How COVID-19 Affected My Life in the Last 12 Months

Window to landscape

In November 2019, I was packing my things to travel in Southeast Asia & the Pacific. I needed a break from everything: work, life, routine… At first it was only a dream but then it became reality: my fiancé and I had a solid plan! Bearing in mind that even the most robust plan should expect the unexpected at some point, we left confident that we knew exactly what we were doing (for 90% of it). At that time, no one suspected what would happen shortly after we left. A virus spreading all over the world, is that even real? It still sounds like fiction to me.

Now that we’re back in London, it’s weird to realise we couldn’t have timed it better, given the current rules with international travel. By the time the pandemic started to restrict our freedom of movement, we had already managed to visit Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Australia & New Zealand… It’s only when we got to Fiji that reality started to kick in: the world was in crisis and we got stranded there for 3 long weeks.

Everyone has been affected by the pandemic somehow, and even though it’s still far from being over yet, I think now is the perfect time to reflect. Because it’s been 12 months since we were “released” from the island and “allowed” to fly back home. Trapped and vulnerable tourists were easy targets in Fiji, it really felt like we were hostages. Today marks the anniversary of our first day back in the UK.

“Home” is where you want to be when the world is in crisis

If you consider that the number of infections were rising very quickly in Europe, we could have considered ourselves a lot safer in the Pacific. But it was mentally difficult to stay so far away from home for any longer. I remember our flight back home like it was yesterday. The country was in lockdown but passengers were still entering freely through airports. We didn’t interact with anyone. No one to give us any rules to follow, no mandatory quarantine… We were just “released” into the wild, with no clue how to adapt to this new world.

This is when I realised we had overlooked our mental health. Our first few days in our temporary flat were a mix of relief and exhaustion. We had so many unanswered questions, the future seemed so blurry. The main one being: what happens now?

Time is precious - London

Time is precious, and there is always a way to make the most of it

It was difficult enough to have no choice but to interrupt our dream travel plan, the last thing we wanted after spending so much time abroad was to be surrounded by too many people. We had to quickly return to reality, even if it was hard to swallow. Back in London, we isolated for 2 weeks, using a non-compulsory quarantine as an excuse to focus on our wellbeing. This time was very much needed for us to mentally recover from all this nightmare. We needed to get our lives back together and prepare our future the best way we could.

Accomplishments

At least I will remember lockdown(s) for being the catalyst for all the things I’ve done this past 12 months:

  • I learnt how to cut my fiancé’s hair myself. New hairdresser skills for me and lots of savings made for the rest of his life. Not to brag about it but he receives many compliments for his haircuts…
  • I decided to focus on my health, as a result I lost 25kg by revisiting my eating habits.
  • I significantly improved my cooking skills, read a lot about veganism and included many new foods in my diet (mostly vegs I didn’t think I would ever like). Proof that the good kind of unexpected can also happen.
  • I discovered intermittent fasting, which was a revelation for me.
  • We adopted Luna, to give our older cat Miko some company. Raising a kitten requires a lot of time within the first few months and we knew it was the right moment. Now they’re inseparable, mission accomplished.
  • I decided to delete my personal social media accounts. Oddly enough, lockdown made me become more selective about the technology used to communicate with friends and family. Best decision ever!
  • Last but not least, I started this blog to share my journey.

When I look back, I sometimes try and visualise how different the present would look if I chose a different path. For example, if I decided to soothe my anxiety with more food (like many people do) and became obese. Or what if I chose to spend my time learning how to play the guitar, instead of starting a blog. Overall I’m very happy about how it all turned out and I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason.

Also, you can have all the time in the world, there are always going to be some things left sitting at the bottom of the list. We got engaged in December 2019 and I can tell you almost nothing has been done with the wedding planning. Sometimes, we just need to accept we can’t have it all. The world has been moving at a slower pace, let’s embrace it and trust the fact that the best is yet to come!

Post-COVID, the world will never be the same again

Now that I have reflected on this past crazy year, I realise that most things are here to stay. At a personal level of course, but also on a bigger scale. It seems to me like mental health received more attention than it ever has in the past. It’s not invisible or taboo anymore. People value their work-life balance even more and prioritise things differently, maybe in a better way. I’ve noticed a bigger focus on environment too, which is key for me. That’s right, we’re about to enter a new era and I’m excited about it.

That being said, with the lockdown cautiously on its way out in the UK, I can’t help but feeling a bit anxious about the return to “normality”. After so much time spent at home, I got used to my very own comfort zone and it seems daunting to get out there again… Back to a year ago when we were clueless how to behave, once we got off the plane. Even small things like taking public transport make me anxious and I wonder how I did it so “normally” before. What if lockdown enhanced my introversion for good? Will I ever be able to socialise without the help of technology?

Tell me what changed for you since the pandemic started, I’d love to know! What do you think will never come back to the way it was before?

Big Girl x

Wedding Planning: Are Bridal Subscription Boxes Really Worth It ?

enjoy the little things

Hooray, we finally have a bit more visibility on wedding rules! In England, they’re planning to lift all wedding restrictions from 21st June – if everything goes to plan of course, but it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s awesome news, it means we can finally resume planning. Everything has been put on hold for too long now… And apart from booking the venue, I haven’t done much so far. I thought it would be a good idea to subscribe to a monthly bridal box for some tips and ideas. If you’re tempted and still hesitating which one to choose, I’ve done a quick comparison of 6 popular boxes here.

With any subscription box, you are always going to receive a few things you don’t like or need. It’s part of the game. This is very subjective and every bride-to-be will have a different opinion. I have been receiving Blushing Bride Box for the last 6 months. Do you want to know what they sent me? Read on to have an overview of what I like and dislike, what I find useful but also what I don’t need.

