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Planting herbs

When we moved last year, I had a wee shopping spree chez Ikea and apart from the bookshelf and dining table and chairs, I dropped a couple of herb kits into the basket too. I discovered the kits sitting sadly in one corner of my kitchen, forgotten, so I guess now is as good a time as ever to rescue them and fulfill their destiny.

Herb garden

Herb garden

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Four years and a semi marathon

Semi Paris 2015

I woke up yesterday morning with thousands of butterflies in my stomach. What was I thinking when I signed up for the semi marathon of Paris? Me, the fair-weather jogger who had just indulged in two weeks of holiday diet and last ran exactly four weeks to the day, never mind the fact that I’ve never yet completed a distance further than 12-13K, top! I nearly crawled right back into bed and stayed under the cosy duvet with my Kindle.

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Feasting on galettes des rois

January can only mean one thing in our household – it’s open season for galette des rois! It seems the limited time availability only fueled my hunger for more, so this addiction is unlikely to go away anytime soon. However, after two seasons of buying small/single portion galette des rois on a nearly daily basis, this year, a change of strategy. We would buy only at the weekends, and fancy galettes des rois are on the table. * happy dance *

Galette des rois

A whopping eight galettes des rois had came through our door so far. Well, we started early this year, over the New Year’s long weekend, before Epiphany officially kicked off. It made sense since C&M were staying with us and C loves them as much as I do! We’ve largely stuck to one galette des rois per weekend-day rule, except yesterday when we had a small tasting party with friends; three galettes des rois were served and today we’re having none. It was a “sacrifice” I’d gladly make because it’s a lot more fun to share them :)

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Run, baby, run

At the end of September, I rather impulsively decided that F and I should sign up to do a semi-marathon. A bit of a wacky idea considering I am hardly the model jogger/runner, while F would dutifully head out once a week for a good hour or so; I’d do so about once every 2-3 weeks, not to mention I’m also more likely to do a shorter route. Honestly, I’m really not great at self-discipline when it comes to sports/fitness-related activities. Just ask C about my “standing pool date” with her…

10K run

In any case, I have time to work at training, no? Afterall, March seems so far away, even if I’ve started drawing up all kind of potential training programme etc. And the sheet of paper is now sitting right underneath a big pile of papers that I’m supposed to read for work. Training three times a week – hah, who am I kidding? Instead, time is ticking away and I still manage to weasel my way out of weekend jogging sessions with F.

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Un samedi au marché

My first year in Paris, I used to meet up with A most Sunday to go together to the market at Auguste Blanqui (13ème). Since I moved to the 6ème and subsequently the 15ème, the market trips have become infrequent. There are a number of markets within walking distance that I could go to at the weekends, but somehow I didn’t. I love going to the market; I’m just not there as often as I’d like.

At the market

At the market

I guess playing house with a partner does change one’s shopping habit. Any week that there are not enough fresh produce to last till weekend, or too much that it runs through past weekend into a new midweek, means we would be topping up our purchase elsewhere. Or sometimes, there are just household item shortages that necessitate visits to the supermarket so while we are there, why not get the grocery too to save some time?

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Easter touches

We had a festive Easter weekend chez mes beaux-parents, partly because it was, well, Easter, and partly because we were there to celebrate several family events in one fell swoop. F’s mum impressively prepared most of the feast for some 30-odd people herself and topped it up with a couple of specially ordered deli dishes, while F’s dad was in charge of the wine and champagne selection. Not much for the rest of us to do really, except to help setting up the place prior to guests’ arrival.

Easter decoration

Easter decoration

While I assisted with the set up, I also couldn’t help but snuck a few photos and here. Just as well, because everyone else who were there ended up taking tons of people shots and none of the decors. My belle-mère was delighted to have some pictures to show off the fruits of her labour. On the other hand, isn’t it terrible that once guests started arriving, I became sort of a shrinking violet and stopped playing photograher?

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La Table d’Aki

F and I marked our anniversary with a small splurge – dinner at La Table d’Aki. Promptly at 8pm, the window cover was raised, and we stepped into a dining room about the size of the living room in our cosy Parisian apartment. Definitely minimalist in decor, monochromic palate of white (except the draft-blocking curtain and the low wall, both in red, by the door), as we were seated, I whispered to F: “16 covers only!”

Dinner @ La Table d'Aki

Dinner @ La Table d'Aki

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Naïve little Asian

January kickstarted the year with a busy bout of moving-related activties and whats not, but February doesn’t plan to be overshadowed with a peaceful lull. Instead it throws in a challenge that had been most unexpected – something that threw me off, shakened me – and had me questioning, for one short second, if I am suited to live in a big city.

