school year present 🥳.Pressure is high on that aspect here, some moms get them diamond necklaces with home made cookies… I’m not joking! Last year I gave them wine. Trust me, French teachers in a Muslim country, that’s ALL they really want.

We are beginning of week 5 and I’m looking for a new job to learn, let’s make this time, or at least my 39 min of free daily time that I have, useful. If you have any ideas, please send me a message! 

Although I started to be a mover and interior designer. My daughter decided she needed a “holiday in a hotel” feeling, so she moved in our guest bedroom. It’s fine, between the virus and my last blog post, I’m sure we won’t get visitors anytime soon. 

Stay safe and… put the goddam phone down, it is full of bacteria and toxic info.

Virtual hug

Cécile 

Ps: I made 2 new friends, bird friends to be precise. I feel like Snow-White because they really communicate and sing along with me. It’s probably the craziness anchoring. They are called piou-piou and Lina. I miss Liza, my UAE-summer-locked-inside lizard friend, but birds are way more chatty and easier to feed. 

Quand je vois Fernande

— I had written this text before we heard about the Covid-19. I wrote it for me, for her too. In the light of the recent events, thinking about our senior family members, what we owe them and why we have to protect them made me want to publish it. Also this society of groceries trucks, why it stopped and how we need it now more than ever might be food for our thoughts.

The other day I said out loud something I had in the back of my mind for a while “I wish my grandma could be here and see this”. I don’t have too many family members; one dad, one aunt, one cousin, and one grandma, that’s it. I won’t nag about it, it shaped me pretty hard, it can be useful in life. 

My grandma wasn’t even my grandma by blood. She was the last girlfriend of my grandpa who already had 2 wives but this one didn’t want to get married so made an exception to the French saying “never 2 without 3”. My grandpa died when I was 18 months. His girlfriend had no kids or grandkids, I had no grandparent left and a crazy mother; we matched. She saved me so many times by taking me to her house, she was the sunshine of my childhood. 

She came from a family of 16 kids. Yes, you read it right, 16. She was one of the last, her mom had one contraction while mopping the floor and my grandma came. She fell right from her mom’s uterus on the floor, a cold morning of December 1929, banging her head. Her mom went lying down right after that and the postman heard crying and found her still on the floor. I have no idea if the story she  told me is true but she always joked this was the reason she was so easily distracted, traumatized from birth. 

After a couple of fails in factory jobs, she eventually became a fruits and veggies dealer. She started with a simple cart and a dog to help pulling it, it was 1945, right after World War II, she was 16. She carried everything by herself on her “tour” in a blue collar neighborhood of our city, whatever the weather was like. It was very hard work. So hard, she lost the only child she bared at 5 months of pregnancy. She said to me one day that she wasn’t meant to be a mother, wouldn’t be a good one because she doesn’t know how to properly show love. I felt the contrary but never told her. She showed me more love than my own mother.

Then she got enough money to buy an old truck. Of course I don’t remember the first one (I wasn’t even born), but Iremember the one which was an old fisherman truck. It had a huge fish on the side. She planned for years to turn it into a banana but never found the right sticker. No matter, everybody on her tour knew her and knew she wasn’t selling fish, it became her trademark. This truck was more often broken than repaired and we were living with the constant talk about repairing bills. It could be opened on the side and offered a real little shop inside. We used to go in her garage on Friday night and I would play the fruits and veggies merchant while she would play customer. She only had an old balance with weights, and a book where she wrote every sale by hand. I used to do her accounting every Saturday from 7 years old and on, as she decided I was better in math than she was (which was kind of true). She paid me in strawberries. She had the coolest job ever. Except it started at 4 am at the market and she was the only woman doing it! She was very respected in this sector for that. She was a young widow but she stayed very Independent. She was the strongest person I know. 

It was from a era where everything would come to your house or street: the drinks truck, the bakery truck, the (real) fisherman truck, the butcher truck, the milk and cheese man,… they honked and stopped infront of your house to let you do your grocery shopping. Fresh products, small talk, no traffic, What a time!

Eventually, women started to work, nobody was in the house when trucks came and the attraction of the supermarket did the rest. She had to stop her tour in the 90’s. Funny enough now I order my fruit and veggies online and it’s almost the same kind of truck that delivers, except it has a big cherry on it. Something makes me think that if my grandma was born here, she would have invented Kibsons (for those not living in the UAE, Kibsons is an online supermarket focused on fresh products like fruits veggies or meat). That’s the version of what she was 50 years ago. Trendy, fresh, quality and efficient. 

She was humble but loved the nice things. She was saving money to buy silverware, jewelry etc. She’s the one who taught me the appreciation of good things, especially shoes. She had this closet full of shoes still in the box, each marked with a sticker saying what kind of shoes were in the box. All of them had spelling mistakes, she had never learned to write proper French. She spoke “Walloon” a dialect of my region, for her, French was for fancy people. 

One of her sister married a US soldier after World War II and left Belgium to make a family of her own in California. My “low class” worker grandma travelled every year to California to visit her sister. She came back with tales of a new world, full of promises, sparkling eyes and new shoes for me. 

