Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

If you have enjoyed Carine and Archie’s story, here is the next chapter…You can read chapter 3 here.


Stiff Upper Lip – December 2011


Life with Archie back at home is easier than I thought. I still get the odd moment of panic: yesterday my closet padlock was open and I thought that I had locked it. I was suspicious all day. Has Archie found what the code was? Did I forget to lock it? Has Graeme broken into the house? I will probably never know. I need to chill out a bit.

IMG_3998 copy

This is easier said than done. I wake up tired. I am stressed out and all these Christmas parties are starting to get on my nerves. I can hear Alexandra waking up and the phone rings at the very same time. I rush downstairs to grab the phone, miss a few steps and end up at the bottom of the stairs with my ankle hurting so much that I find it difficult to stand back up again.

Our old Victorian house is full of steps. 87 of them, to be precise. Way too many. The thing is, most old houses in London have lots of steps. We simply got used to it. And the silver lining is that I exercise without even thinking about it. Climbing up and down the stairs is making my bottom a lot firmer, right? In short, it doesn’t bother me too much. In fact, I like it. Each floor is quite isolated from the rest of the house and it is easy to spend time together on one floor or to have some private time on another.

What still bothers me is all the comments I have to listen to when I get family and French friends coming over. I can be sure that they will complain about all the steps. Maybe, after all, complaining is part of the French culture. It is only a question of time before someone asks about the stairs. It usually takes a drink or two and the complaining squad starts firing their guns at me.

Most of the time, it is a criticism hidden in a concern for my family:
“Aren’t you afraid to fall with all the steps? “

“What about Alexandra?”
Well, until today, I had never fallen so far, and it has been almost four years now.
Mum is at the other end of the phone and she really, really enjoys saying that ‘she told me so’. Lovely start of the day. I am on the verge of tears. How much more can I take?

My mother is especially good at making complaints and reproaches in a seemingly helpful way. She is all about:
“ It would be great if you could have the same surface in a flat. It would feel so much bigger.”

“If you ask me, the lounge should be on the same level than the dining room.”

Such comments drive me mad. Not to mention the fact that London service charges are rocket high for flats and in a house, you are less likely to hear your upstairs/downstairs neighbours, right? But no, my French friends don’t want to see all the positive sides of living in a house. They have to make their points, even if nobody asks them to. And they are convinced that they are right. How arrogant of them.

I can’t do anything with my ankle, let alone prepare breakfast. The pain is excruciating. The only way I can cope is if I climb or go down the stairs backwards. It simply takes twice as much time as before and although Archie seems to find it very funny, it is really painful.

Archie doesn’t change his schedule one bit at all and leaves for work really early as if nothing had happened. Well, thanks for helping! How am I supposed to manage everything on my own with a sprained ankle?

I call him and all he can say is:

“- Don’t be silly, you will survive. You are a tough bird”

He hangs up. No other words of comfort are said. Is he giving me the cold shower treatment or is he always like this?

Despite being a so-called tough bird, I am in pain and nobody seems to care.

After dropping Alexandra at the nursery, I hail a cab to go to work today. I simply can’t face the tube. The British cab driver calls me sweetie, honey and love in the space of a few minutes. What does he want? In France, you have to be pretty close to someone to use such words. Really close. I even start to believe that he is making a pass at me and I almost panic. The thought of calling the police service really crosses my mind. Please don’t sweetheart me, I hate it!

My ankle still hurts.

Once arrived (sigh of relief), I call Archie:

“- Archie, I took a cab this morning and was really afraid. The guy kept calling me all sorts of names: Sweetie, Pumpkin, Darling. Should I have called the police?”

“- No Carine. It is completely normal for a cab driver or a shop assistant to call you Love, Darling or even pet names and that no harm is actually meant. Don’t worry. They see it as good customer service.”

Coming from the man who can’t hold my hand when I am stuffing my face with painkillers for my painful ankle, I have to admit that I am surprised. Shocked even.

Is it all about pretending that you don’t care when you do and that you care when you don’t? How does it work exactly? I haven’t figured it out yet.

On my way back home, I hail another cab. When he drops me home, the cab driver asks me:

“- Do you want me to keep you company?”

This surely is another British thing -some sort if hospitality rule. I reply a polite:
-“No thanks!”
Later, Archie tells me that this was not normal. I didn’t even think of calling him. Go figure. Will I ever get it?

Right now, all I can think of is my ankle. I call my GP surgery, only to be told that I can’t have an appointment before next week. Of course they don’t offer appointments during the weekend. It would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

How will I manage? Do I need to go to A&E?

It looks like I am going to have to suck it up and I am not good at sucking it up.

In France, I would have had an appointment immediately. I wouldn’t be in pain. They would have prescribed various creams, bandages and physio exercises to alleviate the pain. I would have had an X-ray. Why do they do this to me?

I come back home sad and shattered, feeling that nobody really cares about me. Alexandra doesn’t understand what is wrong with me. I call Archie to ask him to come back earlier to help me, only to be told by his secretary that he can’t because his meeting isn’t finished yet.

Why do I have to do everything on my own? I am really sad and frustrated. If only I had someone who could help, just for tonight. But I don’ t.


It really sucks to be a responsible adult. Life is hard.

To make matters even worse, I am supposed to fly over to France with Alexandra next week. I am not sure that I will be able to, on my own with a toddler. Archie can’t come because of his work. Of course he can’t.

When does it get better? Right now, all I can manage is to curl up in my bed and cry.