This morning there was a car waiting for someone in the middle of the street where I live. A black cab wanted to drive through, and could not overtake it, because the street was too narrow. The driver started honking his horn, lowered his car glass window and profusely shouted at the car. It was a colourful exchange. I witnessed the whole thing, and asked myself:
‘What happened to British good manners ?’
Seriously, I thought that this country was all about gentlemanly behaviour, fair play and the likes. Now I am not so sure. Come to think of it, British athletes want to win as much as any other athletes. In fact, young people I talk to are unable to make eye contact and speak to me without incoherently mumbling (Maybe it’s old age. I might be becoming deaf?). I don’t want to name and shame, but this morning at the coffee shop someone didn’t mop up after himself in the loo. And the neighbour’s dog keeps peeing on my porch.
Very. Bad. Manners.
I might be French but I have brought up British daughters. This stark realisation came yesterday evening when my younger daughter was taking far too much time to go to bed. To speed things up I decided to switch the light off (otherwise she would probably still be reading -or playing-) in her bedroom. That’s when she protested with a loud
What? Did she just say ‘Oi’? I couldn’t believe it. A well-behaved French little girl would have said
‘eh oh, I still need the light’ or
‘Mummy, can you please switch the light on?’
It happened again today. What am I talking about? Well, I received another dick pic on Twitter this morning, as a DM. I deleted it, and blocked the account, as I usually do. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it, but, frankly, it didn’t bother me. I am used to it by now. I still don’t understand what men expect me to do when they send me such pictures. Do they want me to reciprocate(No way!) ? Shall I admire them? What is the point exactly? I don’t understand but hey, we are where we are.
I then opened my email box, and this time found a love declaration (not from the same guy, I think). It’s amazing how people believe that they have a special connection with you when they don’t know you at all. I ignored it. That’s not entirely true: I thought of forwarding it to my agent to see whether we could publish all the love declarations I have received at some point. It could work, couldn’t it?
It happened during a race. As you know, I sometimes run ultra marathons. What can I say? I like to push myself. Anyway, one of the (many) things I love about races is that I don’t have any filtering system when I run. It was the end of yet another long ultra, and I was exhausted. My running watch had died a long time ago, and I had no idea how much longer I needed to run. Which is why, when I saw a fellow runner, I asked him how far from the finishing line we were. He said something like ‘about a mile’.
I was delighted. I was almost there. I had made it. Which is why I blurted out:
” Oh really? I love you for this!”
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!]