And here is the 7th chapter. Thank you for all your words of encouragement, I am so glad that you like this story -or that, in some cases, that it made you react! In case you have missed it, the latest chapter is here.
Happy New Year!
Values & Responsibilities
Which values and responsibilities should you have as a UK citizen or Permanent Resident (more than one response allowed)?
A To have lots of noisy house parties
B To stare at women’s cleavages at every possible opportunity
C To treat everyone equally
D To drink booze
I wonder if you can choose all four.
Life in the United Kingdom, (almost) official Practice Questions
Everybody at the office enjoyed the food. Archie seems to like his new job and has invited friends and new colleagues at home for a New Year Eve’s party. I love cooking and I thought that it would be nice to present a united front with Archie. After all, new year, new start, right? Onwards and upwards, as they say over here.
One of our guests is a director in a construction company and they have just finished a huge railway project in Guinea. I am curious about this, as we are about to start a feasibility study for something similar at work. I am glad that I will be able to finally meet him tonight.
I start to get ready. I am really happy that we are celebrating. It has been quite an eventful year. The bell rings. Our guests arrive. I have let my guard down: we are amongst friends. Archie whisks me towards the director I wanted to talk to and introduces me:
“This is my partner, Carine. She also works in Project Management and was eager to meet you. Now, if you excuse me. I will get myself a drink”.
That’s Archie for you: he never uses more words than he needs to.
I don’t really know where to start with my new acquaintance but I needn’t worry. He is eager to start the conversation.
“So where are you from?”
Here we go again. Day in, day out, I keep being asked where I am from. I am sure that no harm is intended. After all, it is just small talk
”Oh, I am from London.”
What should I say? I have been living over here for the best part of a decade. Archie’s friend doesn’t seem to like my response. He clearly wants to enquire about my nationality but doesn’t dare ask. Or at least not yet. There is no point in asking him where he is from because he simply oozes Britishness, with his posh accent, power stripes and Union Jack cufflinks.
“ Oh really?” He sips his champagne and looks at me in a weird way.
“ That’s funny, because you look very French to me. It is your accent, you see. It gave you nationality away.”
What does he mean? That I sound French? Apparently, it is supposed to be a compliment. No, really.
Despite seeking clarification, I don’t really manage to get to the bottom of what he means. He just wants to make a point, I suppose. Sigh. Another point scorer. they simply are everywhere.
Is it the fact that I am a brunette and not a blonde? Has it something to do with my accent?
I don’t think that I am a ‘typical French woman’ –whatever this is. I don’t drink much wine. I don’t really like cheese. I don’t chain smoke. Actually, I don’t smoke at all. And, as I have been told many times, French women smoke. So why do I look French again?
Maybe it is the way I dress?
I snap back:
“ Well, I intend to become British soon. I should become a Permanent resident shortly. ”
“Your accent will always give you away, Darling.”
Don’t you Darling me. It is my lot in life to be mocked for my French accent. The curious thing is that most people have absolutely no problems in getting what I say, but they can’t help notice my accent. They are going to comment on my accent rather than on what I have to say, which is hugely frustrating. My interlocutor is no exception. When I speak, he looks concentrated, eyes half closed and slightly putting his ear closer to me. I absolutely hate it. I can feel my blood boiling. Come on, he understands what I am saying perfectly well. I am sure that he believes that he is just trying to be polite: he is making an effort to listen to me.
I try to change subject.
“So tell me, did you have to travel a lot to Guinea for this new railway project?”
He clearly doesn’t want to talk about it. My French accent seems to be a much more interesting topic of conversation. Damn it. Why is it so hard to understand that French women can be project managers too?
“Why would you want to become British? French women are so much sexier than their British counterparts. I soo wish that my wife was French sometimes. “ He silently shows me his wife. She is deep in conversation with another woman on the other side of the room with a pint of beer in her hand, and she is laughing her socks off. Lucky her. I can’t believe he said this about her to me. What do I do? I decide to ignore his last sentence.
I nod and smile, embarrassed. I don’t know what else to do. I obviously won’t learn anything about the project in Guinea so all I can do now is find an escape. And fast.
To make matters even worse, he is becoming slightly inebriated. He starts standing a bit too close to me.
“ You see, I once had a French girlfriend. She looked exactly like you. Even her personality was similar”.
Here we go again. The French girlfriend. I have always wondered whether she was real or imaginary. The French girlfriend seems to be a necessary milestone in a man’s emotional education over here. And how could she be like me? We have just met, this guy doesn’t know me. I am trying hard to find an excuse to stop the conversation but can’t see an easy escape. I am toying with the idea of putting him down harshly with something like:
‘She can’t have been like me because I would never have gone out with a guy like you. Not possible’.
I can’t say this, it would be rude, and it wouldn’t be a polite way to finish the year. After all, he is my guest. It is tempting though.
Everybody else seems to be deep in conversation.
I just have to let him talk and hope that, eventually, he will tire himself out. I don’t really have to say anything; he just seems to love the sound of his own voice.
“So tell me, why is the French kiss, well, French?”
Well, I honestly don’t know. Here is a newsflash for you: I didn’t invent French kissing. I have to make something up here. And fast.
“Well, if appearances are to be believed, French kisses are probably from London, because there is a couple French kissing at every corner of every street in London. In fact, we French don’t even call the French kiss French. We call it to ‘kiss with the tongue’ or ‘rouler une pelle’, which could translate as ‘rolling a spade’”
I was about to add that maybe French have the reputation of being the best kissers but I stop talking when I notice that he doesn’t listen to anything I am saying; he can’t stop looking at my breasts, my dress is clearly turning him on.
Still staring at my cleavage and dangerously leaning towards me, he then adds:
“Well, all things a bit dirty are French, right?”
I hope that he is not going to fall on me. What should I do? I put my hand on the side of his shoulder and push him back in a straight position again. I smile to make my gesture look more acceptable and he smiles back, looking completely sloshed.
There must be something wrong with me. All British men seem to have experienced some sort of sexual awakening in my home country. Apparently, I am the only one to have experienced high taxes and a dysfunctional family there. I must have missed something.
As midnight is approaching I start looking ostensibly at my watch and stand up to join Archie. The director seems to have had a lovely time and winks at me, as if we had shared some dirty jokes. Archie doesn’t understand what has happened but, in pure British style, manages a smile.
2011 starts as it has ended when I miss a step and two other guests run to me to make sure that I am alright.
“Carine, are you alright?”
“I am fine, thank you very much. I didn’t fall, I just missed a step.”
Give me a break, guys.
It looks like 2012 is starting pretty much like 2011. I haven’t received anything from the UK Border Agency yet. They are probably busy celebrating the new year too.