Items I like… and will definitely use

blushing bride box items I really like

For the bride: wedding garter, hand cream, “love” ring dish, “love” necklace, engagement ring cleaner, heel stoppers. Ambiance/Decor: “love is in the air” giant balloon, “Mr & Mrs” candle set, fairy lights, confetti balloons. Gifts/DIY: “love” pretty ribbon, wax seal stamp kit, favour boxes, wedding bottle tags. Other accessories: hen party photo frame, “the blushing bride” make-up bag, “our best year yet” 2021 diary, “I do crew” party cups, “advice for the bride” cards.

I probably wouldn’t have bought most of these things and yet I’m determined to find them a purpose on my big day (or before!). I wouldn’t say they are in the “must-have” category, maybe more in the “nice-to-have” category. But surely you wouldn’t let a bridal box decide for you what brand to pick for your essential items anyway.

Items I like… but might not need

blushing bride box items I won't need

For the bride: “bride-to-be” novelty glasses (Elton John would love these). Other accessories: “do not disturb” door hanger, “Mr” & “Mrs” wooden chair signs, cake topper, countdown plaque, wooden “sweet bar” sign, “advice for the newlyweds” cards.

I might attempt some selfies with the pink glasses, just for fun. It’s the type of things that can create happy memories in the future! But most of these items didn’t really rock my boat… I’m still unsure if I should give them away or use them. Time will tell!

Items I dislike and/or won’t need

blushing bride box items I will give away

For the bride: “Bride” & “Mrs” crystal hair slides, diamond pen gift set, “little things to do before the big day” mini notebook, “Mrs” silky sleep mask, “Mrs” earrings. Other accessories: sparkling prosecco bottle bag, “drink if” card game, hen & stag party badges, bride & groom banner, mini notebook for a bridesmaid.

Now we enter the category of items I could do without… I’m not a big drinker, I don’t like too “cliché” accessories and I’m not planning to organise a hen do. But I have no doubt other brides-to-be would find some of these accessories very useful!

I was actually thinking about going through some decluttering recently. It’s easy to accumulate too many things you don’t really need… That’s why I decided to stop my subscription and start buying only things I will definitely use (and re-use). As a result, I will organise some giveaways by summer about several items mentioned in this post. Stay tuned on social media if you’re interested!

Conclusion: Is it worth subscribing to a bridal box?

I will try and keep my answer short:

  • If you love the idea of receiving new wedding items every month, you need to be reminded you’re getting a month closer to the big day (with something a bit more exciting that a calendar reminder), and/or you don’t mind accumulating things you might never use – then YES.
  • But if you’d rather stay in control of what you’re buying, you know exactly what you want (theme, colours, style, etc) and you hate the idea of accumulating unwanted stuff – then NO.

I subscribed myself as a consolation for not being able to plan my wedding “normally” (thanks COVID). It’s been a fun way to remind me it was going to happen eventually. I received a lot more things I really liked in the end so I have no regrets! There is even something I would have never bought myself but surprised me by how cute it actually looks: the “love” necklace (picture below). So I guess the real question is – Do you spend money with your head or with your heart?

love necklace from blushing bride box

Big Girl x

Why I Decided to Delete My Personal Social Media For Good

There is a French proverb that says: “Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés”, which would translate as follows: “To live happily, live discreetly”. I think it’s fair to say social media does the exact opposite of that.

Earlier this year, I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The only reason I didn’t delete my Instagram was to keep the history of all the amazing pictures & stories I shared while I was travelling, but I’m not posting anything on it anymore. Some things happened in my private life that made me realise I don’t need social media. I did what everyone should do when something is becoming toxic to them: I detached myself from it. Below are 3 good reasons why I think everyone should be careful with social media:

You can easily inspire jealousy

Sharing happy moments publicly is not always a good idea, especially if it’s something not everyone can do/have and therefore would envy. They can always pretend and like your posts but the truth is they don’t really want to know. It’s hard to distinguish who really has your best interest at heart and sometimes you can find out in a pretty harsh way with social media. Some people would secretly celebrate your failures, more than they would publicly celebrate your successes. Keep that in mind.

You don’t need “social validation”

You don’t need anyone to validate your opinions, your decisions, or anything that is supposed to be completely down to you (and you only). There is a balance between what you should keep private and what you can share online, and it’s important to get this balance right. I also realised that people tend to “like” the person behind the post rather than the post itself. If you want people to judge the quality of your content rather than your own popularity, then you’re much better off with an audience full of complete strangers.

You don’t need social media to stay in touch with real friends

If you feel like you would lose contact with some friends by staying away from social media, then maybe you were never really friends in the first place. Maybe it will actually make you want to talk to them directly via other communication channels and you’ll quickly find out if you could be bothered to stay in touch or not. Same applies to them. Ask yourself who you really want to share your life events with!

On the flip side, I think social media is very useful for businesses (especially for a marketer like me) and it wouldn’t be wise to avoid it or underestimate its power. I feel happier without it in my personal life. As a piece of advice to anyone who’s willing to hear it, keep your private life private and your cards close to your chest. You’ll live more happily (at least that’s what the French say). How do you use social media yourself?

Big Girl x

What Is It Like to Be an Introvert During Lockdown

Several countries in the world have been going through multiple lockdowns this year due to the pandemic, taking away people’s freedom by limiting social gatherings (among other things). When I discuss the situation with people around me, it becomes quite clear not everyone copes the same way. How come? I think we find isolation more or less difficult depending on if we are an introvert or an extrovert by nature, this key aspect of our personality is now standing out more than it ever did.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

What’s the difference between the two and how do you know if you are an introvert or an extrovert? Well, it’s quite simple. Introverts don’t mind spending time alone, they need to retreat to their cave to recharge their batteries. Extroverts are quite the opposite: they love being surrounded by people, that’s what really fills them up. It’s a pretty basic explanation but if you want to dig deeper, the most famous personality test uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. There are 16 personality types and you can find out which one you are by answering several questions, it’s free and it takes roughly 10 minutes. According to this test, I’m an “Advocate” (INFJ profile) and 76% introverted.

