Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, Stereotypes /

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!”


Obviously I didn’t love him: I didn’t even know him. He must have thought that I was mad, and ran away from me as fast as he could. As for me, I was mortified. What had gone into me? I had no idea. But hey, here we were, and it was (sort of) funny. Needless to say, the whole thing was completely out of character: I am actually quite shy. You might not know this, but in France we don’t toss the word “love” around every five minutes like you do this side of the Channel. In my home country, “I love you” (or rather “Je t’aime”) means almost exclusively one thing: “I’m in love with you.”.
You’ll very rarely hear “Je t’aime” said outside of a couple/lovers paradigm. You certainly don’t say it to your friends, definitely not to your hairdresser or your doctor. Even with family members it’s extremely rare.

I am the sort of person who believes that actions speak louder than words, and I certainly don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. In fact, I hate it when people tell you they love you, and then act in a disrespectful way. They should have shut up in the first place. For instance, as you may have read, Anne Pingeot, the former mistress of French President Francois Mitterrand, is publishing his 1,200 love letters. Their love story lasted thirty years. He was leading a double life (he was married of course), and had several other dalliances on the side (someone will have to explain to me where he found the time. When was the guy working?). To cut a long story short, I might be French, but I don’t understand the whole arrangement. What can I say? I am a simple girl. Oh, and we French are a lot more conservative than you might think. And who would publish love letters anyway? Don’t you think it’s a nasty thing to do ? Why would you share your love story with the whole world if it was a real love story? Anyway, each to their own and all that, but I can’t help thinking that the whole thing is wrong on many levels.

Where does this leave me? Well, given that even when a British guy is genuinely interested in a female, he may often be reluctant to convey his interest in a straight-forward fashion, I think that I have broken one of this country’s cardinal rules. Silly old me. For this, I unreservedly apologise.