EU & (UK)raine

IMG_7760When I started this blog the intention was that I would eventually explain a little more about me and the meaning of “frukozmax”. So I think now is as good time as any to touch on the “UK” that is part of “frUKozmax”.

UK for me has a dual meaning. I was born in the UKraine and spent the first 7 years of my life there. UK also means United Kingdom as I spent almost 7 years there as well and have naturalised as British.

Currently I’m in neither of these countries but I am in Europe and I have spent about half of my life in Europe (between UKraine, UK, France and Netherlands). When I get asked where I’m from, I say Australia, even though I’ve spent more time in Europe than I have in Oz. I love both these parts of the world but having spent my formative years in Australia, I will always support the Australian cricket team when they play England, and likewise the Australian Socceroos when they play UKraine in football (I prefer the European name “football” rather than the Australian name “soccer”).

At this stage you might be asking why exactly is “EU” in the title of the blog. Or maybe you’re not and you see the connection. For me, despite all the problems of the EU, I want this institution to grow and prosper and hence my views are that it would be amazing for UKraine to join the EU and for the UK to most definitely stay in the EU.

The EU is far from perfect. Money is misspent, priorities are misaligned, and it is far too bureaucratic to be efficient. Reform must take place. Unfortunately, at the moment it is not high on any agenda. What is high though are UK and UKraine. It is not a coincidence that the first president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, declared these two (along with economic growth) as the main problems facing Europe when his term was ending in 2014. It is noteworthy that he is from Belgium, so I do wonder given the events in Brussels this week, as well as across Europe over the past 18 months since Donald Tusk took over the role, whether Herman Van Rompuy would have added a fourth problem: safety and terrorism.

UK leaving the EU is a problem for both. Many arguing for a #Brexit believe that the EU will suffer far more than UK in this event. The EU will certainly become weaker without the UK but the impact on the UK will be far greater in my opinion. UK will gain sovereignty back, will save some money that it sends to EU and it will also be able to pretend that it is once again a world power. On the flipside though it will lose easy access to its closest and most important trading partners (who may impose costs in return on the UK as an independent state); access to the labor market (UK is becoming increasingly racists and anti-immigration, so for the layman this will be a positive until they realise that most of their manual labour is performed so cheaply only because foreigners are willing to do so, and that the reason they’ve been able to be so competitive in professional services is due once again to immigrants); access to a large group of members working to cut red tape, improve living standards, focus on environmental standards and many more things. I’m not even mentioning the immediate short to medium term costs of leaving (at a time when all costs matter) will be far from insignificant and that this may give Scotland once again reason to have a referendum for independence. The UK should stay in the EU and fight for reform of the institution instead.

The case of the UKraine is a completely different one and I’m certainly far less familiar with it having left the country over 20 years ago. Since the country gained independence in August 1991 the standard of living for the average person has gone backwards. Back then over 90% of UKrainians voted for independence thinking good times were ahead. Unfortunately, unlike many other former Soviet nations, UKraine continued with high levels of corruption and could not make the same progress as others like Estonia. Today UKraine is apparently divided with some pro-Russia and some wishing to be part of the EU. In its current state the EU would not entertain the idea of admitting UKraine. The country would need to reform first and it is exactly this reform that is needed. This is a country that is full of natural resources as well as a strong education system that could both be a large asset in the EU and hence benefits would be high for both. Unfortunately reform is still far away and too much influence and control from Putin’s Russia means the European dream for UKraine is still a distant star.

My message and hope following this post is that the idea of #Brexit fizzles out, Europe takes a tougher stance on Russia meaning the UKraine can start real reform and move towards Europe, and lastly Europe becomes a safer place where recent events in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, and Copenhagen are but a distant memory.

EU & (UK)raine

I’m back… But first an Apéro Dînatoire

It’s been over a year since my last blog post. To say that 2015 was busy would be an understatement so I will leave some of the details to later posts. For now a lighter post.

As I’m currently back in France I wanted to once again talk about one of the things I love about this little country. Introducing the “apéro dînatoire”. I love the name almost as much as the concept.