She had a fantastic health. I don’t recall seeing her sick once. She had other weaknesses. She lost her glasses probably 200 times, and she had more car accidents than 50 people together. Let’s say driving wasn’t her thing, she was distracted like she said. Turns out she buried all her 15 siblings, her husband, her 4 boyfriends, her parents, and all of her friends. 

Then her mind left the building. That’s the saddest thing I’ve seen. She, who signed for no reanimation because she didn’t want to turn into a veggie, is now stuck in her old healthy body but doesn’t remember who she is. Last time I visited her was when my daughter was still a baby and I could see it really upset her not to know who I was. Up to a point I decided not to visit anymore. When you become the reason for stress, it’s not worth it. 

Ok, this text isn’t much fun, it’s even kind of sad you think. Yes an no. Because while I live here I often think she would love this country even more sparkly than the US in the 60’s. She would have visited me every winter and would dress up in her most fancy outfit. Maybe she would even have found a sheikh boyfriend. I think I live the life she dreamed of and that makes me smile. And I talk about her a lot, to make her live again thanks to our memories. She might not have had any child but I intend to make her story pass the years by telling it to my kids and to you too. So from time to time I’ll mention her, my amazing grandma with a crazy life and now you know a bit more who she was. 

My daughter asked me the other day “what was the name of your grandma?” I answered “Ferdinande, but everybody called her Fernande” then she said “I love that name, it’s so pretty” it made me happy because my grandma hated her name. ❤️

March 2020, COVID-19

It’s very hard to write about what is happening right now but I wanted to write what is on my mind, on March 14th 2020 (because nowadays a week appart is a world away). I’m a Belgian mom of 2 who lives in the United Arab Emirates. I’m married to a diplomat, so in a way I’m used to emergencies and very tense briefings. I have access to a lot of information all the time and I talk to relatives and friends living all over the world on a daily basis. I absorb world problems usually pretty easily. But this time, we live an unprecedented crisis and I feel dizzy. All the breaking news this last 2 months and the analysts and comments made me sick (but with no fever don’t worry). The dramatics, the minimalists, the « I know better» and the conspiracy theorists. I was the first fan of social media back in the days but today I kind of hate it. I see crazy unexplainable selfish behavior and remarks all over the world and those in my country make me even more ashamed.


I’m an expat. I don’t have my friends and family here with me but I have friendmily here now. Turns out, expats seem to show more solidarity. We are used to being alone in deep shit, so we help each other. We share food, drinks (especially drinks), we take turns for the kids, we take care of each other, we protect each other. We built a community.


I know we are supposed to stay away of each other and it’s hard for some. A good hug, a concert, would make all these bad feelings go away. But it’s 2020, we have Whatsapp and why don’t we use social media for a GOOD purpose this time? Why don’t we stop sharing angry messages about the government or people (hey… we are all overwhelmed anyway), and start taking care and entertaining each other? It’s time to reach out to others in a GOOD way. Like do you have everything you need? How do you feel? How do you occupy your kids? Did you read a nice book? How do I look in this dress I found at the back of my closet? What is your best recipe of pasta sauce? There are worse things in life than staying in a cozy house filled with love and Netflix, no?


Yes, we hurt. We already worry for our eldest family members and it could get worse. Everybody will lose money in this crisis and it’s worrisome. It’s unprecedented, it was likely unpredictable and it’s life. humanity tends to forgot that we are not almighty and this virus came to remind it to us. Maybe we pushed it a little bit too far. Maybe we took things for granted. Anyway, it will never be the same again. May we act during the crisis in a way that makes us (and our kids) proud when this is all over.


Much love, but no kiss


Cécile

About the visitors

If there is one weird topic that only expats can understand, it’s the mixed feelings you get when you have visitors.

Depending on where you expatriate, you will get more or less attraction of people to come and visit. We were doing pretty ok when we left. A vast majority of people hated the idea of traveling in the Middle East and told us about it. “I’m not racist BUT…” I read somewhere that nothing that comes before the but counts, sorry. They had no clue where Abu Dhabi was in Saudi Arabia – is there another country over there? – Then I started to post about the UAE and the long gloomy Belgian winter made some change their minds. No more remarks on human rights or Sharia law, but lots of questions about the weather and the pool. Suddenly you have many “friends”, or aquintances or just people with whom you shared a dance class when you were 7, willing to visit you and staying at your house, because, you know, it’s easier to catch up… and cheaper but that’s not playing a part at all. Funny enough, when you are back in your country, none of them will lodge you, drive you around, or even see you. I guess it’s one of the expat privileges, we are rich, we can rent a car and a home. Bullshit. 

Even if it’s your close family, the same problems appear for each visit: they are on vacation while you are NOT. But they don’t think about it, well at least not for the spouse. They’ll understand THE diplomat is busy, but the wife… she is free to play driver and tour guide, right? She has nothing else to do anyway! Gosh, she must be bored all the time when we aren’t visiting! Oh, and we don’t speak English so she’ll have to translate for us. And while you’re speaking English with the cashier, you can also pay our entry tickets or the restaurant bill. 