What is it like to be an introvert

I’ve always known I was an introvert, I never found it hard to be on my own and I’m pretty much always among the first ones to leave a party when I’ve had enough. I would then need to reenergize with very little interaction with the world. So when the first lockdown happened in the UK 8 months ago, I found it quite peaceful and relaxing. Especially after being abroad for several months prior to that. Of course I miss not being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but I wouldn’t say I miss social events so much. I even dread video calls as I find them exhausting, they drain my energy.

Boundaries are important

Before I quit my job last year to go travelling, I was working in a company full of extroverts. It’s difficult to adapt when the majority of your colleagues, as well as the management team, are outspoken and loud. They don’t always let you speak even if you have (more interesting) things to say. Then it hits your self-confidence and your self-worth, to a point you start doubting yourself on the quality of your contribution. Boundaries are very important because they protect you from being abused. People with poor boundaries confuse the feelings of others with their own feelings and it’s not healthy. So in a way, I sometimes feel like this lockdown has allowed me to take the time to centre myself a bit more, which was much needed. Is it selfish to say that?

Lockdown can be a blessing for some

Today, the British Government has announced the national lockdown in England will end next week and we will be back to a tougher tier system. London will be back in tier 2, which means we’re not allowed to mix with any other household indoors except for only 5 days during Christmas. It seems likely to last until March/April 2021 (with better weather and hopefully a new vaccine). Personally, I see the next 4 months as an opportunity to focus on some things that are easily neglected when too busy: eat healthy, sleep more, go out for a wander, phone or text family & friends who live far away.

What’s your personality type and how do you cope with the current situation?

Big Girl x

Getting Married? 6 Popular Bridal Subscription Boxes to Choose From

Have you heard of bridal subscription boxes? I’ve always loved receiving mystery boxes on a regular basis: from fruits & vegetables every week to beauty products every month. You pay a fixed amount (usually monthly but it varies) and someone else handpicks the products you receive. Part of the game is you never know if you’re going to be pleasantly surprised or disappointed (a bit like Christmas gifts). I’m not the only one who loves that concept… Tons of bridal subscription boxes have been created to accompany future brides from the moment they’re engaged until their honeymoon, there are so many out there that it could be a bit difficult to know which one to pick! So I thought I would do an overview of 6 options I looked at myself before making my own decision, and hopefully help you with yours!

MISS TO MRS BOX – Based in the US

Your first box with them is shipped within 2 business days, perfect if you don’t want to wait too long! Your subscription will be tailored based on your wedding date, which is kind of cool: you enter your date and it suggests the best plan for you. For example you’ll receive your boxes every 3 months if your wedding is still far away, every 2 months, every month or twice a month if you’re already close to the big day. Each box costs $35 USD (shipping not included) and there are 9 boxes in total (the subscription ends after the 9th box). Themes are always the same so you already have a good idea of what kind of items you’re going to receive.

THE BRIDE BOX – Based in the US

This is another famous subscription box, following a completely different model: you can choose between several subscriptions (3, 6, 9 or 12 months) or a rolling monthly plan that you can cancel anytime. Each box costs between $34.99 and $39.99 USD depending on the plan you choose (shipping not included). Boxes are shipped around 15th-20th of each month and contain items from various brands and artists in the bridal industry. They claim to be the original monthly subscription box (before so many others started to copy the idea!). They also offer one-off boxes you can purchase as gifts and you’ll know exactly what’s in the box – no disappointment.

THE RING BOXES – Based in the US

Same options are offered: 3, 6, 9 or 12 month subscription or a rolling monthly plan that you can cancel anytime, with very similar prices as each box costs between $34 and $39.95 USD (shipping not included) depending on the plan you choose. This time, boxes are shipped around 4th-8th of each month. They come up with a new theme every month to help future brides in their planning process and to pamper themselves. They also offer boxes for same sex couples which is always thoughtful – no awkward “groom” items for Mrs & Mrs weddings. Worth mentioning the international shipping cost is quite expensive with them ($15.95 USD).

TEAM HEN (BETROTHAL BOX) – Based in the UK

This website offers way more than just a subscription box, with various items from engagement gifts to bridesmaid proposals, but also diverse clothes and accessories. It’s a great website to get inspiration from! It’s nonetheless another competitor as they also offer a monthly subscription box for brides to be. Each box costs £25 (shipping not included) and you can choose to receive it every month or every 2 months. You can also pause, skip or cancel at any time so it’s a great option if you want some flexibility (your subscription will automatically cancel after your 6th box anyway). They are currently not shipping outside of the EU.

THE INSPIRE BOX – Based in the UK

You can choose between a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription, or a rolling monthly plan that you can cancel anytime. Each box costs between £21.99 and £24.99 depending on the plan you choose, but shipping is included in the price this time. Boxes are shipped around 25th of each month. Their website is very simple, clear to understand as it’s the only thing they offer and I like the fact that you can see what they sent in previous boxes. You can quickly have a feel if you like their products or not! They also offer a same sex couple option to make sure you receive relevant products and they like asking what you wish to receive in the future (it can always inspire them).

BLUSHING BRIDE BOX – Based in the UK

I finish with this box because it’s the one I picked for myself. I liked the fact that it’s British because I was always going to receive it quicker than a box from the States (and I also avoid more expensive shipping rates). Each box costs £22.99 (shipping not included) if you pick the monthly rolling basis, otherwise you can prepay and save with a 3 month plan or a 6 month plan (where each box will then cost £21.49 but you’ll have to pay upfront). For some it could be inconvenient but I actually like that it automatically renews unless you cancel. I also like their online shop where you can buy popular items from previous boxes. Each box is sent around 20th of each month and I’ve just received the November box today! Below what I received:

Blushing Bride Box November 2020
  • 10 favour boxes – very useful!
  • a wax seal stamp kit – to personalise your invitations with a “love” stamp made with a rose gold melted wax (I love it)
  • a lemon superfood rescue butter – it’s always nice to receive a beauty product in the box, I tend to have dry skin so this is perfect
  • a wooden “sweet bar” sign – still unsure if we’re going to have a sweet bar at our wedding but we can always use them separately
  • a notebook for one of your bridesmaids – most brides have more than one bridesmaid but they also sell them for only £2.50 in the online shop
  • a “Bride & Groom” banner – the type of things you don’t think of buying yourself but could be nice to have
  • 8 “I do crew” hen party cups – I will definitely use them with my crew!

