We had the pleasure of getting to know the new face of France in Alexandria, Consul Janaïna Herrera. We met over coffee and macarons, and we must say, we are dazzled by her (and impressed by her perfect Arabic). In popular imagination, French is a byword for everything sophisticated and chic, and Consul Herrera did not disappoint. Without diving into nauseatingly gendered analysis on an entire race of women, the idea that French women are these thin, beautiful women, head to toe in Saint Laurent, who effortlessly float through the world is outdated and irrelevant. French women are different, and it’s not because they’re sultry and beautiful (although they are incredibly beautiful). It’s because of the way they live, react and storm through the world.
So what is it about french women that makes them, well, “french”? They are fascinating, beautiful, classy, confident and kind, but they’re so much more. We often feel the burden of social judgement about what is expected of us, and part of the beauty of French women is that they do not just break this expectation, they shatter it. We spoke to Consul Herrera about what it is like being a woman in a position of power, all about Egypt and France, and what she has planned for us.
Your job is very demanding. How do you balance family and work life?
My husband is amazingly supportive, and I’m very lucky and blessed. My family is also very helpful, back in France and in Lebanon as well where my husband is from. The team here is great with children, but the truth is, everyday is a struggle. I try my best to finish work at a decent hour to be with the children when they’re back from school. When it is suitable, I try to let them attend as many things as possible, like if there’s a reception here that is not too late at night, then they’ll put on a nice dress and be a part of the reception.
What advice do you have to women struggling to have it all, having a successful career and being a devoted wife and mother?
It’s the challenge of our time! And not just us, for our husbands and family, as well. My advice is to make the time to meet and talk with other women. My sister-in-law is an overachieving business women, and she’s my role model because she reached very high, very quickly, while raising two children. She’s also a fashion icon. From the outside, she seems like she has it all, but when we talk, she says it’s very difficult. We go through a lot of pressure to balance everything, and the only way you can do this is to constantly talk to each other, share advice, and support each other as women. We want to be successful mothers but also want a good career where we can shine as managers, and there’s no solution. At some point, you’ll need a break. Go on vacation, turn off your phone and just enjoy recharging your batteries. Sleep deprivation is also a challenge. I can’t function sometimes from lack of sleep. I forget my passwords, and do and say weird things. Yesterday, I spent half the day with my top inside out! But I just laughed. Humor is important, you need to learn to laugh at yourself.
Your Arabic is really good! What other languages do you speak?
In my family, it’s a tradition to learn many languages because we’re from all over the world. I can speak French, Arabic, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, German, and Russian.
We heard you’re going green here in the consulate.
Yes! The first thing we’re doing here is to try to recycle everything. We created a compost in the garden to use as a natural fertilizer, and we already started growing our own vegetables in the garden. We want to grow even more. We want to reduce electricity by using LED light bulbs all over the consulate. We are also trying our best to reduce our consumption of water, especially in summer in the garden. There’s a different way of watering the garden called dripping. We have it, but we want to enhance it and are looking for sponsors. We want to use solar energy on the roof of the building, and we want to partner up with others who want to do the same thing.
Were you excited about moving to Alexandria?
When I announced to my circle in Paris that I will be moving to Alexandria as General Consult, everyone wanted to visit. Alexandria is mythical, like for those who are educated and know about history and culture, they know that this is a mythical place because of Alexander the Great’s fascinating story, Cleopatra, Champollion, Napoleon’s story here, and so much more. Especially for those who read “The Alexandria Quartet”, and many French writers wrote about Alexandria. I prefer being in Alexandria than in Cairo. Cairo is this huge vibrant city, but Alexandria has this dolce vita that reminds me of Marseille and Beirut. Alexandria is an industrial hub and the cultural capital of the Mediterranean. Everytime I look up, I see beauty. I really like the architecture in alexandria, it’s just gorgeous and unique. I would call it Alexandrian style, a product of this cosmopolitan culture. It’s a product of history.
What do you have planned for us?
The French Institute has a lot of great ideas and culture events that are very exciting. President Macron officially confirmed his visit to Egypt on January 29. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi went to France back in 2016, and it was an important moment for our relationship.