Don’t get me wrong I love to show my city to the people I like. Hence, I’ve visited 9 times the Grand mosque last year, I kind of don’t marvel at it anymore, it’s better to do it on your own and at your own pace (36 pictures every 10 meters) and without me. Pakistani taxi drivers are amazing, they are like you, they don’t speak English, even with your strongest French accent, tell them “MOSQUÉE” and they’ll drive you there. Coming back? I’ll pick you up… tonight.

Because they know you live there, they feel dispensed of reading any info on the country before coming. No need for a lonely planet guide (save 15$), Cécile will explain everything to us. So you get all the same stupid questions, to which I would love to answer by my favorite Sentence these days “I’m not google”. But you feel like you have to make them love your new country so… you help!

Yes, it’s safe. 

Yes, the mosque is free. (Not that you’re cheap to ask) 

Yes, you have to cover. 

Yes, they will lend you an abaya. 

Yes, for free (you start to look kind of cheap)

No, it won’t be pretty. 

Yes, there is a Cinnabon at the entrance.  – Oh no wait, that last one was from my husband so it doesn’t count. –

You feel super stressed out. You have to make a planning for them , what to visit and where to eat! You ask them “what do you like?” “Oh whatever you want…” NO, don’t say that! Just say that you don’t like Lebanese cuisine or I’ll fill you up with hummus. Say that you prefer Ferrari world to visiting the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I don’t know you, remember, we only shared a few dancing classes when we were 7.

They come here without any idea of the time difference, the culture, the electrical plugs. Because we are european they think we live in a european household, on Brussel timeline and weekend, with Belgian plugs (won’t buy an adaptor, save 7$) and a fritkot down the street probably. We can’t fix everything but we cut ourselves in half to make them happy. Traveling is adapting and I’m very sorry if the Fanta doesn’t taste the same here, I’ll see what I can do.

The thing is when you expatriate, some people who would have never travelled this “far”, will visit you. They will do it for you, or at least they’ll tell themselves that, but sort of against themselves. It’s an amazing step to take for someone but they will be heavy work for you (remember nothing before the BUT counts). 

Why do we want them to love the place we live in and don’t accept any critic? I mean I love my new country, why do I need them to love it too? I could let them comment but something in me (and outside) fights every single remark! I turn out pretty aggressive even went I hear remarks. I don’t get really why, probably because this country is a part of me now and because them commenting without knowing is irritating.

And here starts the big fight. You, expat, say something bad about your home country, they, visitors, take it against them and reply by a nasty comment on your new country which makes you angry… why should this be a fight? Why can’t we both acknowledge the weaknesses and strengths of our countries? Probably because some family members hate your new country which has “taking you away”. And you left for a reason, so you try to make your point. Those viewpoints are nearly impossible to match, try to speak about something else. Like the Iran conflict. Bad example they have no clue what it is, let’s talk about the new concert hall back home and what type of beer you can get there… there, that’s better.

For blogging purposes, I’m exaggerating here! Don’t take it on you if you’ve visited us, we loved it. I’m synthesizing experiences from all my expat friends here. Between the wife stuck with the in-laws for 3 weeks with the husband working hard (him,…) and on an unexpected abroad business trip (it’s ok, HE is busy, they get it), and the last-minute ex colleagues in transit in Dubai airport willing to be picked up (how did you get my number?). The best neighbor Story I’ve heard yet is People flying in Dubai to come in Abu Dhabi because it’s cheaper, but YOU have to go pick them up in Dubai and drive back to your house. Yeah, I get it, I’ll fly back to Amsterdam instead of Brussels next time and you can come pick me up there. No worries.

With my expat friends, neighbors, when we look at the agenda to plan something there is always this sentence “that weekend, we have visitors”. The tune of this is always dual, part excitement, part of boredom. We get it, no need to explain.

You should see the posts on this Facebook group over restaurants in Abu Dhabi. Dozens of posts say something like “My parents are in town next week and I’m looking for a brunch but not too lavish Emirati style, do you know any?” Like you are gonna take your parents to a low class brunch and make it look like it’s your week end tradition here? Although you are used to go to the Emirates palace brunch every Friday and drink champagne in golden flutes. We get you man, it’s hard to assume your posh side, they might think you’re a crazy expat now. Oh wait, they already do, and you kind of are! 

I won’t complain, we had some lovely visitors, baring the products you miss the most from Belgium, caring for you and your kids, preparing you diner, inviting you to restaurant, making their way through the city themselves,… those are the ones who will be able to visit next posting! 

Then there are the people I really wanted to visit but never came. The money, the time, the husband, the step-wife, the health, many excuses that I understand but still it’s painful not to have them here and show them our new life. Someday, maybe. And by then, I’ll have the perfect itinerary for them!

Your beloved guide, Cécile.
(Please tip the guide)

Tower of Babel

In my country, language is a touchy topic. We officially have 3: Dutch, French and German. But it’s not like in Luxembourg or Switzerland, we don’t have to learn them all. As a result, even if we are a super tiny country (30.000 sq meters, but diplomats will say “a country of modest size”), there is a sort of frontier, a fence due to language. We don’t communicate too much and thus cleavages and misunderstandings happen. It’s sad and I really hope our administration would address more this issue instead of cutting or polarising the country even more.

