Summer Series: Being body confident this summer!

Body confidence: something often discussed and debated but hardly realised. Whilst it is often easier to feign during the winter, hidden under chunky sweaters and coats, body confidence usually come to the forefront of our minds (and many lifestyle features appearing in women’s magazines) when summer arrives. Often seen as daunting and unattainable, achieving this type of self-love can be a lot more difficult than ‘experts’ in the field make out…. However, by following a few simple steps, all of us can put ourselves on the right track to capturing a genuine summer glow.

1) Getting the right fit…

Back in 2014, The Daily Mail published a piece on how over half of women in the UK buy clothes in sizes too small for them, seeing this as an incentive to get slim. However, studies found that this method rarely works, often inhibiting body confidence. Personally, I think that getting the right fit is a crucial first step on the path to summer body confidence. Who wants a bright and beautiful vest top, albeit far too tight-fitting, rolling up their stomach every five minutes? Many of us have been there and many of us felt self-conscious… So why go back? For the beginnings of genuine body confidence and comfort, buying items of appropriate sizing is key. Rather than using smaller sizing as an incentive in this sense, why not see a shopping trip once you’ve reached your goal as motivation? This summer, get the fit right.

2) …. whilst getting fit!

We all feel better after a little exercise. Whether it be regular Zumba classes, cycling to work or an evening summer stroll, it’s no surprise that regular exercise does our bodies the world of good, whilst releasing positive endorphins to give us that much-desired summer glow. It’s a common myth that we need to do crazy, exhausting workouts in the weeks leading up to our long-awaited week in the sun, in a bid for the ‘perfect’ holiday body. A more rewarding alternative is to do light exercise, in whatever form that may take, regularly, throughout the year. Even if it’s a few squats everyday during the ad break of your favourite soap, you will see a difference and feel more confident for it. Often, genuine body confidence is all about having something tangible to cling to.

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A tan is a sure-fire confidence booster for the summertime!

3) Glow, glow, glow

This may be more of a personal one, but I always feel more confident with a tan. Something about a bit of bronze (whether real or fake) can really bring out that summer glow we all crave. A beautiful British summer thus far has meant that many already look like bronze goddesses before even jetting off from their local airports. Why not embrace this and maintain a natural, healthy glow by moisturising regularly? For the sun-shy or those who simply find it hard to tan, a million versions of bronze in a bottle line the shelves of Boots and Superdrug. From Instant Tan products to lotions that build a natural glow, plenty of options exist to make us glow from the outside in.

4) Smile!

Yes, it may be a cliche, but simply smiling can put anybody on the golden path to body confidence. Feeling conscious? The age-old saying ‘fake it til you make it’ may serve you well. This is perhaps the simplest tip on the list, particularly for those of us that enjoy having fun on holiday (I don’t know anybody that doesn’t, on reflection!). Looking good and feeling good often go hand in hand, so smiling can really be invaluable to a genuine summer glow.

Wherever you’re off to in the world this summer, enjoy, smile and love yourself!

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Spending time with friends in the summer sun guarantees a smile and glow of confidence

 

 

 

Tuition fees for Argentina? No, thank you!

Argentina is the latest country proposing the introduction of university tuition fees to combat growing economic turmoil and the low international competitiveness of its higher education institutions. Is this plausible? I agree with Alberto Barbieri, rector of the University of Buenos Aires, who contends that implementing fees is simply ‘not the answer’. 

As it stands, public university courses in Argentina are largely free for both home and international students. This may all be about to change. Faced with crippling economic pressures and ongoing failure to catch up with the relative successes of their international counterparts, Argentinian universities may soon begin implementing tuition fees.

Those calling for the adoption of fees appear at a loss of how else to resolve problems circulating the Argentinian higher education sector. Campus budgets are increasingly under pressure meaning that per capita student resources are underfunded, arguably limiting the level of educational attainment an individual may gain. We only need to look at UBA to see that, in relation to its Latin American competitors, its per capita funding is scarce. In strong recognition of this crisis, THE reported today that a shocking 70% of Argentinian students fail to graduate on time. This is only likely to worsen, with sky-rocketing inflation and a drastically falling Peso, which prompted the nation to seek out a $30 billion loan from the IMF in May.

Arguably, tuition fees would be the easy solution. Bring more money into the universities? Check. Increase per capita funding and resources, as a result? Okay. Improve regional and international competitiveness of Argentinian universities? Done, fantastic.

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University of Buenos Aires- Argentina’s largest university, home to 4 Nobel Prize Winners

However, tuition fees are scarcely ever the ‘easy solution’.