If you fancy trying it out, you can use the code BIGGIRL at checkout to get £5 off your first Blushing Bride Box on the monthly subscription plan! You’re welcome! 🙂

So what bridal box tempts you the most? If you know someone who’s getting married soon, I guarantee they will love this as a gift for Christmas (if they haven’t subscribed to one of them already)! I can’t believe Christmas is only a month away now…

Big Girl x

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

the subtle art of not giving a fuck

Just like many people who decided to focus on the quality of their lives during this pandemic, I decided to take more time to read. The title of this book intrigued me a lot and I wanted to find out more about this counterintuitive approach to living a good life (as it says on the cover). Books that become bestsellers often do so for a reason.

It’s about saving your fucks for the right things

First of all, I apologise for the bad language I will be forced to use in this post… It wouldn’t be a good review if I stayed too polite. If you’re wondering if the “F” word is used too often in this book, the answer is yes, it definitely is at times, but the problem is there are no good enough synonyms. This is a serious topic discussed with a lot of wisdom, despite the language. It’s not superficial at all, it’s actually very deep. Don’t judge a book by its cover either, this is not about stop giving a fuck about everything. This is about giving a fuck about the right things. There are only so many fucks you can give in your life, and you should save them for what really matters!

“Now here’s the problem: Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences – anxiety, fear, guilt, etc. – is totally not okay.”

Mark Manson

Don’t aim to be extraordinary

You’re not perfect, chances are you’re very average, but you’re still great. This book doesn’t aim at telling you how to be extraordinary, more like the opposite. It tells you how your problems generate your happiness and that the joy is in the climb itself. I really liked the real life stories used to illustrate each point, the author uses real examples to then analyse them. It’s not just about telling you to do this or that because he’s right and he knows better, he’s using true stories to explain why he’s giving you such advice. You can choose to listen or to not give a fuck, it’s also an option. I guess the main thing is to know how to identify your own values and stay true to them, taking responsibility for your actions (and sometimes others’ too because life is not always fair).

“Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.”

Mark Manson
kitten walking away from explosion

Certainty is the enemy of growth

The best recent example of a moment in my life I decided to not give a fuck is when my fiancé and I both quit our job last year to go travelling for 6 months. To some people, it was a dangerous decision to leave everything behind and fly away, not having anything planned on our return… We did it anyway because we knew it would be the experience of our lives. It may have inspired jealousy, envy, surprise, we didn’t care. But life fucked us up anyway because we got interrupted by a worldwide pandemic before we had a chance to complete our travels. Despite the unexpected, it was all worth it and I would do it again without hesitation (I’ll talk about it more in details in tomorrow’s post).

“Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is for certain until it has already happened – and even then, it’s still debatable. That’s why accepting the inevitable imperfections of our values is necessary for any growth to take place.”

Mark Manson

Failure is part of success

Finally, you need to fail in life before you succeed. Failure is the way forward! This book is thought-provoking and makes you laugh at the same time. Maybe because it’s true? I will let you make up your own mind but personally, this book has taught me how to give a fuck about the right things, the right people, and let go of the rest. The last chapters are probably the best because they become more and more personal and emotional. I could relate to the author in so many ways.

“Just as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger bone and muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.”

Mark Manson

Have you read it too? What other book would you recommend for a good life lesson?

Big Girl x

Why Are Black Cats Associated With Halloween?

First of all, Happy Halloween!! On this occasion, I wanted to talk about the fact that black cats suffer from discrimination and are more likely than others to be left at the shelters… How can some people make decisions based on nothing else but a colour?

Carved pumpkin + Black cat = Perfect Halloween picture

Black cats usually have a bad reputation

Based on Halloween superstitions, black cats have a pretty bad reputation… They’re accused of being:

  • Bad luck
  • Demonic animals given to elderly and solitary women by the devil himself (Dark Ages)
  • Witches that had been reincarnated
  • Familiar with witches and helping them with their evil deeds
  • A representation of black magic
  • A sign of death (a bit like black birds such as crows or ravens)
  • Satan himself (medieval myth)

Because of these old myths full of non-sense, abandoned or unwanted black cats are known to be very difficult to rehome. It seems to me they are the unlucky ones, rather than bringing bad luck to others! Oh, and if you see a black cat crossing your path… It just means this beautiful creature is going somewhere, nothing else. To me, superstitions are pure inventions that someone came up with some day and somehow many people started to actually “believe” in them. It’s less harmful when the superstition is positive though.

They are also associated with good luck

Thankfully, superstitions can go both ways and black cats also have positive associations – depending on the country. For example:

  • In Europe – Sailors would have a black cat on board to bring them good luck, and their wives would keep a black cat with them to influence their safe returns
  • In Egypt – They symbolise fertility and protection from disease (thanks to their resemblance to Bastet, the cat-headed Egyptian goddess)
  • In the UK – Owning a black cat brings you luck
  • In Japan – They help you finding love and frighten away demons, evil energy, and stalkers
  • In Scotland – It’s good luck to see a black cat on your doorstep

Why I decided to adopt a black cat

When I adopted my older cat (left), I was only a student so I couldn’t afford more than one cat. I had to separate him from his little sister who was all black… I’ve always regretted it a little, especially when he seemed bored and desperate for a companion. 13 years later, we made a move and adopted this little cutie (right) – I wanted a female black cat, like my cat’s sister I never adopted. Things happen for a reason, I know this one was meant to be with us!