Sculture

In short: I was blindsided and scammed in my own home. Definitely not my day.

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My first French Christmas

On Christmas morning, I woke up to a video of my adorable niece sent by my brother, saying “Ho, ho, ho, mehwy chwistmas”.

It had been a very merry Christmas indeed, and my first experiencing it the French way. My own family doesn’t celebrate Christmas per se, but for one that loves to cook and to eat, it does mean three festive meals (we start with a good Irish roast, followed by a Chinese steamboat, and finally Korean barbecue) with mere few hours break in between. That’s a lot of eating in a single day.

The celebration in France is bound to be different, and in fact, my belle famille doesn’t buy into the overlong meal with extravagant dish after dish in one seating. Instead, we get to spread the feast over two days. A satisfying Christmas eve dinner and a boisterous Christmas day lunch makes the whole experience much more manageable, and I did enjoy my meals a lot more. (Here they are, in pictures.)

Christmas meal

Christmas meal

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Joyeux Noël

I am currently sitting in the living room of my belle famille, to a background of lovely classic and seasonal instrumental music, all set for my first Christmas in France. I’ve taken some photos of Christmas ornaments around the house and of the creche at the corner, although this year we’re doing without a sapin de Noël. No worry, the presents will still appear in a timely manner to reward everyone on their good behaviour this year. ;)

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

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Most read in 2013

I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to my blog stats, but since I noticed a few interesting questions that landed readers to the blog (and planning to write a post on that soon), I thought, why not make a list of ten most read blog posts of 2013? This should also fall nicely into the end-of-year-listicle phenomenon, so this is my minor contribution ;)

A number of general observations: the posts are mostly Paris-related, the number one post had been read more than the other nine combined (just to show how often it has also been searched for people needing such information), and these posts were mostly published in the first half of the year – I suppose those later in the year haven’t got the equal amount of exposure time thus not as widely read yet.

Amiens

10. Daytrip: Paris to Amiens

Since I had a little free time on my hand (and I needed to grab some points for my SNCF frequent traveller status) I went to Amiens for the day to see the famed cathedral and to suss out the city in general. With a journey time of just over an hour, it’s a very do-able day trip from Paris. I wished I had opted for a late return rather than one in the late afternoon, for I lacked time to check out the Hortillonnages.

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Always a learner

One question that used to pop up a lot when people see me, especially among older (and extended) relatives, was if I was done yet with studying. Granted, back in the days, every time they saw me, I was still a student and showed no sign of graduating, even if the reality pointed to multiple graduation ceremonies and the upward move in the academic ladder.

Even a few of my friends have teased that I never seem to tire of being a student, and if given my way, I’d be voted as “most likely to be the oldest student in the class/course”, not because I’ve failed or anything but I would happily register myself to one after another.

Street art

You know what – I didn’t (and still don’t) mind this remark at all. I love learning. In fact, I’d say “thank you” for recognising my effort to learn continuously, regardless of my age or my attained level in education.

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101 goals in 1001 days

Today marks another milestone in my life. The next steps are up to me to make them work, and a friend sagely advised that I should have some sort of anchor that I can focus on during this period of time. She is not wrong. It could be easy for me to drift if I don’t have goals to aim for, discipline to keep.

Clocks

This is where Day Zero Project comes in. I can’t remember how I came across this a while ago (maybe after I drew up my previous list of 50 goals in 5 years?), and it has always been at the back of my mind to revisit the idea. I finally did, and this new list of medium-term goals was born. I will not be tracking them on DZP website though; just here, on this website itself.

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The anatomy of a French picnic

We have been blessed with a second sunny weekend in a row. While the temperature was a good 8-10°C lower this time round, when the sun hit upon us directly, we remained quite warm and happily stayed outdoors without a coat.

Picnic

Last weekend, for Anne’s birthday, a picnic was held at the Parc Montsouris at our regular spot. We numbered just over a dozen people, and everyone brought a little something to share. Everything was fairly casual, people came and went at convenient times, and I thought – hey, why don’t I share photos of what make a typical yet informal picnic between my friends and I?

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Is it expensive to live in Paris?

This post happens quite by chance. In preparation of some changes to come in my life (and no, we’re not talking about starting a family or buying an apartment – not yet anyway), I started tracking my expenses not so long ago. Normally I have a pretty good idea what I spend my money on, but to actually see the amount I spent on certain things, I scared myself along the way!

Pastry from Pierre Hermé

Then a couple more things came my way: (1) an article that I saw on Twitter last week about budgeting based on the 50/20/30 rule – more on this below – and (2) curious friends who have been asking me about the cost of living in Paris. The former had me pondering if I’ve set my financial priorities right, while the latter had me seriously thinking about feasibility of living in Paris.