Unsurprisingly, in any nation, protests usually commence at the very mention of this proposal. Consider the outright chaos sweeping through the UK in 2010 over tuition fee hikes. Notably, Argentinian students are no strangers to protesting against educational reform. Only last year, schools were occupied by students contesting proposals which, if implemented, would pose an ultimatum between attaining work experience at the end of high school or failing to graduate. With the heavy burden of economic disarray currently facing Argentina, further protest and disruption (on top of demonstrations recently launched concerning the nation’s dealings with the IMF) is the last thing the country needs right now.

Political disruption aside, tuition fees would also pose a much deeper problem: capping off university to those who can ‘afford it’. Dr Barbieri told THE: ‘I came from a working-class family and was the first to graduate from university in my family. I am an example of how important [it is to have] diversity of social classes in our universities’. He added that the proposed reforms would ‘damage meritocracy’.

Barbieri’s comments have considerable merit. Diversity is one of the elements that makes university such a special place to be. Universities are often hubs of not only cultural exchange, but of learning how others, from backgrounds different to oneself, have grown and developed. As well as being simply very interesting, opportunities to connect with those from a range of social backgrounds offer crucial learning experiences. After all, university isn’t all about what you learn in the classroom.

He is equally correct in his recognition of potentially damaged meritocracy. Believe it or not, one particular socio-economic grouping alone does not monopolise the intelligence or skills necessary to enter university. This would be a revelation if we were still in the 18th Century, but, alas, we are not. Fees make learning in higher education not a healthy competition of the organised, knowledgeable or motivated, but a game between the wealthy in society. The rebirth of a society like this anywhere (let alone in Argentina, with its historically large middle class, namely thanks to increasingly wide accessibility of education) would be detrimental.

Even on a restricted budget, UBA has been relatively successful as home to 4 of Argentina’s 5 Nobel Prize winners. However, unemployment continues to rage, with graduate jobs a rare find. So, is it really a toss up between accessibility and quality of education for Argentina?

Not necessarily. Barbieri proposes a whole host of measures, none of which include putting a price on higher education. Internationalising courses, staying in tune with technological change and constantly reviewing labour market demands are a start. These measures, if carried out efficiently, will not require lumps of money to be implemented. Instead, they will prepare Argentina to face its ongoing economic calamity, which is only likely to worsen in the forseeable future.

 

Racing and royalty: a day trip to Monaco

With the famous Monaco Grand Prix on the horizon, what better time to reflect on my recent day trip to the principality? A truly regal experience, touring around Monte Carlo, in particular, oozes glamour. Race-goers: take note.

High expectations

Its name synonymous with wealth, glamour and class, Monaco continues to be a haven for the rich and famous, largely due to its generous tax advantages and geographical position along the French Riviera. Whilst critics lament its built-up topography and consistent expense for a mere bottle of water, a short visit to Monaco promises a once in a lifetime opportunity to mingle with elites, walk along a historically treasured F1 track (aka the principality’s very streets) and relax in the midst of a marina dotted with the most luxurious yachts imaginable.

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Breathtaking views of Monaco’s distinct landscape

A royal engagement

Without a doubt, Monaco prizes its royal family, much merchandise in souvenir stores and the content of numerous magazine covers reflecting their commercial importance today. Police escorts are relatively common in the principality, which often gives the impression that tourists and residents are never too far from the Grimaldis, particularly given the proximity Monaco’s small but treasured territory offers. High up on a hilltop, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco (originally constructed in 1191) offers breathtaking views of the country. It is not only the Grimaldi name that reinforces Monaco’s regal appeal, but the very fact that the territory is known for hosting royal visitors: Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were spotted visiting a monegasque flower market just days after my visit.

Casino Royale

A visit to Monte Carlo’s celebrated casino, forever referenced in Hollywood blockbusters (hint: James Bond) is at the top of any savvy tourist’s bucket list. Perhaps more than any other landmark the principality possesses, this luxurious hub of excitement and wealth embodies pure glamour. Whilst exploring the high-stakes area may set you back around 10 euros, the rest of the casino is open for public viewing. Be warned: if you do fancy your chances at the betting table, be sure to dress smartly, avoiding jeans and trainers. Visitors are regularly refused entry due to casual attire.

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Monte Carlo’s decadent casino is definitely worth a visit!

Play, race, win

Monaco is perhaps most famous for its annual F1 Grand Prix, a street race with sharp turns and scarce scope to overtake along the principality’s narrow roads. A visit to the principality during race weekend guarantees high-adrenaline adventure and the opportunity to mingle with the world’s A-listers (as well as numerous F1 drivers who reside in Monaco). Can’t afford a race ticket? In the months leading up to the Grand Prix, visitors can walk along the very race tracks (exceedingly easy, given the GP’s street circuit status), a stone’s throw from the famous marina. For football fans, the principality offers its famous Louis II stadium, home to AS Monaco.