They can’t talk but I’m pretty sure they thank us for this decision

Reasons to adopt a black cat

  • They look like a black panther but they are a lot easier to feed (and probably a lot less dangerous to have at home)
  • The colour of their fur makes the colour of they eyes stand out and it looks stunning
  • They are the least likely to be adopted but they will give you as much love as other cats
  • They naturally have a lot of charisma and charm
  • You don’t really need a lint brush to remove their hair from your clothes or furniture
  • They’re very photogenic
  • They know how to play hide and seek better than other cats
  • They clearly inspire people (look at all the superstitions they’ve generated!)
  • They don’t care about what colour your skin or your hair are
She definitely looks like good luck to me

If you’re not into cats or don’t want them, you can always have a black cat figurine facing North to bring you good luck, I swear it’s working! (no, not really).

Big Girl x

My Story: From French Expat to British Citizen

from french expat to british citizen

This post is a bit emotional for me because it takes me back to exactly 8 years ago. I remember very well that day, 26th October 2012, when I moved from Paris to London. My boyfriend at the time was transferred to London with work while I was dreaming of going back to Australia, where I’ve always wanted to live (weather, people, kangaroos, proximity to really cool places etc). Emigrating there is very difficult though, I had already used a working holiday visa for that country so I thought of New Zealand as an alternative. But I would have been on my own and it was too far away from family and friends… So I agreed to go to London instead, thinking it would be for only a year or two. Destiny is a funny thing, I unexpectedly fell in love with the city.

I guess my transition from being a French Expat to a naturalised British citizen happened when I gradually untangled myself from the (rather big) French community in London. Let’s go through different aspects of the past 8 years I spent in the UK – so close geographically to my native country but so far away in terms of culture.

Location

I moved in Hammersmith first, a pretty and very well-connected area. It was a great place to get to know London better. I still love this area, especially near the stunning Hammersmith bridge (below). It closed a few months ago for safety reasons though, you can’t cross the river like before.

After Hammersmith, I moved in Waterloo (you can’t really do more central than this) and then Colindale (some people argue it’s not London anymore), South Ealing, Wembley, Park Royal and now Woolwich.

That’s right, I lived in 7 completely different areas of London in only 8 years… What can I say, I like discovering new places. You might think: “Ok but what’s the link with feeling less of an expat?” Well, I’ve been through moving in with a French boyfriend, to flat-sharing with British roommates (post break-up), to living on my own, to finally moving in with a British boyfriend (now fiancé).

Work

I was freshly graduated from a Master’s degree, already had a good English (I lived in Australia back in 2006) and thought I would be able to compete with locals easily. In France, they look at your degree first, but in England, they look at your experience first, which I had none of (or very little).

It took me a few months to realise I should compete with French rather than Brits to find my very first job in London! One day, I finally found a job as a Business Development Manager for France. I was using my native language as a way to stand out from the crowd.

My next job was also targeting the French market but this time in the Marketing department. It’s only my third job that made me work in English but I was surrounded by a big European team and many French colleagues.

My ultimate goal was still to find a job where no one else was French and where I didn’t have to speak French at all. That was finally the case with my fourth job. I eventually reached my goal of accumulating good enough experience to compete with locals.

Friends

When I moved in London, I had a French boyfriend and many French friends. I was also blogging in French and built a network of French expats in London. It was so easy to connect with people who were sailing the same boat.

But 8 years later, they’re all gone, they all fell out of love with London and left the UK. Some moved in another country (keen travellers like me) and some decided to go back to France (that they never planned to leave permanently in the first place). If you move in a new country after school, the best place to find new friends is via your job. So here I am, my friends are now either ex-colleagues or my fiancé’s friends. I literally have no other reasons to speak French than when I speak to my family over the phone.

Love

5 years is how long it took me to find the one (I always knew my soulmate wouldn’t be French but I can’t explain why). If you wonder how we met, it was at work, in the company we both quit when we decided to go travelling for 6 months.

I think it’s fair to say I was already not a French expat anymore by then, but my full immersion was now complete – I had no choice but to accept that I was becoming more and more British, less and less French. Although we still use our native countries when we play tennis, just for fun.

tennis rackets  france vs england

France vs England (I can’t remember who won that day)

Passport

We then needed to plan our future together, I was not planning to go back to France and I needed a guarantee I would be able to come back to the country I called home (if I was going abroad for a long time for example). So I applied for the permanent residency and then passed a few tests to get the British Citizenship. Last step was a formal ceremony with the Mayor and the Queen (I mean, her picture in a frame), singing “God Save the Queen” anthem and voila, I was officially welcomed to stay forever if I wanted to. Having the dual citizenship is kind of cool too.

8 years later…

It’s been a long road and I’m glad I did it before Brexit as I’m not sure it would be so easy nowadays… I still think fondly about all the steps I’ve been through, I’ve learnt so much along the way. I’ll always stay French in my heart because I was born and raised there, but the country I call home is England. When we got stranded abroad (covid-related), I was desperate to come back to London, not to Paris. To me, that’s when you know you’re not an “expat” anymore…

If you live in a country you weren’t born in, I’d love to hear about your own experience! Do you still feel like a foreigner?

Big Girl x

Is Christmas Really the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

christmas season hot chocolate

Only 2 months until Christmas! But this post isn’t about telling you how excited I am about it. It’s just a post highlighting how 2020 was wasted so far… To a point I didn’t realise how quickly we ended up so close to Christmas already! I don’t want to waste any more time, time we’ll never get back.

Christmas is a season, not just a day

What I love about Christmas is the decorations in the streets, the festive mood people are in, the idea of drinking a hot chocolate (with tons of marshmallows) in front of a log fire, the snow falling outside and all the terrible Christmas movies we watch every year. Christmas is not just a day for me, it’s a season. I don’t really care about the day itself, I think “tradition” puts a lot of pressure on that specific day to be with all of your family. The idea sounds more like a chore to me.

It could be a nightmare for expats

I remember when I used to take the Eurostar every year during Christmas period to spend a few days with my family in Paris… I can assure you there was nothing festive about it, trains were always overcrowded (not to mention the huge luggage full of gifts you have to carry all along) and people were not very amicable during the journey. If anything, it ended up being the period of the year I avoided to visit family in France.