For those that are not familiar with the Apéro, check out my earlier post “France, je t’aime“. As much as I love an apéro, somehow I love an apéro dînatoire even more. It transforms the cocktail / finger food aspect of the apéro into a full meal. This means that it can be a proper sit down and having Pastis for even longer (again refer to my earlier post “France, je t’aime” to learn more about Pastis).

Recently I’ve been having a few of these and here’s just a sample of the things you can enjoy: Guacamole, Doritos, salsa, toast with goats cheese, tarama, tzatziki, endives with tuna and St Moret,  quiche, carrots, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and of course pastis. Very simple and super delicious. Just be careful how much you eat as it’s easy not to notice you’ve had too much.IMG_4536

I’m back… But first an Apéro Dînatoire

Wine, cheese, bread…. and Salt!

The country that is most notably associated with fabulous wines, cheeses and lots and lots of bread has many other culinary treasures. I visited the home of one of these over the last few days: the salt marshes of Guérande.
Each year there are over 200 million tonnes of salt that get produced and although Guérande only produces a small fraction of this amount it is notable for several reasons:

  • The salt gave rise to the name “Fleur de sel“. This is the name given to sea salt that is collected by hand by scraping the top layer of salt in water before it gets a chance to sink to the bottom. The salt that is collected from the bottom is generally bigger and grey (due to the fact that it gets mixed with some mud) and is called “gros sel”
  • The procedure of collection in Guérande is still very much manual where the salt harvesters (the technical term is paludière) spend 12-16 hours per day during the the months of June-September collecting and sorting the salt by hand. It is not mixed with anything here – just pure salt!

Terre De Sel is the home of the cooperative that has around 200 salt harvesters and where you can join a tour. There are tours all year round but the best time to come is certainly in the summer where you can witness the salt collection.

Although there aren’t the same sort of global awards like there are for Wine, the salt of Guérande can still lay claim to some important achievements, one of which being awarded the Label Rouge (an official recognition of extremely high quality in France that is difficult to obtain).

The towns in the surrounding area are very pretty and you can easily spend a few days in the area. Plenty of beaches as well if you’re coming in the summer!

Salt harvesting
Fleur de Sel
Wine, cheese, bread…. and Salt!

France, je t’aime

Having spent 3 months in Paris I wanted to share some of the things I love about both Paris and France:

  1. Apéro! A meal before the meal which can actually be better than the meal itself. This is not a starter because that will come later. An apéro is just to get you in the mood for a meal to come. It’s not for everyone especially those that like the British (I will try and refrain from using too many stereotypes) eat fast but I am certainly enjoying this aspect of life. Not to mention that I have a new favourite drink: Pastis. Generally drunk only as an apéro, I am happy to consume it at any time of day
  2. Paris metro system. Yes it’s not as clean as many others in the world (including London) or as impressive (Moscow) but for an old world metro system (I’m not comparing it to some of the incredible achievements in Asia) it’s amazingly useful and efficient. Trains are very frequent and with 16 (I’m including 3bis and 7bis) metro lines (plus 8 tram lines, and plenty of RER and bus options) it’s extremely convenient
  3. Ubiquitous boulangeries, pharmacies, patiserries, marchés, flower shops, tabacs etc. make it extremely easy to find things everywhere. Only thing to be aware of is the oftentimes strange opening hours e.g. my favourite boulangerie is open every day 7h – 20h (including bank holidays) except on Tuesdays when it’s closed.
  4. The caddie! Not the golf type but the shopping cart type. Despite them not having much Va Va Voom (if you’re not familiar with the terminology check out this Thierry Henry ad) they’re everywhere! And I love it! The most common brand is Rosler and the French certainly make full use of them, but their main use is definitely for grocery shopping.
  5. Environmentally friendly approach to life. In particular I am impressed at the recycling rate. A whole week in my French language course was devoted to learning about recycling and the various words that seem to be reserved purely for this exercise including the very efficient word “tri” which means the sorting of waste into three separate bins (indicated by yellow, green and blue bins). In addition, Paris has a fantastic bike sharing scheme called Velib’ (the bikes are better than the Boris bikes of London, cheaper, and there seems to be far more of them!) as well as having been one of the first to launch an electric car sharing service called Autolib’.

I look forward to enjoying other aspects of the French and Parisien way of life. À bientôt!

Pastis 51
Selection of Rosler caddies
France, je t’aime