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Wishing it was race day… Chilling alongside the marina.

The shopping experience of a lifetime

Want to blend in with the exceedingly elegant Monegasque citizens who roam the streets, going about their daily business? Shop where they shop! Le Métropole Shopping Monte-Carlo offers a range of outlets, from Spar for a quick snack to a beautiful handbag boutique, stocking all of the finest luxury brands, from Moschino to Versace. Shoppers are greeted with a marble interior and dazzling chandelier, a decadent indication that wallets will be considerably lighter on exit.

Relax

Visitors who become tired of hiking up Monaco’s hilly terrain often choose to take the ‘Grand Tour of Monaco’ (aka an open-topped double-decker bus, driving tourists around a circuit of the principality’s most fascinating attractions). Stop off at the Jardin Exotique for some pure relaxation amongst soothing fountains, stunning horticulture and mesmerising sculptures. This stop should perhaps be reserved until the end of your day trip, allowing one to unwind and reflect on their regal tour of Monaco.

Top tip: Hotels in Monaco are, unsurprisingly, pretty pricey. For those happy to spend the day in the principality without paying a fortune for accommodation, staying in nearby Nice is a sensible option. A 20 minute train journey away and a vibrant city in itself, Nice offers the perfect spot to rest your head after a busy day exploring the French Riviera.

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Monaco’s position on the French Riviera is one of its top selling points: why not escape to a seaside spot for some relaxation?

Touring and tasting: champagne houses in the champagne capital

During my last week in Reims, I reflect on what it does best: champagne! Who could leave the Champagne region’s most popular city without a quick sweep of the specialist houses it has to offer?

In 2015, UNESCO granted the champagne industry a protected status. In short, this meant that consumers would only be drinking ‘real champagne’ should it be produced in its designated French region. Champagne ‘counterfeits’ (bottles produced anywhere else in the world) would be known simply as sparkling wine, from then onward. On the other side of the coin, this development ensured that producers local to Reims, Epernay and surrounding communes would be reassured of the consistent high quality of their trade.

When walking through Reims, you are never too far away from a champagne house. From the famous Veuve Clicquot to the lesser-known but equally enchanting Martel, touring and tasting spots are abundant. Only a short train journey away, neighbouring Epernay is home to the globally renowned Moet-Hennessy as well as a handful of smaller-scale, family-run retailers. Each has its own specialities and many offer both cellar tours and tastings.

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Enjoying a glass in Pommery’s main foyer, following a fascinating tour.

 

Vranken-Pommery, Reims

Perhaps the city’s most decadent champagne house, Pommery is the founder of Brut. Priding itself on this innovation (champagne with considerably less sugar mixed in), Pommery’s cellar tour also shows off its vast collection of art. Why would a champagne cellar house mesmerising art, you ask? The answer is one of a historical nature: the widowed Madame Pommery was not only the pioneer of female entrepreneurship in the industry but also conceptualised the ‘champagne tour’. Unsurprisingly, she envisioned making Pommery’s cellars as aesthetically-pleasing as possible for visitors. This ambition lives on today. For a taste of Vranken’s art (and, of course, a glass of its champagne!) a standard cellar tour with subsequent tasting amounts to 22 euros per person.

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Veuve’s elegant terrace is the perfect spot for a tasting in the sunshine.

Veuve Clicquot, Reims

A five minute walk away from Pommery, the luxurious base of Veuve Clicquot can be found. Much of Veuve’s significance comes through its prestigious brand reputation. The fact that the organisation pioneered ‘riddling’ (a crucial champagne production technique) only adds to its historical importance. Tastings are readily available at the house, as are captivating tours. For those who fancy a glass of Veuve’s finest produce, tastings begin at 12 euros per person and are best enjoyed on the house’s bright yet elegant terrace in brilliant sunshine.

Martel, Reims

For a low-key tasting and a comprehensive explanation of what you are drinking and how it is produced, Martel is the place to go. Although tours do not operate here until mid-late summer, the 3-glass tasting offered (12 euros pp) comes complete with a friendly connoisseur in a luxurious sitting room. For an alternative champagne experience, away from the grand houses which tend to dominate international markets, Martel is highly recommended.

Jacquart, Epernay

In neighbouring Epernay, Moet-Hennessy is by far the biggest name in town. However, whilst in the area, a few of the smaller houses are definitely worth a visit. Take Jacquart, for example. A family-run business, passed down through generations, Jacquart offers an informative tour of its chalk cellars and production rooms which are still in action today, in contrast to many larger houses. Whilst failing to compete with Moet in terms of glamour, the pared-back experience Jacquart offers is inherently authentic, presenting a fascinating insight into the life of a champagne tradesman today.