It’s actually quite nice to wander in the streets in London when everyone is busy lying on their sofa, after they’ve eaten so much food their belly is about to explode. Let’s face it, all you do during Christmas is eating, napping, repeat. And when you think about it, you don’t have to wait for that period of the year to visit family anyway. It should be whenever you want to, not whenever tradition or media tell you to.

Christmas doesn’t feel the same all over the world

For most of us in the world, Christmas is associated with cold months. If you are somewhere hot for Christmas, does it still feel the same though? Well I got to experience it for the first time last year and the answer is simple, no. I was travelling in Australia during Christmas period last year and seeing Santa wearing a pair of shorts on a beach was just weird. Just for the banter, below a picture on how Christmas projections looked like on a Church in Perth, so you can see what I mean:

Santa projected on a church in Perth

Santa doesn’t really exist

Do we really have to lie to kids about who’s giving them so many presents? Shouldn’t they know their parents and family are working hard (and sometimes saving for months) to make that happen? I really don’t see the purpose of this big fat lie as it’s always a traumatic experience for them to learn the truth when they’re “old enough”. I’m not even talking about “how” they realise their entire family lied to them for years, sometimes a school mate would deliver the truth in a very harsh way. I don’t remember having ever believed a big old bearded man would enter our home via the chimney to offer me gifts I didn’t even wish for… If you’re using Santa to make sure your kids behave, surely there is a lack of authority somewhere. But what do I know, I don’t have kids and I don’t want them.

Let’s focus on what matters

All this to conclude with one thing. Don’t let this wave of COVID infections and potential new lockdown affect your Christmas spirit. Maybe you’ll be able to be with your family, maybe you won’t. But if not, it’s not the end of the world. The important bit is to stay healthy, practise gratitude and remember there is a tomorrow. It’s up to us to make it brighter! In the meantime, good luck with all the gifts you will have to purchase, especially for the awkward Secret Santa(s) you got involved in reluctantly… You’re not alone.

Are you looking forward to Christmas 2020 the same way as every year? Or have you accepted good times are ahead, no matter what happens on that specific day?

Big Girl x

Kids or No Kids? The Choice Is Yours to Make

Kids or No Kids? You Have the Choice!

“Do you want kids?” is not a question you hear very often, because people assume that of course you do. Instead, people say: “When you’ll have kids…”, “When you’ll be a mum/dad…”, etc. Every time it puts me in a situation where I either stay quiet and let go, or say that I actually don’t want kids. But why do I feel like I need to justify myself?

It’s OK to be different

When I was a kid, I didn’t ask myself such a question because I’ve always thought it was the right thing to do, the purpose of every woman, the reason we find a partner and get married… It’s only when I turned 30 that I realised my mum would have been pregnant for the second time by that age. And I didn’t feel like I was going to be ready myself anytime soon. I heard a lot of comments such as “You’re turning 30 now, the clock is ticking!” but deep down I think I already knew it wasn’t for me.

I didn’t know for sure until my little sister fell pregnant, almost 3 years ago. She announced it with pictures and I cried when I realised she was telling me she had a bun in the oven. I cried with joy, the news made my sister and her husband so happy. But it confirmed that it wasn’t what I wanted for myself.

It’s a choice, not a duty (anymore)

It’s not because you don’t want kids that you lack empathy… People who don’t feel any desire to have kids are not selfish or cold bastards, they don’t necessarily hate kids either. It’s an important step in your life but it is NOT mandatory, just like people who choose not to get married for example.

I think there are many parents who shouldn’t have been parents, many children grow up in a toxic environment and end up with mental issues for life. Have you ever noticed that most serial killers, psychopaths or very disturbed people in general had a chaotic childhood? It’s always parents’ fault, kids can’t be held responsible for their education. I’m not saying that I don’t want kids because I’m afraid they will be disturbed, I just don’t see myself being a mother. I have two cats and that’s the extent of my motherhood. It took me a very long time until I realised it was OK. I am allowed not to want what most people want.

Think about the future

I could go on and on about how I find the idea of having your own kids very narcissistic. Our planet is already overcrowded and there are a lot of kids to adopt, if you really want to fill that role. I am lucky enough to have found a partner who shares the same opinion. Choosing not to have any is our contribution for the planet to reduce our carbon footprint. The future of next generations seems a bit compromised at the moment anyway.

The choice is (only) yours

I’m glad I was born when I was born, because I feel like the choice NOT to have kids has only just started to be an acceptable one. It’s still a sensitive topic though, people can’t help but try to make me change my mind when I tell them I don’t want kids. What annoys me the most is comments such as “You still have time to change your mind!” or “You will feel it when the time is right”. As a piece of advice for you, reader, if someone close to you makes the decision not to start a family, respect their choice without questioning it. Not everyone has to!

So. Do you want kids?

Big Girl x

How to Pick the Perfect Engagement Ring For You

how to pick the perfect engagement ring

The ring you choose says a lot about your relationship. Hence why it has to be the right one! It’s so much pressure on guys though… In my opinion, it should be something that involves both parties. And it’s also fair for the one who will wear it forever (hopefully!). But in case you want to keep it as a surprise (I can see the appeal of it), then this post aims to give some advice on the matter. Hopefully it will help you if you’re still at the very beginning of this journey.

Define your budget

The first thing to do is probably to define how much you can afford to put in the ring. And then understand what you can get for your money. It’s common knowledge to spend at least two months salary on the ring… But let’s be honest, it’s probably a rule invented by jewellers. So do whatever feels right for you! Also ask yourself what’s more important: the real value of the ring, the way it looks, or both?

Diamonds or other gemstones?

When it comes to diamonds, it’s not only difficult to see if they’re real or fake, but their quality defines their price range. It could be frustrating as sometimes the difference is not even visible to the naked eye… Diamonds are the most popular gemstone for engagement rings but you can also consider alternatives. Emerald, ruby or sapphire are also becoming popular for example.