This being said, I’m far from a good example. I’m French speaking. I Took English as first extra language at school, then Spanish at university. I did all my 22 years of studies without any encounter with the other official languages of my country. High five! How is that possible??? Then I had to go work in the capital, Brussels. Suddenly my boss was Dutch speaking, as was 3/4 of the department. All the meetings were under the principle «everyone speaks his own language », a very good including principle. But I didn’t understand a word of Dutch and I could as well be in China in a renewable energy meeting, I had no clue.

How did I arrive there you will ask? Funny story. The Belgian law forbids to do a job interview for most civil servants in another language then the one of the applicants. The law is very good to protect yourself from having to learn something new. I got into my interview in French, they asked if Dutch was a problem, I replied « Not at all » meaning literally I don’t have a problem with the language. Ok, I might have played a bit on words on that one. They thought I could speak Dutch, and I got the job. So here I was on my first day at the office in this meeting all in Dutch. Just like in my actual diplo-wife life, I had to smile a lot and look like I understood everything. But smiling only kept me afloat for a couple of weeks, I had to learn Dutch. Turns out, there was a young Dutch guy working in the same department who was – strongly – inclined to help me learn, by marrying me. 

We ended up having 2 children. We decided to take advantage of our differences and to raise them in both languages. 30 years ago, people were reluctant to do so. And even doctors were saying we shouldn’t raise kids in a bilingual way because it will cause slower minds. 

Times have changed and we live in a globalized world where you cannot speak only one language. Nope, not even you Americans! 

Raising kids in a home of multiple languages isn’t easy. But it is funny. I speak French to the kids, my husband Dutch, they watch TV and communicate with the world in English, learn Arabic at school and Tagalog with their nanny. They certainly spoke later than the rest of the kids. I remember back in Belgium; people were implicitly telling me Agnès had a problem for not speaking yet. Nevertheless, I knew it would come later but in both languages! If you decide to do it, first rule is “DO NOT LISTEN TO OTHERS” and don’t let yourself be discouraged. Kids are real sponges; they will sort it out. It’s probably the same about all education topics anyway, but your bilingual kids are having quite specific challenges. They are learning completely different sounds. Bilingual kids hear double the vocabulary and half often (did you get it?). For Agnès it was still easy she only was in a bilingual home where the dominant environment was French, but Jack has the same challenge in a house with 4-5 languages. He’s still struggling with it at 2,5 years, but we are going in the right direction.

The difference here is that I am surrounded by parents who are all in the same situation. I don’t know one 4 year old who isn’t speaking 3 languages here. So apart from one Einstein baby, which you of course get to meet, doing full sentences at 12 months in two languages, all toddlers are fighting with words like Jack. Which is kind of reassuring as a parent. 

As they grow old, these kids mess up sentences. Agnès usually puts a bit of English in her French sentences, and she can’t properly tell the difference between Dutch and English. It’s completely normal and it will fade away. Just tell them which word belongs to which language so they can do a proper “box” for each language. 

Also, we had one rule: Everyone speaks his own language, kids adapt and reply in the same language addressed to them. It worked fine. But somewhere in the way, the French school explained to Agnès that her American friends will never speak French if she doesn’t talk to them in French (turns out the French school is full of English and Arab speaking kids and according to my daughter they are cooler than the French, so she hangs out with them). Don’t get me wrong, they are right. But it’s funny how they won’t apply their principle to them learning English, but that’s another debate. Thanks to them, now she decided I should speak French to everyone so they can learn. Clever kid. But I can see our Indian gardener is quite lost.

From the first day I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I wondered which language they would speak between them. My husband and I speak French (and no more escaping to English if we don’t want the kids to understand), so I assumed it might be French as it is the dominant language. No. Turns out now, they speak a mix of English, French and Dutch (in that order). For some reason the Dutch is quite popular when it comes to candy (snoepje) and ice-cream (ijsje) (probably linked to my husband’s way of dealing with kids).

What is really great with this languages journey is that I’ve lost one of the biggest misconceptions that I had: “You are not the same person in another language”. As If you couldn’t be the real you in another language. I had this feeling with my husband in the beginning. He was so sweet when speaking French and when I heard him in Dutch, he sounded like an aggressive prison guard. Of course, some languages sound sweeter than others. And according to your own ears, you’ll be attracted to one more than another. But this is the key factor: your ears! Sounds you heard as a child will help you consider some languages as comforting and others as an attack because it sounds oddly unfamiliar. I grew up with a bit of Italian and a lot of Americans around. This made me mellow for Italian (and Italians but don’t tell my husband) and fascinated by the American accent. It has been proven that you physically can’t even hear some sounds in other languages if you have never been confronted with them before. You then have to properly train your ears, like a muscle, to hear these sounds. I relied a lot on that principle for my journey of learning Dutch saying that my ears weren’t ready yet, however, after two kids being raised half in Dutch, I’m fine now (except for the dreadful dialect my father-in-law is speaking of which, 10 years later, I still have no clue and I don’t think I ever will).

I’m quite happy to think that thanks to this crazy life we live now, the ears of my children are on an Olympic level. They’ll be open to hear everyone and try to communicate with everyone. They are called the Third culture kids. They’ll have issues, like everyone, and probably issues linked to their lack of fixed roots but at least they won’t have issues about languages or dislike someone for speaking another language!

