Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London, Politics /

Back by popular demand, here is the latest chapter of Carine & Archie’s story. You can read the last chapter here.


I need to prepare my citizenship test.

The UK did not join the European Economic Community (EEC) until 1973. Still today, it is a sore subject. You will not read anything else about the EEC in this guide. No questions on this subject will be asked during the Life in the United Kingdom Test anyway. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to revise this paragraph.

Life In the United Kingdom, (Almost) Official Study Guide


Christmas 2011


With a heavy heart I manage to get Alexandra and myself to France, in the small city where I come from near Nice. There is a direct British Airways flight, which helps. There is even a quirky Anglican church there, I don’t know why. My ankle feels a lot better. I think that I overreacted a bit. I must be tired. All I needed was a few good nights sleep.

Archie is staying in London because he is, once again, swamped with work. As my parents are divorced and haven’t talked for the best part of twenty years, I have to spend some time with each of them and their respective families separately, even if they both live near Nice. They pretend they don’t know each other. Having a driving license is obviously a must to drive from one to the other and also to hear each of them badmouthing about the other (in a subtle way, they are clever and subtle about it). Lovely. Why do some things never change?


My grandfather is suffering from ‘a heavy shoulder’. He must go to his GP at least once a week just for the company. Maybe they have given him a loyalty card by now? Or maybe he fancies the secretary. He has always liked beautiful women. His GP gave him something that, apparently, worked. Everything courtesy of the French healthcare system, of course.


My father thinks that I am a bit tired and wants to take me to the doctor (maybe for some blood analysis). My ankle needs to be properly checked, he is sure that the doctor will want some Xrays done, possibly even a MRI, because you never know. I get a good lecture about the fact that I need to take better care of myself.


I thank him profusely for the advice, and explain that I am feeling much better, thank you very much. My ankle is not painful any more. I think that I had a lucky escape with my dad here. He looks disappointed because I am not taking proper care of myself but he won’t do anything.


That said, I have underestimated my mum once again. She has booked me an appointment and as the UK is part of the European union, I don’t have to pay anything apparently. I am shocked. I have no choice but to go.


Reluctantly, I go to the surgery. Little did I know that the consultation was going to last more than half an hour.

“- When did you have your last ful examination?”

I have no idea.

“- Well, it has been a long time”.

“- Please undress and remove everything except your underwears.”

I oblige.

She takes my weight and percentage if fat.

“- You have a healthy BMI.”

“-Please give me your left arm.”

She takes my blood pressure.

“- Your blood pressure is a bit low. Are you feeling a bit down?”

“- No I am fine, thank you very much. I am just tired with the end of the year.”

“- Yes, it is a busy time, isn’t it?”

“- Very much so”

“- And how is morale? How do you feel generally speaking?”

“- Well, I feel fine.”


She then makes me lie down and remove my bra. Without any warning whatsoever, she starts touching my boobs.

“- What are you doing?”

“- I am checking your breast for any abnormal lump. You need to learn how to do it yourself to detect early signs of breast cancer.”

She patiently explains to me how it needs to be done. I can’t believe it.


I end up with a prescription for a blood analysis, an X-ray, some additional vitamins D (no sun in London, you see), drop for my eyes because she seems to think that they are a bit too red, and a cream for small spots emerging on my face. I have to make my excuses and go otherwise I think that I would have spent the whole day with her receiving prescriptions.

It could have cost me 23 € for the privilege but as I am registered with the NHS in London it is completely free.

Healthcare in France is fantastic.  Actually, it is beyond fantastic. Frankly, it is even a bit too much. I am almost scared.


In a bid to escape from my immediate family because they want me to do additional medical tests, I get to talk to some old friends of mine. It doesn’t help. Everybody is moaning like mad. They are not happy. Life is difficult, apparently. 5 weeks of holidays and numerous bank holidays are not enough. Complain, complain, complain.


They can’t be stopped. I end up getting the whole story of my friend’s life.

“- You see, Carine, my son has just started university and, at €500 per year, the fees are too expensive: how am I supposed to cover his living expenses as well?”

“- Well, in the UK, universities fees are up to £9 000, and that’s without the living expenses of course.”

“- It is not the same. Salaries are higher in London anyway. What happened to free education in France?”

I don’t answer. He goes on.

“- And my brother is out of a job. He has been receiving his job seeking allowance for the last 18 months –the equivalent of his full salary.”

“- Oh, I am sorry to hear this. He told me earlier that he was going to renovate a bathroom?”

“- Oh yes, he is doing the odd job from time to time.”

“- Can he do it? What if they find him?”

“- Carine, everybody does it of course. It is a difficult situation for him.”

Yeah right. Not only is he getting his full salary, but some nice undeclared cash as well. He doesn’t see what is wrong, despite the fact that he must be making a fortune.


Honestly, what is wrong with all of them?


They are moaning all the time and I simply don’t understand why, because they seem to have everything. I come to the conclusion that the French have MORE than the British, but for some unknown reason they are LESS happy. What is going on?


Things get a bit too much for me when we are eating dinner with my dad. He passes me the ratatouille and casually asks:

“-Would you like some glycerine suppositories? It is important to go to the toilet every day and I know that taking a flight can make you constipated. “

I am too stunned to reply. Eventually, I mutter:

“- Thanks, but no thanks!”

“- Are you sure? You need to take better care of yourself. A suppository would loosen everything.”

“ –No”

Here we go again.

Where the hell am I? I am not sure that that I can take this any more. What is next? Free therapy sessions? Preventative appendicitis operation maybe, just in case? You know, better safe than sorry.


The moaning continues over dinner because taxes are too high, salaries too low, and on top of this the telly keeps breaking down and nobody can repair it properly. Wow.


Taking care of Alexandra while listening to all this and being occasionally lectured is a more draining task than I had anticipated. I am not getting any rest here, far from it. What should I do?


I feel like going back to London earlier than I thought. My tickets are flexible, there might be something to explore here. I feel guilty not to be close to my family any more, but at the same time, a well meaning lecture from my mum on how Alexandra, who is two and a half years old, should be fluent in French by now, is the final straw. My mum kindly suggests taking her to a specialist to see if she doesn’t have any learning difficulties. Alexandra is fine, leave her alone. What is wrong with my family? Have they all lost the plot? Have they forgotten to take their meds?


I change my tickets. I am staying two days instead of four. I can’t take this much longer anyway.


I am beaming when I take the flight back home. The nightmare is finally over!


It is late in the evening when we arrive. Archie is in our bedroom, and I don’t have the courage to kick him out. We end up sharing a bed after one hell of a difficult month. It feels right. After all, he pays half of the rent, he can have half of the bed, right? The thing is, I am so happy to be back that the whole cross-dressing incident seems a lot less important.


I don’t know whether London is home, but it certainly feels better than France.