If you’re not sure and don’t want to go wrong though, remember diamonds are a girl’s best friend! No matter where you buy it from, make sure you get a GIA certificate with it. It’s the most recognised institution among diamond grading. It will give you a guarantee of the quality of your purchase, defined by the “4C’s”.

If you opt for a diamond, learn about the 4C’s

  • Cut – How the diamond is cut is really important because it affects its sparkle. I would strongly recommend to not compromise too much on this one
  • Colour – Diamonds can go from D (colourless) to Z (yellow), it’s usually best to stick within the colourless range (from D to F)
  • Clarity – This characteristic is where you can compromise the most because imperfections are often microscopic, although it’s recommended to go for minimum VS2 (very slightly included), as close as possible to FL (flawless) as your budget allows
  • Carat – That’s the most obvious one as it refers to the diamond’s weight, which means its size if you compare diamonds with a similar cut/shape (people usually go for between 1 and 2 carats)

Do you research online

Take the time to do your own research. The links below explain quite well what you should look for in a diamond and tell you what you need to know, before you make that big purchase:

How we picked my engagement ring

I’m sure you’re curious about my own engagement ring now, given that I picked it myself! How I got engaged was still a surprise for me but as it happened abroad, my fiancé used a temporary ring instead so he wouldn’t stress about losing it during our travels.

Our thought process behind our choice:

  • I knew I wanted to go for a solitaire (classic and traditional, simple and beautiful) but I also liked the idea of a trilogy (representing the past, present and future) so we went for a solitaire with 2 mini diamonds on each side of the stone
  • Most solitaire rings feature a round diamond but I liked the idea of something a bit more unique so we went for a cushion shape, a square with rounded angles (like my personality, according to my mum)
  • The band had to be platinum because it’s the most durable and solid metal, it’s also hypoallergenic so no risk of getting irritated skin
  • Last but not least – It had to be a real diamond from the Earth (not lab created) because our relationship is genuine and we are from completely different ethnicities, representing a big part of our planet’s population (especially if we go back to our ancestors)
my engagement ring

We bought it online

We chose the stone and the band separately but on the same website: James Allen. Their engagement ring section is very nice and they have a great selection of diamonds, with an online tool that allows you to design your own ring. We really enjoyed playing with it to create the perfect one for me to wear. The only caveat – unless you live in the US – is that you will have to pay an expensive customs fee (roughly 20% of the total cost of the ring). But overall it was still worth it and cheaper than most jewellers in the UK.

We found the best value for money was online and we were so impressed by their service! We decided to use them again for our wedding rings… Unfortunately we won’t get to wear them until only end of next year. I can’t wait!

Hope you enjoyed reading this and that it gave you some insights about how to pick the right engagement ring, whether you’re doing it together or as a surprise… What type of ring will you go for?

Big Girl x

How the Pandemic Impacted My Social Life & Relationships

How the Pandemic Impacted My Social Life & Relationships

We’ve all been impacted one way or another by the pandemic this year… When it all started, I thought the world would be in crisis for maybe 6 months and then quickly recover from it. When I came back to London in April, I was convinced my fiancé and I would be able to get married in November this year. I remember saying to my close family: “It will be sorted out by then!”, they were a bit hesitant to agree and I thought they were pessimistic. As we’re now entering cold months and this virus is going to keep threatening us for at least another 6 months (or am I being too optimistic again?), I thought it was a good time to reflect on how the pandemic has impacted all types of relationships.

Family

Family reunion

My mum was born and raised in Japan, she moved permanently in France by herself when she was almost 18. A few years later, she married a French man (my dad) and started a family. I guess it made it difficult for her to go back to her native country. That’s the price you pay when you choose to build your life abroad… You might never go back to your roots. I might have subconsciously walked in her footsteps when I decided to come to England 8 years ago.

Even though England is a lot closer to France than Japan, I don’t see my family very often. It doesn’t compare to people who live a few minutes away from their parents for example. On top of that, the current covid rules mean we can’t travel easily at the moment. The positive impact is we talk more regularly over the phone. Keeping in touch to say nothing has never meant so much.

Friends

friends jumping in the air

I have friends all over the world. People usually choose to be friends with like-minded people, so I guess it makes sense that I keep in touch with people who have lived in different places throughout their lives. But one of the consequences is I don’t see them very regularly. Distance has never been an obstacle to our friendship though. A negative impact of this pandemic is to not being able to plan when we’ll see each other again. We can’t make any travelling plans until the situation gets a bit less murky. Basically, my wedding is supposed to be the next time we’ll see each other, in November 2021. But even that is not guaranteed…

Colleagues

colleagues around table

I quit my job before travelling last year and I haven’t found a new job since I got back. Maybe the absence of colleagues is the direct consequence of this pandemic for me! The job market is not exactly what it used to be. If anything, this situation made me question what type of job I should look for.

This blog is my full time job for now, it feels like I’m working from home. I like the tranquillity of my own office room at home, the liberty of listening to music if I want to, the easy access to my own kitchen to cook something healthy for lunch, the presence of my cats and of course the shortest commute I will ever have, from my bedroom to my desk. I don’t know when this situation will change but I learnt to enjoy it while it lasts.

Love

couple at sunset

When we were abroad for so long, friends & family were wondering if our relationship would either make or break. Some couples may split up after spending some time abroad, because travelling changes people’s mindset forever. But we knew we were made for each other before planning such a trip.

We had been on the road for 5 months before coming back. Having no choice but to stick with each other during a national lockdown was never going to be difficult in comparison. We also used to work together before, so we were already used to spending most of our time together. If anything, it confirmed to us we can’t wait to get married.

Pets

cat and dog cuddling

I personally can’t see my life without pets. It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by lots of people already, pets are not just for lonely people. They love you in a different way than humans, they don’t judge, they empathise with your emotions, they don’t have to do much to comfort you when you’re sad… And they’re so cute. There’s been a rise in pet adoptions since lockdown, let’s just hope people who adopted were fully aware of the responsibilities involved in owning a pet and that the abandonment rate will not also increase later on.