The good, the mediocre and the disillusioned

This week, Britain’s local council elections dominated national headlines. Whilst the term ‘expectations management’ was at the centre of most analysis, the nation’s leading parties failed to produce significant gains. 

On Thursday, 150 council elections took place across the UK, alongside a handful of mayoral races. Prior to a mixed bag of results, many commentators had predicted a woeful performance from the Tories, in the face of Theresa May’s tumultuous premiership and the unexpected outcome of last year’s General Election. However, this did not materialise, with the party profiting from carefully crafted expectations management. At the base of each party’s chosen spin lines, the results were as follows:

  • Labour won 2,350 seats, up 77.
  • The Conservatives won 1,332, down 33.
  • The Liberal Democrats won 536 seats, up 75.
  • The Greens won 39 seats, up 8.
  • UKIP won 3 seats, down 123.

As these results show, the day produced some clear winners and losers, with Britain’s two biggest parties offering relatively mediocre performances. On the other hand, smaller parties, such as the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, were pertinently affected by the local contest results.

The good

It was perhaps the Liberal Democrats who profited the most from this year’s local elections. After being effectively washed away in 2017’s GE, the party made significant gains on a local level this week. Offering a strong performance in ‘remain’ favouring areas, the Lib Dems reclaimed Kingston-upon-Thames from the Tories whilst seizing its neighbour, Richmond. Gaining four councils may be a modest achievement when compared to Labour and the Conservatives. However, this is a considerably more promising result than previously anticipated by Britain’s ‘third party’ with leader, Vince Cable, stating: ‘It’s certainly the beginning of the comeback of the Lib Dems’, whilst pragmatically noting that this revival would not happen ‘overnight’.

The mediocre

Labour and the Conservatives failed to produce significant results, leaving their spin and ‘expectations management’ to do the talking, rather than the outcome itself. Whilst both parties took away seats from a dormant UKIP, few major surprises emerged. May survived her first large-scale electoral challenge since last year’s General Election and comparatively few seats changed hands. This was, however, a relief for May, in the context of ceaseless public scrutiny, cabinet scandals and the knowledge that the ruling party normally performs poorly in local elections. The Conservatives were heavily grateful towards strategic expectations management, which assured that the party outperformed relatively low predictions analysts and members had previously expressed.

Labour, on the other hand, claimed that its mediocre outcome had demonstrated a consolidated party position. Its hopes of claiming seats in Westminster and Wandsworth were dashed, although the party did take Plymouth from Conservative hands. Losing ground in areas such as Barnet, North London, Shadow Local Government Secretary, Andrew Gwynne, believed that the party’s recent anti-semitism row had plagued this particular outcome.

The disillusioned

By far, the biggest loser of the night was UKIP. The party failed to retain a grand total of 123 seats. After previously profiting from the divisive context of a contentious Brexit discourse in 2014, this outcome indicates that many voters perceived the party as one which is (or was) single-issue driven. The party’s response was somewhat disillusioned, with former deputy chair, Suzanne Evans, focusing on how UKIP’s acquisition of two seats in Derby meant that it could still, to her, ‘put the cat amongst the pigeons’. However, for any kind of substantial influence on the political landscape, UKIP must learn from this and redefine itself rather than live in denial and disillusionment.

The best breakfast… in France!

As a British girl, I have grown up on bacon sandwiches and poached eggs with toast to begin my days (on the weekends, at least). This meant that coming to France was quite a shock to my system: no bacon? How could I survive? What would I possibly eat for breakfast? I soon worked it out…

Sitting in a Parisian cafe in the Paris-Bercy quarter, I ordered my first ever ‘French breakfast’. The title sounded fitting and, for only 3 euros, what was not to love?

When a singular plain croissant and shot of espresso arrived before me, I realised that the breakfast to rival a Full English I had foolishly anticipated definitely suited its low price: they don’t call it a petit déjeuner for nothing… It was time to adapt to this culture shock and to begin my pursuit of the Best Breakfast in France!

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Ready to enjoy a classic Pain Chocolat Amade before class

The Best Pastry: Pain Chocolat Amande

Love pastries but bored of a plain old croissant? The Pain Chocolat Amande might just be for you! A mixture between a classic Pain Chocolat, Almond Croissant and cake, this intriguing yet delicious pastry is cheap, relatively filling and can be found in France’s best bakeries. Whilst Reims is a city better known for its Champagne, if you venture to student-favourite La Cave à Pains you will find the ultimate Pain Chocolat Amande (that is, if the morning batch hasn’t sold out already!) Of course, France offers an endless selection of traditional pastries, but this is the best by far.

