You British are so nice. Seriously, how can you guys be always so kind? You will have to tell me what your secret is. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. What am I talking about? Well, let me explain: I happen to be a non-exec for a local bank in France, and we had a board meeting the other day. After 45 minutes, one of the other participants said that he needed the loo, and never came back. I was shocked. Nobody looked surprised, except me. What had happened?
I did what I had to do: I took the issue to Twitter and asked for advice. What did we do before social media existed? I wonder…In no particular order and without having to move, I was told that:
It happened when I was going through airport security, in Nice. I couldn’t help noticing that the older gentlemen right before me had suppositories in his plastic bag. Then it downed on me: I had completely forgotten about suppositories. You see, nobody uses them this side on the Channel. In fact, I hadn’t missed them at all. And I am pretty sure that my (British) daughters didn’t miss them either. Hmmm, I am not sure I will ask them. Some things are probably better left unsaid.
My daughter received her GCSE results a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say, there was no need to worry. That said, my biggest surprise came from the fact that she got A* both in English literature and English language. Why? Well, because, as you know, we happen to be French. The thing is, at around 95% in both subjects, she had better grades than her British classmates who want to study English at university. What happened? Why did none of her teachers tell us that she was bright in English? Believe me or not, I had always thought that it was her weak point. Now I wonder what I should believe. How could I get it so wrong? How could the school get it so wrong?
Every time I had to meet her English teachers I had a lecture on the fact that her punctuation was not up to standard. I have asked them to clarify, but never managed to understand what they meant exactly. To be fair, I always felt as if that they were trying to fob me off. I came to the conclusion that she needed to decorate her essays with more semi-colons, and add a few comas here and there. The fact that punctuation rules are slightly different in French obviously didn’t help her to comply with the strict English way, and probably prevented me from understanding what the problem was really about. Frankly, I wonder if there even was a problem in the first place. Well, clearly, I overanalysed the situation once again. I feel like I should have ignored the whole thing (but how can you when this is the feedback you get year after year?).
I have had a full-on year. Come to think of it, I have a full-on life. It just never stops. But right now I have taken the whole family to a hamlet in Provence. The Internet connection –when it works- is patchy, which means that I am enjoying a much-needed break.
I love it here. The light is nothing short of spectacular, the colours are perfect, and I am pleased to report that my daughters are finally starting to enjoy Provence. The problem is, well, me.
What am I talking about? Well, I am suffering from a bad case of reverse culture shock. Why? Well, where to start? The driving of my fellow Frenchmen is terrible (simply put, speed limits are never respected. I wonder if they are for the birds?). As for customer service, well, it seems that nobody knows what it is. I asked for a glass of water at a local coffee, and of course it never came. Not to mention that I got told off because the waitress had forgotten half of our order. “No, you didn’t tell me.”, she said. Of course it was my fault. Since when is it allowed to be aggressive towards customers?
It happened again the other day. What am I talking about? I had another formal dinner, and I wanted to look my best. Why do I still care? Well, I don’t know. It’s mainly for me, I suppose: despite the fact that I am not getting any younger, I still like to look nice. Maybe it’s my French side? And it was also for my husband. I didn’t want people to think that I was letting myself go. I didn’t want to become yet another invisible middle-aged woman. There was only one thing for it: preparation. So I had everything covered. Of course I did.
When you work, have kids, older parents and PTA meetings, the logistics can be daunting. It’s all about planing in advance to make it look effortlessly. The outfit was chosen 10 days before the event. As you know, I don’t buy any more, I rent (https://rentez-vous.com). It’s cheaper, much more fun, and I can change more often, which means that I never have to wear the same dress twice. I borrowed the shoes from a friend (Which was a huge leap of faith because I don’t walk in high heels for more than five minutes). Then, I planned all the eyebrow shaping, waxing, etc…Finally I had to have my hair and make-up done a few hours before the event (because as I have a scientific background, doing my own hair and make up isn’t my strongest point -can you hear the British understatement here?). A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.
In short, I’d like to tell you that it was all easy, but the truth is that it was anything but, and I kept running around like a headless chicken the whole day. Not to mention that I had to go to a school meeting fully made up (but with casual clothes, as I put on the dress at the last minute), which raised a few eyebrows, but hey, I felt I had no choice because the meeting was right before the dinner. Anyway, we got there in the end, and I was extremely pleased with the result. What do you think?
It has just happened again. I didn’t get a position I had applied for. I am feeling, once again, like a complete failure. That said, I must admit that Brits are very polite. At all times and in all circumstances. They will always try to make it easier for you by sugarcoating their responses instead of simply saying ‘No’ or ‘you are not in’. I thought that I should copy you the email I got to prove my point. Here we go:
” Dear Muriel [They like to personnalise things. I am pretty sure that they sent the same letter to everybody, right?]