The one with the fish

One day my PhD mentor told me one of the most important things in my life. I was a bit lost and had no idea how I got there (into an empirical economic PhD program to be precise) and where I wanted to go next. He said:

“Cécile, you have to decide if you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in the ocean. The ocean is wild, harsh but marvelous. The pound is comfy and more easily tamed, making a name is duck soup. None of them is better than the other, only you know which fits you best.”

The rebel that I was at the time didn’t want to think about the metaphor. But after a while, it came back to my mind and pretty instinctively I knew I hated the pond. The ocean attracted me. Meeting the different and getting the anonymity. It’s comforting in a way, fascinating in another. So, I quit my job, the PhD program, met this Dutch speaking guy in Brussels, and you know the rest. 

When I got here, I felt like a little fish in the ocean. There are not many predators in the UAE for a fish like me, so I wasn’t afraid, but I was lost. Weirdly it felt so GOOD. Energy consuming but with a level of adrenaline I never knew before. 

Seventeen months later, I wonder if Abu Dhabi hasn’t turned into my pond and me into a “big (fat) fish”. 

“Abu Dhabi is a village”: weird sentence the chit-chatting mums state at school pick up when they realize they have common friends. Usually they’ll fake laugh at the end of the sentence, I recommend you follow if you’re looking for acceptance.


I have to admit IT IS a village. At our level at least. I don’t know the Indian community of Mussafah (yet) or the Filipinos downtown but I’ve met the school moms, the diplowives, some random friends, turns out they all know each other from a sports club, kids’ activities, neighborhood, birthday party, … A friend of mine was thinking about putting her son in a tennis club, I said I have friends there, she already knew who it was without even finishing my sentence. Well, ok she might have followed me or bugged my phone… oh sorry I’m paranoid in the morning, typical middle eastern move. 

And for the “big fish” part, turns out, you can’t really stay discrete in a posting like this. Or yes you could, but first it’s not in my character and second you wouldn’t make the most of it. If you expatriate yourself, go talk to people! You didn’t leave your homeland to stay hidden at home and make no new friends. Nobody will come to you if you don’t make a move first. And if they do pop up at your door out of nothing… be careful, might be something fishy. So, I did, a lot, and now I know a lot of people. And some days it just pisses me off. 

I loved the anonymity, the ability to leave the house in my favorite juicy couture sweatpants, reminiscences of my Belgians roots (just kidding, it’s in fact the opposite, in Belgium I never left the house in sweatpants without make up, go figure) or without doing my hair to go pick up my kid at school. Guess what? it is over! I didn’t do my hair this week and got a billion remarks about it. Good for me, they liked my wild bird nest, but still, they noticed. I didn’t want to be noticed, not that day at least (women are complicated).

 
I went to the mall for my coffee morning and run into my friend while I was zoning like a shopping addict in need. There’s nowhere to hide anymore. It’s just like Belgium, when you meet your neighbor at the Spa and you’re super happy it is NOT a naked sauna.


On the weekend I don’t go to the common pool in our compound because I know everyone there and for now I’m just not in the mood for small talks or exchanging between non-bikini-ready bodies (this might be delayed for 2021).

So me, who wishes to live in the ocean, I really wonder if it’s possible at all! After a while everyplace probably turns into your pound. And at first, I have to admit it is comfortable. The coffee guy knows my name, the security guard knows my kids, the delivery guy from Kibsons knows the perfect timing to deliver. I know where to go or who to ask for everything.


It’s scary to me. I come from a town where everyone talks to each other. There is no such thing as being a stranger. You don’t know them? Yes, you do, there are from Liège, and everybody is a friend there. It’s ok, they’ll be confident enough to speak their mind to you as a friend. They’ll come and tell you that your car is making a weird noise (I know thanks, but I can’t afford to repair it), or that your kids cough is bad (I know thanks, we’ve been to the doctor), or that you came back early from work the last 3 days (I had a VERY curious postman). By the time the baker asked me when I planned to conceive another child, I knew I HAD to leave the place. 

I guess the solution would be to leave Abu Dhabi now. But I don’t really want to. In the end don’t you just go from pond to pond in our kind of life. What exactly is living in the ocean anyway? Moving every month? Is it even possible? Or are there cities in the world so big that you would really feel like a little fish in the ocean? Like NYC for example. I love this city feeling as a tourist but living there, do you end up in a pond too? 

I wonder, on Tuesday morning with my coffee, especially because this fish can’t even swim.

The 6 months test

Today, December 30th marks the 6 months of my blog. Why did I do it? I won’t lie to you, I did it mainly to justify myself. To explain to the people in my homeland what I was really going through. To open eyes on our position. To break some walls. I had no clue where it would go, and I had no plan about what to post and when. I knew I wouldn’t post as often as I should and that the quality of the posts wouldn’t always be the same. But I just knew I loved to write. I’ve always loved to write but somehow, I was convinced (or told) that I couldn’t be a good writer because I don’t read enough books. It could look like a paradox, I don’t like to read but I would love to write a book, obviously not for people like me.