The Best Regional Breakfast: The Breton Crepe

Each region in France has its own speciality. One could literally spend years studying French gastronomy. However, in all due respect to France’s localised dishes, the best regional treat to be had at breakfast is the Breton Crepe. Lighter than a pancake, but of a similar composition in essence, the crepe is first and foremost a Breton product, although creperies do appear in many towns across France, from Dijon to Paris. This is perhaps the most versatile French breakfast too, with an endless number of toppings to be selected at the most accommodating creperies. Note: crepes are popularly eaten for lunch or dinner in France, but if you cannot wait for a late brunch, multiple street vendors across Paris tend to offer these sweet-savoury treats throughout the day.

The Best Supermarket Breakfast: Chocolat Chaud et Muesli

If you’re on a budget or would like to enjoy something a little healthier, why not pop down to your local Carrefour? The best thing I have found in there to eat for breakfast is the chain’s own-brand Muesli (which is actually just Granola and comes in about 7 flavours). Add some pasteurised milk and Chocolat Chaud powder (Hot Chocolate is traditionally drank at breakfast, in France) to your basket and you will be set for days to come.

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Carrefour Crepes: a supermarket staple

Special mention: Carrefour Kids Crepes

Yes, technically this one is a light snack for children, but sometimes one must improvise when living in a new country. The Carrefour Kids Crepes are compact, tasty and more filling than you would think. Sold in packets of 8, with a choice between chocolate or strawberry flavoured filling, these hidden treasures have become a staple in my French shopping basket. Why not give them a try if you get the chance? What have you got to lose? A crepe may not be an appropriate substitute for a bacon sandwich, but it will be an immense challenge to find the latter anywhere.

Milan: visiting a fashion capital in style

A few weeks ago, I took my boyfriend to Milan to celebrate his 21st birthday. Admittedly, the San Siro football stadium was at the top of his agenda, but this did not stop us from spending a fantastic weekend exploring Italy’s fashion capital. Here is my selection of the best ways to make the most of your time in Milan…

1) The Duomo

The first stop on any savvy tourist’s trip to Milan is a tour around the city’s Duomo. Whether you wish to explore its decadent interior or casually wander around its perimeter, this is the most iconic selfie-stop in Milan. On a bright day, sitting in the Cathedral’s square is the perfect way to take in the ambiance Italy’s urban jungle has to offer. However, please take heed of a word of warning: in this quarter, both con artists and wreckless pigeons are abundant, so be prepared. On the bright side, Milan’s sight-seeing buses tend to converge in this central area, which is incredibly convenient for those wishing to explore every corner of the city.

Taking the obligatory Duomo tourist snap (whilst praying no pigeons would come my way!)

2) Sforza Castle

For history fans, Sforza Castle offers a complex of museums, covering everything from niche interests (The Museum of Musical Instruments) to ancient tales (The Egyptian Museum). A beautiful set-up itself, the castle’s surroundings offer the perfect place to unwind with some traditional gelato. At only a stone’s throw away from the city centre, the Castle is definitely worth a visit, if only to admire how this formidable structure has been preserved so well in such a highly populated, modernised city.

The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II is a decadent hub of luxury goods

3) Shopping, shopping, shopping

How one could leave Milan without indulging in its endless opportunities for retail therapy baffles me. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a must-see, if only for its stunning decoration. From Prada to Louis Vuitton, the gallery offers a chic cluster of luxury brands for lovers of high fashion. Nearby, my personal favourites, H&M and Zara can also be found, for those on a budget.

4) The San Siro Stadium

For all football fans (and accommodating girlfriends), a trip along the purple metro line to the renowned San Siro Stadium should be on the cards. Its sheer size is astounding and, arguably, completely necessary, given that it is home to both of Milan’s football teams: AC and Inter. On a visit to the stadium’s gift shop alone, the players will be there to greet you in all of their glory (well, not in real life, but their faces are everywhere). Don’t like one of the teams but love another? Not to worry, the store is well and truly divided, half of it drowned in blue, the other immersed in red. You could literally draw a line between the two sides of merch displays. For access to the stadium’s museum and tour, expect to pay around 17 euros per person.

5) Eat, drink, relax!

After exploring a city in full, it is always reassuring to have on-hand, go-to recommendations of where to eat, drink and relax (and how to avoid remarkably rude service). Frankly, restaurant service was very mixed in Milan, but in some eateries, it appeared as though waiters were going out of their way to be bullheaded with tourists (take Gino’s 1928, where the best thing about our dinner was the view of the Ferrari store across the street). Otherwise, for an evening meal, Di Gennaro produces some delicious, albeit small portioned, pasta. Be aware first-time tourists: any restaurant will include a variable service charge at the end of your bill (this may or may not include bread in return). For some self-love, central Cioccolatitaliani is the place to be: indulge in anything your sweet tooth could imagine, from sublime nutella pancakes to a few scoops of classic gelato. Finally, for a drink to close the day, Dry Milano offers a range of tasty cocktails served by the friendliest staff in the city. For more expensive tastes, the Moet- Chandon rooftop bar of the Rinascente department store is open until midnight and offers some spectacular sunset views.