I already had a cat but always wanted a little sister for him. To me, that was the right moment to do it. Many charities warned against pet adoption during the pandemic but I knew what I was doing. I now have 2 cats who not only love each other but make me even happier than I was before! I would have adopted another kitten at some point anyway… But the extra time lately made it easier to properly take care of our new family member.

Nature

nature sunset

I think it’s fair to say my relationship with nature has also changed. Being able to take some fresh air is underrated. Seeing the positive impact on having less people polluting (thanks to covid19) made me realise how overcrowded our planet is. We’re currently damaging it by replacing the wild with the tame. It made me want to be more careful and considerate about my actions and their consequences on a bigger scale.

“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” – Bruce Feiler

How did the pandemic impact your relationship with the world?

Big Girl x

Film Review: The Social Dilemma

The social dilemma

Last Saturday was World Mental Health Day, I couldn’t think of a better time to watch the documentary The Social Dilemma. Social media has started to show a negative impact on people at many levels way before the pandemic started. This is a very interesting film to watch as it gathers several former employees from big companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. They are very worried about future generations and this is why.

The former employees showcased in this documentary are all pretty young… That’s because social media haven’t existed for too long yet! Sometimes we tend to forget there used to be a time when we didn’t have social media. I was already 22 years old when I discovered Facebook (back in 2007), so at least I went through the difficult teenage years in high school without it. But some youngsters have grown up with it and don’t know any different than online connections being their primary connections. What impact did it have on them? Well, according to this documentary, the suicide rate among girls aged 15-19 has increased by 77% compared to last decade and by 151% among girls aged 10-14 in the United States. These girls are the first generation using social media since middle school. It’s not a coincidence.

Of course young girls are not the only ones impacted, everyone is. At the end of the day, all social media are competing for your attention with the ultimate goal of making as much money as possible. They collect as much data as they can to hack people’s psychology and build models to predict their actions. The level of information available is unprecedented, everything is monitored. Have you ever noticed you and your friends were not targeted by the same ads? And how the ads you see vary based on what you’ve just typed or even said?

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

Any addiction is dangerous and they make sure you’re addicted to your screen so they can keep making profit. Nowadays, most people waste a lot of time on social media when they’re bored. It’s an easy way to kill time. What worries me the most is the way it changes our values to a point we don’t know who we are anymore. We are in constant search for social approval and would do anything to fit in. When I realised that, I decided to delete my personal Facebook account 2 months ago…

I haven’t missed it since. I realised I needed to share my thoughts more than I needed to share a stupid chain I didn’t even relate to. What I needed was to write for an audience of people I didn’t know in real life. That’s why I started this blog 2 weeks ago, it is not shared with anyone in my network. It’s just you – complete online stranger – and me. That way, I don’t censor myself. I’m not looking for social approval from my friends, I’m just looking for genuine followers who want to talk about the same things.

My conclusion? Ok to social media but only if its use is restricted. In my opinion, all kids and teenagers should grow up without it but it’s impossible to control. At least make sure you set time for yourself without any distraction, ban your phone when you eat and when you’re spending time with someone in real life for example (even if it happens less often nowadays). It’s time to change the conversation.

Big Girl x

We Got Engaged in Bali, in a Pre-COVID World

How I Got Engaged

You may be wondering… “Ok, she’s decided to focus on her health and change her lifestyle for good. Any particular trigger?”. Of course, the fact that unhealthy people tend to be the most likely to die from the virus is one of the reasons. I love my life and I don’t want to take the risk to shorten it. Especially if I have the power to increase my chances to live longer. But there is something else… I’m a bride-to-be and I want to look my best for the wedding! Let’s go back to how it all happened for us.

Communication is key

I would like to think this article will not interest only girls but guys as well. There is so much pressure on men’s shoulders to make it right! Let me tell you something guys, you don’t have to do it all alone. After all, are we not evolving towards an era of equality between genders? When you’re in a serious relationship, you know it’s inevitable to talk about your future together. Do you want to get married? Do you want kids? It could compromise your entire relationship if you disagree on one of these questions. Nowadays, it seems like couples don’t invest so much on relationships and tend to call it off too easily. Are you scared of being hurt or missing out by committing too soon? You better be aligned on these two points before you invest too much time in it.

We made our own rules

Now that you know that you both want to get married, it’s a matter of when to pop the question. My boyfriend (now fiancé) and I knew we were at that stage of the relationship and discussed about when would be the right moment for him to propose. It’s a formality we didn’t want to skip (he even asked my dad’s permission beforehand) but we also wanted it to be at our image.

So we agreed on the following: he picked the moment and the location (but we decided it was going to happen at some point during our 6 months travel) and we picked together the ring I was going to wear for the rest of my life. The ring is a big investment so I don’t really think it should be left to one person only to decide. You know what, it’s actually a lot of fun to compare options and agree on what to buy together. Don’t forget this symbolic ring reflects your relationship, whether you go discreet, extravagant, unique or traditional etc.

Tip for those who are planning to propose abroad: Bring a fake temporary ring with you! It’s not worth the stress to bring THE ring with you and worry about losing it!

The element of surprise

I left him to decide the date, the location, the setting etc because it’s important to leave these decisions to the one who’s proposing: it kind of maintains an element of surprise when you’re making sure you’re at least aligned on the bigger picture. So here we are, he proposed in Bali! He booked a dinner experience with a rice terrace view at sunset, we had our own waiter at our disposal and a sophisticated set menu of 5 courses… You get it, we’re both foodies and we could enjoy our meal in all intimacy! The setting was amazing and they even made a heart with flowers on the floor.

Kupu Kupu Barong Bali

Happy memories

This place is called Kupu Kupu Barong, in Ubud. It takes me back to December 2019, just before the pandemic started to affect us all in the world. I can say these memories will stay in our heads forever. Are you also engaged? If yes, please do share your experience in the comments below!

Big Girl x