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Brunch with Jean Imbert

There was some serious cooking going on in my petite cuisine Parisienne this morning.

About a month ago, I came across an online quiz + lucky draw to win a home-cooked brunch by renowned chefs, courtesy of Nespresso, in conjunction with the launch of their new capsule line – Linizio Lungo. I decided to give it a go, but was out of luck on both week 1 and week 2. I was expecting another tough-luck-you-didn’t-win email on week 3 when I received one with the header “Felicitations!”.

Pinch, pinch! Third time’s a charm apparently :D

Brunch with Jean Imbert

That is how Jean Imbert of L’Acajou, winner of Top Chef France 2012, came to prepare a fantabulous brunch at our place and feeding a small crowd of six, as Frédéric and I were joined by Anne, Hélène, Claire and Victor. Marie, who was coordinating the event, and Juan, an assistant to Jean, were also here. I must say it felt a little strange to have someone cooking for us when usually, if we invite a group of people over, I’d be the one slaving over the proverbial hot stove.

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Eggscellent! (œufs surprise from Patrick Roger)

On Friday evening, I came home to a beautiful green bag sitting on the table. Inside, a box of eggs, and these are no ordinary eggs ;)

Easter egg from Patrick Roger

Patrick Roger produces these specifically for Easter. The eggs have previously been emptied and thoroughly cleaned, before an even coating of dark chocolate was set within the eggs. Then, soft praline is piped into the core and finally sealed off with a dark chocolate button. Voilà! I’ll let the pictures (hover over them for captions) do the talking.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that my photographic skill does them justice though…

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Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes

A couple of weeks ago I managed to not only renew my carte de séjour but to also change the visa type to vie privée et familiale. It went well, except for the part where I forgot to bring my current carte de séjour with me and had to go home to retrieve it, oops.

Frédéric attended the appointment with me – a requirement given the change of visa type – and even though we arrived 15 minutes ahead of our appointment, we were attended to immediately. After about an hour wait while someone reviewed the file, we were informed that the application has been approved and a relevant récépissé for me was duly issued.

Les Bouquinistes

Menu of the day

We celebrated this paperwork victory with a lovely lunch at Les Bouquinistes. The choice was an impromptu one. Initially we were going to go our favourite creperie near Odéon but when we passed by Les Bouquinistes, I couldn’t help but paused to take a peek at their lunch menu. The next you know, Frédéric walked in the door to ask if a table for two is available.

Choosing what we would eat couldn’t have been easier. The daily lunch menu consisted of two options for each of the courses: starter, main, dessert. Yup, you’ve guessed it, we both ordered the different items and promised to swap a few bites during the meal. Drink-wise, a glass of apricot juice for me, and a glass of white wine for Frédéric.

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You win some, you lose some

I have been on a kind of high since renewing my carte de séjour last week. It may seem trivial to some (“I don’t know why you worry about it because we were sure you will get it”) but for an expat, the actual possession of a confirmation that it’s all good – even if just for another year – means stability for a year to pursue all that I want to chase. It was an important win.

Then came a crash this morning.

Cat figurines

No, no, don’t panic. It has nothing to do with my residency rights. Nobody’s trying to send me away or anything. In fact, the madame processing my carte de séjour last week was nice and helpful when we got there with a big huge folder of all kinds of paperwork plus copy but sans my actual card! The ditzy-me left it in the scanner at home. I was calling myself a hundred kind of stupid and was very glad that she processed my file as usual, with the onus that I retrieved my card and returned to the Préfecture later with it.

Anyway, I digress. My bone is with the CPAM. Again. The crash came when I saw the amount of reimbursement I have just received from the CPAM.

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‘Cos you’re hot and you’re cold

As my friend Anne put it, we are immersed in pleine tempête sibérienne today. Despite it being mid-March, we woke up in the morning to snowfall and it has been non-stop since. Public transport system is thrown in a loop, flights were cancelled, many northern France-bound train services (including Eurostar) had been halted.

Snowy Paris

Yet, it was mere 3 days ago when we had a wonderful spring day (yes, sadly, just one day). The sun was out, the mercury recorded some 18°C, we were out cycling, walking in the park (no coat, no scarf!) – how wonderful! When we arrived home, I made a passing remark to F: “je suis chaude” to which he raised his eyebrows and started laughing at the same time.

Ah, yes, welcome to my amusing world of French faux pas. Again.

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It’s my 2nd Pariversary!