Indulging in some authentic Italian pasta at Di Gennaro… Bellissimo!

 

Who are La Douane and why are they in so much trouble?

Border security. We see it discussed everywhere today, from its domination of international news headlines to parliamentary agendas of every level. In the face of globalisation and increasingly porous borders, many countries, of course, are fighting this trend in the name of so-called ‘national security’. Without a doubt, each country needs some element of border control to combat terrorist epidemics and the traffic of drugs. However, we only need to look at France to see how some nations are taking the patrol of their borders too far, at the expense of citizen liberty…

It’s 30th March 2018. A TGV (super-fast train) is on its way from Paris to Milan. All is running smoothly, until the Douane arrive to proceed with their security measures. For readers who don’t know, the Douane is the French Customs and Excise Agency, who live to protect French borders from contraband and any dodgy characters. They fight Drugs Trafficking, Counterfeiting, Cigarette Smuggling and Illegal Immigration. However, the way in which they behave often makes it appear as though they are fighting anybody who is not French, or, in some cases, even those who are French, the very citizens who they seek to protect.

Now, in this particular instance the Douane suspected a Nigerian man, on an innocent trip from Paris to Milan, of smuggling drugs through concealing them inside his body. As a result, they would not leave him alone until he could produce a urine sample. So, what did they do? When the train arrived in the Italian town of Bardonecchia, they led the ‘suspect’ (who, by the way, was innocent), into the base of an NGO, to perform the control measure. On the one hand, La Douane, based on a 1990 agreement, claim that they had the right to use the premises for this purpose. The NGO’s comments suggest otherwise, with witnesses saying that the armed border agents burst into the clinic, forcing a migrant into producing a urine sample, whilst intimidating doctors, mediators and lawyers at the base. Needless to say, diplomatic ties between Italy and France suffered.

This isn’t uncommon for the Douane who, for the most part, like to throw their weight around, even when in the wrong. Based on both personal experiences and reputable news headlines, such as this incident in Italy, the Douane take pride in being as rude and intimidating as they wish, until they are certain that their ‘suspects’ go away feeling as uncomfortable as possible.

Take today, for example. My boyfriend and I were en route back from Milan to Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. For one reason or another which remains to be known, we had the joy of passing through passport control and then past our good friends La Douane, who, frankly, looked very bored. All of a sudden, we were halted, for no apparent reason. After being addressed incredibly rudely and treated like convicts (again, for no apparent reason), our passports were checked. After our passports were cleared (thanks, GB), it was obvious that the agent was trying to find a reason, any reason, to keep us just a little longer. He turned to my new Moschino bag, a birthday present I picked up in Monte Carlo last weekend. He, of course, asked where it was from. Mishearing Monaco for Morocco, his face lit up: maybe he had found some contraband! Needless to say, I abruptly clarified ‘Monte Carlo’ was the destination from where I purchased my handbag, before he reluctantly let us go.

La Douane

La Douane: should they change their ways in the interest of citizen liberty?

Compared to what else I’ve heard and seen, this was relatively tame of the Douane. Worse was when I witnessed a surprise roadside inspection on a long, stuffy bus trip back from Brussels. All was running smoothly, until… you’ve guessed it: the Douane jumped out of a few unmarked law enforcement cars and made everyone get off the coach, along with all of their bags, including those stowed below the vehicle. Each and every one of us was forced to line up along the peripheries of a petrol station forecourt, passports in hand, to be interrogated one by one before we could return to the now-sacred comfort of the bus.

This was the worst case of racial profiling I have so far come across in France. Whilst, with one glance at the cover of my GB passport and confirmation that I was indeed British, I was granted permission to leave the line, others were not so lucky. This included an Argentinian couple, to my left (and about anybody else who did not look ‘French’ or, indeed, Western European). The Argentinians were interrogated and it was intense, making many of us feel as intimidated and violated as they most likely did: where are you from? Where are you going? Why did you go here? How long are you staying there?  How long have you been there? Do you have any drugs? Drugs are illegal!!! Show me your identity now!

I appreciate that these are the kind of questions that need to be asked, the demands that must be made, to keep a country safe from crime and chaos. However, whilst the Douane may ask the right questions, they do it in completely the wrong way. Three common traits arise that must be changed or France risks compromising the liberty and respect of innocent travellers and its own citizens.