The blog was an idea at the back of my head for a year now and I asked my husband about it after a friendly reminder of my dearest Sophie that I should start doing something with my brain (you have to love the Dutch honesty). He told me “Just do it. Give it 6 months and then you’ll be able to assess whether you want to keep going or stop it”. Here we are, 6 months later. Time for the test. 

I decided that the topic implied my blog to be written in English. You can’t really talk about being an expat only in French. Oh, wait, yes you could, the French do it. But I’m not French, I’m Belgian, and I basically wanted to meet anything but my community. It was a little bit scary at first: can you really be yourself in another language? Will my humor transpire in English? But in a way it protects me. Not all of my family and friends understand English, so they just don’t read the blog and in consequence I have more freedom, hooray! 

I had NO idea this would turn out like this. While some of my Belgian friends supported me but didn’t really understand why I put time and energy in something that’s not making me any money, I got huge support from the expat community. Obviously, my American friends were a great support in my idea. You have to give them that, they know how to cheer you on. Much more than any other nation in the world, I think, they seem to embed the values of initiative and innovation. They support you in creating your own business. Where in Belgium, we are afraid of the new. Don’t get me wrong, we have good reasons to be afraid. In Belgium, if you have an idea, not really mainstream, brace yourself, the way will be long and full of ambushes and if you fail, they won’t tell you to go at it again. But that’s another story. 

Through this blog and the Instagram account linked to it, I met so many people. I was able to connect to different kind of diplomats, expats, trailing spouses (Gosh I hate this term, it pictures us like a caravan the husband is carrying around). We were able to exchange life stories. The differences, the similarities, the frustrations and the happiness. It helped me. First because writing is very therapeutic. Second because meeting people in the same situation always helps! I received dozens of emails of people from all over the world and exchanging with each one of them was a real pleasure.

To talk purely about numbers, because for the economist I am, any test means factual numbers. In 6 months, I wrote 19 posts who have been read by 2000 people from 64 countries. I made almost 1000 friends on Instagram. It may seem small, but for me it’s huge. I had no idea it would lead to that. Though I started without any clear objectives I consider it to be a success that exceeded my expectations.

If you write, want to write, hesitate about sharing your story, go ahead! It will be a nice experience whatever the outcome is. We are so lucky to be expats living in the internet world. We are not alone anymore. And it’s the same on every topic. I remember when I had my first baby, the internet was the only helping hand telling the truth about how hard it is while some friends and acquaintances kept telling their bullshit “it’s only happiness and the best time of your life”. Expat friends play a different ball game, they rather speak the harsh truth, there’s no time for fairytales. Also, for us nomads, it’s so useful to communicate and see how life is in other postings! Yes, remember, in 2 years I’ll be leaving Abu Dhabi. I would love to speak to someone living in our future possible destinations before drawing up the wish list and even more so before going there. Because living in a place has nothing in common with going on vacation to that place. We face different challenges that only the people living there know about. The fanciest vacation spots are sometimes the worst places for an expat with young kids to live and some of the countries that are culturally closest to us are real isolation traps. And we are all so different, adapting each in their own way. 

Dear blog, you passed the 6 months test. Congratulations, you’ll see 2020 and the craziness this year will bring. 

Dear follower, dear occasional reader, thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed reading my posts as much as I enjoyed writing them. I hope it helped or at least made you smile on a bad day. I hope your idea about “this Arab country” changed along the reading. I also hope you will think twice before judging a housewife, a trailing spouse, a diplomatic partner. We are not so desperate, and the common fight between the working moms and the stay at home moms shouldn’t exist. May we help and value each other in what is good for each individual in a particular period. Life is definitely a cycle, and nothing is permanent, definitely not opinions.

Turns out it’s also the end of a decade, so it’s time for me to wish you the best for this new year. 2020, sounds like a year to remember, make it count!

Petit Papa Noël

Seeing my daughter write her letter to Santa made me think about who I would write and what I would ask if I had the chance. In my situation, very realistically speaking, Santa, is my husband’s employer. He’s the almighty. He decides WHEN we go, WHERE we go, if they approve our choice of house we’ll live in, if I’m allowed to work or not, and how much money we’ll get. We probably shouldn’t put all this responsibility on one institution, but it’s like that in our job. I won’t send my letter officially, I don’t want to be the crazy wife everyone talks about at the department (don’t say I’m already that one), but I know they are always watching over us, so here is my letter to them:

Dear Ministry of Foreign affairs, 

I’ve been good this year, very good. I’ve gone to almost a hundred of receptions to represent Belgium. I’ve smiled all the way even the bad days. I’ve made a lot of connections and spread the word about lovely innovative Belgium all over the Emirates. I praised our chocolates, beers, construction skills and medical innovations. I even made some little white lies when I had to… to cover our flaws (like why we haven’t had a government for almost a year now). 

I’ve also been a good wife. I let my diplomat (over)work all year round. I didn’t call him during the day not to distract him and wasn’t too mad all the times he missed diner, kids bath time or basically seeing us. I’ve accepted the job and done my best to help him with my social, organization and cooking skills, not to forget my diplomatically correct jokes. 

In consequence, I have a couple of requests that would be nice to fulfill. 