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you. We received a very large level of response and interest on this project and wanted to ensure that we considered all applications carefully. [Yeah right. It’s been 8 weeks. How were the hols? Did you get away for half-term? What a bunch of lazy lumps!]
It was bound to happen. So it did. What am I talking about? Well, both my passports (the French & the British) had to be renewed. Don’t ask. It was all about some silly visa problems. On the bright side, I was going to do everything at once, and be done for the next 5 years. Well, at least that was the theory…
There was no two ways about it: I had to start. Renewing a passport doesn’t come cheap. If you must know, it costs £72.50 for the British passport. But on the bright side, I could do everything online. So I did. And I sent all the supporting documents by tracked mail, just to be on the safe side. I had almost forgotten about the whole thing when someone rang the bell and delivered me my brand new British passport. The whole process had taken less than 10 days. I was delighted.
I got your attention, right? Good, that’s what I wanted. Today, I wanted to talk to you about periods. Yep, you read this right. Nowadays we talk about gender, equality, races, but let’s face it, we barely talk about periods. Why is such a simple fact of life so misunderstood? Why is it still such a taboo? If men had periods too, I am pretty sure that we would hear about it all the time! So why are we still so embarrassed? What is wrong with us?
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told “You are a bit cranky, you must have your period (wink wink!)’. The truth is that, most of the time, I don’t have my period. It is just me. If I were a man, my colleagues would say that I am firm, or that I know what I want. But no, I have to have my period, right? When confronted, my male colleagues always say that they think it is a thoughtful comment (yeah right…). Some things never change.
Some women are told that they can’t go anywhere near kitchen ustensiles when on their periods. Or that they shouldn’t use salt. Seriously? What’s next? That we can’t sneeze when we have our periods? I shouldn’t complain, because things have drastically improved. A quick research showed that, not so long ago, it was believed that period blood killed crops and rusted iron, that menstrual blood both cured and caused leprosy, and that burnt toad could cure your heavy flow (not very animal friendly, right?).
That said, in Europe, we are the lucky ones. Jessica Holland from the charity ActionAid summarises it pretty well here: “Around the world, many girls often face prejudice, shame and discrimination simply because they have their periods. These taboos can have a long-lasting impact on a girl’s life and her body, often impacting her ability to go to school and gain an education.” What does it mean? Well, simply put, some girls miss school every month simply because they have their periods. And no school means no education, leaving girls without any ways to escape from poverty.
A lot of people think they speak French, and sometimes they do (let’s be honest here: sometimes they think they do when in fact they don’t). That said, despite even when they speak good French, they don’t sound French. Why? Because they need to use the right interjections. But fear not: here is a little help…Use without moderation.
- How to say ‘Yummy!’ in French: ‘Miam Miam’…
- We don’t say ‘Phew’!, we say ‘Ouf !’.
- ‘Shhh’ doesn’t exist in French (it sounds like ‘chou’ in French, which means cauliflower. It won’t do the trick and everybody will think you are mad), instead we say ‘Chut’. Got it?
- ‘Ouch’ is ‘Aie’ in French
- Yerky or Yuck is Beurck in French (we love to say Beeeuuuuurk!)
- Achoo is Atchoum (What can I say? wWe are slightly more demonstrative in French)
- Alas is actually ‘Helas’ . You could almost get away with this one. Almost.
- If you are really polite, you can say ‘Drat’ of course. In French, it would be ‘Mince’. That said, let’s be realistic, nobody says it any more (especially if, like me, you come from Provence). We use a more colourful language nowadays.
- Come to think of it, I have read somewhere that people who swear are cleverer (see here, I didn’t dream it: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/people-who-swear-most-cleverer-7011464) So here it is: we don’t say Sh*t, we say M*rde. And for the f word, we use my all-time favourite P*tain. P*tain is used all the time where I come from. It is part of your survival kit. You’re surprised? ‘P*tain’ You’re angry? ‘P*tain’.
George Mikes, How To Be An Alien
“European men and women have sex lives, English men and women have hot water bottles”
I spend the first three or four years in London never hearing the word ‘sex’. I promise you. I even thought that, well, the British didn’t have sex, or simply never talked about it, except maybe when completely drunk at the pub.
It must be said that things have drastically changed in London over the last few years. The British now find it cool to shout about their sexual lives from the rooftops. To make matters even worse, now it’s all about having a ‘fluid sexuality’, and lots of new words have become extremely popular in a very short period of time. If, like me, you are a heterosexual woman who has been married for the best part of 20 years, well, you are an old fart. So boring.