Firstly, whilst they may just be ‘doing their jobs’, it astounds me how rude many of the Douane are in their interactions. For me, there is a clear difference between talking to somebody quickly/efficiently and just being outright rude. I mean, imagine the chaos that would ensue, should a Douane officer actually treat his/her ‘suspect’ as a human being. We need to remember that the Douane’s primary function is to protect France and its citizens. I do not see how talking to citizens, or non-citizens, like something on the bottom of your shoe is compatible with this mission. Would it really be that difficult to be pleasant, or even neutral, rather than plain disrespectful? Perhaps the Douane should save their impoliteness for legitimate criminals, rather than dishing it out left, right and centre. In my opinion, anybody who has done no wrong has the basic liberty of being spoken to as a human being, rather than being treated as a worthless object.

Secondly, the racial profiling element that the Douane would never admit to (but clearly base their work upon) must change. Racial profiling in the realms of French law enforcement is a big problem and it will, inevitably, take a while to change this. However, the security procedures of the Douane are beyond the joke. Their lack of consistency in interrogations is laughable and blatantly unjust. Imagine a system where you pick out anybody who is ‘non-French/European looking’ (even if they are, indeed, French or European) as a potential criminal. It astonishes me how such covert (and, sometimes, overt) racism is still taking place in 2018. This not only makes the Douane look out of touch and antiquated, but also impedes the liberty of citizens based on their race and incompetent profiling carried out by supposed professionals.

Finally, the Douane must stop considering themselves as untouchable, as a force that work above and beyond any rules or regulations that may come their way. The recent Italy example which dominated headlines is a perfect demonstration of this ‘God-like’ attitude in action. Forcing your way into an NGO fails to appear as completely ‘legal’, but abusing its staff in the process? Nobody should have the right to behave like this, let alone those supposedly safeguarding citizen interests. The fact that this occurred on soil foreign to the Douane only makes matters worse.

 

Next stop on the Tour de France… Dijon!

During my time here in France, it is safe to say that I have been travelling around the country a fair bit… Well, a lot! My most recent trip was to the beautiful Dijon, famed as much for its speciality mustard as its beautiful UNESCO-protected buildings, which encapsulate unique pieces of history at every corner. Read all about it below…

 When you think Dijon, you think Dijon mustard. At least that’s the first thing both my mother and boyfriend referenced when I announced that I would be visiting the city over Easter Weekend. In all honesty, that was all I myself knew about Dijon, although I had heard that it was also host to another Sciences Po Paris Campus (or, a home away from home, in my case). So, it was clearly time to explore!

 The most striking thing about Dijon is its history, or rather its ability to have intricately treasured buildings dating from the Capetian, Gothic and Renaissance periods. It is not rare to feel as though you have been transported back in time, when roaming the cobbled streets of the city, where even the local pharmacies operate from within beautifully antiquated buildings. Only adding to this historical ambiance is the fact that all museums in the city may be explored free of charge.

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With impressive, historical architecture at every turn, it is easy to see why Dijon’s buildings have attained UNESCO-protected status

 Given that Dijon offers such a range of museums, it may be difficult to decide where exactly to begin your tour, but a sensible suggestion is the city’s Musée des beaux-arts. Quite literally, housed in a former ducal palace, the establishment offers some of the finest arts from antiquity to modern day. It also provides a fascinating, interactive history lesson on the Bourgogne Empire and its reign, something scarcely covered in textbooks (based on my personal experience, at least). Tempted to learn more about this period? Has Beaux-artsgiven you the bug? Fulfil your interest in the departmental hub’s history by paying a visit to the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne! Amongst some rather creepy waxwork figures replicating everyday life in a Dijon long-gone, you will find intricately crafted insights into how Bourguignonne life operated daily. From displays of mustard pot antiques, to a whole mock ‘shopping street’ modelled to permit your personal exploration as a Bourguignonne consumer (including everything from sweet stores to apothecaries) you really will come away feeling as though you have momentarily taken a huge leap back in time.

 Not a history boffin? The Jardin des Sciences- Planétarium Hubert Curien offers an alternative, yet still enriching experience. With a range of stunning mineral rocks on offer and various interactive features allowing visitors to explore our universe (to some extent, at least), this is perhaps the most ‘fun’ museum to visit during your stay in Dijon. On top of this, the planetarium is located on the outskirts of Dijon’s botanical gardens, which really are magnificent and only a stone’s throw from the Dijon Ville train station. On a sunny day, this is the perfect place to relax, especially convenient when waiting for your train.

 Where else can you unwind? Jardin Darcy is a must-see, especially if the weather is on your side. If you have time to spare (and perhaps a good book), waste away the day in front of its grand fountain and iconic ‘Pompon’ Polar Bear sculpture. Alternatively, a relaxed exploration of the city’s windy, cobbled streets, popping into its many chocolatiers and mustard shops along the way, is a great way to clear your head.