First, I’d like to access my husband’s agenda. How simple is that? Apparently not because you already denied my request. But you don’t get it! Here meetings and receptions are decided very last minute (if you’re lucky two days before the event). Add to that the fact that my diplo is very busy, easily distracted, forgets to mention things sometimes (often). As a result, we arrange the planning for the week and then he comes back home Sunday night with a “We have to leave in 30 min. We have an event in Dubai”. We have two kids and they are flexible but still enjoy some planning. And me too. 

Moreover, sometimes I get very stressed because I have to contact my husband and he’s out of reach! While I’m imagining he was rolled over by a Nissan Patrol, or electrocuted at the office (embassies are not safe anymore, or maybe just not the Belgian one, but yes, they will move, eventually). In fact, he just had a last-minute meeting with one of these embassies or institutions where they take his phone away for multiple purposes. I know the diplomat’s agenda is pretty secret and have to be encrypted and everything, but hey, I’m kind of sleeping with your diplomat for almost 10 years now, I’m pretty sure this gives me the right clearance level.

Secondly, I would like to stay in Abu Dhabi for 4 years in total. I know the plan was to send us to Qatar for one year after 3 years here (for the World Cup 2022) but seriously have you thought about it? UAE and Qatar aren’t exactly best friends anymore. In fact, you can’t even go directly there from here, you have to stop somewhere else first (although it’s very close). Same for our whole container! Everything has to be packed here, shipped to Oman, unpacked, repacked without any UAE label and shipped to Qatar. Timewise it’s probably equivalent to sending our stuff to Australia but with double “the breaking things” rate. 

Also, it seems harsh to send someone out just for one year. I have nothing against Qatar but in one year, you just start to settle. I wonder if it’s even possible to make friends if I say, “I’ll leave in 6 months”.  Anyway, I’m sure that if you can’t change that one my husband will be over the moon to be a part of the World Cup and so will be his friends. Me, less. I may have to take a leave of absence on this one.

And finally, although we don’t have an official national dress in Belgium, I think we can promote our designers. I might look pregnant (according to some ugly cow) but I think I’ll do justice to a nice Diane Von Furstenberg dress with a Delvaux bag. Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Elvis Pompilio, Martin Margiela, … could we give them justice for the love of these fashion gods? We could promote Belgium with something else than chocolate and beer (the best of the world by the way)! We have much more to offer and our creativity should be valued. Every national day reception I see all these women in their gorgeous national dresses, the Fins, the Indians, the Filipinos, the Koreans, they show up for their country. Belgium, nothing. I’m pretty sure designers would be up for a discount knowing you’re having a tough time financially speaking. It’s 2020 and influencers are the new advertising gurus! The brands know it better than you. Do you think the German Ambassadors drive a non-German car? In the world, your ambassadors, your diplomats, their partners are the best influencers Belgian designers can have! They usually meet with people with influence, wealthy people, people who can afford those designer pieces. Diplomats and spouses can promote or taint the image of Belgium! You don’t want to be the country known for its badly dressed diplomats and partners, right? Don’t get me wrong, we do our best, but why is my husband dressed in an overpriced Italian suit and I in an overpriced dress from UK when we have such designer wealth? Worst case, diplomats are cheap on clothes and you’ll end up with representatives being dressed as 80’s hipsters. Think about it for a minute, don’t reject the idea so quickly. Especially here. The market is huge! I’m pretty sure if I have a nice Delvaux bag I can influence at least 20 women per year to buy one. I’ll be a good saleswoman in another life. I’m not asking for diamonds, although every single person I meet mention we are famous for them… next year maybe.

Thanks for reading my requests. If you do this for me, if you do a little bit more for all of us partners of diplomats, I assure you we’ll be grateful all year long. We work in the shadow. We live suspended to your decisions (like a Ministerial visit during a weekend which results in kids never getting to see their parents… it didn’t even cross your mind, right?). And could you please, please, please explain to your brave minions in Brussels, weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday here!

We are seen by others either like “followers” or “lazy opportunists”. We deserve a little bit of consideration and help in the job that is ours too in the end. You are a good Ministry compared to many other in the world, you really started to consider us and we know you try your best. But there is always room for improvement. I didn’t marry a diplomat. But he became one along the way. I’m happy with this amazing life, but please my dear Brussels, stop thinking we live a permanent dream and don’t deserve anything more than what we already have. Please don’t neglect our requests, most of us are easily satisfied. If we’re happy, you’ll have a bigger chance to manage a flock of hard-working diplomats. Our job’s not that easy, come and get a look by yourself.

I’m not threatening you to start being undiplomatic next year if I don’t get what I asked, I’ll never do that. But hey, it’s worth a try, right?

Yours truly,

Happy desperate diplo wife 

And so this is Christmas…

In case you haven’t (over) heard about it, Christmas is coming. When you are an expat, this period can be tricky. In a warm climate country, even more. You are far from your family and all you can see in the (very fake) advertisements is a happy reunited family laughing in the snow. Then a choice comes to you. Do you spend a fortune, flights are crazy expensive in this period, to go back “home” for those exhausting carb overloaded family reunions? Or do you choose to stay and spend Christmas at your new home with your new friendmily? (it’s not a mistake, it’s actually a term that the young people use now, google it, stay cool)

Last year I have to admit staying in Abu Dhabi wasn’t fun. We were here since the end of September and in less than 3 months we hadn’t met that many friends. We weren’t settled in our house yet either. But there is a basic rule when you expatriate: “If you want to settle quickly in your new country, do not go back home the first 6 months”. So, we didn’t. Last year, the Christmas feeling never came to me and I thought it was because of the warm climate. Moreover, your family starts to forget about you. I mean not really forget, but you’re not included in any plans now, you are “the one who left” (and “on purpose” on top of it…) So, chew on that lonely Christmas, you’re in the sun anyway so why would you complain?

