No matter how hard I try, I know that I will never be truly British. It has nothing to do with my vocabulary or my grammatical skills (ok, I admit, maybe a little), and everything to do with references and allusions. You see, the Brits recognise themselves with jokes, references and allusions only they can understand. Tough but true.
I remember once being told that a situation was ‘curiouser and curiouser’. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but discovered later that this was a phrase used repeatedly by Alice in Lewis Carroll’s story ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Everybody had understood the allusion except me. I was lost in translation. Neither did I understand the many references to a programme called ‘Fawlty Towers’. Some were about French women because of a character named ‘Madame Peignoir’, who apparently was often inebriated and slightly mad. Others were about not becoming bad tempered: ‘Don’t become a Basil Fawlty’. Apparently the programme was hilarious. The references to it, I have to admit, have always left me cold. But the Brits love them. They serve them at every possible opportunity. I suspect that it is their way to distil cultural stereotypes and convince themselves of their cultural superiority. If it makes them happy, well, it can’t be that bad…
To be fair, some allusions are easier to understand as they refer to a common culture. I understood a colleague talking of another colleague and saying ‘he seems to have stepped directly out of Magritte painting’, because of the shape of his hat. I was very proud to get that one. We French also talk about ‘nymphs’, noble savage and Notre Dame. In short, I am not completely lost. But sometimes, I just don’t get it. I remember a mum telling me that ‘there is no joy in Mudville’ when our daughters had lost a netball match. I didn’t get that one.
But I have a secret weapon. When a well-intentioned soul tries to impress me with various allusions, I fire back with French words, authors, philosophers or food -whatever works well and whatever comes to my mind. It usually does the trick.
What about you? How do you deal with references and allusions?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London