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Jardin Darcy did not disappoint, with its famous polar bear sculpture in place to greet us

 Speaking of mustard, I’m frankly surprised I haven’t covered that yet! As we know (and referenced in the introduction) Dijon is famed for its speciality mustard. This is, of course, available across the city, in a range of boutiques. However, perhaps the most authentic way to pick up your jar is at Les Halles, a vast indoor-outdoor local food market open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings. To be honest, some of the vendors are less than pleasant if you’re not prepared to buy from them then and there, without any kind of internal debate. One for example, despite my French fluency, decried my ‘funny accent’, without using proper French grammar himself. Nonetheless, the market is definitely worth a visit for its wide-ranging offers of local produce and the group of nice vendors who treat customers with respect.

 Another speciality Dijon has to offer is its gingerbread, or rather gingerbread cake! This is widely available across the city and definitely worth a try before you leave; you won’t regret taking some home with you!

 Fancy something a little more substantial after a long walk around the city? Gina is a centrally-located Italian-Corsican restaurant, serving up a range of delicious specialities with impeccable service. Alternatively, try Caffe Cosi for an impressive Bouef Bourguignone, but slightly higher prices. If neither of these recommendations suit your tastes, take a tour around Les Halles by night and explore the restaurants that circulate the old market building.

 A trip to Dijon guarantees some fantastic local cuisine blended with a taste of history and some picturesque scenery, if you do it right. So, what are you waiting for?

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Port Guillaume is yet another famous historical landmark that Dijon has to offer, right by its main shopping street

An emoji too far: Brexit cashcow or freedom of expression?

Barely a day goes by where something Brexit-related fails to make it on to the media agenda. As reality has it, Brexit dominates conversation today, particularly in the UK but also across social media, with its powerful international reach.

Numerous companies and politicians alike have been ‘cashing in’ on the contested Brexit verdict. The latest installment of this was aired yesterday when The Guardian reported that an Italian company are planning to release two contrasting ‘Brexit-themed’ emojis. In essence, consumers will soon be able to tailor their social media profiles in line with their individual Brexit stances. Those interested will get the chance to purchase the company’s new application, before selecting between a cigar-touting, bulldog ‘Brexiteer’ emoji or its ‘Starry Blue’ remainer adversary.

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Brexiteer Bulldog vs Starry Blue: would you use them?

As with any divisive issue, there are two sides to the coin. The company has picked up on how frequently Brexit is discussed on social media platforms and claim to simplify any confusion brought by current mixtures of emojis used to illustrate views surrounding the issue. They insist that the focus groups they quizzed about the app would happily use the symbols to tell others what Brexit means to them.

Of course, emojis were intended to simplify our conversations. Anybody can now receive multiple ‘beer-clinking’ emojis and know exactly what their pal intends to do later that night. Whole conversations have been had via substituting tried and tested words with amusing smiley faces and pop culture symbols. However, perhaps we should think about the confusion an emoji exemplifying an issue as complex as Brexit could lead to. After all, ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but what does that really even mean, in itself? Does anybody know right now? No, not at all. The relentless ambiguity surrounding Brexit developments and discourses means that the proposed app will simply trivialise an issue that we need to take very seriously, given its potentially grave (or, if you’re a Brexiteer ‘incredible’) aftermath.

We also forget that emojis themselves can, believe it or not, come with a complete lack of context. Pair with this the idea that many of those who voted in the referendum sat passively in the middle of the leave-remain spectrum (a far cry from the nationalist bulldog or the EU superfan the app conveys) and a spell for disaster becomes apparent.

The European Collective (a group of Brexiteer Tory MPs) and the Remain Group (a cohort of Pro-EU MPs) have issued a joint statement to label the app plans as ‘divisive’ and ‘dangerous’, after they were leaked. ‘Dangerous’ may be a slight over-statement, but frankly, a fresh means to invoke divisiveness is the last thing that Britain’s chaotic political scene needs right now…

Companies will always play to current affairs, some opportunistically cashing in on political developments. Perhaps the emoji firm is making a great commercial decision. Perhaps they are simply responding to market desires. Former employee, Riccardo Nicoletti has even argued that political campaign groups would happily spend other peoples’ money to get an advantage, so why shouldn’t his previous employer?

Even so, what is arguably of greatest concern is that, if users do not wish to pay for the emojis, they can simply ‘share their political preferences’ with the firm in exchange… Hello? Have we not learned anything from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal? Exchanging one’s personal information in return for access to any kind of social media activity invokes significant vulnerabilities. Let us not forget that collated data sets on these desired ‘political preferences’ may be used by organisations a lot less amicable than one’s chosen emoji provider…