Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Celebrate the difference

This is an idea copied from Charlotte’s Web, I have to admit, but it seems appropriate as I return to England and find things, well, different.

First of all the ways I don’t feel British:

I keep trying to shake hands with everyone I meet, if not kiss them. Nor do I stress about how many times to kiss – 2, 3 or 4?

I’m dismayed by infrequent refuse collections in the UK.

I don’t expect milk in my coffee.
We invariably say “bouchon” when we mean traffic jam. Other standards are déchetterie and mairie. Why we should have picked on those in particular I really can’t say.

We’re very surprised not to be offered bread with a meal.

We don’t tip unless service is exceptional and then only a little (15% included is already enough). We love the range of cheeses.

But I am not French because

I observe speed limits, red lights, and I don’t overtake on blind corners.

I don’t like andouillette. I have tried it and I will never, ever, do so again.

I do like mint sauce with roast lamb. I even grow mint in the garden, to the consternation of everyone.

I haven’t dyed my hair any of the varying shades of red favoured by “ladies of a certain age”.

I haven’t even attempted to lose weight by applying any of the creams so widely displayed in pharmacists’ windows.

I’m surprised, shocked even, when the doctor prescribes multiple and expensive medicines.

I don’t think French cooking is the best in the world.

When we used to visit France on holiday, many years ago, part of the enjoyment was looking at and buying the very different goods on sale in shops. Nowadays the range available in all countries has diversified so much that it is hard, if not impossible, to find anything unique. A shame I feel.

The very first time we lived in France, within my first few weeks, I was invited to lunch at the house of an English woman, married to a French man, who had lived there 15 years or so. Excellent I thought, I’ll see at first hand what French people eat at home. I arrived and was told we were having a special treat! How disappointed I was to find that they had been out especially to buy very British ingredients for a very British menu. It turned out to be pork pie with Branston pickle!

It wasn’t until I had been there some time that I realised the craving you get for some sort of reminder of “home”, even if it wasn’t something you would normally want. Something like the comfort of nursery food. I always used to make sure I had a supply of golden syrup and porridge oats, not, I have to say, normal everyday food for us, but I felt they needed to be on hand, just in case of emergencies.


  1. A.,
    We lived in Brussels for three years when I worked at NATO. I was the only American (and only female) amidst a large gaggle of military officers and NCOs from all over Europe. They invariably shook hands when first meeting for the day. It is a charming custom I quickly got into (no choice really) and rather enjoyed, but just as quickly lost when we moved back to the US. My kids brought a Nutella habit back with them, so that's always in our pantry.


  2. Ah Nutella, yes. I developed a habit myself but thankfully managed to shake it off before I looked like Michelin man (before he slimmed down).

    The shaking hands thing used to make me laugh when number one son was in a swimming team. We had to be there half an hour early so that every team member had time to shake hands/kiss every other team member. Somehow seeing them all there in their itsy-bitsy swimming gear shaking hands formally seemed so very incongruous.

  3. How disappointing to be served pork pie in France!

    I've got very used to the European kiss cheeks greeting, and after 11 years away from South Africa, get a bit awkward when all my South African relatives want to kiss me on the lips! When I'm there I do a lot of lip dodging.

    Funnily, we always say "Stau" for traffic jam. Certain words do just stick, don't they?


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