It is impossible to talk about the French without mentioning food. To cut a long story short, there are two things we French are supposed to be good at: sex and food. When I mention that I am French (which everybody knows by now anyway), we usually start talking about food. Why food first? Well, because the British don’t like talking about sex when sober. It usually comes after a few pints. But I digress. I could write the script of the conversation in advance: my interlocutors start mentioning the restaurants they have been to lately, and try to get my approval. They want me to admire their exquisite tastes. Alternatively, they list the bottles of wine they have recently bought at an auction, and want me to say that they managed to get a fantastic deal. Most of the time, I don’t know the restaurants they are talking about, and I would never buy super-expensive bottles of wine, because I simply don’t see the point. Most of my British friends have a wine cave in their house. To cut a long story short, we don’t. Nor to we have a sex dungeon, for the record.
The thing is, I hadn’t realised this obsession with French food until I moved to London. It is true that, while I was living in France, I was taking a lot of things for granted, such as the freshness of food for instance. Fresh baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat could be bought at the corner’s boulangerie, whereas over here, getting a croissant that’s a couple of days old and reheated in the microwave isn’t that unusual. And what is it with the Brits eating under baked bread and croissants anyway? That said, being French doesn’t make me a food expert. Far from it. I love baking, and cooking simple dishes, but that’s as far as it goes. As for wines and spirits, well, I must admit that I don’t enjoy getting sloshed, because I feel really well when I drink, and really bad the day after. I much prefer running, come to think of it, because it can be hard to run, but I always feel great after. In short, I don’t see the point of being drunk. I don’t understand this binge-drinking culture hat seems to be the latest craze over here. It’s beyond me. Maybe that’s just me.
I will always remember my first day at work in London. My then-boss gave me my security pass and my phone, and immediately started a lecture on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to drink any alcohol during my day at work, not even a small glass of wine. I felt like I was being lectured by my head teacher. Except that I wasn’t at school any more. Not nice.
Apparently, he felt strongly that, because I was French, he needed to make this point really clear. He also said that they would be random drug and alcohol tests. Now I was warned.
Random-test me all you want, I thought: I will not turn up sloshed at work just because I am French.
The thing was, I didn’t drink wine at work. Never had. Never would. It was true that, in the company’s canteen in Paris, you could have a glass of wine with your meal, but they stopped doing it a short while after we moved to London. And I was told that the wine wasn’t great anyway. But my British boss was still convinced that all French were having half a bottle of wine for lunch. As in, every day.
As much as I have tried to explain that despite being French I am not an expert, people don’t believe me. I have learned to go with the flow. After ten years in London, I am proud to be able to have a decent conversation on food and/or wine. It was part of my survival kit over here. So how did I manage this tour de force? Well, watch this space…