Photo mosaic

9 March 2011

I woke up in the morning with things strewn all over my soon-to-be-former bedroom floor. I was supposed to have put everything I wanted to keep into boxes and nicely stacked in the conservatory (to be pillaged every time I go back to Dublin, of course, so I can bring more things over), set aside books and clothes that I planned to give away to charity (with my cousin assigned the duty to bring them over to the charity shop), threw everything else into the normal and recycling bins accordingly (mostly recycling), and the top priority of all – pack my suitcase!

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Oh my – I have a carte vitale!

Oh yes, the elusive green and gold card is finally here!

After a mere 21 months of paperwork wrangling and waiting, the victory is, at last, mine. I came home on Monday evening to find a letter from Assurance Maladie with the carte vitale attached, hurrah hurrah! If only I didn’t have work to do that evening, I would have uncorked a bottle of champers and celebrate. *Happy dance*

Carte vitale

You need a social security number too?

If you are new in France and you’re not working for an employer with dedicated HR personnel who would deal with the sécu on your behalf, then you’re probably in a similar situation as I was. You will need to get yourself registered for a numéro de sécurité sociale. Information in English language is quite scattered and many sites simply say “apply for your card through your local CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie)” and the likes – not very useful.

I hope this post would be of help to anyone who’s trying to obtain French social security number and carte vitale, but know that I am writing based on my personal experience. The information is current as of early 2013 but liable to change. Be prepared for things to be sidetracked. I thought I was quite dilligent and yet things went off-tangent before they finally became right.

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Errm, he is my …?

Loving elephants

The running joke is, if something’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. After F and I got PACSed, I made an announcement – first time ever that’s related to my relationship status – along with a photo of us together. Congratulatory messages poured in (thanks again everyone for the well wishes), along with a good deal of confusion of the following variety:

– What is PACS?
– Are you engaged?
– Did you get married?

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French writing – fail!

Recently, during lunch time discussion, one of my colleagues mentioned how she was preparing herself to help me settling in my first months in Paris. Not just at work, but also with accommodation search, administrative meetings, opening bank account, getting mobile phone, etc. She was duly impressed that I managed most things on my own, and knew right then that I like France enough to make all the effort to fit in.

Correct your French blunder

Oh if only she could see the imposter in me dancing away to this praise I don’t quite deserve. Sure, I read and speak better French now, and I can understand rapid conversations a lot easier (although I still talk a lot less than I would when a conversation is in English or in Chinese), but oh if only you know how atrocious my writing is (and can be)… We’re not talking about reports or poetry or anything of that magnitude; we’re talking 2 lines email to my group of friends!

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Battling for carte vitale

Battlefield

I did not take advantage of February’s free museum Sunday. Month numero deux of the year and already I’ve recommenced the going-away-at-weekend trend. I had a good excuse for this trip though – it was to visit my belle-famille and a birthday celebration was in the work. Frédéric and I also had a little excursion to Le Croisic (more on that another time), I cooked the Sunday lunch which was well-received (I was simply relieved nobody gets food poisoning) and all in all, a wonderful if tiring weekend, as our train arrived back in Paris near 1am.

On entering our apartment, two letters greeted me, one from the Caisse d’Assurance Maladie and another from the Carte Vitale. For those not living in France, the former deals with national healthcare system and the latter issues the card that allows me to receive healthcare nationally without emptying my bank account.

Hurrah – finally, I shall have my card!

Errr… no.

There was nothing that felt card-like in the envelopes.

There was no little green card in sight.

I was jolted wide-awake at this stage. Reading through the incredulous correspondence, I was simply furious and I spluttered a series of phrases not to be repeated here. I also felt defeated. I’ve battled this for 19 months. 19 months! By now I should have my card, and I and was actually planning a guide blog post on how to get the card with minimal pain. Given all that I’ve been through, I thought I knew where all the pitfalls may be.

Errr, again, no.

[Warning: long rant ahead]

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THATd’Or – ready, set, hunt!

Treasure hunt in a museum? And one of my favourite museums to boot? Yes, please!

Let me cue you in with some background about the hunt. Treasure Hunt at the Louvre aka THATLou is the brainchild of Daisy de Plume, and it is a wonderful initiative which combines her entrepreneurial skills and her love of good arts. At THATLou, participants disperse across the many wings and floors of the Louvre in search of artworks which Daisy has challenged the groups to find. The group which earns the most point (by finding the pieces and/or answer the bonus questions) will be crowned winner of the treasure hunt!

Musée d'Orsay

When Daisy announced bringing the hunt over to the Musée d’Orsay, nicknamed THATd’Or, as one of the events hosted by the AFMO’s Avant Garde, I knew I had to try to make it this time. Possible obstacle? It was slated for Thursday… uh-oh, it’s a work day!

