“I had a career, four children and two marriages”
Anne-Marie Mullen is from Rathfarnham in Dublin. She was educated in St Louis, Rathmines, then studied tourism in rue Cathal Brugha, leaving Ireland in September 1986. She is responsible for Air France customer service at Toulouse airport and lives half time in Bordeaux and half in Toulouse. In September, she will move to the head office in Paris. She has four children: Charles, 28, Sébastien, 27, Juliette, 23, Antoine 20 and just married.
When I decided to be an au pair in Paris, I was 21 and had already worked a few years as a receptionist in Ireland. After having only done one year of diploma training at the end of school, I felt the need to “improve” and my mother offered to improve my French, which was already a language that I liked and that I spoke a little.
Who would have thought that 35 years later, I would be the mother of four half-French, beautiful grown children and that I would marry for the second time? Far from the young Irish girl I was in the 80s when I left and certainly far from the way I envisioned my life when I left school. So far it has been an amazing adventure, with so much joy and quite a bit of pain, but with faith in life, tons of energy and a positive attitude, life goes on and is better in your 50s. Living abroad made me more open-minded, I learned so much and I have no regrets, I wouldn’t have done things differently if I had had the choice.
In September 1986, I found myself on the 11pm ferry to France with a huge suitcase and only a few books in my pocket. The third of nine children, my adorable dad had a good job, but the money had to go a long way and we had to be able to fend for ourselves once we were old enough. I had been more or less financially independent from the age of 17. Today we help our children much more, but in the 1980s, parents empowered their children from an early age. So I left my loving parents and many siblings and some great friends in Dublin and Galway too, where I had worked between the ages of 18 and 21.
My au pair family were lovely, the mother was about to give birth to a fourth child, beautiful daughters called Marguerite, whom I treasured like mine for the nine months I spent with them. I lived in a Bonne’s room (a sort of French single room in a bourgeois house or building) and went down to the compact Parisian apartment every morning to clean and take care of the children.
Over the months, I walked the streets of Paris and after three months I knew it like my pocket. I loved every step
We had a lot of culture clashes between us, this lovely family and me. They were surprised that I had never seen a frozen quiche and served one to the frozen children without knowing what to do with it. I was surprised by the food, which was so different, but I learned to love it and cook it quite well. I also learned to prefer wine to beer. I was shocked that Christmas was only 24 hours long and the family expected to return to work on St. Stephen’s Day, that the town was empty for most of August. and may the school day be so long. That a certain machismo also which attached a lot of importance to the sons. I hadn’t known him where I grew up in Ireland.
I went to school three evenings a week, the classes were a mix of French and foreigners, from the Iranian photographer who made me beautiful photos for free, to the 50-year-old worker who needed to learn to write. properly to hold his Go farm. There was also an attractive young teacher who was delighted to have an energetic young girl in her class. Despite their attempts, the only love at first sight I had that year was in Paris. Over the months, I walked the streets of the city and after three months, I knew it like my pocket. I loved every step. From the alleys of Montmartre to the Mouffetard open-air market and along the Seine. Le Marais, Bastille, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Notre-Dame and spend an hour or two reading in Shakespeare and Co, the bookstore on the left bank of Paris. I spent hours just admiring the beautiful city I felt honored to live in.
As the world is small, I ran into my teenage friend Paddy twice, who was playing guitar in the subway. He is today a well-known musician in Paris.
My special grandfather made me promise to visit his special place, The Sainte Chapelle, a marvel of stained glass, peaceful and spiritual in the middle of the Latin Quarter, incredible. Then by myself, I discovered Pigalle and its multitude of differences. I was a little too innocent, but very curious and had my eyes wide open to the spectacle of sex shops and all that went with it.
Naturally, the young Irish girl that I was went to mass on a Sunday morning in the The Madeleine church, majestic and intimidating near the Boulevard Haussmann, or in the simple old Romanesque church on the Ile Saint-Louis. On sunny summer afternoons, I would stroll through the Latin Quarter, allow myself a Berthillon ice cream and sit on the Pont Neuf, listening to an American busker sing When a Man Loves a Woman. I loved Paris, in autumn, in winter, in spring. I still love beautiful Paris.
Then June came and the end of my au pair job, I was not ready to leave France. I got a job at the national airline for the summer and after coming back to Dublin for a few months, I decided to move to Paris. I got a ground agent position at the airline in Orly then I moved to Charles de Gaulle.
My wonderful life in France gave me four amazing children and a great career as I rose through the ranks managing big teams, doing project management and now I’m responsible for customer service in Toulouse and I’m going back work in Paris taking a new position, but living in Bordeaux. I am in this amazing company where anything is possible, for 33 years I have had a career, four children, a divorce, tons of friends and now a second marriage.
I am Irish and feel the strength of my roots every day. My children, especially my eldest who did internships in Ireland and who is rooted for Ireland in rugby if not in football, are deeply attached to their roots. I love coming back to my parents in Rathfarnham, the house they moved into three months before I was born.
My amazing father, loved beyond words and missed beyond measure, passed away in February 2021 and haven’t been home since, but I will be next month and can’t wait. I dream of hugging my beloved mother, my idol, the most incredible Irish mummy who taught us to stand straight with our shoulders back and never forget who we are and where we come from. It has served me well in many circumstances.
Over the years I have cried over missed birthdays, Christmases, births and funerals, I have missed Ireland and will always be deeply and passionately missed but my place is here in France and now in Bordeaux where my happiness is complete.
At 56 years old, a Franco-Italian special civil servant showed me that all French men are not macho and who made me realize in life, a little late, that the most important quality is kindness. Reader, I married him surrounded by my four children and seven of my eight siblings who luckily were able to travel to share my special event. I was a newlywed in Saint-Émilion that day, starting a new chapter in the life of a young Dublin woman in France.
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