Posted by / Category London, Stereotypes /

This expression, as I am sure you know, is borrowed from French. Literally, it means ‘Long live the difference!’. In truth, we French don’t use it that much (if at all). In fact, once again, I think of ‘Vive la  difference’ as a British idiom, even if the words are French. What can I say? Life is incredibly complicated.

Let’s go back to the definition, shall we? ‘Vive la difference!’ is an expression of approval of difference, especially between the sexes. When I hear it reminds me to appreciate the uniqueness of everyone and everything. Of course variety is great!! Embrace it. Don’t be afraid of it.

Well, that’s the theory, right? The reality is, indeed, different (pun intended!). Why is is so hard to be different, even if it’s just a little bit? I really wonder. But let’s face it, it’s bloody hard.

For instance, what is it with this obsession with the French First lady, Brigitte Macron? I read yet another article on how her dress was matching her husband’s. Seriously? What can I say? Unlike in France, women in the UK seem to become invisible after a certain age. We French still value mature women, and have timeless icons such as Catherine Deneuve (73 years old), but the British have difficulties in accepting an older French lady. Maybe it is her sense of style? It is more likely her Frenchness, and, let’s face it, there isn’t much she can do about it. She is not going to apologise for who she is anyway. Can’t we just leave her alone?

As a woman, wherever you are, try to be attractive and do your job and you are done for… A classic case of double standard. Once again, I can’t help thinking that things must be so much easier for men: nobody comments on your clothes, your age or who you are married to. Pure bliss.

Then I read this very interesting article on what it was like to be fat in France: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/10/gabrielle-deydier-fat-in-france-abuse-grossophobia-book-women#comments

It got me thinking: it is 100% true that there is more pressure on us French women to look good. Which is why I found it liberating to move to London. In Paris I feel fat; in London I feel skinny (and I keep stuffing my face in both cities. That’s just me!) I also used to like wearing a short skirt in Paris and nobody had any problem with it. I once wore it in London, and I could sense something was odd. People were looking at me in a weird way. Finally, someone told me that I was dressed like a 15-year-old. I wear my skirts just above the knee now. Or I stick to trousers because it’s so cold anyway.

The truth is that I am a lot more relaxed about my outfits than I ever would be at home in France. Going to work without any make-up on is fine by me over here – I wouldn’t have dared to do it in Paris. I also remember that, once, in Paris, I had put one brown popsock on one foot and a black one on the other. I was so ashamed that I immediately bought a new pair of popsocks when I arrived at work. In London, I borrow my husband’s socks. Nobody notices anyway.

Then there is my accent. Let’s make something very clear: yes, I have a strong French accent (that’s because I happen to be French). Nobody lets me forget it. It is my lot in life to be mocked for my bad accent. In London, especially during business meetings, you can be sure that, when I say something, some condescending chap will take a few seconds to answer me back, as if he (it is usually a he, I must admit) needs some time to process my French accent and understand what on earth I am saying. The curious thing is that most people have absolutely no problems in getting what I say. I must be doing something wrong. And I feel lucky if he doesn’t proceed to ask ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’. Because no, he probably doesn’t. It’s all a big misunderstanding: a French accent is supposed to be sexy. Darling, I was just talking about differential inflation.

In truth, I am not all that different. Rightly or wrongly, I try hard to conform. Which is why I can’t start to imagine what it would be like if I were really different. Probably a nightmare. So ‘Vive la difference!’…my foot! Maybe the reason why it remained a French expression is that it never really sank in? I feel like London isn’t as tolerant as it’s cracked up to be, especially more recently. What do you think?

 

 

  • James Casserly

    Totally agree with you Muriel. People are quick to claim they celebrate diversity and difference, but if you step outside the bounds of unwritten social expectations, you will be ridiculed and punished in subtle and not so subtle ways. As for the condescending p****s who take their time to answer you, I find many English regional accents incomprehensible and some of their accents are appalling to listen to. As to the obsession with Brigitte Macron, I put it down to jealousy and envy. The press seem to have an issue with any woman doing her own thing and having agency instead of being demure and seeking the approval of men and men in the press. The fact is, Brigitte Macron is a beautiful, intelligent, sexy, and independent woman who knows her own mind and isn’t apologetic about her own abilities. So instead of celebrating this, the press try to either tear her down or belittle her by treating her as nothing but a walking fashion statement, like she has nothing else to say. And for people who judge you by what you wear? F**k them. Wear what makes you comfortable. You aren’t a walking mannequin, you have a brain and intellect and plenty to contribute. Time for people to listen to you and accept you as an individual, not some sort of stereotype.