But this year is different. First, I have that cold winter Christmas feeling. You are going to laugh but I’m actually cold. It’s only 26 degrees during the day and 19 at night. I’m super cold. I can wear a jacket and a warm Christmas PJ. I’m drinking hot chocolate or tea while sitting outside by the pool with a blanket. I’m not wearing boots yet, but I guess we are acclimated by now and anything below 30 feels freezing. My daughter told me the other morning “Mom it’s so cold, I’m pretty sure it’s going to snow”. It was 19 degrees. Don’t laugh, I thought it was not going to happen to ME, the girl from cold cold Belgium, but it did. Here, another reason why I can never go back to my country now, I’m hypersensitive to cold. If we are posted in Russia in 2,5 years, we will die. 

Second, we have friends here. Real friendmily. You know the kind of friend that takes care of you. Bring you mac and cheese when you are sick and pick up your kid at school if you have a problem. Basically, what your family (should) do for you at home. Most of them chose to stay in the UAE for Christmas, enjoy the perfect Abu Dhabi weather in this period and avoid their own dramatic dysfunctional families (or maybe I am projecting myself on this last one). We decided to spend the holidays together. Like my neighbor told me “A Christmas for the Christmas orphans” or something like that. We decorated our Christmas trees together. Kids had a blast. I had to buy a new one by the way. My Belgian Christmas tree was 1.2-meter-tall, in my house with high ceilings it looked like a bonsai tree. We bought a 3 meters high one which is the perfect incarnation of Emirati extravaganza. I guess I’ll sell it in 3 years and go back to my bonsai. Or I’ll be in a country where I can actually buy and smell a REAL Christmas tree under 200 euros.

Even if we can now gather in the desert to sing Christmas carols (google map : “Carols in the deserts”, they actually did a special location in the middle of the desert just for that, they are amazingly organized and the organizational freak that I am loves that) it’s not going to be the same Christmas as back home! It’ll be a mix of traditions. We are not going to eat what we are used to in Belgium (I can’t find grey shrimps here anyway). But sharing a Christmas dinner with Hungarians, Americans, Syrians, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Belgians, Dutch, Filipinos, it’s pretty awesome from my perspective. Isn’t that the whole idea of Christmas? Celebrating together, sharing, be open and tolerant? 

2019 was the year of tolerance in the UAE. This Muslim country opened its doors to Pope Francis, allowing him to officiate an open-air mass for 150.000 people (including lucky me). They are building new churches, synagogues, Hindu temples right next to mosques. Have your own faith and believe (or don’t) but let your neighbors have theirs too and try not to judge. Try to learn from them. What comes first to the eye is the difference but try to take a look instead on what we have in common. More than we think! And all along the year of tolerance, the UAE opened my eyes on my own values. How I thought I knew the world. How I never really thought about the concept of tolerance. How I thought I was well travelled. But how little I knew about half of the world! It made me humble. And I think I needed it. Living in the center of Europe, the heart of Europe, Brussels, you’re raised to think you are part of the center of the world. Guess what? You’re not. 

In my opinion Europe is gliding towards the opposite concept of the UAE’s year of tolerance. Closing borders, trying to isolate themselves, all these independence movements, judging our neighbors, sometimes even those very close to us. I’ve never seen so many posts on social media that judge and label others. And most often not in a positive way! “Those migrants are the problem” “Brexit asap” “People shopping on Black Friday are stupid and ignorant” “How can you live with yourself using non-reusable diapers” not even talking about religion… 

Live and let live. Share. Learn. Smile. 

That is going to be my Christmas moto (Eat pray love is so 2010). I don’t say it’s always easy, I judge people too, more often that I should. But the older I get, the less I do it. I’ve learned that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some people never travelled a day in their lives but know all about foreign cultures, while some very well-travelled people know nothing because they just stayed in their 5 star hotels and didn’t go out and meet the locals. These parents using non-reusable diapers might have a compost, buy all their stuff in small local stores, have their roof full of solar panels and no car at all, while the parents with reusable diapers have 2 huge 10 year old SUVs, a stack of low-cost clothes and take 6 flights a year. So live and let live. Share. Learn. Smile. (And smack me in the face – figuratively speaking please – when I’m judging someone again.)

All of this to say, we wish you a lovely Christmas holiday time! We hope for peace and safety. We pray for good health and some fun. We hope your Christmas celebration will be full of what makes YOU happy. For me, I’ll be watching, with some hot chocolate full of marshmallows, Home Alone, especially the second one, with my family. Agnès loves the idea of taking another flight than us, with a bag full of money to spend by herself in NYC. She is my daughter after all.

Much love from the UAE, Cécile.