In case you have missed it, you can read the last chapter here…
Back To London
Bank holidays and public holidays are not the same thing. Christmas Day, the 25th of December, is a public holiday because it is a religious festival. Nobody knows whether Boxing Day should be a public holiday or a bank holiday. Don’t count on the official books to enlighten you.
p93, Official study guide “ Boxing day on 26 December is a public holiday”
p179 Official Practice Questions and Answers “Boxing Day is the day after Christmas day and is a bank holiday”
Nobody really understands the difference between the two but the common consensus is that you don’t have to go to work on either a Bank holiday or a public holiday, which, after all, is what matters. That said, be careful not to get it wrong on the day of the test.
Life In the United Kingdom, (Almost) Official Study Guide
I wake up and start getting ready for another day of work. Steven half sits on the bed and mumbles, half-asleep:
“-What is going on?”
“-Well, it is Monday, I am going to work!”
“-Darling, you don’t need to, it is Boxing day!”
I had forgotten. In France, we don’t celebrate Boxing day. We simply don’t have it. It is common practice to go back to work on the 26th of December. Usually, you celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and you have a big lunch on the 25th. That’s it, celebrations are over. So there you go: no Boxing Day in France.
Over here, there are massive sales on Boxing Day and everybody is after a bargain…or an exchange of Christmas presents. And basically, unlike in France, not much happens on Christmas Eve in London. The festivities really start on Christmas day.
There is a Tube strike in London today and I won’t venture anywhere near a shop. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad as a French strike. You have got to give it to my fellow French citizen: no-one strikes like them. In London, when there is a Tube strike, just like today, some lines are still running. As a passenger, it will be more painful but you have a chance to reach your destination. In France, it is far less likely. I remember having to walk to the office during strike days. It took me the best part of three hours. I also remember a couple of American tourists trying to go to the airport, only to be told sternly that there was a strike and nothing could be done. They were the hostages of a social conflict that had nothing to do with them. They looked bewildered. That’s France and its world famous hospitality for you! I am so glad I can stay at home today.
That said, I am emotionally drained. It happens every time I come back from France. To make matters even worse it starts pouring outside. What do you do when every hour of the day feels the same because you can’t get out of the house without being washed out by a wall of rain?
Well, I stay at home, I read, I bake with Alexandra. I should invest in a huge umbrella that doesn’t break as soon as the wind blows. I have yet to understand how you can go outside with the pushchair and the umbrella. I must have missed a trick.
The weather bulletin doesn’t cheer me up at all –it won’t get any better until this evening apparently.
“This Evening and Tonight:
Evening showers should gradually disperse to give late sunny spells for many, although one or two showers may continue overnight in parts of Scotland, where it will be cloudier. Perhaps a few fog patches forming by dawn with the light winds.
By contrast, the French bulletins are much, much more creative. And they are written in such a poetic way too! Here is MeteoFrance bulletin for this afternoon in my hometown: “It will finally be warmer today despite a few clouds in the North. But the sun will reclaim its rights in the evening and all of the South will experience a lovely dry night.” You have to admit that it takes weather forecasts to new levels!
In the middle of our baking frenzy, we hear a knock on the door. It is a huge parcel from a private courier. It was sent from France apparently. It turns out that it is coming from my grandmother and is full of French food. There is enough to feed an army. There is some saucisson, nougat and Haribo sweets (Aren’t they German?). It looks like I will not be able to start my post Christmas diet immediately.
Alexandra beams with delight and starts eating.
My fridge is simply too small for all the food and I am starting to wonder what to do with the extra food.
My grandmother is very worried about what I am eating in London. She believes that the British have no idea what ‘good’ food is.
It is true that, initially, as far as food was concerned, I felt lost. Over here, the bread was coming so tightly wrapped in a plastic foil that it actually tasted like plastic. Where could I find a lovely, crusty baguette? I had never seen bread wrapped in a plastic before. I realised that I was, in fact, addicted to good, simple, artisan food. When I was looking at my colleagues biting their sandwiches -made of soft and soulless processed bread-, I was hurting inside. Worst of all, I used to treat friends coming around with fresh baguettes, found in exclusive gourmet shops after hours of research. Instead of appreciating it, as they were blissfully unaware of what good bread tasted like, they told me that my baguette was over baked. They simply were not used to fresh bread: the loud crack of the firm crust, followed by the soft noise (“squish”) coming from the inside. Philistines. They don’t know what they don’t know. Sigh. They are not educated in good food.
Don’t get me wrong: English food is not all bad. I am actually quite fond of fishcakes and I like the famous Sunday roast, especially with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I also like to discover new types of vegetables I simply had never heard of, such as parsnip. That said, I miss the French culture of freshness. Maybe, after all, my grandmother has a point.
In order to survive in London, I had to develop new skills, such as learning where to shop and baking my own bread. I am proud to say that I managed. Then, little by little, I found out the right addresses and now, I have to say that I am eating as well as in France. It took me a long time to get there, but now I have nailed it and our food is as good as, if not better, than in France. I really don’t need a parcel. I am sure that my grandmother means well, but honestly, what went into her?
I called her and it sounds like she has completely lost the plot.
“ – I am glad that you received the parcel, Darling. With all the restrictions, I was really worried.”
Restrictions? What restrictions?
“- You need to see my friend Bernard in Surbiton. He was smuggled to France from Dunkirk. I wish I had come with him.”
“- Well, Mami, the war is over now, and I have really good food here.”
“- Don’t be silly Dear, the British have no clue whatsoever what good food is.”
“- And Carine, you must keep the Dunkirk spirit!”
I hope that she hasn’t forgotten to take her meds. I try to explain to her gently that the war has been over for a long time now, but to no avail. After all, if the parcel made her happy, it can’t be that bad, can it? I end up thanking her profusely.
The rain has stopped now and London is simply gorgeous under the sun. The white stucco fronted houses are glowing and it sometimes feels like nothing has changed for the last 150 years. I find it reassuring, peaceful even. There is nothing like a ray of sunshine in London.
As for the extra food, well, we will share it between Steven and me and bring it to our respective offices, to teach them a bit more on ‘good’ food.