I was delighted when Daisy tweeted back “THATd’Or @ 19h45” – perfect!

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Gaga over galettes des rois

I am, as the French would say, accro.

Hook, line and sinker. This is what I look forward to in grey and dreary January in France. My little slice of sunshine and happiness. It is not les soldes, but that flaky puff pastry with frangipane filling (or other delicious almond-based fillings) called galette des rois.

Galettes des rois

Frédéric thus summed it on his FB:

Définition du mois de janvier pour Lilian : une galette des rois chaque jour.
J’ai tenté de la convaincre qu’il n’existe aucune loi qui nous oblige à en manger tous les jours, mais sans succès…

(Definition of the month of January for Lilian: a galette des rois per day. I tried to convince her that there isn’t a law dictating the obligation to eat one daily, but without success…)

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PACSed!

We’ve jumped hoops, performed tricks and cartwheels. And then we were PACSed ;)

It has been a stressful few weeks, in no small part due to paperwork concerns. It’s not just about run-of-the-mill effort in gathering the necessary documents, it’s the little things that we did not know we needed and only told within limited time frame, related to me, the foreigner! Documentation to be sent from abroad is bound to take time. How’s that for additional anxiety? In a way, this is our first tough exercise in proving that we are committed and want what we want. (Poor F had to do a lot of running around on my behalf. Luckily, he was on holidays before starting his new job.)

I thought I’d write this little info-post which hopefully would be helpful to someone intending to get PACSed. Particularly for Malaysian-French couple. Mind, this is based on our experience and what we’ve been asked to provide. The information is currently up-to-date but I won’t know when changes would be made in future. Could perhaps keep an eye out on the Service Public page on PACS?

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Un copain, mon copain

This afternoon, during a family meal chez ma belle famille, the conversation turned towards plans for Christmas break and I regretfully informed everyone that I will not be joining them this year for the celebration. Instead I will be Ireland-bound to visit my family and friends. (Oh yes, I can’t wait to see my niece!)

MIL: Mais oui, c’est bien de voir ta famille, tes amis et, Frédéric dit, ton ancien directeur de thèse aussi?
Me: Mon directeur de thèse? Euuuh non, pas tout à fait. On va peut-être se croisser une soirée…
Boy: C’est pas le directeur de thèse, mais le mec qui s’est occupé de ta thèse, comment il s’appelle? On l’a vu cet été.
Me: Ah, Dave? Mais lui, il est mon copain, pas qu’un collègue.
Boy: Ton copain?
Me: Oui. Non! Un copain! Il est un copain!
BIL: Et nous, on vous laisse de se discuter un peu, hahaha…

Hillarity all round and teases coming my way, I was going red from blushing (it may have been the wine too). With an incorrect use of just one word – one! – I have declared to the family that I have a boyfriend elsewhere, oops.

In French, to denote possession, and specifically something/someone that “belongs” to me, the determiners/adjectives are mon for masculine, singular; ma for feminine, singular; and mes for plural.

A friend is given by un ami (masculine) or une amie (feminine), or informally as un copain (masculine) or une copine (feminine). It is therefore not a far leap in logic (at least to this Anglophone brain) to casually claim “my friend” as mon copain or ma copine.

Nope. It appears such connection is flawed.

In fact, these terms are pretty much exclusively reserved to refer to “my boyfriend” or “my girlfriend”. Forget the French beginner’s class lesson where they are, respectively, mon petit ami and ma petite amie. Cute as these may sound, they are obsolete from day-to-day use. As for referring to my friend, if I opt to use the words copain/copine, he/she will forever just be un copain/une copine (“a friend”).

I wonder though what happens when I refer to them in plural, as in “my friends”. Can I use mes copains or would it be misconstrued as having multiple boyfriends? ;)

Sooo… I’m a Monsieur?

I have good reason to believe, in most countries of the world, my name gives a clear indication that I’m female, owner (or carrier?) of XX chromosomes. In the past, I’ve used the title “Miss” and “Ms” interchangeably and still there wasn’t an issue of mistaken gender even for someone who hasn’t yet met me in person to confirm that I look like one.

So imagine the great fun I’m having in France where Lilian, sans E à la fin, is famously masculine in nature. This country even proves it by putting forth a famous international export in the form of Lilian Thuram. Here, the pronounciation is not how you’d imagine it’ll be pronounced elsewhere. It’s a guttural-sounding “Lee-Leon” that’s correct given the orthographe.

Liliane is how they like to change things up here for me.

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